How to Read Buildings Intro


Many building types have particular features
that distinguish them from others, the minarets of a Mosque,
the large doorwzsys of a warehouse,
or the oversized windows that characterise shops.
The spire of Si Pancras Church in London,
built in 1819-22, clearly marks it out as a church,
although it has a decorative temple front

The distinctive front of a classical temple, with its prominent pediment supported
on columns, helps to couceal the cella,
or sanctflary building, within, as here in the Temple of Dionysus, Teos, Turkey.
The temple front was widely used as
a decorative form in the Renaissance,
Baroque, and Neoclassical periods.

Railway station
New functions have required new building
types to be developed, such as railway
stations. King’s Cross in London, built in
1851-2, was one of the earliest stations
and clearly shows the large, arched train
sheds on the building’s exterior. It also has
a prominent clock and a large waiting area.

Colonnaded terrace
The early Nineteenth Century Park Terrace in
London, dsigned by John Nash , is actually
a long row of houses attached to each other
on either side, but the projecting colonnade
serves to unify the entire design and create
a whole that is grander than any individual
house on its own


The form of sacred buildings varies
from one religion to another, but most
share the characteristic of providing
a space in which worshippers can
gather. In many religions this Space is
subdivided according to gender, and
there may also be special areas for
those who are not yet fully initiated
into the religion. Religions that include
a ritual carried out by priests, Such
as the Christian mass, usually also
have a place reserved for this Purpose~
which may or may not be visible
to the faithful. Religious buildings
are often among the most prominent
in a locality and may be further
distinguished by domes or small towers
that punctuate the skyline.

Church elevation
Large medieval churches are multistorey
buildings, and the arrangement parts
vertically is known as the elevation.
Key parts of the elevation of a church or
cathedral include the high-\eve\ chlorestory windows, (1) triforum (2), vault s (3)
vault responds (4), nave arcades (5)’
ais\e windows (6) and blind arcading
(7), although not all churches have all
of these elements.

Temple plan
The interior cello (1) of a Greek temple
held a statue of the deity commemorated.
It had no windows aud was reserved for the
priests, while worshippers stood outside.
In front was the pronoos (2), behind was
the epitmos (3), and the whole was usually
surrounded by a colonade or peristyle (4).

Church plan
A Christian church has two main parts:
the nave (I) where worshippers gather, and
the choir (2) where the mass is celebrated.
Larger churches, like Cologne Cathedral,
Germany, seen here. arc more complex, and
often include a curving apse (3), transepts
(4), aisles (5) and western towers (6), as
well as a cenlral crossing (7).

A synagogue is a Jewish religious building,
and includes a raised platform at the east
end (1) for the Ark holding the holy scrolls.
a large area (2) for seating and a reading
desk or bema (3). Here at Temple Beth-el,
New’ York (1892), there arc also women’s
galleries accessed by stairs (4).

Islamic places of worship are called
mosques. Key features include a tall tower,
named a minaret (1), for calling the faithful
to prayer, and a Im`ge hall (2), usually domed,
where worshippers gather for their prayers
and to hear sermons. Seen here is the l2th-
century Sultan Barkuk mosque in Cairo,
Egypt (c.11.-f9).

Castle & Palace

A castle is it defensive fortification, and a palace is a
grand royal or aristocratic residence~ hut the classical
fie(wet~ I file two was often blurred in the Middle Ages.
~ luxurious living accommodation and
palaces having strong outer defences.
Towers were also an important part of
medieval fortifications and aristocratic
residences. From the l7th century
onwards fortification and aristocratic
accommodation were increasin2ll-
separated~ and palace architecture
developed as a showcase for the owner’s
7ealth and prestige. Many great Ilottses
were built in the l8th and l9th centuries.
and other new forms of buildings –
notably the grand hotel – also borrowed
1e vocabulary of palace architecture.

Medieval castle
Of he medieval castle of the Old Louvre
in Paris (whose remains can be seen
under the present Louvre w-as stroll~v
fortified with a gatehouse (1). corn~
turrets (2) and a central keep tower
(3), but it also had luxurious lodging
(4) and a chapel (5) for the kin~~all~
his family. ~

Grand hotel
Hotels which became an increasingly
important building type as the development
of trains and steamships during the Nineteenth Century promoted mass travel. borrowed
the visual language of palaces to create very
grand buildings. Raffles Ifotef in Singapore
(1887). for instance, combines Palladian
windows with locally derived motifs.

Great hall
Tile great hall was the mainliving area
in a medieval house. serving as both a
communal eating and sleeping space, an<j
was typically Windows. Tile two doors at the far end
provided access to the pantry and buttery
for dry and wet food storage respectively.

Suburban house
How can we be certain that this is a house,
and not a shop, for instance? Partly, because
of its size, not too large nor too small, but
also because of the single entrance and fife
window.s, which are much the same size on
all floors – unlike shop windows, which
would be larger at ground level.

Apartment block
The I lighpoint fiats in Londons Highgate
were built c.19:35, and you can clearly
recognise them as flats by five prominent
single entrant~ and muhijde windows over
many storeys. The blocks were designed
in such a way as to provide each flat with
good light am! air.

Most societies have some sort of public buildings for civic
and governmental purposes, for large-scale entertainments
am\ for housing collections that are open to many people’
Among the most common types of public buildings ~are
theatres, governmental buildings, libraries~ and museums
Such buildings have architectural vocabularies of their
own’ which are distinguishable from those of re}f o.joust
domestic or commercial buildings; and certain kev ~~~
– such as the Prominent towers of town and citv’ }la}~ ~
are widely seen’ Public buildings also }lave di~tine~i~ –

This cutaway view
of an ancient Greek
theatre shows how
similar it was to a
modern theatre.
Seating was raked
or angled back to
give everyone a good
view; the action took
Place on a raised stage
above the orchestra
for musicians and
dancers; and behind
were dressing rooms
and storage areas.
College library
Alil,vary has always been fumlamenfa|
I o sc]loofs- colleges am| ullfl.ersitfes. The
l7th’-century lihran,’ of Trinity College~
Camhrfclgc, !las large will(lows supplying
good natural jig|II in the upper-ffoor reading
mo’ll. Tile low’cf arcades conceal the area
with file book stacks.

Government building
The arcllifeclural fonn of tile US Capitol ill
Washiugton I)C reflects the structure of the
US government with its Ill’c, elected bodies.
tile Senate am) the Ilousc of Rcpresc.nlativcs.
Each has a large chamber. one at either ell(f”
and in file centre is a domed entrance
rotunda. There is a smaller conn chamber.