History of Architecture

History of Architecture 

‘Architecture’ is both the product and the process of construction as well as the design and planning. ‘Architecture’ usually refers to buildings and other structures but not invariably so. The term can refer to the design and framework of anything, even of an idea. The architecture left by earlier civilisations is usually the best or sometimes only knowledge historians had of how they lived.

In terms of a building however ‘architecture’ relates to its construction, design and planning. The discipline takes into account aesthetic, environmental, technical, financial, and social factors relating to the design.  Architects need to be involved in the technology, the materials used in the building and its creative design. More mundanely architecture also has to include administration, compliance with planning rules, cost control and scheduling of works. Architects typically have to be skilled at producing drawings and plans, understanding the technical specifications, and nowadays be able to design the building as a system in itself.

Early Architecture

The earliest written work still surviving on architecture is ‘De architectura’. It was written in the first century BC by Roman Architectural pioneer, and military engineer ‘Vitruvius’. Vitruvius identifies three foundations of ‘architecture’, namely, Beauty, Utility and Durability.

Architecture first evolved out of the utilitarian purposes of the buildings required for shelter and security and rapidly moved on to places of worship. Building became a skill and architecture came to be regarded as the top tier of that skill. It can be assumed that building design in early times was matter of trial and error and from that trial and error, fixed principles become apparent. Theory behind architecture developed from that. Early human settlements were rural ones but as agriculture developed and some people became wealthy economic development expanded into an urban environment giving architecture its real foothold. In ancient civilisations such as Mesopotamia and Egypt the architecture itself came to symbolise the political power and vanity of rulers. Imposing structures described the relationship between the community and the gods.  Eventually cathedrals came to be the monuments to the church and to one god. As society developed into a more urban one however architecture in classical civilisations like the Romans and the Greeks came to reflect ideas of civic society rather than just serve as monuments to the gods and as a result new styles emerged. Over the subsequent centuries and millennia styles in architecture developed from the classical.

Asian architecture texts cans be traced back even further to at least the 7th Century BC. Asian styles developed separately from the European. Buddhist architecture in particular showed great diversity. In a number of Asian Countries the nature of the religion promoted styles of architecture which work well within and enhance the natural environment. In common with Europe however religion was the driving force. These were ages in which the money was with the church and the church engaged the contractors. Inevitably there was an overlap in styles between some religions. Much of the architecture of Spain for example comes from the Islamic tradition, Spain having been occupied by the Moors.

Early European Architecture

In the medieval period in Europe craftsmen formed into guilds. Records of contracts have survived particularly in relation to religious buildings. Architects were often also master masons (Magister Lathomorum). The big undertakings in the architecture of the times were the Cathedrals and Abbeys. From about the eighth century onwards tradesmen and religious pioneers took their knowledge of architecture all over Europe. The consequence was styles such as Gothic and Romanesque spreading widely.

Later on from about the beginning of the fifteenth century the Renaissance brought about a revival in classical styles of architecture. The concept of Renaissance Humanism brought about a greater emphasis on the individual as a participant in social life, or even independent of society, and so buildings were credited to named architects like Palladio, Alberti, Brunelleschi and Michaelangelo. But the line separating architects, artists, engineers and the other trades associated with architecture were still blurred and ‘architect’, often meant different things depending on location and culture The Renaissance period of architecture however developed the discipline beyond where it had reached before. The Renaissance was accompanied by a flowering of scientific knowledge which eventually made architecture a more scientific discipline in itself. Eventually this would take the design (of a bridge for example) beyond the scope of a general builder or artist. As scientific knowledge developed and technology and new materials became more widely available the disciplines of engineering and architecture began to separate. ‘Architecture’ started to mean to the artistic side of the discipline. In some cases it even went as far as amounting to no more that a skill at producing beautiful drawings which were impossible to build. And by the eighteenth and nineteenth century architecture became as much a skill at copying ornamental design as anything else. House builders in particular would copy architectural design to build houses.

Modern Architecture

By the twentieth century dissatisfaction set in with the derivative styles of architecture on offer and new original ideas emerged accompanied by the rise of new parallel ideas in industrial design. These ideas were particularly prevalent in Germany which by the 1920s had redefined architecture as the pinnacle of building design and construction. Following the First World War ‘modernist’ schools sought to satisfy the need and aspirations (at least as the architects saw them) of the working and middle class. Copying and refining of old styles was rejected in favour of new more functional lines. It became fashionable to show the skeletal structure of the building itself rather than concealing it behind ornamental facades. Frank Lloyd Wright sought to promote a style which was more in keeping with the building’s purpose. Philip Johnson, Mies Van der Rohe and others looked to promote the qualities inherent in the structure and materials themselves as the source of architectural value. Traditional architecture which had by then become stale and derivative was replaced by simpler geometrical forms culminating in the artistic simplicity of the sadly doomed World Trade Centre in New York.

By the 1970′s however post modern architecture had started to react against the excessively austere constructions on offer. Architecture started to combine the new influences with styles from an earlier age. Since the 1980s the complexity of buildings has increased and the discipline of architecture has had to develop with it into a multi disciplinary one. Project delivery, and a variety of other skills are required and ‘design’ is now separated from ‘project’. A large structure can no longer be left to one person, and considerations outside the remit of even the architects themselves are more to the fore in the project as a whole. Architecture is now seen as something the whole community should participate in and into which social and other considerations should be factored. Environmental considerations are now also paramount and financers of buildings are at least as concerned about long term costs than immediate capital ones.  Modern schools of architecture focus on the environment. Sustainability as a feature in architecture started as far back at the 1960s but is now at the core of design, in part at least to building regulations. But the way buildings are financed now requires close attention to their current day to day operating