Architectural History part 1, but first… a story

My first foray into repurposing a building occurred when I was 4.  My parents were stationed at a naval base in Europe and I decided to take a self-walk. My adventure took me to an arched structure out in the hills behind the base. There I proceeded to rebuild a live bomb shelter into my doll house. I happily moved grenades and small bombs around stacking them to make walls and rooms. Yes, my parents were appalled and no I did not hurt myself!

The point of the story is that I love building, fixing, and doing anything associated with architecture. So it’s really not surprising that for my retirement career we make decorative moldings and repurpose furniture. With the rapidly expanding Efex decorative line of historically accurate moldings, I continually find myself reading about architectural history especially interior embellishments.

We thought it would be fun to outline the different architectural periods and a brief explanation of how embellishments have grown over the years. A cheat sheet of architectural styles if you will.

It is important to note that many periods overlap. As the world evolved from caveman increased communication and travel blurred the time line. Below is part 1- Neolithic times (the late stone age) through the middle ages and gothic architecture.

Neolithic 10000-2000BC – Late Stone Age

Architecture included cliff dwellings, thatch huts and mud structures, stone circles and megaliths like Stonehenge.

Decoration was restricted to available materials, tools and technology – timber, stone, animal skins, and bone. Color came from charcoal, chalk, clays, and vegetable dyes.

Mesopotamian 4500-2000 BC

Between prehistoric and historic times the written language expanded communication and began the sharing of designs. Temples were made of clay and complex forms of stacked mud brick. The use of stacked brick led to the early development of columns.

The walls were brilliantly colored and sometimes plated with zinc or gold. Frescos on the walls were developed and painted terra-cotta cones for torches were also embedded in the plaster.

Egyptian 3000-900 BC

The Egyptians focused more on tombs like the pyramids than palaces and temples. Due to the lack of wood mud, brick, and stone were the most common building materials. Interior walls and columns were covered with hieroglyphics for decorative purposes as well as to record historic events. Pictorial frescoes and carvings were painted in brilliant colors.

Many motifs of Egyptian ornamentation are symbolic, such as the scarab, or sacred beetle, the solar disk, and the vulture. Other common motifs include palm leaves, the papyrus plant, and the buds and flowers of the lotus.

Ancient Greece 900 BC -100

The ancient Greeks formed strict rules about balance and symmetry known as classical orders. The triad of columns, ionic, doric, and corinthian are some examples. Marble was introduced as a building material by the Greeks.

The predominant decorative motif was the use of the human figure especially those from mythology. Marble sculptures decorated the inside and outside of buildings.

Roman 1050 BC – 500

The Romans developed newer technologies such as the arch and the dome to create structures. The use of concrete was important to the strength of the structure and lead to a more open floor plan.

The Romans added baths, waterways, and sewage to the design process. Interiors and exteriors were sculpted with mythological characters.

Romanesque 600 – 1100

Romanesque meaning “from Rome” was the first distinctive style to spread across Europe. There is no hard date, but it is thought to begin around 600AD. In England it is often referred to as Norman Architecture.

The style is highlighted by massive quality, thick walls, round arches, large towers, decorative arcades. and strong symmetry. Most of the surviving buildings are churches and castles, many still in use today.

Doors were heavily decorated usually with wood carvings. It was thought that the motifs especially scenes from the bible would inspire religious furrier as patrons entered the structure. The massive Abbaye Cerisy la Foret in Normandy is a great example of Romanesque style.

Gothic Architecture 1000 – 1450

Gothic architecture is where buildings become both interesting and highly decorated. From about 1000 man had the ability to build grand structures. Mathematics and engineering allowed cathedrals to rise taller than ever. Sharply pointed arches, spires, flying buttresses, and massive amounts of stained glass were a few of the innovations that led to taller, more graceful architecture.

The various elements of Gothic architecture emerged in France particularly in the highly ornate Cathedral at Notre Dame in Paris.

Next week, History of Architecture Pt. 2.


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