13 Architectural Design Styles That Define the West

Here are some of the most popular architectural styles of all time in the west.
Christopher McFadden

The way we design and construct buildings has changed a lot of the last few thousand years. But a building's design is not just about functionality -- the way it looks really does matter.

Styles and tastes change over time in society and this is usually optimized by which architectural style becomes dominant. Here are but some of the most popular, and important, of all time. 


What are some of the most popular architectural designs of all time?

And so, without further ado, here are some of the most popular architectural design styles of all time. This list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.

1. Gothic architecture was, and still is, very popular

popular architectural designs gothic
The Notre-Dame de Paris is considered to be one of the finest examples of French Gothic Architecture, Source: sacromato_hr/Wikimedia Commons

One of the most popular Western architectural design styles is Gothic architecture. Dominating from the high to late middle ages, Gothic architecture forms the centerpiece of many cities in Europe. 

A pan-European style is widely considered to have lasted between the mid-12th and late 16th centuries. This style is usually characterized by large masonry buildings with enormous cavernous space with over features like rib vaults, flying buttresses, pointed gothic arches, and stained glass windows. 

Some of the most famous buildings in Europe were built in this style including the Abbey of Saint-Denis and the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris. Other notable examples include Canterbury Cathedral in England and Frankfurt Cathedral in Germany, to name but a few.

2. Brutalist architecture is, well, brutal

popular architectural styles brutalism
Alexandra Road Estate, U.K., SourceSteve Cadman/Flickr

Yet another popular, and often despised, architectural style or design is Brutalist architecture. Emerging after the devastation of the Second World War, this architectural style was born more out of necessity than an evolution of architectural form.

Characterized by exposed concrete and brick facades and stark geometric form, Brutalist architecture is a common sight in many of the rebuilt cities around Europe. Roughly speaking lasting between the 1950s and 1970s, Brutalist buildings are also generally very minimalist in design and form. 

In Britain, where the style first appeared, utilitarian, low-cost social housing was usually constructed in this style as well as institutional buildings like universities, libraries, courts, and city halls. Beautiful to some, bleak and forbidding to others, Brutalism still divides public opinion today. 

3. Modern architecture can be hit or miss

popular architectural styles modernist
The BT Tower, London, SourceUli Harder/Wikimedia Commons

Another popular architectural style that also seems to divide opinion is Modern architecture. Emerging in the early-20th century it would reach its zenith in the post-war years. 

Modern architecture is characterized by its heavy use of new technologies and emphasis on the use of things like glass, steel, and, of course, reinforced concrete. Many also see it as a rejection of the more traditional styles like neoclassicism and the Beaux-arts in particular. 

The aforementioned Brutalist architectural form is widely considered a post-war evolution of modern architecture. 

4. Byzantine architecture helped influence many later styles in Europe

13 Architectural Design Styles That Define the West
Hagia Sophia, Turkey, Source: Arid Vagen/Wikimedia Commons

A highly popular architectural style in the West is one called Byzantine architecture. Initially indistinguishable from that of the Western portion of the Roman Empire, it would later take on a form of its own.

Characterized by more sensuous and ambitious designs than its more austere Western Roman contemporaries, Byzantine architecture also tended to feature increasingly impressive and exotic domes and mosaics. 

It would later influence many architectural styles throughout the Middle Ages and beyond. One of the defined buildings of this style is the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, modern-day Istanbul. 

5. Baroque architecture was a starting point in many European cities

popular architectural styles baroque
St. Paul's Cathedral, London, Source: Karen PierceGoulding/Twitter

Baroque would prove to be very popular and soon spread to most of Europe. Characterized by its highly decorative and almost theatrical style, Baroque first appeared in Italy around the 17th Century. 

Postulated to have been a reaction to the Reformation of the period, Baroque architecture still awes and inspires us today.

It built on the basic elements of architecture that came before it but made them grander and more dramatic -- to say the least. 

6. Another highly popular style was the Victorian

popular architectural styles victorian
The Palace of Westminster, London, Source: Mike Gimelfarb/Wikimedia Commons

Victorian Architecture is another style of architecture that really took off in the West. Characterized as a series of revival styles, particularly Gothic, in the mid-to-late 19th century, the name is derived from the reign of the British Queen and Empress, Victoria. 

"Much Victorian design consisted of adapting the decorative details and rich color combinations of Italian, and especially Venetian, Gothic. Though ornamentation could be elaborate, it was usually not superficially applied but grew rationally out of the form and material used." - Encyclopedia Britannica.

The most famous example is probably the Palace of Westminster in London, UK. 

7. Classical architecture pretty much influenced the rest that followed it

13 Architectural Design Styles That Define the West
Parthenon, Athens, Source: Steve Swayne/Wikimedia Commons

Classical architecture is yet another of the most popular architectural styles in the West. Primarily centered around the monumental constructions of the ancient Greeks and Romans, this style has influenced all others in its wake. 

Most notably used in reference to buildings constructed between the 5th century BC and the 3rd Century AD, it emphasized the use of the column and pediment. From the Pantheon on Rome to the Parthenon in Athens, this style is still as impressive today as it must have been in its day. 

8. Renaissance architecture was a return to the past

popular architectural styles renaissance
Florence Duomo Santa Maria del Fiore, SourceSaurabh Thakur/Flickr

Originating in 15th Century Florence, Renaissance architecture is yet another popular style in Europe. Widely replacing Gothic as the dominant style for a time, it was effectively a revival of ancient Roman building design.

Prominent features include the column and round arch, the tunnel vault, and the dome. The basic design element was the order. The great Filippo Brunelleschi is considered the first Renaissance architect.

9. Romanesque was also popular for a time

popular architectural style romanesque
The White Tower of the Tower of London, SourceBernard Gagnon/Wikimedia Commons

Heavily borrowing from classical Roman architectural form, Romanesque is yet another popular architectural style. First appearing between the 9th to mid-11th century (there is no consensus), it was later surpassed in popularity by the emergence of Gothic architecture later in the middle ages. 

Typified by the inclusion of semi-circular arches, it would dominate architectural design for centuries. It combined elements of Roman, Carolingian and OttonianByzantine, and local Germanic traditions, it was a product of the great expansion of monasticism at this time. 

10. Tudor style architecture was very popular in the UK

13 Architectural Design Styles That Define the West
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Yet another popular architectural style was Tudor. A blend of Renaissance and Gothic-style architecture, Tudor became the dominant architectural form in Britain between the late 15th and mid-16th centuries.

It is characterized by heavy use of timber work, large groups of rectangular windows, rich oriel/bay windows, and complex multi-gabled roofs. Often they also featured highly-ornate brickwork chimneys too. 

11. Neo-classical was very popular in the 19th century

popular architectural styles neoclassical
The famous Eastern facade of Buckingham Palace, Source: Diliff/Wikimedia Commons

A reaction to the more flamboyant Baroque and Rococo styles, Neoclassical is another popular architectural style. Drawing, as the name suggests, its inspiration from the buildings of the classical period, it sought to resurrect the antique designs of ancient Greece and Rome. 

It reached its peak in around the 1850s, and is still, to this day, one of the most popular and awe-inspiring styles. 

12. Art Deco was a brief, but beautiful, architectural style

popular architectural styles art deco
Source: Nicholas Yee/Instagram

Art Deco, or simply Deco, is yet another popular architectural style in the West. First appearing just before the horrors of the First World War, it heavily influenced many buildings of the period.

It combined modern building styles with fine craftsmanship and lavish materials, Art Deco came to, in part, define the roaring 20s.

13. Postmodern architecture is both loved and hated

popular architectural styles postmodern
Source: AdamNathanielFurman/Twitter

And finally, another popular architectural style is Postmodern. It first emerged in the 1960s as a reaction against the austerity, formality, and lack of variety of modern architecture.

"Postmodernism is an eclectic, colorful style of architecture and the decorative arts that appeared from the late 1970s and continues in some form today." - Architecture.com. Loved and hated in equal measure, it is still the dominant architectural form today. 

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