Changes in European Architecture

European architecture has changed greatly from the Renaissance Period of 1450 to 1750, through the Industrial Revolution period of 1750 to 1914, though many elements of it have remained the same. The reason for these changes lie in a series of technological advances, including the advent of iron and steel, as well as a general intellectual movement away from the teachings of the classical era and Christianity, images of which largely dominated the Renaissance Period. However, in both periods, architects continued to glorify size and extravagance.

To study these changes and continuities, one must look at the architecture of Europe, and compare the changes and similarities of buildings from two major time periods: the Renaissance Period and the age of the Industrial Revolution. The Renaissance Period was marked by a renewed interest in the works of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Harmony, symmetry, and regularity were regarded as classical ideals, which through the mastery of scientific study and geometry, could finally be seamlessly applied to architecture (Milo 34).

Florentine architect Filippo Brunelleschi, one of the initiators of the Italian Renaissance, had looked toward Roman structural solutions to design a dome for the Florence Cathedral (Walker 35). The dome is a staple of Renaissance architecture. Other architects also looked toward the Romans for inspiration. Another Florentine architect, Leon Battista Alberti, modeled his design for the Palazzo Rucellai after the Roman Coliseum (Partridge 68). Other monumental works of architecture from the early Renaissance include St.

Peter’s of Rome, designed by Giacomo della Porta, which makes extensive use of Romanesque domes and columns, and the Pazzi Chapel, another domed masterpiece by Filippo Brunelleschi (“Great Buildings Online”). The late Renaissance was marked by a decline in the power of the Catholic Church, and the rise of nation-states and Protestantism. As a result, the papacy erected monuments exhibiting the grandeur of the Catholic Church (Milo 42). Like in the early Renaissance, the most notable structures of this era were churches, chapels and cathedrals.

The architecture, however, was still heavily inspired by classicism. Notable structures of the late Renaissance include the Palazzo Pamphili, designed by Girolamo Rinaldi, for Pope Innocent X, and the Piazza Navona, a large plaza that signified the late Renaissance reinterpretation of space and drama (Milo 43). According to author of The Story of Architecture, Francesco Milo, “the city was turned into an enormous stage, where the arts and architecture were combined to produce spectacles of great variety”, indicating the architects glorified extravagance during this era (43).

In both the early and late Renaissance, the use of arches, domes and columns signified the influence of Greek and Roman principles of proportion and design, and their application were seen in all sorts of Christian structures. These influences are notable because it indicates an era fascinated by the Greeks and Romans, and devoted to Christianity. Architecture began to change as the world entered into the Age of Revolutions, as the very ideas and mindset of Europeans were shifting.

First was the advent of iron and steel, two very important breakthroughs central to post-Industrial Revolution architecture. Similarly, the advent of new technologies demanded new types of buildings besides churches, chapels and cathedrals. Factories resulted from the development of mass production. Railroad stations were needed to ship raw materials to factories, and then finished products to consumers (Milo 50). The world’s economy was changing, and banks, and later, business offices were needed. What initiated these changes?

The Industrial Revolution. In England, there were large resources of coal, iron, and other vital raw materials. A demand had grown for food and jobs as a result of a rapidly growing population. As inventors experimented with ways to harvest more food and grow more crops, fertilizers and cotton gins were conceived, and Europeans suddenly were able to make more clothes, hats and shoes than ever before (Langley 13). As the textile industry bloomed, a need arose for transporting the products and raw materials.

Through the efforts of several key figures, iron and steel (made from injecting air into iron, making it much stronger than iron itself) became two of the most essential raw materials of the Industrial Revolution era (Langley 15). They were used to construct railroads, bridges, and buildings. Besides technological advances, changes in architecture also resulted from a shift toward secular thinking. The scientific discoveries of Isaac Newton and the philosophical ideals of the Enlightenment in the early 18th-century led to an irreversible decline in man’s faith in religion (Bentley 586).

According to historians Jerry H. Bentley and Herbert F. Ziegler, the Enlightenment “encouraged the replacement of Christian values, which had guided European thought on religious and moral affairs for more than a millennium, with a new set of secular values arising from reason rather than revelation” (588). These shifts in thoughts and advancements in technology made up the era known as the Age of Revolutions. The world after the Industrial Revolution and the Scientific Revolution gave architects possibilities they had never dreamt of before.

The architects of Europe, who since the beginning of the Renaissance aimed for enormity and grandeur, suddenly had powerful new tools to construct the buildings of their dreams. The Industrial Age brought buildings of iron, steel, and later, concrete. Structures of iron had an immediate framework, and its walls had no load-bearing function, which meant that such buildings could be very large and strong (Milo 50). The Eiffel Tower, designed by Gustave Alexandre-Eiffel, signified the innovative use of iron.

It, along with the large, glass-covered Galerie des Machines, designed by Charles Louis Ferdinand Dutert and Victor Contamin, was constructed for the Paris Exhibition of 1889 (Milo 50). It was during this exhibition that the furor over iron had reached its peak. Such exhibitions showed that people were thrilled by their city’s new structures. London’s Crystal Palace, designed by Sir Joseph Paxton, pioneered the construction of a light-transparent building made of iron and glass (Milo 50).

The French-designed Statue of Liberty also signified the use of steel and copper, and the incredible mobility the two materials possessed. Designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and completed in France in 1884, the statue was shipped to New York where it was assembled onto a large pedestal in 1886 (“Statue of Liberty”). The early 20th-century also brought the advent of the skyscraper, the result of iron, steel and reinforced concrete, all three of which were products of the Industrial Revolution (Milo 52).

It is important to note that unlike in the previous era, few major architectural achievements of this age were religious in nature, signifying a decline in the influence of Christianity in Europe. The differences in architecture of these two periods are notable, but it seems that despite such distinctions, architects of both time periods seemed to glorify the size and majesty of their buildings. Though the construction materials may change, the mindset of European architects stayed the same all along.