Looking at Buildings

Styles & Traditions


Complex Classical Buildings

Interactive - The Classical Temple

The Greek temple was essentially a simple structure, usually not much more than a single oblong room with a surround of colonnades.

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Liverpool, St George's Hall

Other architectural traditions, including the RomanGlossary Term and medieval, made much more use of arches or arcades, and various solutions were used to combine these with columns. Sometimes the arches spring directly from the columns, as in the GothicGlossary Term style. This was popular in the early Italian RenaissanceGlossary Term, and England has examples both of its early use and of later imitations of the early Italian models.

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St Martin-in-the-Fields

Later this came to be thought incorrect, and sections of entablatureGlossary Term tended to be fitted between capitalGlossary Term and archGlossary Term. The effect can be strangely top-heavy.

Besides being used structurally, to support upper walls, roofs or ceilings, the ordersGlossary Term can also be used to adorn buildings, either in the roundGlossary Term or in relief. The interactive building illustrates the difference from the system used on the ancient temple shown on the previous page.

Where the ordersGlossary Term are used in relief, a common solution is to frame round-archedGlossary Term openings between columns or pilasters, with straight entablatures across the top. Many triumphal arches, a direct imitation of a familiar RomanGlossary Term type, have this characteristic.

You will also see round-archedGlossary Term frameworks (applied arcades) used with square-headed openings.

A triple window or opening in which the centre is wider and has a round-archedGlossary Term top is called a Venetian windowGlossary Term or a PalladianGlossary Term window, from its popularity in sixteenth-century Italy.

Multi-storeyGlossary Term buildings presented different problems. Greek buildings rarely used more than one storey externally, but the more technically ambitious structures of the Romans were much more likely to be of several storeys.

The RomanGlossary Term convention was to use superimposed ordersGlossary Term, in ascending orderGlossary Term of richness: DoricGlossary Term, IonicGlossary Term, CorinthianGlossary Term, CompositeGlossary Term. This example, in the City of London, has CorinthianGlossary Term pilasters below CompositeGlossary Term ones.

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The Triumphal Arch, Wilton House
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The Bridge of Sighs, Hertford College
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London, Atlas Insurance, Cheapside
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Bath, General Wade's house

The RenaissanceGlossary Term brought other, more flexible solutions. In particular, the giant orderGlossary Term was used to embrace more than one storey. One common treatment is to raise up a giant orderGlossary Term over the ground storey, or basementGlossary Term. This suited buildings which had their grandest rooms on the first floor (called the piano nobileGlossary Term in Italian). It is particularly associated with the 16th-century Italian architect Andrea Palladio, whose works and publications were very influential in England. A storey or storeys above the main orderGlossary Term is called an atticGlossary Term. General Wade's house in the Abbey Yard in Bath uses all these features together, though a shopfront has replaced the original ground storey.

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Blenheim Palace

Another treatment developed in the RenaissanceGlossary Term is to use a smaller-scale orderGlossary Term or ordersGlossary Term in combination with a giant orderGlossary Term. At Blenheim Palace a giant CorinthianGlossary Term orderGlossary Term articulates the central block and a much lower DoricGlossary Term orderGlossary Term embraces the wings.



Types include: Basket arch or Anse de Panier (French, lit. basket handle): three-centred and depressed, or with a flat centre. Chancel: dividing chancel from nave or crossing in a church. Crossing: spanning piers at a crossing in a church. Depressed or three-centred: with a rounded top, but curving inward more at the sides. Four-centred: with four arcs, the lower two curving inward more than the upper, with a blunt central point; typical of late medieval English architecture. Jack arch: shallow segmental vault springing from beams, used for fireproof floors, bridge decks, etc. Ogee (adjective ogival): a pointed arch with a double reverse curve, especially popular in the 14th century; a nodding ogee curves forward from the wall face at the top. Parabolic: shaped like a chain suspended from two level points, but inverted. Relieving or discharging: incorporated in a wall to relieve superimposed weight. Shouldered: with arcs in each corner and a flat centre or lintel. Skew: spanning responds not diametrically opposed. Stilted: with a vertical section above the impost i.e. the horizontal moulding at the springing. Strainer: inserted in an opening to resist inward pressure. Three-centred: see Depressed, above. Transverse: spanning a main axis (e.g. of a vaulted space). Triumphal arch: influential type of Imperial Roman monument, free-standing, with a square attic or top section and broad sections to either side of the main opening, often with lesser openings or columns. Tudor: with arcs in each corner joining straight lines to the central point. Two-centred: the simplest kind of pointed arch.


Small top storey within a roof. Also the storey above the main entablature of a classical fa


Lowest, subordinate storey; hence the lowest part of a classical elevation, below the piano nobile or principal storey.


Head or crowning feature of a column or pilaster.


One of the orders of classical architecture in which the capital of the column combines the volutes of the Ionic order with the foliage of the Corinthian.


The most slender and ornate of the three main classical orders. It has a basket-shaped capital ornamented with acanthus foliage.


The simplest and plainest of the three main classical orders, featuring a frieze with triglyphs and metopes. A Roman Doric column has a simple round capital with a narrow neck band and a plain or fluted shaft. A Greek Doric column has a thin spreading convex capital and no base to the column.


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

Giant order

In classical architecture, an order whose height is that of two or more storeys of the building to which it is applied. Also called a colossal order.


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.


One of the orders of classical architecture, distinguished in particular by downward- and inward-curling spirals (called volutes) on the capital of the column.


Of five or more storeys.


One of a series of recessed arches and jambs forming a splayed medieval opening, e.g. a doorway or arcade arch. Also, an upright structural member used in series, especially in classical architecture: see Orders.


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.


Derived from the buildings and publications of the Italian classical architect Andrea Palladio (1508-80). His manner was introduced to Britain by Inigo Jones in the early 17th century, and was revived by Lord Burlington and others in the 18th century, in both cases as a counter to the less strict or pure styles of the day. Its influence continued well into the 19th century.

Piano nobile

(Italian): Principal floor of a classical building, above a ground floor or basement and with a lesser storey overhead.


The revival of classical architecture that began in 15th-century Italy and spread through Western Europe and the Americas in the following two centuries, finding distinctive forms and interpretations in different states and regions. From c. 1830 the Italian version was revived in Britain as a style in its own right (sometimes called Neo-Renaissance or Italianate), i.e. as distinguished from the native Georgian classical tradition.


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.


(Scots): A rounded bartizan or turret, usually roofless. An angle round is set at a corner.

Venetian window

In classical architecture, a window with an arched central light flanked by two lower straight-headed ones; the motif is also used for other openings. Also called a Serlian window, Serlian motif, Serliana and Palladian window.