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Glossary of Architectural Terms | 7 Wonders of The World

The following section details the major features of each architectural period. Examples of particular buildings are given where applicable.

EARLY 4000-3000 BC

Babylonian. Stepped pyramids (Ziggurat of Ur). Later cities were built of clay bricks. Little remains.

Assyrian. Huge palaces built around courtyards. Foundations rose above the ground and rooms were decorated with bas-relief and frescoes.

Egyptian. Ancient Kingdom: mainly flat topped buildings with sloping sides that were developed later into pyramids. Middle Kingdom: buildings constructed with supporting joists and beams. New Kingdom: the most splendid period with the building of great cities (Thebes).

Persian. Similar to Assyrian but with glazed brick walls and columns (Palace of Xerxes).


Early Greek. Stone block construction which, over the centuries, progressed from unshapen to accurately hewn blocks. The major development was the use of columns and lintels. Later buildings were decorated with painted columns and frescoes (Palace of Minos).

Hellenistic. The main Hellenistic feature was the use of columns: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian, each smaller than its predecessor and with more decoration at the architrave  (Parthenon, Temple of Artemis).

Roman. A development of the Hellenic style. The most important invention of the period was the arch (supported on a pair of columns) with a series of arches forming a tunnel. Domes were built on a set of arches arranged in a circle. These formed the centre of huge public buildings and assembly halls (basilica). Much use was made of mosaics and frescoes for decoration and many buildings boasted underfloor heating and running water (Thermae of Caracalla, Parthenon, Colosseum). Wide use of bricks and the discovery of concrete.

Ten books on architecture were written by Vitruvius in 1st century BC. They defined the five orders of columns and the golden ratios (of buildings) which were still in use in the 18th Century (see Palladian and Neoclassicism).


Byzantine. The major feature of Byzantine architecture was a dome supported by pendentives (corner pieces) on a square base. The central dome was often surrounded by half domes, exteriors were plain plaster and interiors coloured with marbles, mosaics and paintings. (Hagia Sophia, St Mark's).

Ottoman. Islamic influences produced a style developed from Byzantine designs. It was primarily a central dome with surrounding half-domes, minarets and walled courtyards.


Norman architecture consisted mainly of churches, abbeys and monasteries based on Roman basilica. They are noted for their massive construction, round arches and small, high windows. Typical churches have a central nave and two aisles separated by a row of columns with the eastern end terminating in a semicircular apse or transept. Buildings tend to be tall, with a tower or spire. Decorations are usually sparse (Durham Cathedral, Worms Cathedral).

GOTHIC 1150 - 1500

Churches. The predominate features of gothic churches are: pointed arches, vaulted ceilings and large windows. The structural members are reduced to the minimum and are supported with flying buttresses which, with the strong vertical lines, give a skeletal look to the building (Notre Dame, St Denis).

English. There were three periods of English gothic architecture. Early: tall lancet windows. Decorated: window tracery usually with an ogee arch. Perpendicular: as the name suggests, an emphasis on vertical lines (Wells, York and Canterbury cathedrals).

RENAISSANCE 1400 - 1750

The revival of classical architecture, particularly the five orders of columns and divine proportions defined by Vitruvius in the 1st century BC.

Italian. Large buildings with regular windows and main rooms opening onto courtyards (St Peter's, Rome).

Palladian. A system of architecture developed by Andrea Palladio based on traditional Roman public buildings. The movement had a wide influence over the following two centuries.

English. Early renaissance (Tudor) has strong vertical lines, tracery and half-timbered houses. Country houses are marked by long galleries. Later renaissance buildings have Palladian and Baroque influence (St Paul's, Blenheim Palace).


Baroque. Flowing shapes and extravagant decoration using plasterwork and statues. Ceilings are often painted.

Classicism. Based on the teachings of Palladio and often seen in Post-Restoration buildings (Hampton Court).

Rococo. Similar to Baroque but lighter with lots of curves, shell motifs, mirrors and plain ceilings with a central rosette.


Neo-Classicism. A return to Palladian 'natural' buildings. Typically, country homes in a renaissance style (British Museum).

Neo-Gothic. Revival of Greco-Roman columns and gothic styles (Houses of Parliament).

Engineering. Architecture by engineers (Crystal Palace, Eiffel Tower).

The first skyscrapers emerged after the introduction of reinforced concrete in 1885.


Art Nouveau. Celtic and Gothic styles with a lot of decorative iron work. The function of the building became later more important.

Bauhaus. Austere German school studying the function of architecture.

Art Deco. The opposition to Bauhaus, stylized flowers and geometric patterns from Aztec and Egyptian designs.

Post-war buildings became more expressive, the Brazilians built a whole city, Brasilia, hi-rise became widespread and modern hi-tech buildings often used the structure and services to supplement the design. On the whole buildings became places to be enjoyed.

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