Architecture is the creation, manipulation and design of environmental elements and synthetic materials in order to define human spaces. With a central goal of providing a functional yet sound stage for our activities, whether it be in a living, commuting or resting place, architecture uniquely blends the sciences of carpentry, planning and mathematical skills with the arts and design.
Architecture is popularly categorized by time period, style, scale or region. One of the oldest examples of architecture that we can still see today are the Pyramids of Ancient Egypt, which are marvels of technical achievement, covering acres of land, made with stones weighing thousands of pounds apiece. Our history as human architects, however, begins much earlier, when our primitive housing design was inexorably tied to our environment and climate. Prior to manipulating the environment around us, early nomadic man used existing landscape features as shelter, including caves and dugouts. As the species began to settle into agrarian societies, groups began the process of construction their own spaces with locally available materials. Rather than beauty or style, the earliest huts were created solely for protection from the elements, and were most likely composed of mud, animal skins, sticks and reeds.
Although we today appear far removed from our early ancestors, it is in primitive forms of construction that architecture gained its roots. Adobe construction, still popular in the Southwest United States, originates from early mud huts, while wood, a nearly universal construction item across all cultures and time periods, is still seen today, largely in home construction.
As old tribal groups became more sedentary, design and individual appeal became factors in construction. The Romanesque style, exemplified in the Tower of London, became popular during the reign of the Roman Empire, and included heavy use of stonework and embellishments, such as rounded archways. During late medieval times, religious symbolism became a driving factor, with many
churches in Italy, particularly Florence and Pisa, favoring it in architectural design, leading the way towards modern construction as we know it. Elaborate decorative (and usually religious) artwork became particularly commonplace.
During the Renaissance of the fifteenth through seventeenth centuries, architectural style again went through several changes, with a focus on evenly spaced columns, domes and arches. Although Renaissance architecture, like Romanesque, originated in Italy, with the best examples in the city of Florence, the style eventually spread through Europe by the end of the seventeenth century.
The colonization of the United States brought many changes to world architecture, as emphasis began to once again be placed on functionality above visual appeal, as is evidenced in the popular Cape Cod style home. The compact, efficient design has followed through to contemporary American architecture, exhibited in the Ranch style home that was wildly popular in the post World War II housing boom of the mid-nineteenth century.
Today, the architectural field is changing once again. What was once the realm of necessity and eventually visual appeal has morphed into styles dictated by the booming economic times of the second half of the nineteenth century. Frank Lloyd Wright brought efficient, usual and contemporary design to the forefront, while steel and glass skyscrapers now dot the horizons of cities, built out of economic growth. The increase in consumerism and advent of shopping malls has also brought about a change in the way we view building design. The green revolution is pushing frugal and environmentally efficient ideas to the forefront, such as the rooftop garden and solar roof. The future of the field will not only be dictated by our needs as a society, but by the changing landscape of the arts and economic turns. As such, architecture is not only invaluable to our future success, but one of the only disciplines that can be categorized not only as a science, but also an art.