From the early 1930s to the late 1980s, International Style architecture was the main choice for office buildings and other large commercial or institutional projects, especially in the US and Canada. The resulting skyscrapers reshaped major cities and gave them the skylines they are famous for today.
After the Baroque and Rococo styles led to highly decorated buildings, objects and works of art in the 17th and early 18th centuries, there was a need for simpler, more symmetrical forms. At the same time, 18th-century archeologists were starting to discover or study ancient Roman and Greek sites that had been lost or overlooked, such as Herculaneum, Pompeii and Paestum.
What you don’t expect to see in architecture is the combination of a style from the Middle Ages and the height of a modern building. After the European Gothic Revival movement reached the US, however, it eventually produced just that, in the form of Gothic skyscrapers.
One of the earliest and tallest is the Woolworth Building in New York, with 57 floors built between 1910 and 1913:
Brutalism may well be the most controversial architectural style of the 20th century, loved by a few for radically new monumental structures, but usually hated by the public for its perceived negative impact on the urban environment, and used in cinema accordingly.
Stained glass is usually associated with Medieval art, but the craft continued to develop and also includes masterpieces by Art Nouveau and modern artists, as well as designs that go beyond the religious. Here are some of the most stunning.
The Saint Vitus Cathedral window by Art Nouveau master Alfons Mucha:
Streamline Moderne, with an unexpected -e at the end, is a highly influential architectural and industrial design styles of the 1930-1950 period. It has its origins in Art Deco, but goes beyond it by smoothing out Art Deco’s features and expanding its reach to include mass-produced everyday objects.
One of the most distinctive styles of religious architecture is that of the Orthodox churches and cathedrals of eastern Europe and Russia, which can also be found in the US and other countries with an Orthodox presence.
How do you spot the Orthodox style? You look at the top. One of the main features of Orthodox churches is the presence of domes or cones at the top of towers, especially what is known as an “onion dome,” which looks like this:
How did European emperors and kings celebrate their victories? They built an arch, and sometimes the building took so long that the victor died before the arch was completed. This is the case of one of the most visited arches in Europe, the Arc de Triomphe, or Arch of Triumph, in Paris:
A high number of buildings in the West combine elements from Ancient Greek and Roman architecture, but sometimes it goes a bit further and a building is inspired by a single ancient structure. The best example is perhaps the Roman Pantheon, which is the inspiration for many western monuments, churches, universities, libraries, and museums.
Minimalist architecture is mainly about avoiding distractions. It does not rely on decoration, ornaments, or anything that draws attention to itself. It keeps lines simple and materials pure, in order to focus only on the essentials, as in this space:
Major gardens are not simply about nature and its pleasures. Like many works of art and architecture, large gardens are mirrors of their times. They reflect the evolution of ideas, power structures, and culture.
No garden from Antiquity or the Middle Ages has survived in its original form in Europe, but gardens from the Italian Renaissance can still be visited today. They continue to reveal the Renaissance love of Ancient Greece and Rome in their architecture and sculptures, as well as the rise of the rational mind, looking for order through geometry:
One of the most significant contributions to furniture design to come from Scandinavia is the Danish Modern style, which had its heyday in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Danish Modern became so popular that it even featured in an American presidential election. It remains highly influential and is the inspiration for much of the furniture in stores today.
An obelisk is a tall and narrow monument made of one block of stone with a small pyramid at the top, originally carved over 3,000 years ago in Ancient Egypt.
This kind of monument can be seen in cities such as Rome, Paris, London, and New York. Here is the one that stands in London, which was given by Egypt to the United Kingdom in 1819:
Rococo mainly applies to European furniture, interior decoration, ceramics, and metalwork of the 1730-1770 period. This style is fairly easy to spot, as it has one major characteristic. It is decorated with a high number of intricate curves. Here’s what it looks like on a side table:
Before the development of modern architecture, what did a government or institution do when it wanted to project an image of power, dignity, and reliability? It used the classical orders in its buildings.
The classical orders are the three different styles of columns that were created in Ancient Greece over 2,000 years ago.
How do we go from Medieval Gothic to the Gothic stories that eventually gave us works such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897)?
With the spread of Renaissance values, which included a strong distaste for everything produced in the Middle Ages, Gothic architecture had become unfashionable by the 15th century. Many structures were therefore left incomplete, or were only slowly expanded.
One word — Gothic — and over 1,500 years of cultural history. That’s what I’ll be looking at in a short series of posts tracing the evolution of one of the most intriguing styles in western civilization, from Medieval religious architecture to genres that remain highly influential in novels, movies, and subcultures.
Let’s start with Gothic architecture, which first developed in the 12th century in France. Why is it called Gothic? Because by the 16th century, Renaissance masters thought this style of building quite unrefined, like the Goths.
The 2013 movie adaptation of Fitzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby (1925) by Australian director Baz Luhrmann has brought the 1920s look back in fashion, if it ever went out of fashion, and with it the most striking style of the period between the two world wars, Art Deco.
The stone decorations and patterns in the windows of Gothic cathedrals are not only spectacular, but also quite informational. Those patterns are called “tracery,” and their shape can tell you when they were created.
If the pattern is based on straight lines dividing the window, like the wheel of a bicycle, then you have Rayonnant Gothic, which means it’s probably from the 1250 to 1350 period.
The most striking example of Rayonnant Gothic is perhaps the rose window of the Strasbourg Cathedral:
The use of metal in building structures came much later in the West than in China, but when it came, it was a revolution that changed Western architecture forever. It all started in factory buildings in the late 18th century in Britain, and then it inspired stunning developments that eventually made skyscrapers possible.