Comparing the architecture between continents

A tale of cultural originality

| Nisan 2018

Across the globe, there are many things that make all humans similar, which I give to the fact that we are all related in some way. We laugh in almost the same way- the permanent marks on our cheeks are proof of that. We express shock in the same way too, with lifted eyebrows, huge eyes, and that funny little oval that we make with our lips. We have such similar facial expressions that are derived from the basic physical characteristics that we share. We would think that since our physical needs are similar, our architecture would be too, but that has not at all been the case through the course of history. Many different styles of architecture have been developed in different parts of the world, and what I find particularly wonderful is the difference between Western, Japanese, and Ottoman architecture.


The western architecture that I will discuss will not travel to the medieval and gothic times, but will concern the architecture of the Renaissance period. This period consists mostly of the classical styles that were initially seen in Roman architecture. They brought back the popular Roman use of columns, round arches, tunnel vaults, and domes. Columns were extremely popular, used both inside and outside the buildings, decorated by windows and other ornaments in the latter. The windows usually contained a semi circular top and rectangular bottom halves. Domes also became a significant part of western architecture, and were usually built on important structures such as churches. The most important element of design for the renaissance architects would therefore be order. Derived from the Vitruvian principles of proportion, renaissance buildings were designed following strict rules and therefore became mostly square and symmetrical. The sizes of the buildings were also quite large, giving the observers a feeling of being overpowered. When I think of renaissance buildings, I usually imagine scenes from thriller movies where hidden objects must be retrieved, or an important meeting must be completed. This is probably due to the usually dark interior of the buildings, which is an opposite to Japanese and Ottoman architecture styles. Older Japanese buildings have never been so large and can use what the call the “secrets of the shadows” to give the buildings soft appearances. Meanwhile although Ottoman buildings are quite massive, they allow the entrance of light much more than the Western buildings do.

Although it may also appear symmetrical and rigid to some observers, it is fact that Japanese architecture is much more in touch with the natural world due to the spiritual insight that the general public of the country has. The key elements of this architecture also contains frequent columns and sloping roofs with tiles, giving the buildings smoother appearances unlike that of western architecture. The Japanese began their architecture with symmetry as well, but soon began to break it with different ornamental designs and the additions of gardens. Although gardens existed in other cultures too, the Japanese worked extra hard to make it as appealing to the eye as possible. This would be due to their extreme appreciation of natural sites. They did not even spend much time in the gardens, they preferred to watch them instead. A wonderful thing about Japanese architecture is the importance that is given to simplicity. Majority of the buildings are made of wood which brings about an immediately fresher atmosphere. The use of screens and sliding doors gives the people inside an air of buoyancy. Yet the most beautiful part of this architecture is the magical play of lights and shadows. The Japanese have mastered the mysterious shadows, and know how to focus this power to make an area more appealing. They do prefer the dim light over the bright in order to observe their traditional ornaments better and this had led to a generally dim environment. Some of the most calming activities in the world may consist of sitting in a traditional Japanese house overlooking a garden, while drinking a hot cup of tea. I am bound to fall asleep soon after being seated, but not before I enjoy the view.

And last but not least, the architecture that I have personally seen the most of is our very own Ottoman architecture. The Ottomans primarily used stone in their buildings which constituted of high quality masonry. They also exploited the use of the dome, arches, and vaults to a great extent. The domes were mostly used to cover the prayer halls of mosques, usually quite large in size. This would provide a comfortable and fresher space for those who come to pray in the mosques. These domes can also be surrounded by smaller domes which can stand above arches or vaults. Another exterior structural element of the mosques is the minaret. These can range from one on a small mosque, to two, and then to four. They may be short or tall, but are wonderful to observe in any case. They appear to pierce that sky to direct attention to the call to prayer that can be given off the small balcony which surrounds the minaret. But the Ottomans also gave extreme importance to the interior beauty and perfection of their architecture. They did not prefer to have it as dark as Western architecture, nor as simple as the Japanese. The Ottomans had a variety of specific decorations for interiors, the most common being the dominantly blue and white polychrome glazed ceramic tiles that line the walls of the mosques, followed by the unbelievably neat Arabic calligraphy on the domes and ceilings . These are almost never absent from any mosque. Ottoman architecture simultaneously gives the air of wealth and power, yet as has the ability to invite tranquility upon the beholder.

As we have observed, many different cultures have developed their own styles of architecture. These are primarily based on geography and religion, and I am extremely grateful for these differences. Aside from the fact that people have the opportunity to pick from many different building styles that they could love, we are reminded of the importance of originality in architecture. A few tall, glass skyscrapers can never replace the beauty and emotional value of a traditional building. Enjoy them, and learn from them while they still stand.


Reference list:

Lumen Learning. Retrieved from:

Ulak, J.T. Retrieved from:

Museum with No Frontiers. Retrieved from:


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