Architecture is part of the fabric of our everyday lives, but unless you’re a trained architect, you might not have stopped to consider all the different varieties out there. It’s worth it, though, as architecture styles are as diverse, interesting, and beautiful as any other type of art or design.
Whether you’re interested in becoming an architect, you want to photograph architecture, or you’re just curious about the place you live (and beyond), it’s helpful to know about some of the key movements in architectural design.
- What Is Architecture?
- Types of Architecture
- Brutalist Architecture
- Modern Architecture
- Neoclassical Architecture
- Art Deco Architecture
- Victorian Architecture
- Contemporary Architecture
- Italianate Architecture
- Bauhaus Architecture
- Tudor Architecture
- Greek Revival Architecture
- Beaux-Arts Architecture
- Industrial Architecture
- Arts and Crafts Architecture
- Cape Cod Architecture
What Is Architecture?
Fundamentally, architecture is about building design. The term reflects both product and process: Architecture is both the end result—a structure that you can see and touch—and the process of designing and building that structure.
All buildings are works of architecture, but we tend to only use this term when referring to structures that are interesting, beautiful, well-designed, or otherwise noteworthy. Our ideas of what is interesting, beautiful, or noteworthy do tend to change, though.
A structure that was once just considered a standard office building or unremarkable home may become more significant over time, especially if that style becomes rare or design tastes evolve in some way.
Types of Architecture
There are as many architectural types as there are societies, climates, environments, and designers around the world, and many types of architecture are unique to a place, a culture, or an individual architect.
But when talking about architecture as a whole, you’ll frequently encounter a few standout styles that have influenced other movements over the ages.
Emerging in the 1950s when cities were rebuilding after World War II, Brutalist architecture was mostly used for institutional buildings like town halls, libraries, university buildings, and social housing.
Most common in the UK and Eastern Europe, it’s a form of modern architecture, and the materials of construction, especially concrete and steel, are usually on full display.
Brutalist architecture was meant to be functional rather than beautiful, although some people do think these buildings have their own beauty.
Despite how it might sound, modern architecture is not necessarily architecture designed or produced in the modern day. Also known as modernist architecture, the style appeared at the end of the 19th century and was popular throughout the 20th century.
Modern architecture makes use of many so-called “modern” materials, such as glass, steel, and concrete. It leans toward minimalism rather than ornamentation and decoration for the sake of decoration.
Inspired by the buildings and design of ancient Greece and Rome, neoclassical architecture is usually grand in scale, even when used for residential homes. Buildings typically include columns, geometric forms, domed or flat roofs, and white or light-colored stonework.
Neoclassical architecture has been popular since the mid-18th century, and many buildings are still built in this style today.
Art Deco Architecture
Born from the artistic style popular in the 1920s and ’30s, art deco architecture aimed to be both functional and elegant. It is sleek and streamlined but not minimalist and incorporates decorative details, especially around windows and doors.
It is also sometimes colorful, with contrasting pastel colors or metal detailing. In the US, art deco architecture is common in Miami and New York but can be found around the country and across the world.
Queen Victoria ruled Britain throughout the second half of the 19th century, and during that time, Victorian architecture spread throughout the world. The term encompasses a wide range of other architectural styles, including Italianate, colonial revival, and Queen Anne.
There’s a lot of variety within this broad umbrella, but Victorian architecture generally features steeply pitched roofs, bricks, painted iron railings, bay windows, wraparound porches, and asymmetry. It leans more toward decorative than minimalist.
Not to be confused with modern architecture (though sharing some elements with it), contemporary architecture is any architecture designed and built right now. That means the style varies wildly, but in general it is minimalist, favoring clean lines and unfussy, open-plan spaces.
Contemporary architecture also often utilizes eco-friendly materials or construction methods.
Especially popular in the mid-19th century, Italianate architecture draws inspiration from Renaissance Italy, particularly 16th-century buildings. The style tends to be romantic and romanticized and features bay windows, porches with decorative details, tall windows that are rectangular or arched, and deep overhanging eaves.
If a building looks as though it could fit nicely into a Tuscan country farm or the cobbled streets of Rome, it’s likely Italianate.
The Bauhaus was a school of design established in Germany in 1919 that had utopian aims and wanted to act as a model for rebuilding Europe after World War I. Bauhaus architecture is minimalist, favoring functional design and rationalism over ornamentation.
Other common themes are geometric forms, asymmetry, glass curtain walls, flat roofs, and the use of modern materials like concrete, steel, and glass.
The Tudors ruled England between 1485 and 1558, and Tudor architecture refers to the distinctive two-toned buildings created during this period. Exposed timber beams in a dark color (usually black) contrast with the brickwork.
Although true Tudor buildings can only be found in the UK, Tudor-inspired elements can be seen throughout the world, especially two-tone exposed beams (which are purely decorative these days).
Greek Revival Architecture
Related to both neoclassical and Italianate architecture, Greek revival was a popular architectural style of the 19th century that imitated the structures of ancient Greece—temples in particular.
Public buildings and grand homes of the Greek Revival tradition are simple, elegant, and symmetrical and typically incorporate columns, pilasters, and a porch.
If you find minimalism a little boring, then the ornate, grand, and theatrical look of beaux-arts architecture might be for you. Beaux-art architecture (roughly pronounced boe-zarr) is named after the fine arts school in Paris that taught this architectural style, the École des Beaux-Arts.
It overlaps with Neoclassicism as well as Renaissance and Baroque styles. Look for French and Italian inspiration, arched windows and doors, grand staircases and arrival halls, columns, and cornices.
Any building that’s used for industry, such as a factory or warehouse, can be considered industrial architecture, but the style may also refer to apartments, offices, or other establishments that are inspired by these industrial structures. Think exposed bricks and beams, iron and glass, and simple, clean lines.
Arts and Crafts Architecture
The arts and crafts movement originated in the mid-19th century as a reaction against the mass production of materials during the Victorian period. Arts and crafts architecture (and design more broadly) emphasized hand crafting and using approachable materials.
It can be difficult to identify some arts and crafts architecture because the style overlaps so much with others that were popular at the time. In general, though, look for prominent porches, exposed beams, low-pitched roofs with enclosed eave overhangs, and large fireplaces indoors. An arts and crafts home, for example, may look like a quintessential cute cottage.
Cape Cod Architecture
Although it’s named after the area of Massachusetts where it’s common, Cape Cod architecture can be found across the US. A typically American style that originated in the 17th century, Cape Cod architecture usually refers to homes, particularly cottages, that are small, simple, rectangular, and have a steep pitched roof that snow can slide off.
Modern Cape Cod cottages tend to be larger than the originals, but they still make use of oak and pine frames and white or light-colored exteriors with darker colored shutters.
Start Identifying Architecture Today
Now that you’re familiar with these architectural types, see if you can spot them when you’re out in your city. Some places will have more architectural variety than others, but almost everywhere will have buildings that were inspired by some of these trends and traditions.
If you have a trip planned, you may even want to create a travel sketchbook for architecture you see. Have fun as you expand your awareness of the world around you.
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