In his novel, Notre-Dame de Paris, Hugo places an argument for the retention of the Gothic architecture found on the Ile de la Cite, stating that architecture is the earliest form of writing. Certainly, the early forms of architecture were man's attempts to communicate with the ages. Ancient architecture is characterized by a tension between the mortal world and the divine as spaces were marked with temples dedicated to divinties. In the classic architecture of Greece and Rome, there is a statement of imperial majesty, as well. This style has been long imitated going back to rulers such as Charlemagne and others who desired the heavy classical look that exudes power. In the Middle Ages, the Romanesque cathedral with its carved doors such as the Last Judgment in which terror-stricken souls answer the summons of trumpet-blowing angels and rise from graves to hear their final judgment is a common motif. Later, the Gothic stained glass windows of such structures as Ste. Chapelle in Paris, France, has glazed panels which form a veritable illustrated Bible with their thousand of figures in 1134 different scenes from the Old and New Testament.
Artists such as Michaelangelo became involved in grand architecture such as that of the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter's Basilica that revived antiquity as well as giving birth to artistic freedom. Of course, the Renaissance wrought elaborate decorations as antique forms were adapted to modern residences. For instance, Palladio used the Roman Pantheon as a model for both the poticoes and central dome of the Villa Rotunda in Venice.
Another great movement was that of the Baroque theatricality. The Piazza and Colonnade of St Peter's in Rome is Baroque, and it sets the great church in a heroic setting that directs attention to Michaelangelo's great dome. The Baroque style ended with a great flourish of Rococo in southern Germany and Austria. With many flourishes and an abandonment of the classic clarity of form and function, German and Austrian churches are, perhaps, the most exuberant developments of style. In the rest of the 1700s, European architecture became the antithesis of the Baroque and Rococo as the Neoclassical era began. The Palace of Versailles, for instance, exemplifies this French classicism. This style continued into the 1800's as both Europe and America adopted the neoclassic style. For instance, the Capitol of the United States is a neoclassic building of impressive scale. But, by the time of the contruction of the Paris Opera in 1861, architecture became eclectic as the opera house is not pure neoclassical.
Modern architecture begins with the work of Louis Sullivan, a Chicago architect who used new structural elements such as cast iron and steel in the late 1800's. Then, in the next century American Frankl Lloyd Wright, with his strictly rectinlear hard-edged elements and their functionalism, made use of the style of Mondian, or pure form as form follows function with Wright. Later in the twentieth century with such architects as Le Corbusier of France and Pier4 Luigi Nervi of Italy, a purity of form emerged.
Nowadays in the twenty-first century, the achievements in scale and technology of modern artchitecture are wondrous, but often lacking in pleasure as the delights of design and intimacy have largely been replaced by impersonality.
Medieval and modern buildings have one thing in common. They have maximum size to accommodate the maximum number of people. Medieval builders built the cathedrals large too attract as many pilgrims and as much of their cash as possible. Same goes for modern football stadiums.
I read in a book, One Hundred Years of American Commerce, that the building materials in the nineteenth century were stone, clay, steel, and wood.
The use of iron and steel made possible taller buildings.