Architecture through the ages

When discussing architecture through the ages, it is worth questioning what is defined as architecture. In this article we look at how architecture has developed through history, in both global terms and around Norfolk.

Prehistoric times

The term “pre-history” is now referred to as around 11,600 BCE to 3,500 BCE (Before Common Era). In modern day Turkey, there are numerous sites of mounds, stone circles and megalithic structures which some associate with pre-historic eras.

Nobody is exactly sure why people around this time began creating these structures, though some experts have speculated that the circular structures of iconic places, such as Stonehenge were a reflection of the sun and moon.

Ancient civilisations

During the Ancient Egyptian era (3050 BCE to 900 BCE) the pyramids were formed, a testament to their incredible engineering skills (the wide base was designed in order to allow for the designs to reach their incredible heights).

Around 850 BCE to CE (Common Era) 476, we enter the age of classical design, associated mainly with the ancient Greeks and Romans. Their architectural designs were built around principles of mathematics, as reflected by the architect Vitruvius in his work De Architectura “Without symmetry and proportion no temple can have a regular plan.”

The Roman architects borrowed from the traditional columns used by the Greeks, but the invention of concrete during this time also allowed them to create vaults and domes such as the Pantheon in Rome.

In 330 CE, Byzantium (now Istanbul in Turkey) became the capital of the Roman empire. Brick now became the new fashionable material, while the traditions of the Eastern parts of the empire fused with the West, with the added stylish touches of mosaics and a feeling of a more graceful look to the overall aesthetic.


The 12th century saw the arrival of the Gothic style to Europe, characterised by pointed arches and ribbing. The term “Gothic” was not used at the time and was actually a bit of an insult by artisan designers, inferring that the look was somehow “barbaric” (odd when you consider they were referring to visually stunning landmarks such as Notre Dame cathedral.)

What is interesting is that this was later rediscovered, meaning that some designs that are thought to be Gothic are actually what is referred to as Gothic revival, a kind of later tribute act to this particular aesthetic.


The Renaissance era came around 1500 years after the Roman empire, allowing for a rediscovery of classical design principles. However, the arrival of movable type technology, meant that the author Palladio could now distribute the philosophy behind the work of Vitruvius, meaning the design principles in his earlier work could not only be applied to iconic structures, but also to private villas as well.

These well-proportioned buildings were not only celebrated in Europe but would go on to influence the neo-classical designs of many great institutions in the United States such as the White House, as well as other styles such as Rococo and Art Deco.


Norfolk has been part of this incredible architectural history and a lot of the evidence can still be seen around you in every day life. While materials were imported from other countries (for example some stone was brought in from France in the construction of Norwich cathedral) Norfolk architectural design did have its own distinct features, such as barns with painted roofs, typically made with red brick, knapped flint or brownish-red carstone, with great examples including Caister Castle and Holkham Hall.

We can see a more modern look come through in buildings such as the Forum in the centre of Norwich, with a particular emphasis on glass. What is amazing is how these modern designs can stand shoulder to shoulder with their medieval counterparts, allowing us to appreciate impressive modern engineering alongside the exceptional craftsmanship and design principles of the past masters.

At Agora Architects, we believe in taking lessons from the past, while at the same time continuing to innovate and design for the needs of people in the future. We are also skilled and experienced in dealing with listed buildings. For more information or to discuss a design brief with our team, please contact us today via our website