Architecture is perhaps the most expressive forms of culture, representing the zeitgeist of a particular location, and telling the story of how it evolved over time. It allows visitors to transport themselves back in history to understand the influences that shaped the world we once lived in. Baroque architecture, in particular, was one of the most ornamental and decorative architectural styles. Translating to “curious or strange” in French, it was once used as a derogatory word, meaning noisy, eccentric, and excessive- and Baroque architecture was truly just that.
Emerging in Italy in the late 16th century, Baroque architecture stemmed from Counter-Reformation, a period of history when the Catholic Church launched a campaign to appeal to its followers through highly sensory and over-the-top music, art, and architecture. The buildings that emerged in this period were characterized by their oval floor plans, a departure from the circular ones that dominated planning schemes in earlier centuries, and the heavy-handed intersections of spaces that created complex and maze-like layouts. These designs were often large, lofty spaces to emphasize the bravado of the finishes and hand-crafted ornamentation while also making the users feel small. When you look at a Baroque design, it’s hard to fixate on just one aspect. Its dramatic elements, contrasting colors, and innovative methods of design make it one of the most important architectural movements in history.
Baroque architecture spread throughout every corner of Europe slowly and took on a slightly new form in each country. French Baroque elements were combined with more classical influences which gave it a more subdued and mature appearance, as in the case with the Palace at Versailles. In Central Europe, particularly Austria, it became the preferred style of palaces and gubernatorial buildings. In England, Baroque architecture greatly influenced the works of Christopher Wren, who traveled to France in search of inspiration after the Great Fire of 1666 destroyed most of London. Upon seeing the grandiose and dramatic nature of Baroque architecture, he reinterpreted the style by simplifying it and combining it with traditional Palladian elements- giving us what is now known today as the English national style. By the time Baroque architecture had arrived in Spain, it had already entered its late period and was born into the much more “swirly” and even more extreme, Rococo. While Baroque architecture was heavy and serious, Rococo aimed to be more light and uplifting.
Baroque designs, like many other historical movements, experienced a short-lived revival, known as Neo-Baroque. In the late 19th century, a resurgence of this style occurred in the construction of government, municipal, and commercial buildings- all the way through the beginning of World War I. After the war, architecture styles greatly shifted and transformed the Beaux-Arts movement.
In the present day, some Baroque elements still exist, but not in the traditional sense in which they did. Baroque now in the modern age of simplicity and minimalism where most buildings are clad in glass and feature blank white walls, might be seen as “tacky”. This extreme ornamentation is now seen in some “McMansions” as an attempt to elevate the simplicity and separate itself from traditional designs. While Baroque designs are sometimes described “ugly” and gaudy, but regardless, always unique and a one-of-a-kind experience.