After the Roman Empire crumbled, the church was expected to pick up the chaos. The year 1000 was approaching and everyone thought the end of the world was near. Cathedrals tried to establish order through geometric details, and reminded its patrons about the oncoming judgment day through sculptural details of hell taking over the earth. Although the Roman empire was dying, it still was very influential in Christian architecture, the churches being described as "Romanesque".
But as the years crept by their was a lot of experimentation with structure, and even more so with surfaces. Their was an obsession with reaching heavenward through the height of a building, while creating as much light as possible through massive stained glassed windows. To support these buildings massive flying buttresses were attached for stability. These were the Gothic Style years, but each country had their own unique take on it. France, especially Normandy, had the most archetypal gothic style, and Germany played off this with subtle differences (often having one tower instead of two). England, being more isolated to the North, had its own distinct gothic style, its buildings often being more sprawling. Italy still clung to its Roman roots, and had a much more classical leaning, and also separated its church buildings. It is interesting that in a time referred to as the "dark ages," such innovative architecture that was light-filled, intrinsically detailed and taller than ever before.
Starting in the 1400s there were a lot of new discoveries. The printing press, America, the reformation all contributed to this idea of a "rebirth." The Renaissance was all about reviving the ancient world. The buildings were still here but none of the rules were written down, so during this era books and books were written detailing these Greek and Roman masterpieces. But imitating buildings can only entertain a designer for so long, and soon the best designers became the one that started to twist and even break these rules. Palladio was an incredibly influential designer who is famous for "using the sacred for the profane." His homes were very classical, but never before had the front of a temple been used on a private home. Interest in design began to move beyond the home and out into the yard. Houses were designed wide and one room wide to help control the landscape, and later elaborate, painfully planned gardens became customary to any mansion.
This push for expanding outside of the classical box led to the Baroque period. The Baroque period was all about creating drama through excess and light. From the smallest scale to an entire city, it was all about theatre. Through all the undulating stone carvings, movement was created, from the spanish steps to bernini's baldacchino. While the Renaissance was about rationality, the Baroque lavished on emotionality. These alternatives become the foundation of the revolutionary cycle of architecture. After a political or social reform, their will be a revival of the previous generations' style, "going out of the box" could mean back to basics or experimenting with something completely new.
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