Boston College, Spring 1996. Prof. Jeffery Howe

Building Types

Houses Churches Public Buildings
Commercial Buildings Mills Skyscrapers

Functional factors are also important in the meaning of architecture. Unlike the other fine arts, architecture is built for practical use (commoditas or utility). Each building type (town hall, castle, cathedral, prison, office building) has its own functional requirements and these are intimately linked with the meaning of the architecture. Of course, some buildings are constructed simply to fill a need, while others are intended to be monuments to the concept that the building type embodies. The uses of buildings change over time, and it is often instructive to compare current and past uses of a structure. In general, the history of architecture has been one of increasing diversification, with more and more specialized buildings for specific functions.

Functional and structural factors have not always been of primary importance, however. Nineteenth century architects were concerned to articulate the purpose of their buildings in a visible manner through the choice of style. Historical or ideological associations were often the basis of these choices. Kings borrowed architectural forms from either the Roman Empire or Louis XIV to align themselves with the past ages of glory. Architectural forms, like clothing, announced the role of the building in society just as different costumes were associated with different occupations. In the twentieth century, a more utilitarian functionalism came to the fore, emphasizing structural principles over the social uses of the building. Modern architects have considered it a matter of principle not to disguise the bearing elements in a structure, but to reveal and even celebrate them.

Options for study

Choose a century:

Other Art and Architecture Web Links

Fine Arts Department Home Page