Design, Photography, & Fashion

6 Different Types of Architecture: Quality, Characteristics, and Uses

Written by MasterClass

Apr 13, 2019 • 5 min read

Throughout history, societies have developed unique types of architecture, reflecting local cultural, geographic, and economic forces. The evolution of architectural styles provides a dynamic illustration of the currents of human history, and recognizing different styles is a key skill for any student of architecture.


What Is Architecture?

Architecture is the craft of planning, designing, and constructing buildings and other physical structures. While the profession of the architect has taken on new definition and prestige in the last few centuries, we humans have been incorporating distinctive design elements into our structures for thousands of years.

In the modern era, architectural styles have evolved at an unprecedented pace, and architects consciously select from among these styles for their work. Some architects work with signature styles, while others may adopt elements of different styles for individual projects. An architectural style can create a particular feeling for both a building’s occupants and those observing it from the outside. A building’s style can also help it either blend in with or stand out from its surroundings, such as the other buildings in the area and the natural environment.

4 Popular Styles of Home Architecture

The following are major examples of domestic architectural styles frequently seen today. Some of them have emerged relatively recently, while others are revivals of older forms.

  • Tudor. Tudor architecture originated in England in the 1500s, shaped by new innovations like chimney stacks and fireplaces and the increasing affordability of brick. Tudor Revival architecture emerged in the nineteenth century, but in American homes, construction reached its greatest popularity in the 1970s and ’80s, as homebuilders sought to evoke the cozy feeling of English country houses. Distinctive features of the Tudor style include high pitched roofs and gables, tall chimneys, large mullioned windows, herringbone brickwork, and exterior walls that are half-timbered with white stucco infill. Interiors often feature exposed ceiling beams and large fireplaces, in the spirit of a medieval mansion’s great hall, the central chamber for entertaining guests. Country clubs and golf courses also frequently feature buildings in a Tudor style, implying a sense of Old World tradition.
  • Mediterranean Revival. Mediterranean Revival architecture borrows distinctive elements from Renaissance architecture of Spain and Italy, first brought to the Americas during the colonial period. These features include rectangular floor plans, white stucco walls, red tiled roofs, arched windows, balconies, and even bell towers reminiscent of Spanish churches. These structures are often surrounded by landscape architecture featuring lush gardens with tropical plants. Mediterranean Revival gained popularity in the 1920s and ‘30s, as hotels in Florida and California sought to replicate the grandeur of European seaside villas, hoping to bring an impression of sophisticated luxury to their newly developing coastlines. In recent decades, the style became a frequent choice for home construction, supplanting the Tudor style in popularity.
  • Craftsman. The Craftsman style is one of the most distinctive movements in American architecture. In the 1890s, a group of influential Boston architects and interior designers organized to promote its principles, drawing inspiration from Britain’s Arts and Crafts movement. Reacting against both the Industrial Revolution and the overly ornate Victorian aesthetic, the Craftsman style emphasized visible handwork, local materials, and simplicity of design. Its proponents were also determined to bring beauty to modest homes affordable to America’s growing middle class, and by the early 20th century the style had become extremely popular in cities of the western United States, whose older neighborhoods still feature many exquisite examples. The Craftsman style projects clean lines, symmetry, and sturdiness. Its distinctive features include low-pitched roofs, deep eaves overhanging front porches, exposed rafters, wide windows, and natural materials like wood and stone. Interiors feature low ceilings, built-in cabinets, and open floor plans, ideally appointed with furniture sharing the same design principles, like pieces by Gustav Stickley (one of the founders and chief advocates of the Craftsman movement). The early work of Frank Lloyd Wright and the “Prairie School”—the pioneering architects of turn-of-the-century Chicago—is closely related to the Craftsman style.
  • De Stijl. De Stijl (Dutch for “The Style”) was a movement launched by artists and architects in the Netherlands at the end of World War I. Its founders believed their work could be made universal through pure abstraction. They simplified visual forms to the horizontal and vertical and utilized only black, white, and primary colors. The paintings of Piet Mondrian clearly demonstrate this aesthetic. The architects Jacobus Johannes Pieter Oud and Gerrit Rietveld translated the style into three-dimensional designs (in both homes and furniture). De Stijl buildings are identifiable by their intersecting rectangular shapes and use of stark white and solid primary colors. Interiors may feature sliding panels enabling areas to convert from private rooms to open spaces. Elements of De Stijl are still popular in architecture today, particularly in stylish condominiums and other multi-unit dwellings.

2 Common Styles of Architecture For Buildings

The following architectural styles are frequently represented in the design of public buildings.

  • Neoclassical. The Neoclassical style draws principally on the classical architecture of Ancient Greece and Rome. The Neoclassical movement began in the mid-1700s, when the work of archaeologists brought fresh enthusiasm for the ancient world, sparking the Greek Revival. At the same time, the intellectuals of the Enlightenment sought to emulate the rationalism of Greek philosophy, while the era’s revolutionaries and reformers took inspiration from Greek democracy and Roman republicanism. The Neoclassical style paid tribute to these connections. Hallmarks of neoclassicism include columns, porticos, wide steps, and domes, with a strong preference for marble or stone as building materials, at least for the visible facade. Neoclassicism is widespread as an institutional style in the United States, evident in the columned exteriors of New York banks and of course the monuments, museums, and functioning government buildings of Washington, D.C., a style replicated in capitol buildings across the country.
  • Gothic Revival. Gothic architecture originated in France during the High Middle Ages, immortalized in the period’s cathedrals, like the Notre-Dame de Paris. (The Goths were a Germanic people originating in Central Europe, who played a significant role in shaping medieval Europe. Thus many elements of the era are described as “Gothic,” even though the original Gothic language and culture were largely extinct by the time the French developed this architectural style.) During the 1800s, in Victorian England, the Gothic Revival movement repopularized the form as an alternative to neoclassicism. The motivations were partly philosophical. As society grappled with the pollution and dehumanizing effects of the Industrial Revolution, some intellectuals and artists began to romanticize the culture of the pre-industrial medieval period. Additionally, threatened by the rise of evangelicalism and religious nonconformism, the Church of England sought to reinforce its continuity with pre-Reformation Catholicism, as visually embodied by those stunning cathedrals. Gothic Revival architecture is notable for its stone masonry, pointed arches, and steeply sloped roofs, as well as spires, ornate decorative elements, and tall, narrow windows (sometimes with stained glass). Eventually falling out of favor in commercial and government buildings, the Gothic Revival style remained popular for churches, libraries, and university buildings, and in this form spread throughout the world. Famous examples include St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City; Washington National Cathedral; and the entire campus of the University of Mumbai. Chicago’s Tribune Tower and Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning demonstrate the style in skyscraper form.