A Guide to Understanding Architectural Styles

architectural Styles

Architecture is a vital part of human history and culture, reflecting a society’s values, beliefs, and aspirations. From ancient temples and cathedrals to modern skyscrapers and buildings, architecture has evolved over time to reflect people’s changing needs and tastes. Each architectural style has unique features and characteristics that make it stand out, from the Federal style’s symmetry and Roman classical details to the Spanish Colonial Revival’s stuccoed walls and flat roofs.

In this article, we will explore seven popular styles that architect firms draw inspiration. From the Federal style to the Spanish Colonial Revival. We will discuss each style’s history, key features, and notable examples. Through this exploration, readers will gain a deeper appreciation for the art and craft of architecture, as well as a better understanding of how architecture is tied to historical events and cultural movements.

Although this article is focused on architectural styles, there are also 6 interior decorating styles worth exploring as well.


Federal Style

The Federal style, which developed in the late 1700s and early 1800s, was inspired by the French-inspired Palladian style popularized in England during the 1730s. The Federal style is best known for using Roman classical details and symmetry. Thomas Jefferson’s designs popularized the federal-style architecture at his home, Monticello, which he built during his retirement years. The Federal style was used throughout the United States until it gave way to the Greek Revival style in the 1830s. The Federal style was also called Georgian because it looked similar to English Colonial architecture from this period. People who lived during this time were called Federalists because they supported a strong central government like those in Europe at this time did.

Greek Revival

Greek Revival is a style of architecture popular in the United States between 1820 and 1840. The classical architecture of ancient Greece inspired it. Greek Revival architecture features pedimented porticoes with triangular or segmental arches, columns, and pilasters. It also features elaborate cornices, moldings, and other decorations. The name of this style comes from the fact that it was based on the architectural styles found in ancient Greece, particularly those found in Athens and Sparta. Greek Revival architecture was popularized in America during the 1830s through the writings of English architect John Soane (1753-1837).

Gothic Revival

Gothic Revival was a popular style in the 19th century. It is characterized by pointed arches and steeply-pitched roofs made of wood or stone. This style was inspired by medieval architecture.


Churches, houses, schools, and other Gothic Revival-style buildings can be found worldwide. Gothic Revival architecture is also known as Victorian Gothic or High Victorian Gothic. Augustus Pugin (1812-1852) and A.W.N. Pugin (1834-1875) were the British architects most responsible for developing this style. Examples of their work can be seen at the Houses of Parliament in London, England; the Palace of Westminster; St George’s Cathedral in Southwark; St Paul’s Cathedral in London; and many other churches throughout England.

Italianate Style

Italianate is a style of architecture popular in the United States from about 1850 to 1880. The style draws its name from Italy, where the style originated. Italianate homes were popular along the East Coast and the Midwest, but this style also surfaced in other parts of the country.

Italianate features such as low-pitched roofs with wide overhanging eaves and brackets and decorative porches, friezes, and cornices are all trademarks of this home style. Italianate houses, often as historical landmarks or museums, can be found throughout the United States and Canada today. Depending on their original use, they range from small cottages to large mansions.

Second Empire Style

The Second Empire style is characterized by its mansard roof, a double-sloped (steeply pitched) roof with only the top half covered with a tiled or shingled covering. The lower slopes of this type of roof are often hidden behind a decorative facade. It was popular in the mid-19th century when France was still rebuilding after the Franco-Prussian War. The style is considered part of the High Victorian Gothic architectural movement in England and America, which began in the 1840s and continued through the 1880s. The second empire style was used for civic buildings such as courthouses, schools, and libraries during this time period. This style also had an influence on residential architecture during this time period as well

Queen Anne Style

Queen Anne’s Style was one of the first “revival” styles, and it was inspired by Queen Anne’s love of the English countryside. The style is characterized by various elements, including steeply pitched roofs, tall chimneys, bay windows, and elaborate decoration. The Queen Anne style originated in England during the late 1700s and 1800s. It was named after England’s Queen Anne (1665-1714), known for her love of English country life. The style was popularized in America by Lutyens’ work on the houses at Kew Gardens in London (1902). The term “Queen Anne” also refers to a type of Victorian architecture with elements of the Queen Anne style but did not follow all its rules or principles exactly. This style often includes asymmetrical massing, elaborate roof lines, towers, and porches with gables.

Spanish Colonial Revival

Spanish Colonial Revival style is a popular architectural style in the United States. It developed during the early 20th century and was most popular between 1915 and 1930. The style is sometimes called the California Mission style because of its use around California. Still, it also became a popular style in southern Florida, New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas. Stuccoed walls, flat roofs, arches, decorative tiles, and wrought ironwork characterize the Spanish Colonial Revival style. The home’s exterior will often be painted in earth tones or muted colors such as cream or white. The interior is usually more ornate than the exterior, with hardwood floors, carved wood trim, and plaster ceilings. “mission” refers to Spain’s efforts to Christianize Native Americans during colonial times. Many missions were built by Native Americans who were taught European building techniques and materials by Spanish missionaries. The earliest mission churches were made from sun-dried adobe bricks rather than baked in an oven like modern bricks are today. Adobe bricks are made from clay that is mixed with sand and gravel and then pressed into molds or forms before being laid out in the sun to dry for several days before being used for construction purposes

Architecture is not just about creating beautiful buildings but also about creating spaces that reflect the values and aspirations of a society. Each architectural style has its own unique features that tell a story of its time, from the Federal style’s symmetry and Roman classical details to the Spanish Colonial Revival’s stuccoed walls and flat roofs. Understanding these styles and their history can provide a deeper appreciation for the art and craft of architecture.

Many resources are available for readers who want to know more about architecture. One great place to start is with books on architectural history, which can provide a comprehensive overview of different styles, movements, and techniques. Visiting museums and architectural landmarks can also be an excellent way to learn more about architecture and experience it firsthand. Additionally, online resources such as architectural blogs, forums, and social media groups can provide information and insights into architecture. With so many resources, anyone can become an architecture enthusiast and gain a deeper appreciation for this vital aspect of human culture.


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