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Facade in Architecture: Definition & Design

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  • 0:04 What Is the Facade?
  • 0:53 Facade Designs
  • 1:20 Gothic Facade
  • 1:50 Greek Revivial Facade
  • 2:32 Modern Building Facades
  • 3:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Stephanie Przybylek

Stephanie has taught studio art and art history classes to audiences of all ages. She holds a master's degree in Art History.

Have you ever paid attention to the front of a building? Was it welcoming, imposing, or dramatic? You might have been reacting to the design of its facade. In this lesson, explore what a facade is in architecture.

What Is a Facade?

When we look at different kinds of buildings, we may have very different reactions to them. Some are tall and imposing, with massive arched doorways and towering spires. Others are welcoming, perhaps with a large porch or wide windows. How these building entrances look is no accident. Someone designed them with a lot of attention to their front facade.

A facade is the exterior wall or face of a building, and it usually involves design elements like deliberate placement of windows or doors. Depending on architectural style, these elements have a certain order to them. While the word ''facade'' can signify any external wall of a building with a design element, it often refers to the front wall with an entrance. Often, the front facade has more elaborate or special architectural treatment than the rest of the structure. A facade can be imposing, decorative, or rather simple.

Facade Designs

When an architect designs a facade, they consider many elements. What will the entrance look like? What type of building material, like stone, wood frame, or brick, will be used? They must also consider fenestration, or the placement and proportions of windows.

Throughout history, architectural styles have changed, and they continue to change today. Architects from different periods have preferred very different styles of facades. Let's look at three examples.

Gothic Facade

Beginning in the twelfth century, when Gothic architecture was prominent, facades of buildings were massive and imposing. The western facade of the Cathedral of Notre Dame de Paris features multiple levels of windows and two tall towers. People enter the church through three massive arched entrance doors. As they look up, they see a large rose window, a circular form of a stained glass window. Every element of Notre Dame's facade was purposefully placed, and as a whole it conveys a powerful statement about the role of the Church in society during that time.

Greek Revival Facade

Our next example is a facade from residential architecture built in the Greek Revival style and popular in the United States during the nineteenth century. Greek Revival recalled ancient Greek architecture and stressed order, proportion, and symmetry, which is where two sides of something are balanced and equal.

facade of Greek Revival house

In the example of this house built in upstate New York in 1847, we can see a central columned porch, each side supported by two columns of equal size and decoration. The porch leads you to the entrance door. Flanking the porch are windows with rectangular shutters, and the window placement on the first and second floor balances with the whole. It gives the building a stately appearance while maintaining simplicity.

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