Throughout history, architecture has been used as a creative, functional outlet that often heralds the cultural depth of society. In fact, a scroll through the basics of important architectural movements is a window into art and culture during any given time period.
Often, architectural styles build on one another, with each past period providing the building blocks of advancement for the next culture. Just think of the lasting influence of the Egyptian pyramids or classical Greek temples, which have not only inspired later architects, but also fashion, jewelry, and industrial design.
This architecture 101 timeline of major Western types of architecture will give you a crash course in the development of design and construction. By no means comprehensive, the architectural styles included have proven to be benchmarks in society, leaving a lasting legacy that continues today.
Ancient Egyptian Architecture
One of the most powerful civilizations in history, it only makes sense that the Egyptians would produce iconic architecture. And while the pyramids might be the structures that come to mind when thinking of Egyptian architecture, they are not to the only type of architectural expression the Egyptians built. Prior to the pyramids, Egyptians focused on incredibly detailed temple complexes that focused on aesthetic beauty and function.
By combining incredible engineering prowess with rich symbolism, the architecture of the Egyptians would continue to be a model for centuries to come. Both ancient Greek and Roman architecture borrowed characteristics, such as stylized column motifs in early Greece and the proliferation of obelisks in Rome.
Timeline: 3,050 BC to 900 BC
Signature building: Pyramid complex of Giza
Greek and Roman Architecture
Often grouped together under the umbrella of classical architecture, ancient Greek and Roman architecture solidified the idea of building structures against a set template. The Greek order of columns—Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian—is still used today, and Roman scholar Vitruvius’ multi-volume work De architectura, discussed how rules of proportion in architecture can bring about harmony. From the Acropolis complex in Athens to the Colosseum and Pantheon in Rome, some of history’s most iconic buildings come from the Greeks and Romans.
These civilizations were also masters of engineering, with the Romans building incredible highway systems and aqueducts to bring commercial goods and water across their vast lands, which stretched the entirety of Europe.
Timeline: 850 BC to 476 AD
Signature building: Parthenon