1. The art or science of building; specifically : the art or practice of designing and building structures and especially habitable ones
4. a method or style of building

I've noticed that in most stories, you will not hear what style of buildings your characters are coming across. The architectural details involved in the story tends to come down too:

  • Size and Positioning
  • Material
  • The "feel" of the place, along with other senses such as if there were a smell.
  • What the structure seems to be used for

Why would more specific architectural details matter to a story?

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ This might be better in meta, but for a quick and easy answer, I draw comics, and architecture is definitely important to me. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 19:41
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh important to you for the creation of the artwork, but is it important to the story? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 19:45
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ If this question is more about story writing that world building consider the Writing Stack Exchange site. Architecture is very important to world building, though maybe not as important to basic story writing $\endgroup$
    – DonyorM
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 19:48
  • $\begingroup$ The world is important to the story, and the artwork is important for the creation of the world. Places can be of massive importance to the plot, and man-made places are no exception. Maybe I should make a longer answer... $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 19:48
  • $\begingroup$ @DaaaahWhoosh I think I attempted something along those lines, though I'm not the best answerer. $\endgroup$
    – DonyorM
    Commented Oct 27, 2015 at 19:54

4 Answers 4


“Show the readers everything, tell them nothing.” ― Ernest Hemingway

A few ways architecture can help build a world for your reader:

  1. Create an atmosphere or aura. Your main character enters a tiny narrow hallway, cramped and restricted, he must traverse this tiny corridor to his goal. Your main character enters a wide, white hall, with wide open windows and a high ceiling, across which he must travel to his goal. These things invoke different emotions in your character and therefore in your reader.

  2. Establish a time period. Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance, each of these eras have a very specific architecture. Instead of saying "This building was built 100 years ago in 1459" we can instead say "The aging buttresses on the church struggled to hold up it's high arched windows". You would also be able to establish whether we are in the future, by describing futuristic arches, domes, and decorations.

  3. Establish a location. We would not expect to find a Gothic church in the Sahara desert, nor would we find a yurt in 15th century England. Details like this help place your story without overtly saying "yes, here we are in London".

  4. Establishing Priorities of Your Society. Are there fifty churches but a distinct lack of libraries? Is there a grand, marble coated Capitol building but just a little ways down the street is a ramshackle ghetto where the poor live in tin and cardboard dwellings? Is there row upon row of identical suburban homes, each with their own identical green lawn and identical car? These details help building a society and give your readers an idea of the culture and priorities of the society.

This question probably belongs on WritersSE or on the meta, because what you're asking is what the function is on the story or on the world building. All I can tell you, is Show Don't Tell. Architecture is just one amazing way to do that.

“Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” ― Anton Chekhov


Well, the things you've described are fairly important to worldbuilding. Additionally, many of us here are not just focusing on making a story, instead we want to create a true and complete world, for whatever intents. A few here are creating worlds just because the act of this is enjoyable. Architecture is an import part of culture and society, and can be a defining seperation between cultures and time period. For example: Mongol nomads used yurts whereas European cultures used stone buildings and even created cathedrals. These left a different heritage and helped define what made the culture great. In the same way you should use architecture to define your world.

Plus, architecture styles will effect worlds. Does your culture tend to create stone flying buttresses on everything, but shun wood like the plague? Then your world will have more advanced stoneworking tools but very few wooden structures. These change your landscape (notice: landscape is part of world) as well as the thoughts and actions of the people in your world.

If that does not properly answer your question, please define style or "specific details of architecture" better. To me, when you say the "feel" of a building, that sounds a whole lot like style.


Outside of some of the issues identified in the other answers, architecture often reflects the environment that the characters live in. Prior to the advent of inexpensive energy and integrated electrical grids, houses and structures were designed and built in such a way as to reflect the local environment. Most modern buildings reflect economic factors rather than environmental ones, since there is plenty of energy to run HVAC, lighting and other environmental controls without too much reference to the outside.

For example, houses in the southern United States were built with wide verandas or porches with huge overhangs so the people could sit outside, sheltered from the sun or rain and enjoy the breeze, rather than being cooped up in an very hot, stuffy and damp house. This style of architecture died out in the 1950's and 60's with the advent of cheap air conditioning.

Other rather simple examples can be made for such things as the shape of the roof (steeply pitched roofs can shed rain or show more effectively than shallow ones), the thickness of walls (thick stone, adobe or rammed earth can serve to moderate temperature swings in buildings in a desert climate) or even heating (one reason old stone hearths were so massive is the stone retained the heat even after the fire was out, keeping the room warm without a large expenditure of wood).

Other architectural features relate to such things as social status (separate servants quarters and passageways to allow the help to move around without disturbing the owners; grand foyers or dining rooms to emphasize the wealth of the owner, etc), natural or man made hazards (ancient buildings in Çatal Höyük evidently did not have doors or windows the way we understand them, people accessed the building through a ladder and a hatch on the roof. Other ancient cities in the region are dug into the surrounding hillsides to prevent detection) or religious functions.

Architecture used in this way can provide more of a sense of place without a huge data dump (although there will be people who are not going to catch the significance of a steeply pitched roof), so when you look at the buildings in the older sections of a city or town, ask yourself "why" they were built that way.


The question of whether the local architecture is of steel, stone, wood or tent fabric also affects the degree to which the people in your setting have a sense of their own past, a vital component of convincing worldbuilding. For instance if a character managers to lose his pursuers in the warren-like lanes of the Old City it does not just give us a brief action scene about him in his role as thief or assassin, it tells us that his civilization is old and settled, and that his city grew by accretion rather than being rationally planned. Still more is conveyed if it is mentioned that the ancient warren-like lanes are built of cannibalized plasti-steel panels from the almost mythical First Ship.


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