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Architecture Before Modernism: A Journey Through Time


Before the emergence of modernist architecture, the world had witnessed a multitude of architectural styles, each with its unique features and influences. Spanning thousands of years, architecture before modernism shaped the built environment we know today. This article delves into some of the most influential architectural styles and eras that preceded modernism, offering a glimpse into the rich history of human creativity and design.

Ancient Architecture(Before Modernism)

One of the earliest known civilization that contributed significantly to architecture was ancient Egypt. The Egyptians are known for their remarkable structures such as the Great Pyramid of Giza, which employed innovative techniques in creating vast monumental tombs for the Pharaohs. The use of stone columns and detailed carvings reflected the grandeur of Egyptian culture.

The Greek civilization was another significant player in ancient architecture, with its iconic temples and amphitheaters. Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders marked their architectural language, characterized by columns with distinct capitals and entablature. These classical orders would later influence subsequent architectural styles throughout history.

Romans borrowed heavily from Greek architecture but added their ingenious advancements. Famous for their innovative use of materials and engineering techniques, Romans created grandiose structures like the Colosseum, aqueducts, and monumental arches. They also introduced concrete construction and developed iconic elements such as domes and vaults.

Acropolis Ancient Architecture Before Modernism

What is ancient architecture about: The Architecture Before Modernism

Ancient architecture(architecture before modernism) refers to the styles and techniques associated with the structures and buildings that were constructed in ancient civilizations. It often includes studies of the architectural design, construction methods, materials, aesthetics, and cultural significance of these structures.

Major focuses in ancient architecture may include the impressive pyramids and temples of ancient Egypt, the elaborate pantheons and aqueducts of ancient Rome, the towering ziggurats of Mesopotamia, the intricate stone carvings of ancient India, the stunning palaces and tombs of ancient China, the colossal statues and structures of Easter Island and ancient Greece, among others.

Not only does ancient architecture articulate the technological accomplishments of early civilizations, but it also provides invaluable insight into their social structures, religious beliefs, artistic influences, and cultural values.

For example, the colossal size of Egyptian pyramids clearly communicated the absolute power of pharaohs, while the ornate decorations on Greek temples represented the religious devotion of their societies. Thus, ancient architecture is more than just about history or buildings, it’s also about studying the lives and cultures of people in the past.

Can ancient architecture be use in today’s modern world

Yes, ancient architecture can be used in today’s modern world. There are several ways in which it is already in use:

1. Inspiration: Many modern architects draw inspiration from ancient designs, using them as a base to create new designs that combine ancient charm with modern technology.

2. Preservation and Adaptation: Many ancient structures are being preserved and adapted for modern use. For example, old churches or warehouses are often transformed into modern homes, restaurants, or offices.

3. Sustainable Practices: Many practices used in ancient architecture, like using locally available materials and designing buildings to align with the local climate and environment, are increasingly relevant in the current focus on sustainable design.

4. Construction Techniques: Some ancient construction techniques, like the use of arches and domes for stability, are still applicable and used in modern architecture.

5. Cultural Significance: Incorporating elements of ancient architecture into modern designs can serve to preserve and honor cultural heritage.

6. Urban Planning: Ancient principles of city layout and civic design, such as efficient use of space and facilitation of community interaction, are still applicable in modern urban design. For example, many modern cities still employ the grid system first created by the ancient Romans.

Therefore, not only can ancient architecture be used in today’s modern world, it often makes our buildings more aesthetically pleasing, environmentally sustainable and connected with our cultural heritage.

Aplying Ancient Architecture Before Modernism to Modern architecture

Popular ancient architecture styles (the architecture before modernism)

1. Greek Architecture: This style is characterized by its highly formalized characteristics, such as the use of columns, pediments (triangular upper parts of the front of a building), the strictly proportional relationships between different elements, and the preference for certain regularity and symmetry.

2. Roman Architecture: Known for its innovation of new architectural techniques such as the arch and the dome, and their extensive use of concrete and bricks. Famous examples include the Colosseum and Roman aqueducts.

3. Egyptian Architecture: Marked by monumental structures, such as the Pyramids and Sphinx at Giza, and the use of stone and the post-and-lintel system of construction. Hieroglyphic and pictorial friezes were also common features.

4. Gothic Architecture: Originating from medieval Europe, is known for its tall, thin buildings with pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and flying buttresses. It most commonly appears in cathedrals of the period.

5. Byzantine Architecture: Characterized by round or square domes with a centre peak placed on a square base, extensive use of mosaics, and a rich material culture that expressed power and authority.

6. Renaissance Architecture: Developed in Italy during the Renaissance period (15th-17th Centuries), characterized by symmetry, proportion, geometry, and the regular use of columns and pilasters.

7. Islamic Architecture

: Noted for its emphasis on aesthetics, with complex geometric and calligraphic decorations, and structures like mosques and palaces.

8. Chinese Architecture: Features wooden structures elevated slightly above the ground, with tile roofs that curve upwards at the corners.

9. Mesoamerican Architecture: The structures of cultures such as the Maya and Aztec, known for massive step pyramids.

10. Inca Architecture: Known for its masterful stone masonry with perfectly fitted stones without the use of mortar, seen for example in Machu Picchu.

11. Persian Architecture: Famous for its grand palaces, arches, domes, and gardens, indicative of the great civilization that Persia once was. This style is characterized by elaborate ornamentation and bright colors.

12. Indian Architecture: Diverse and rich in culture, famous for its careful planning, complex symbolism, and structures like temples, stupas, and forts. Major periods include the Maurya, Gupta, and Mughal periods, which each brought unique styles.

13. Baroque Architecture: Characterized by large-scale ceiling frescoes and extensive use of light-play, bold colors, lavish ornaments, and dramatic effects to elicit emotive responses from viewers. 14. Neoclassical Architecture: This style is characterized by grandeur of scale, simplicity of geometric forms, Greek or Roman detail, dramatic use of columns, and a preference for blank walls.

Medieval Architecture

The period between the fall of Rome and the advent of Renaissance is referred to as Medieval times. During this time, various unique architectural styles emerged across different regions.

Romanesque architecture marked the early stages of medieval architecture in Europe. It featured thick walls, barrel vaults and sturdy pillars. Romanesque churches often displayed extensive sculptural decoration on portals, capitals, and exterior walls.

As time progressed, Gothic Architecture emerged from its Romanesque roots in 12th-century France. This style leaned heavily towards verticality, light, and intricate detailing. Elements like pointed arches, ribbed vaulting, buttresses, massive stained-glass windows, and ornately carved tracery all contributed to the soaring spectacle that epitomizes Gothic cathedrals like Notre-Dame de Paris and Chartres Cathedral.

Islamic architecture also thrived during the medieval era. Adorned with geometric patterns and arabesques, Islamic structures like the Alhambra and Great Mosque of Cordoba showcased the incredible creative skills of their builders. The intricate tilework, horseshoe arches, and calligraphy manifested the divine beauty of geometry and order.

Renaissance Architecture

Following the dark age of medieval times, the Renaissance emerged as a period of rebirth in Europe. Architects rediscovered classical principles of ancient Rome and Greece, resulting in symmetrical buildings with clear geometries and proportionate facades.

Filippo Brunelleschi’s development of linear perspective laid the groundwork for Renaissance architects such as Leon Battista Alberti and Andrea Palladio. Famous structures like St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome exemplify the grandeur and harmony of Renaissance architecture. In contrast, the Baroque style that followed embraced drama, movement, and ornate decoration. Palaces such as Versailles in France and churches like the Church of the Gesù in Rome showcase this extravagant and theatrical style.


Baroque and Rococo:

The Baroque and Rococo periods brought a shift towards more elaborate and ornamental architecture. Baroque architecture, seen in buildings like the Palace of Versailles, featured grandeur, dramatic effects, and intricate details. Rococo, on the other hand, emphasized elegance and grace, with delicate embellishments and pastel colors. The Palace of Sanssouci in Potsdam, Germany, is a splendid example of Rococo architecture

Asian Architecture:

The architectural traditions of Asia are diverse and rich in history. From the intricate wooden temples of Japan, such as the Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion), to the majestic palaces of China, such as the Forbidden City, Asian architecture reflects a deep connection with nature and spirituality. The use of intricate ornamentation, traditional building techniques, and harmonious spatial layouts create serene and contemplative environments.


Before the advent of modernism, architecture was a diverse and vibrant art form that reflected the values, beliefs, and aspirations of societies throughout history. From the awe-inspiring pyramids of Egypt to the delicate wooden temples of Japan, each architectural style tells a unique story and leaves a lasting impression. Exploring the architectural wonders that predate modernism allows us to appreciate the craftsmanship, innovation, and cultural significance embedded in these structures. By understanding our architectural heritage, we can gain a deeper appreciation for the art form and draw inspiration for future design.