A history of architecture from the Roman era and its influence

While the concept of architecture is considered by many to be academic, it has always addressed the most basic of human needs – the requirement for a sheltered dwelling place and the need for places in which to associate with those around us. Hence, records of architectural practice go back to the stone circles and cave dwellings of pre-historic times.

The Classical era (circa 860 BC to 470 AD) is, however, perhaps one of the most convenient starting points when looking for historical architectural trends which have resonated through the ages.

The contribution of the Roman Empire to later architectural developments stands out in particular. The Ancient Romans made systematic use of three key architectural structures – the arch, the vault and the dome.

Arches, vaults and domes

The arch is a curved structure which spans an opening and serves as support for a wall or other weight. A vault is a tunnel-like strike structure that is essentially joined up by a sequence of arches. A dome is a rounded vault which forms the roof of a building. These three structures are integral to some of the world’s greatest buildings, such as the Colosseum in Rome.

Moreover, these structures were the great enablers for the large public spaces, such as baths and forums. Furthermore, we can recognise the principle of the arch being observed in the building of bridges today.

The Byzantine era

The next development in architectural history was ushered in around the year 330, after the emperor Constantine relocated the capital of the Roman Empire to Byzantium. This shift to the east ushered in the Byzantine era, which was characterised by an elegant classicism and the use of intricate building adornments, with mosaics a standout feature.

Gothic architecture and the Renaissance

The Romanesque and Gothic periods which followed (taking us to around 1450) saw increasing elaborations on Roman themes, with buildings of ever more grandeur emerging, such as the cathedral of Notre Dame.

With Renaissance architecture (1400 – 1600), there was a respectful revisiting of the classical orders of Ancient Greece and Rome, led by influential figures, such as the builder Andrea Palladio.

The period of Baroque architecture which followed (1600 – 1830) was far more opulent, and ornamental in style, expressed particularly by the stunning achievement which is the Palace of Versailles in France, and by the architecture of St Petersburg in Russia.

Art Nouveau: on show in the North West

In the late 19th century, Art Nouveau, which first appeared in fabric design, made its presence felt. Art Nouveau buildings typically have a novel, quirky appearance, sometimes bearing a disorienting asymmetrical quality. For instance, the Crown Hotel in Liverpool (1905) is a typically ornate Art Nouveau building making use of decorative stucco.

Overall, the 20th and 21st centuries have been characterised by a thrilling diversity in the architectural scene – from the simple, functionalist, egalitarianism of the Bauhaus school to the less steely post-modernism of today. The Sony building in New York City, for example, is typically post-modernist in referencing the hallmarks of Roman architecture with its imposing arched entranceway.

Posted by Matt Hughes
October 14, 2013

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