Boston College. Color slides copyright Prof. Jeffery Howe.

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List of Styles in American Architecture, from the 17th Century to the Present

General Notes on Style

Analysis of the style of a work of architecture, or indeed of any element of material culture, can be very useful. The term style refers to the consistent qualities and features that link different works together into groups. If a building is done in a style to similar to known monuments, it is often possible to identify the artist or at least the area and period of origin of the work. Form alone is not enough; a style is not defined simply by characteristic parts. The concept of style includes form elements, the relationships of those forms, the qualities of the work of art (including expression), and even subjects. Style is an abstract concept or structure; no one work from any period embodies all aspects of a style. Typically, one can identify national, period, and individual styles.

The term style has two roots, reflecting its dual nature of individual qualities and systematic coherence. The first root is from stilus, meaning pen; an individual artist's style is often compared to his or her handwriting. The second root is from stilo, meaning column. This derives from the classical concept of the orders, or rules, of architecture -- a consistent system which unifies different structures.

The analysis of style was one of the first concerns of art history. In the sixteenth century, the Italian Giorgio Vasari discussed style in the manner of family resemblances, and emphasized local and national characteristics. In the nineteenth century, the analysis of artistic style was influenced by systems of classification, such as those used in natural science. Style was considered to be an index of the health and virtue of a culture; and discussions of art still often use the coherence of a period's artistic style as an index of the cohesiveness of the culture.

Tracing these changes is a difficult task in itself, and the attempts by historians to provide reasons for changes in styles have been extremely varied.

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Jeffery Howe: 1996, 1997, 1998. (email: [email protected])