Shelter has been a basic need of mankind since the world began. The first man-made structures used for shelter in prehistoric times were constructed with whatever natural materials were available in the local vicinity. For example, Neolithic people in Mesopotamia and Central Asia used bricks made of sun-dried mud to build their villages, while Paleolithic hunter-gatherers in the Ukraine in Europe built circular houses from mammoth bones.
Rudimentary construction progressively evolved into architecture on a trial and error basis. As human cultures learned from experience what made a successful building and what didn’t, architecture gradually became a formalized craft. The principles and practices of successful architecture were first passed along through oral tradition. Written records, such as De Architectura by the early first-century Roman architect Vitruvius, eventually replaced verbal instruction as human civilizations developed writing.
Some ancient agricultural societies quickly grew into large urban centers, such as Memphis in Egypt and Babylon in Mesopotamia. The architecture of many of these ancient cities reflected their constant interest in interaction with supernatural or divine forces. For example, ancient Egypt is famous for its colonnaded temples in which to worship gods and its massive limestone pyramids used as tombs, while the ancient Babylonians and Sumerians in Mesopotamia worshipped in ziggurats and shrines made of sun-dried clay bricks.
The architecture of the classical Greeks and Romans was inspired by the new importance of municipal life rather than religion, such as the public theaters, stores, and temples of Greece and the baths, bridges, aqueducts, and forums of Rome. Marble from nearby quarries became the predominant building material for the Greeks in addition to timber, clay, and stone. The Greeks also developed distinct architectural styles such as Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian, which the Romans later adapted and modified. The main architectural innovation of the Romans was their use of the arch and the vault to build immense structures in stone or concrete.
With the decline of the Roman Empire and the rise of Christianity, religious buildings again gained importance in Europe, and new architectural styles such as Byzantine and Gothic came into favor. Islamic architecture also emerged in the seventh century CE (Common Era) from a combination of Egyptian, Persian, and Byzantine influences. The medieval period also saw the first formation in Europe of guilds or associations of craftsmen belonging to specific trades, including architects.
During the Renaissance period in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, more emphasis was placed on the newly-rediscovered humanities instead of religion. The Renaissance building style, which borrowed from classical Greek and Roman architecture, featured proportion, symmetry, geometry, and systematic arrangements of columns, pilasters, and lintels. The Renaissance was also the period of history when buildings began to be attributed to specific architects such as Michelangelo, Brunelleschi, and Palladio, in keeping with the age’s cult of the individual.
The early modern and industrial eras were marked by new building materials and technologies as scientific knowledge increased. This period saw the emergence of “gentleman architects” (such as Christopher Wren) who had no formal training but possessed a talent for design or theory. During the nineteenth century, however, architecture became a genuine profession with the formation of the first architecture schools and organized architectural societies.
The twentieth century saw the Modernist architectural styles come into vogue, characterized by the use of simplified geometric forms, lack of ornamentation in favor of functionality, and use of new building materials made available by the Industrial Revolution, such as steel-frame construction. Today, architecture has seen a trend toward more people-oriented and environmentally friendly designs.
Last Updated: 08/20/2013