View Full Version : Designing unique architectures

2013-05-12, 03:29 AM
A robust, design-rich setting should call for unique design elements - and architectural styles are a subset of these.

This "subset of design elements" may seem a bit too specific; still, there is a strong visual element to architecture - it communicates the mood and the values of the culture that build its dwellings.

The visual style, the sub-conscious feel, the sheer functionality of such buildings ... there is a lot to it.

In one part of the land, architecture may be dominated by the function of adapting to the harsh environment (shielding the village from sandstorms, stacking the dwellings together to fully utilize the heating in a rather cold environment, making the buildings resistant to earthquakes, etc.)
elsewhere, the architecture may be dominated by the current regime (geometrically precise city layouts implying a strict and sterile society, one style stacked on an other points to cultural invasion, etc.)
architectural diversification can also be used to put emphasis on the difference of social castes
it can be influenced by warfare ...
still, an architecture needs to take into consideration the physical limitations (maximizing the use of the space available, etc.)

Architectonic customs do affect the layouts of whole cities! And that's significant.
What I want ... is players arriving to a city and knowing, just by the sight of it, which cultural group build this. I.e. no more generic pseudo-medieval towns.

The question is: how would one (-you) go about designing solid, unique architectural styles (within the limitations of pre-industrial societies)?
This question is very visual - and so, some visual guides and/or pointers may come in handy.

2013-05-12, 12:34 PM
My setting was originally inhabited by fey who had lots of small kingdoms and left the seed for mortal civilizations when they abandoned humanoid slaves and left behind some artifacts in the ruins. Civilization still isn't that far along four thousand years later and exploring such ruins to find valuable knowledge for the clan is a major theme in the world.
But of course it all is a lot more interesting if there is more than one single monolithic Atlantis that was responsible for everything. I love it in video games with rich backstories when you can actually learn something about the place you are in if you paid attention to details that were mentioned at earlier points. To create such aspects in a setting, you need to have distinct elements that the players can pick up and recognize when they run into them again at a later point.

In reality, it often is not that difficult to place any historic building in a rough cultural context if you have just a basic overview regarding ancient cultures. Few peple would mistake an Inca or Aztec ruin for an Indian or Cambodian one, and once you've seen a couple of examples, even most Chinese and Japanese buildings are easy to tell apart.

I think the key is to have one distinct element that defines the entire architecture of a culture. That's a bit simplefied but if you do it the result won't seem odd because of it. For example, some ruins in the Andes are constructed of very large blocks of stone that have no uniform shape at all but are very precisely fit together. They are easy to recognize even if you can't point out a single other architectural element of that culture. Or for china, you have those swept roofs with the round lion statues. They are not found in every historical chinese building, but if you see one you instantly think Chinese. Or the red Japanese temple gates. There is more to Japanese architecture than that, but if you see one you know instantly in what cultural context the entire complex is located.

For my setting, I've already defined a couple of distinct styles:
Three Block Door Culture: Ruins of this type have the main doorways for any major gates constructed from three large blocks of stone of equal length. The two posts are slightly leaning inward and the ends of each block are angled so that the inside sides are shorter than the outside sides. Each doorway resembles are half-hexagon in that way, though the two beams are slightly more upright than in an actual hexagon.
Twisted Tower Culture: These buildings are all towers and appear to be made out of a single block of cooled lava that had been pulled out of the ground by a giant hand from the sky like clay or a thick paste. Long grooves run along the outside walls but they have a slight twist to them, as if the hand that pulled the lava from the ground had twisted the whole column as it pulled. As some scholars have noticed, on the days when day and night are of equal length, the groove that points directly at the sunrise at ground level is the same that points at the direction of the sunset at the top. And this is true for every single tower ever examined for this feature. (Except one, that has the same amount of twist, but in the opposite direction.)
Square Tower Culture: Ruins of this type are always perfectly square both at the ground and the roof. Outer walls are always angled at exactly 10, regardless of how tall the overall construction is. Roofs are always flat, though many have wooden roofs constructed above them by later inhabitants to protect anyone up there from rain and the sun.

However, I still don't have any tiny pice of information on these cultures, except for how to identify their buildings. :smallbiggrin:

Oh, and you should try to read some good articles or find documentaries on the engineering of buildings on youtube. There are really not that many ways to make walls, floors, and doorways and only a very small number of materials to use for (wood, stone, concrete, steel). Once you know what these are and what they can do and can't do, you'll have lots of great ideas for new architecture that are also plausible and realistic. There is no need for any specific calculations, but even people who don't know anything about these things will very soon notice that an impossible construction just "doesn't seem right". Like a 200m tower made only from wood or a 100m bride made from a single monolith without any supports in the middle.