Defining Characteristics of Renaissance Architecture

July 9, 2022

Renaissance architecture is a distinct building and design style that comes from Italy during the time period of the same name, between 1400 and 1600. The style includes many unique elements but often pulls arrangements and designs from the country’s Roman roots. Though it’s not a style that today’s architecture and design firms follow, its relevance and beauty can still be witnessed today in many of Italy’s churches, cathedrals, and squares.

In this article, we’ll review the key tenets of Renaissance architecture and identify some of the most iconic buildings constructed with this style in mind. The Renaissance age was one of rebirth (the literal meaning of the word “renaissance”) in terms of art, music, and culture. Famous figures of the area included Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Nicolaus Copernicus (the last of whom was not technically Italian). From the early years of the era (1400-1450) to the later “Mannerism” movement from 1520-1600, many iconic, world-famous structures were built with the following characteristics.

Geometric Shapes and Symmetrical Arrangements

All elements of Renaissance architecture utilize symmetry in design and building, from the ornate facades of homes and palaces to the domes of Italy’s most famous cathedrals and churches. Rounded windows, columns, and doorways for Renaissance works include a centered, even design on either side of the structure, with little exception. Design drawings, blueprints, and formal schematics became of central importance for new work orders, ensuring that new buildings followed the architect’s most meticulous, specific measurements and angles.

Use of Columns

Columns for the exteriors of buildings were first popularized in Italy by the Romans, who used these large monoliths of stone to mark the outside of temples and palaces. After the collapse of the Roman Empire, however, their uses continued to fade for new structures- until the start of the Renaissance era, when their popularity increased once again.

Domes for Cathedrals and Churches

The massive, arching domes of Italy’s largest churches and cathedrals are a wonder to behold today, as well as an incredible feat of engineering for the era of their construction. Many of the domes constructed in the 1400s were also built without the use of wooden scaffolding and were instead put together rung by rung until the construction project reached the peak of the building. The most famous of these was the “Duomo” at the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence.

Adding Ancient Elements

Unlike the medieval Gothic aesthetics of the preceding era, many Renaissance structures were assembled with ancient Roman elements in mind. These elements included archways (particularly for windows), sculptures, ornate metalwork, and geometric shapes for the building’s facade and roofing structure. Pediments and stone monuments were also popular centerpieces for both the interior and exterior of the structure. Ancient Roman elements added back much of the unique architectural character that was temporarily lost during the dark ages.

Ornate Detailing for Interiors

Interiors for Renaissance buildings were just as ornate and iconic as their exteriors, with stunning artwork, sculptures, and carvings. Many of these spaces took years to complete, and in some cases, as much as three decades. The aesthetics were overall colorful and bright, moving away from the plain brick and stone walls and floors of the Gothic style. The complexity of the paintings associated with the era reflected the fashions of the time while representing the increased importance of artists, architects, and philosophers to the Renaissance movement.

Increasing Natural Light Intake

Many Renaissance structures focused on bringing in more natural light and air into their interiors, and as a result, included large, arching windows and high ceilings. More light for the space represented an increasing openness towards the new ideas and theories of the era, which helped push the country forward out of the dark ages. It also helped to highlight the stunning reliefs, sculptures, and paintings that adorned many Renaissance structures, from the Florentine cathedral to the Sistine Chapel.

Famous Renaissance Buildings

Many of the most famous examples of Renaissance architecture are popular tourist attractions today, drawing people from all over the world that want to see the artistry and craftsmanship of these architectural masterpieces up close. Here are just a few examples.

Santa Maria del Fiore: Florence, Italy

The Florentine Cathedral, at the heart of modern-day Florence, is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable buildings in all of Italy. The dome and tower stand out against the skyline for their height, design complexity, and symmetry. The artist and architect Brunelleschi is the most commonly associated name with the building’s architectural design.

Basilica Palladiana: Venice, Italy

The Basilica Palladiana is a key fixture in the Piazza Dei Signori in Venice and showcases many of the Renaissance era’s ideals and accomplishments. Two stories of symmetrical archways and columns, along with a selection of statues and stonework railings, make this building a favorite amongst tourists looking to snap a fantastic picture.

Palazzo Medici in Florence, Italy

In 1484, architect Michelozzo di Bartolomeo created the Pallazzo in Florence for the Medici banking family, one of the most powerful in all of Italy- at the time. Today, the building is a museum, highlighting much of the city’s history from the Renaissance era forward.

Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

St. Peter’s Basilica, or Basilica Papale di San Pietro, is an undeniable accomplishment of engineering and art and is one of the largest churches in the world. Construction took place over more than 120 years, and the building is still in use today for many papal functions. Many architects and artists, including Michelangelo, contributed to its construction and design.

Conclusion- Defining Characteristics of Renaissance Architecture

The Renaissance era is responsible for many iconic buildings in Italy, and the architectural plans and schematics associated with these structures are nothing short of astounding. While this architectural style is primarily historical, it still provides inspiration for modern European designs. If you are looking for an architecture firm, BLDG Collective should be your first choice.


Carlos Diaz
I believe in making the impossible possible because there’s no fun in giving up. Travel, design, fashion and current trends in the field of industrial construction are topics that I enjoy writing about.

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