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Styles & Traditions


Classical Architecture

Interactive - The Classical Temple

ClassicalGlossary Term architecture began with the ancient Greeks, and was developed and elaborated by the Romans. In its purest and most familiar form, it is expressed by the temple, an oblong enclosure fronted or surrounded by columns. 

The formalized system of columns supporting an entablatureGlossary Term that was developed for these temples proved extraordinarily adaptable. For centuries, it was regarded as the key to beauty in building, and the best guide to true proportion. Just as the Greeks and Romans were thought to have reached perfection in sculpture and art, so did their architecture haunt the imagination of the Western world. It was revived in the 16th and 17th centuries, and its use continued through the 19th century, alongside other revived styles such as the GothicGlossary Term. Even in the 20th century, when Modernist architecture spread all over the world, the stream of new classicalGlossary Term buildings never dried up entirely.

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The Parthenon

Britain has very little remaining from RomanGlossary Term times that shows the classicalGlossary Term styles in use, so architects and builders had at first to learn about them from abroad, either by travel and observation, or indirectly from books and illustrations. The knowledge thus acquired changed slowly but constantly through the centuries, as each generation both learned more about the buildings of antiquity, and found new ways to use that knowledge to suit the needs and materials of its own time.

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Greek Doric

What makes a building classicalGlossary Term? It is hard to give a single definition, but most will feature at least one of the following:

  1. The use of one or more of the classical orders, which follow recognized forms and proportions both for the columns and for the entablatureGlossary Term, that is the horizontal projections and mouldings above them.
  2. The presence of certain other conventional features, such as pediments and balustrades.
  3. A preference for symmetrical plans and façades over irregular ones. Not every classicalGlossary Term building will fit these three rules, especially complex buildings, which use the classicalGlossary Term styles in a great many different ways. The results can be very distant from the familiar classicalGlossary Term temple.

Other classicalGlossary Term buildings, known as astylar buildings, do without ordersGlossary Term altogether.

Others use what might be called mixed styles, in which classicalGlossary Term motifs appear in decorative combinations alongside devices from older traditions. There are also non-European styles which use columns in their own different ways.

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London, Taviton Street, Bloomsbury
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Blenheim Palace
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Royal Holloway College



A term used for the architecture of Ancient Greece and Rome, revived at the Renaissance and subsequently imitated around the Western world. It uses a range of conventional forms, the roots of which are the orders, or types of column each with its fixed proportions and ornaments (especially Doric, Ionic and Corinthian). Classical buildings tend also to be symmetrical, both externally and on plan. Classical architecture in England began c. 1530 with applied ornamental motifs, followed within a few decades by fully-fledged new buildings.


In classical architecture, collective name for the three horizontal members (architrave, frieze and cornice) carried by a wall.


The style of the Middle Ages from the later 12th century to the Renaissance, with which it co-existed in certain forms into the 17th century. Characterized in its full development by the pointed arch, the rib-vault and an often skeletal masonry structure for churches, combined with large glazed windows. The term was originally associated with the concept of the barbarian Goths as assailants of classical civilization.


The differently formalized versions of the basic post-and-lintel (column and entablature) system in classical architecture. The main orders are Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. They are Greek in origin but occur in Roman versions. Tuscan is a simple variant of Roman Doric. The Composite capital combines Ionic volutes with Corinthian foliage. Though each order has its own conventions of design and proportion, there are many minor variations. Superimposed orders: orders on successive levels, customarily in the upward sequence of Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Composite.


The architecture of the Roman Empire, to which most of Britain belonged from 43 to c. 410 A.D. Our knowledge of Romano-British architecture depends mostly on archaeological reconstructions from foundations and fragments, though some notable fortifications and other military works survive above ground level in recognizable form.