15 Top Architectural Styles

Tudor house with gray and white timber detailing and brick entryway

The Spruce / Christopher Lee Foto

The built environment is a rich and varied architectural tapestry with overlapping styles and movements that have often traveled around the world, adapting themselves to different climates, landscapes and cultural needs. Here is a rundown of 15 popular architectural styles throughout history.

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    Classical Architecture

    Parthenon, Athens, Greece

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    An umbrella term that refers to the building styles that originated in ancient Greece and Rome, classical architecture has influenced centuries of subsequent design movements throughout the world, including Neoclassical and Greek Revival architecture. Some of the most famous buildings in the modern world are based on ancient Greek and Roman designs. Classical architecture focuses on symmetry and proportions; columns with Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian detailing; the use of materials such as marble, brick, and concrete; and classical design motifs such as interior molding, medium pitched roofs, boxed eaves, decorative door surrounds, and broken pediments over the entry door.

    While classical architecture was largely replaced by modernism and contemporary architecture in the 20th century, classical architecture continues to be built in what has been rebranded as "new classical" style.

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    Neoclassical Architecture

    The White House

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    Neoclassical architecture refers to a style of buildings constructed during the revival of Classical Greek and Roman architecture that began around 1750 and flourished in the 18th and 19th centuries. Whereas Greek Revival architecture utilizes classical elements, such as columns with Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian details, neoclassicism is characterized by a more whole-scale revival of entire and often grand-scale classical volumes.

    Some of the most famous and easily recognizable institutional and government buildings in Europe and the United States are neoclassical in style, such as the White House and U.S. Capitol building.

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    Greek Revival Architecture

    Greek Revival house in Greenfield Village, Michigan.

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    Greek Revival architecture is inspired by the symmetry, proportion, simplicity, and elegance of the ancient Greek temples of 5th century B.C. In the U.S., Greek Revival reached peak popularity from 1825 to 1860, and became the first dominant national style of architecture in the U.S. as it spread from the East Coast across the country to the West Coast, leaving state capitol buildings, banks, New England churches, urban row houses, galleried cottages, and southern plantation houses in its wake.

    Inspired by the birthplace of democracy, Americans borrowed classical elements to design buildings for what was then a still new democracy, such as columns with Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian details, painted white to mimic the marble used in ancient Greece; gently sloping roofs with gable fronts; and elaborate door surrounds. Interiors featured simple, fairly open layouts; graceful proportions; tall parlor floor windows and doors; ornate plasterwork ceilings; plain plaster walls; wide plank floors; and ornate ceiling mantels.

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  • 04 of 15

    Industrial Architecture

    Water tower building in Brooklyn

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    An umbrella term used to describe buildings constructed to facilitate the needs of industry, industrial architecture encompasses a range of building types and styles that mix functionality and design and can be found all over the industrialized world, such as factories, warehouses, foundries, steel mills, water towers, grain silos, distilleries, breweries, refineries, power plants, and other utilitarian structures. The first industrial buildings were constructed in the 1700s during the first Industrial Revolution that took place mainly in Britain from about 1760 to 1840.

    But today when we reference industrial architecture, we are mostly referring to the buildings that emerged as a response to the widespread use of new materials such as metal and concrete as well as mass production methods brought on by the Second Industrial Revolution of the late 19th and early 20th century, and which formed the building blocks for Modern Architecture. Features of industrial architecture may include large, open floor plans; high ceilings; raw rough materials such as concrete, brick, and metal; lack of ornamentation on building façade; exposed brick, ductwork and piping; and large metal-grid windows.

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    Bauhaus Architecture

    Bauhaus main building designed by Walter Gropius

    Cethegus / Wikimedia Commons


    Bauhaus architecture came out of the influential German school founded by Walter Gropius (1883-1969) in the early 20th century, which had a utopian aim to create a radically new form of architecture and design to help rebuild society after World War I. By synthesizing fine arts, crafts, design, architecture, and technology, the Bauhaus promoted rational, functional design that embraced a form follows function, less is more ethos.

    Not all Bauhaus buildings look alike, but in general they eschew ornamentation to focus on simple, rational, functional design; use simple geometric forms such as the triangle, square, and circle; asymmetry; use of modern materials such as steel, glass, concrete; flat roofs; glass curtain walls; smooth façades. Bauhaus developed into the International Style when Gropius and other prominent members of the Bauhaus emigrated to the U.S. in the 1930s and later influenced the development of modernism in the 1950s and '60s. Bauhaus architecture and design principles still influence the shape and look of everyday objects.

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  • 06 of 15

    Victorian Architecture

    Victorian Painted Ladies in San Francisco.

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    The term Victorian architecture refers not to a particular style but to an era—the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901. The style originated in England and still largely defines the architecture of its cities and towns, but varying styles of Victorian era architecture spread to places like North America, Australia, and New Zealand. Victorian era architecture is marked by its unapologetic devotion to ornament and its ornate interior design. Some features that will help you spot a Victorian from the outside include: steeply pitched roofs; plain or colorfully painted brick; ornate gables; rooftop finials; sliding sash and bay windows; octagonal or round towers; and generous wraparound porches. Interiors often include grand staircases; complicated layouts; high ceilings; intricately carved wood paneling; and decorative fireplaces.

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    Arts and Crafts Architecture

    Craftsman bungalow

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    The Arts and Crafts movement was a reaction to the ornate and mass produced styles of Victorian architecture that embraced handcrafted design and the use of natural materials such as stone, brick, wood, and hammered copper and bronze metalwork detailing. Originating in Great Britain in the mid 19th-century, the Arts and Crafts movement migrated to the U.S. in the beginning of the 20th century, encompassing architecture, interior design, textiles, fine art and more. Many architectural styles came out of the Arts and Crafts movement, including the popular Craftsman and Bungalow-style homes, simple, thoughtfully made structures originally designed for working class families.

    Arts and Crafts-style homes are symmetrical; low to the ground; designed for efficiency and minimal upkeep; often feature large fireplaces; low-pitched roofs with wide overhangs; exposed interior beams; built-in bookshelves, window seats and cabinets; and multiple windows with small panes; prominent porches; and open floor plans.

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  • 08 of 15

    Cape Cod Architecture

    Cape Cod house in Chatham, Mass.

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    Cape Cod architecture is named after the Massachusetts coastal region where it is the signature style. Homey and effortlessly appealing, Cape Cod houses have simple, timeless clean-lined silhouettes, with elements such as oak and pine wood post and beam framing and wood flooring; brick fireplaces; and clapboard or cedar shake roof and side shingles.

    English colonists in the 17th century first adapted English half-timber hall and parlor houses to suit the bitter New England climate, creating a boxier, lower slung silhouette to stand up to the elements. A second wave known as Cape Cod Revival in the 1920s to the 1950s helped popularize the style, which spread across the United States, and became an economical solution during both the Depression and the post-war housing boom of the 1940s and '50s. Even in super-sized 21st-century America, Cape Cod style homes retain a nostalgic popular appeal with new builds of all sizes today, from sprawling homes to tiny houses.

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  • 09 of 15

    Tudor Architecture

    Tudor style house

    Blaine Harrington III / Getty Images


    Originating in England during the Tudor period starting in 1485, Tudor architecture evokes storybook cottages and old-world charm. Tudor homes were built by craftsmen who combined Renaissance and Gothic design elements to create a transitional style that spread throughout England until it was supplanted by Elizabethan architecture in 1560. Tudor style was reborn in the United States in the 1890s and remained popular through the 1940s. Tudor homes feature signature half-timber detailing, long vertically placed decorative wood beams that create a two-toned exterior. However, Tudor Revival homes often eschewed this original Tudor look for red-toned brick with ornate detailing around windows, chimneys, and entryways.

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    Art Deco Architecture

    Art Deco architecture in Miami

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    Art Deco architecture is part of the Art Deco movement, an inventive design period in the U.S. and Europe in the 1920s and 30s that spanned the realms of fashion, art, homewares, and building styles throughout the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression. The earliest examples of Art Deco architecture can be found in Paris, France, before the style spread to the United States in the 1930s, influencing the skyline of Manhattan forever with now iconic skyscrapers such as the Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, and the Chrysler building. 

    Art Deco buildings utilize materials like stucco, terracotta, decorative glass, chrome, steel, and aluminum. They feature ornate, geometric detailing such as chevrons, pyramids, stylized sunbursts or florals, zig-zags, and other geometric shapes. Many Art Deco buildings feature bright, opulent colors accented with contrasting black, white, gold or silver. And they often feature fragmented triangular shapes; decorative, geometric windows; parapets and spires.

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    Modern Architecture

    Mid-century modern house in Palm Springs

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    Modern architecture refers to the style of architecture that flourished in the early to mid 20th century. Rejecting the ornamental styles of the recent past, modern architecture favors clean lines; functional design; open floor plans; built-in storage; a focus on materials such as steel, concrete, iron, glass, wood, brick, and stone; and a focus on integrating architecture into the natural landscape while bringing the outdoors inside with the use of large windows to let in natural light and air.

    Modern architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright redefined a new world of architecture with form follows function design, and a host of mid-century designers transformed the built landscape and the world of interior design with mid-century modern furniture that continues to be wildly popular today.

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    Brutalist Architecture

    UK National Theatre building

    peterhowell / Getty Images

    Brutalist architecture (1950s-1970s) is characterized by simple, block-like, hulking concrete structures (the term is a play on the French phrase for raw concrete, béton brut). With simple, graphic lines, a heavy appearance, a monochromatic palette, and a lack of ornamentation, Brutalism is a bold, in-your-face and eternally polarizing style. An offshoot of modernism, brutalist architecture became a popular if perennially controversial choice for institutional buildings around the world before fading out in the 1980s, giving way to the postmodernism and today’s contemporary styles. But the style's influence can be seen in contemporary product and interior design, furniture, objects, and web design.

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    Contemporary Architecture

    Contemporary lake house.

    asbe / E+ / Getty Images


    Contemporary architecture is a blanket phrase that comprises a range of present day building styles that often look radically different from one another and sometimes from anything that has come before. Contemporary architecture followed the modern period of the first half of the 20th century and the postmodern period through the 90s. Using innovative materials and building methods such as computer-generated curves, laser-cutting technology, and 3D printing, contemporary architects often embrace rounded forms, curved lines, unconventional volumes, asymmetry, and open floor plans. Sustainability is an important feature of contemporary architecture.

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    Beaux-Arts Architecture

    Musée D'Orsay in Paris

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    Beaux-Arts architecture is a building style that emerged from Paris’ École des Beaux-Arts in the late 1800s and spread to the US during the Gilded Age. Beaux-Arts buildings are grandiose, theatrical, highly ornate buildings that are inspired by Roman and Greek classicism and inspired by French and Italian Renaissance and Baroque building styles, such as the Musée D'Orsay.

    Notable American architects such as Richard Morris, HH Richardson and Charles McKim trained at the Beaux-Arts school in Paris, and Beaux-Arts style was embraced for major building projects in the US, such as the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. and prominent buildings such as Grand Central Terminal and the New York Public Library’s main branch in NYC. Beaux-Arts architecture faded around 1930 with the onset of the Depression rendering such over-the-top displays of opulence as out of touch and obsolete.

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    Italianate Architecture

    Osbourne House, Isle of Wight

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    Italianate architecture refers to a particular 19th-century style of building that was inspired by 16th century Italian Renaissance architecture combined with picturesque influences that featured architectural elements from a romanticized past that broke some of the strict rules around formal classical architecture.

    The Italianate style was born in 1802 when architect John Nash built the first Italianate villa in England, Cronkhill in Shropshire, and was promoted by the work of Sir Charles Barry in the 1830s. The style spread throughout Northern Europe, the British Empire and the US from the late 1840s to 1890. It was a hugely popular building choice used in both rural and urban settings in the US in the 1860s after the Civil War.