Writing about architectural styles

Michael Scanlan House, Lanesboro, Minnesota, Copyright McGhiever

Queen Anne Revival: My absolute favorite! This style is instantly recognizable by its very unique look, resembling a haunted house. It also has nothing to do with the original Queen Anne Style of the early 18th century.

Trademarks include asymmetrical façades with elaborate detailing, wraparound and pedimented verandas, columns, front-facing gables, towers of various shapes, fun colors and designs, overhanging eaves, a variety of wall textures, bay and oriel windows, and grand chimneys.

Though it lends itself best to large, sprawling mansions, there are also many Queen Anne townhouses and rowhouses in big cities. They just don’t have the luxury of including every single trademark detail.

It was most popular from 1880–1910.

Home of Henry Leland (founder of Cadillac and Lincoln) in Detroit’s Indian Village, Copyright Quinndetroit

Tudor Revival: My second-favorite! Despite its namesake, it bears far more in common with vernacular Medieval English architecture which had stubbornly insisted on surviving into the Tudor era. It’s instantly recognizable by its distinctive half-timbering (filling in panels between timbers with exposed, nonstructural material called infill).

Other common features include high chimneys, steeply-pitched roofs, dormer windows supported by consoles, overhanging first floors above pillared verandas, and tall, mullioned windows (i.e., decorative, vertical divisions between the two panes).

Though it began appearing as early as the 1840s, it was most popular from about 1890–1940.

Pomander Walk on the Upper West Side, Copyright Sonja Stark

Storybook houses (officially Provincial Revival): These buildings evoke a quaint old European fairytale village, with playfulness and whimsy, uneven roofs, uniquely-shaped doors and windows which aren’t always the same size or shape, cobblestones.

It was most popular in the 1920s and 1930s, particularly in California.

Men’s Abbey of St. Étienne Church, Caen, France, Copyright Urban

Gothic: Who isn’t familiar with these quintessentially Medieval buildings! It was so popular, it lasted from the 12th to 17th centuries. Each country developed a different style; e.g., Belarusian, French, Czech, Spanish, Venetian. There are also distinct periods—Early Gothic, High Gothic, Rayonnant and Decorated, Late Gothic.

Trademark features include pointed arches, rib vaults, flying buttresses, spires, towers, and traceries (windows divided into multi-sized sections by stone bars). These buildings are incredibly well-constructed, meant to last for the ages. We have the Medieval architects of Notre-Dame Cathedral to thank for the relatively minimal damage after the 2019 fire.

Gothic Revival began in the 1740s, and had become the Western world’s most popular style by the mid-19th century. Sadly, it fell from fashion in the early 20th century, derided as out of touch, ugly, and uncool.

Maria Laach Abbey, Glees, Germany, Copyright Goldi64 at German Wikipedia

Romanesque: The forerunner of Gothic, notable for its semicircular arches, thick walls, large towers, sturdy pillars, decorative arcades (i.e., a line of arches supported by columns or pillars), and symmetry. Historians differ on when it arose, but most believe it was the 11th century. Though many humble homes were built in Romanesque, very few survive. Most surviving examples are churches.

Around 1300, it was overtaken by Gothic architecture. In the mid-19th century, Romanesque Revival arose, with simpler windows and arches.

Vienna’s Piarist Monastery, Copyright Sunny R

Baroque: Arose in early 17th century Italy and caught on all across Europe, eventually even coming to Spanish and Portuguese colonies in Latin America. Its grand, decorative style was intended to lure people back to the Catholic Church after the Protestant Reformation. I’ll never forget my tenth grade European History AP teacher comparing it to the modern music in Sister Act. “Baroque, think butts in seats.”

Features include twisted columns giving the appearance of motion, grand stairways, gilded cupolas, illusionistic ceiling painting (meant to feel 3D), cartouches, mirrors, and oval or elliptical spaces. Baroque also magnified the basic elements of Renaissance architecture to look even grander.

Baroque began fading around 1750.

Schloss Solitude, Stuttgart, Germany, Copyright Mussklprozz

Rococo: Began in 1730s France as a response to the very geometric and formal Louis XIV Style. In contrast, Rococo is very theatrical and ornamental. Though façades tend to be simple, interiors go all out. Many decorations are based on nature (e.g., leaves, birds, flowers, fruits). Like Baroque, it also used illusionistic ceiling paintings.

Many motifs were based on the Far East (e.g., dragons, pagodas, monkeys, Chinese and Japanese people, mythological birds). Warm pastels and asymmetry were also popular.

Rococo lasted till the late 18th century.

Rectory of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Queens, Copyright CaptJayRuffins

Dutch Colonial: Obviously arose in early 17th century Dutch colonies, and lasted till the early 19th century. These homes were single-story, mostly wooden, but sometimes stone if it were available. Ceilings and inside walls were plastered with clay.

Distinguishing characteristics are Gambrel roofs with flared eaves, brick chimneys and half-doors at the end of stepped gables, long verandas on both long sides, double-hung sash windows with shutters swinging outwards.

Dutch Colonial Revival arose in the early 20th century. Though these homes are closely modelled on the simple originals, many have two or three stories, grander details, and main doors on the long side.

Cooper Union Foundation Building, Manhattan, Copyright Ajay Suresh

Italianate: First used in Britain in 1802; became popular in the 1830s. In the U.S., it was most popular from the late 1840s till 1890. Features include pedimented doors and windows, cupolas, imposing cornices, flat or low-pitched roofs, tall first-floor windows, projected eaves supported by corbels, masonry blocks on the corners of walls, and towers. Many humble rowhouses in big cities are also Italianate.

43 Fifth Avenue, Greenwich Village, Copyright Beyond My Ken

Beaux-Arts: Arose in 1830s France and was hugely popular from the 1850s till the start of WWII. In the U.S., it was most popular from 1880–1920. Trademarks include flat roofs, symmetry, pedimented and arched doors, arched windows, classical raised and rusticated first floors, grand entries and stairways, sculptural decorations, rich details, and subtle polychromy.

Wuppertal, Germany, Copyright Im Fokus

Bauhaus: Centered in Weimar, Dessau, and Berlin from 1919–30; also quite popular in Hungary. Many buildings in Israel are also Bauhaus, built by architects who fled the Nazis. In contrast to many of the previous grandiose styles, Bauhaus was all about functionality, radically simplified forms, rationality, and individuality existing alongside mass production.

Port Sunlight, England

Arts and Crafts: Popular from 1880–1910 in the U.K., and 1890s–1910 in the U.S., where it was known as American Craftsman. Features include wide verandas, pointed window arches, steep roofs, wooden fittings, brick fireplaces, mixed materials, shingle roofs, decorative brackets or exposed rafters under eaves, hand-crafted stone, and square, tapered columns supporting the veranda roof.

24 Rue Félix Faure, Nancy, France, Copyright Zairon

Art Nouveau: Most popular from 1885–1910, arising as a reaction against the prevailing academic art, historicism, and eclecticism of the 19th century. Distinguishing features include asymmetry, plants and flowers, ornamental S curves (whiplash lines), unusual forms, and modern materials like glass, concrete, iron, and ceramics.

Art Nouveau caught on all across Europe, the U.S., Latin America, and several African countries. As with many other architectural schools, it went by different names and took on a slightly different character in each country.

IMCAMA Building, Casablanca, Copyright إيان

Art Deco: Most popular from about 1910–40, influenced by Cubism and Fauvism. It was very bold and bright, also borrowing heavily from the architecture of China, Japan, Persia, India, Egypt, and Mexico. Many materials are expensive and rare.

During the Depression, it was more subdued and took on curving forms and sleeker finishes. In the U.S., it was most commonly used for offices, government buildings, depots, and movie theatres.

Ewing, New Jersey, Copyright Famartin

Cape Cod: Started in 17th century Colonial New England as simple one-story houses, with a large central chimney, little ornamentation, and moderately steep, pitched gabled roofs. The small space above the main floor was usually used for children’s bedrooms.

Cape Cod Revival became the fashion from the 1930s through 1950s, particularly in suburban housing developments. The modern form sometimes places the chimney on the side of the house instead of in the middle.

2 thoughts on “Writing about architectural styles

  1. It really does help to approach from the art styles [pure and applied] that the houses and larger architectural world were inspired by.

    A few years ago I read an automobile magazine which described many of these styles in an Australian context.

    And wow about the Bauhaus houses in Israel!


  2. Very impressive! You obviously spent quite a bit of time researching the architecture.
    ~Cie from Naughty Netherworld Press~


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