Historical Architectural Styles and Building Types

Historical Architectural Styles and Building Types
A brief description of common architectural building styles



1835-1895   Vernacular Revival

Vernacular is the term given to indigenous forms of building construction. Some refer to vernacular buildings built after mill-sawn lumber was available as National Style. Buildings continued to be built according to the earlier traditional folk forms, but with widely available lumber some new shape innovations occurred. Some may have details taken from high styles such as Greek Revival or Colonial Revival. Others may have later high style modifications.

Vernacular Style

  • Front Gable (2 stories high, end gable)
  • Gable-and Wing or Upright-and-Wing
    (2 stories, end gable with a 1, 1-1/2, or 2 story wing at the side)
  • I-House (2 stories, 2 rooms wide and one room deep)
  • Four-over-Four (2 stories, 2 rooms wide and 2 rooms deep)
  • Shot-Gun (1 story, 1 room wide and 2 or more rooms deep)
  • Workers Cottage (1 or 1-1/2 stories, 2 rooms side by side)
  • One-Pen (1 story, 1 room) § Side Gable also called Massed Plan (2 rooms wide and 2 rooms deep)
  • Pyramidal (1 or 1-1/2 stories with pyramidal roof) Commercial Vernacular 1835-1925

Early vernacular commercial buildings are referred to as Commercial Vernacular style, and the latter forms are referred to as 20th Century Commercial Style. These buildings are recognized by their form, not their architectural style although they may have some decorative features and detailing taken from architectural styles and may even have some high style features. Italianate and Classical features are often incorporated. Main streets were developed in response to the community’s need for a concentrated focus of public buildings. These commercial buildings are typically found in main street areas.

Commercial Vernacular

  • street facades abutting one another and defining the property’s Edge
  • buildings in relative scale with adjacent commercial vernacular buildings
  • facades that adhere to the basic composition with variations depending on use and time period
  • typical three part facades: storefront, upper stories, and cornice or parapet
  • features may include: prism glass in the transoms above storefronts, cast iron supports and pressed metal cornices.

1835-1860   Greek Revival

A Revival form referencing the ornament and architecture of ancient Greece, these were typically a two story clapboard sided structure, sometimes only one story, with a low pitched gabled roof or, less often, a hipped roof. The cornice has a wide plain frieze board, or band, as part of the entablature together with a cornice above and an architrave below. The main building form may have a lower wing. Narrow sidelights and a rectangular transom surround front doors. Porches on Greek Revival Style houses in this area are one story and are supported by square or round columns. Porches are located at the entry or extend over the full façade. Originally Greek Revival houses were painted white.

Greek Revival

  • clapboard siding
  • wide frieze board
  • corner pilasters
  • front facing gabled roof with the cornice detail continuous across the gable end (pedimented) or with cornice roof returns
  • entry sidelights and rectangular transoms
  • small paned double hung windows
  • frieze band windows in the attic
  • pedimented window heads

1850-1885   Italianate

Originating in England at the start of the Picturesque Movement, this style with wide overhanging bracketed eaves was typically found on a two or three story building. There are several forms: cube with a low pitched hipped roof, rectangular plan with front gable roof, or asymmetrical plan with cross hip or cross gable roof. These sometimes had a cupola. Features of this style were often applied to earlier vernacular buildings to update them.

Italianate Style

  • wide eaves
  • large brackets (sometimes paired)
  • tall first floor windows
  • hooded window molds
  • double hung windows with one or two panes in each sash, and with curved or arched tops
  • single story porches located just at the entrance, (they may be wider)

1850-1870   Octagon

Popularized by Orson Fowler in his book, The Octagon House, A Home for All published in 1849, this rare house style was most popular in the 1850s and 1860s. The style is based on a central plan and typically was two or three stories tall with a raised basement.

Octagon Style

  • eight-sided shape of the exterior walls, (examples are found in six-, ten-, twelve and even sixteen-sided forms)
  • low pitched hipped roofs
  • wide eave overhangs
  • eave brackets
  • cupolas
  • porches

1860-1875   Second Empire

The Second Empire Style is recognized by the hipped roof form with dormers that allows for the maximum use of an attic area. Unlike earlier Italianate or Greek Revival styles that were based on historic precedent, the Second Empire Style reflected the latest French fashion of the day.

Second Empire

  • mansard roof with dormer windows with arched or pedimented tops
  • cornices at the top and bottom of the lower roof slop
  • decorative eave brackets

1879-1890   Gothic Revival

This picturesque revival style with steeply pitched roof and steep cross gables was based on English precedents and made popular by the plan books of Andrew Jackson Downing.

Gothic Revival

  • decorated vergeboard trim (also called bargeboard)
  • Gothic pointed arch windows
  • 2 over 2 double hung sash windows
  • hood moldings over windows
  • porches with flattened arch details
  • clapboard or vertical board and batten siding
  • one story bay windows

1880-1890   Stick

A wholly American picturesque style intended to give the appearance of expressing an underlying heavy timber framework. However, since these buildings are of balloon frame construction, the visible “timbering” is only decorative. The style is mostly found on asymmetrical forms with steeply pitched gable roofs and one-story porches. Some have towers.

Stick Style

  • decorative roof truss work at the peak of the gable ends projected out from
    the plane of the wall
  • a pattern of wood boards (vertical, horizontal, and sometimes diagonal) breaking up the clapboard siding into sections
  • decorative millwork such as brackets, rafter tails, and porch details
    patterned shingles

1880-1905   Queen Anne

This very popular style has steeply pitched compound roof shapes, irregular plan, and asymmetrical facades clad with a variety of materials and textures and a one story porch along the front that sometimes wraps around the side.

Queen Anne Style

  • lots of decorations
  • varied and rich, contrasting materials, shapes and textures
  • towers with conical roofs
  • turrets
  • projecting bays
  • encircling porches
  • multiple steep irregular roofs
  • irregular massing
  • milled columns and balusters
  • windows that are small multi-paned or one over one type

1880-1890   Eastlake

The name refers to mass-produced decorative components most often applied to Queen Anne and Stick Style houses. The style is associated with the interior designer Charles Locke Eastlake (1833-1906.)

Eastlake Style

  • thickly turned posts and balusters
  • large brackets
  • fancy scrollwork
  • perforated gables
  • (the above is otherwise referred to as spindle work or gingerbread)

1880-1900   Shingle

Unlike other Victorian styles, the Shingle Style does not rely on decorative ornament rather, it encompasses all the mass under a simple wood shingle cladding used for both the roof and walls.

Shingle Style

  • asymmetrical forms
  • extensive porches
  • the use of continuous wood shingles on the walls and roof

1880-1900   Romanesque Revival

Description: This style makes much use of the semi-circular arched opening for both windows and doors and is always made of monochromatic brick or stone.

Romanesque Revival

  • masonry corbels (stepped out) along the eaves or belt courses
  • square or polygonal towers
  • semi-circular arched window and door openings
  • If multiple arches are grouped, columns with carved capitals may separate them

1880-1900   Richardsonian Romanesque

Richardsonian Romanesque Style buildings with their broad roof planes and straightforward treatment of stone follow the examples of architect H. H. Richardson (1836-1886.) The buildings have asymmetrical facades and are always built of masonry. Rather than rely on decorative detailing, solid massing with limited ornament conveys the style.

Richardsonian Romanesque

  • round top arches
  • rough faced, square cut stonework
  • squat towers
  • smooth piers with enriched capitals
  • deeply set windows

1890-1935   Italian Renaissance Revival

This revival style was a dramatic contrast to the earlier Queen Anne Style. This more ordered style has a studied formalism, symmetrical composition, simple flat facades, and low pitched roofs.

Italian Renaissance Revival

  • restrained decoration
  • rectangular form
  • limestone or stucco
  • minimal use of columns or decoration at the entry
  • arches at first story windows or entrances
  • wide roof overhang
  • roof tiles

1905-1920   Mission

Originating from the Spanish architecture of the American southwest, Mission Style is recognized by the use of a dominant curved parapet influenced by the Spanish mission churches. The most common form of the Mission Style buildings is symmetrical with a hipped roof or asymmetrical with varied roof forms. In some examples mission details adorn Prairie Style houses.

Mission Style

  • stucco
  • red roof tiles
  • mission shaped dormer or parapet
  • arched openings

1895-1945   Neoclassical

Neoclassical Style buildings always have a symmetrical façade with a center door and with a two story or full height porch either at the entry (may be curved or pedimented) or across the front façade. The porch is supported with classical columns with Ionic or Corinthian capitals. Early versions have hipped roof with elaborate columns; later versions have side gable roof with simple slender columns.


  • classical details such as pediments
  • window variations
  • a balustrade on the porch roof
  • may have side wings

1900-1925   Prairie

Originating in the Chicago suburbs, particularly Oak Park and River Forest, this style representing the strong influence of Frank Lloyd Wright and other Prairie Style architects has a horizontal emphasis. Houses are typically two stories with one story wings or porches. The cube, hipped roof form is the American Foursquare Style subtype.

Prairie Style

  • low pitched roofs (usually hipped, less often gabled)
  • wide, overhanging eaves
  • massive square porch supports
  • hidden entrances (on some)
  • windows grouped in horizontal bands
  • horizontal board siding or contrasting wood trim between stories, or recessed horizontal masonry joints
  • brick or stucco with decorative banding

1905-1925   American Four Square

This post-Victorian style of single-family house was prized for its ease of construction, practicality, and roomy interior. It was built as four square rooms, with one serving as the entry and stair hall. A front parlor, dining room and kitchen completed the downstairs room arrangement, with the second story rooms mirroring the same arrangement. Stylistic details can be borrowed from the earlier Victorian era, or can be derived from the Craftsman style.

American Four Square

  • simple two story box form or nearly square plan
  • symmetrical façade, although the entrance may be off center
  • cubic shape hipped roof, usually with dormers
  • one story porch with square supports
  • overhanging eaves
  • double hung windows
  • may have hipped roof dormers
  • one story wing or broad front porch
  • built in wide variety of materials, including wood, brick, and stucco
  • secondary details in Classical, Prairie or Craftsman styles

1910-1940   Tudor Revival

A popular romantic revival style from the first half of the 20th century, Tudor Revival Style was a romantic inspiration based on English Medieval buildings. The style is recognized by the use of a steeply pitched side gable or hipped roof, with one or more front facing, asymmetrically placed gables.

Tudor Revival

  • masonry, stucco, half-timbered
  • walls or a mixture of wall materials
  • mullions, transoms, and trim of stone are typical, as are rounded Tudor arch door openings
  • double hung or casement windows with multiple panes (some leaded)
  • shed dormers
  • multiple and over lapping dormers
  • less often, projecting oriel bays

1905-1930   Bungalow

The bungalow is a small one or one-and-one-half story house with a large simple roof form, either a low pitch hip or gable shape. The one story porch, often set under the same roof, has substantial supports such as large square posts. Craftsman examples display the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement with attention to detailing.

Bungalow Style

  • roof overhangs with wide projecting eaves
  • exposed brackets
  • tapered porch columns, often resting on piers of brick, stone or wood
  • exposed rafters
  • roof dormers
  • double hung windows with three or more lights in the upper sash and one in the lower sash

1935-960   Modern

Unlike the historical revival styles popular before W.W.II, Modern Style buildings have simplified facades with a low roof pitch. Many were starter homes after the war. Some are modest basic smaller homes while others are sprawling with built-in garages and no front porch. Modern Style includes such sub types as the Minimal Traditional, Ranch, Split-level, Contemporary and the Shed as well as unique, architect designed one of a kind forms.

Modern Style

  • Architect Designed sub-type of Modern Style houses often reflected the architect’s interests such as the use of new materials or building technologies, energy conservation, and the desire for a unique house.
  • The Ranch sub-type has a low profile, one story with wide overhangs, flat or low pitched roofs, and contrasting wall materials or textures. Windows are often set high and in unusual patterns. Detailing is taken from various sources: Prairie (strong horizontal lines), Craftsman, Spanish Colonial, and Colonial Revival styles.
  • The Minimal Traditional sub-type has the traditional form but without decoration, a low roof pitch and minimal roof overhangs. Often minimal traditional houses have a front facing gable.

Origianlly From http://tinytimbers.com/buildingstyles.htm


Filed Under: Design & TheoryThe Virtual Architect


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