Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts


  • Page ID
  • So far, we have given very little consideration to architecture, yet it is one of the most culturally significant forms of art. Often, with structures that were built for group activities, they reflect the culture, its values, style, purposes, and preferences in the time and place more broadly and deeply than settings where individual choices might predominate. And decoration of such architectural settings, even if individual needs and ideals have been expressed through painting or sculptural themes, generally reflects the greater permanence of a structure expected to serve the group’s purposes and needs.

    Screen Shot 2019-10-09 at 4.01.03 PM.png

    The earliest buildings were likely designed to shelter a family or small group that lived together. Soon group needs came into play, and the community may have wanted to provide for joint activities of several types such as ritual/worship, group protection, government, markets, and other commercial needs. The types expanded as the societies grew, diversified, specialized, and sought ways to meet needs for both individuals and communities. The specific purposes led to diverse designs, and cultural values influenced both practical and stylistic choices. We will survey a small sample of landmark types from across the centuries from several different viewpoints, depending upon the significance of features for the individual examples. Our focus will sometimes be on the plan or layout of the structure, materials used in its creation, or spatial considerations as they relate to purposes and use. At other times, we will look at how the building is situated within a community, or how patrons, owners, and community members influence its construction and use. We will examine in greater detail the ritual uses, meanings, and significance of architectural settings and their decoration, in Chapter 10 Art and Ritual Life: Symbolism of Space and Ritual Objects.

    Before we start our discussion, you should familiarize yourself with the basics of building, that is, how you might create walls and place openings in the walls while supporting the parts of the structure above. The most basic method is the post-and-lintel design in which two upright beams support a horizontal one to create a rectangular opening. (Figure 7.1) Before long, builders also devised a variety of arches, a curved or pointed structure spanning an opening and supporting the weight above, and then created further modifications of these techniques to develop barrel vaults, a series of circular arches that form a ceiling or roof, and domes, spherical-shaped ceiling or roof. (Diagram of Roman Arches: classconnection.s3.amazonaws.../jpg/untitled- 13EF5EB39821CEF88AF.jpg; Domes: AAAAAAAAACk/VytZNRg0UK0/s1600/40-typology-dome.jpg) They also made variations that served decorative purposes. Over time, these have been imaginatively used for a tremendous variety of structural and decorative purposes, and you should keep them in mind as we investigate an array of buildings that reflect cultural concerns and human needs of all sorts. We will classify these buildings into several groups, although noting that a great number of them were multi- purpose: residential/housing, community needs, commercial buildings and centers, governmental structures, and those designed for worship.

    • Was this article helpful?