Architecture is a worldbuilding element that can be used to help set a tone, to create a sense of uniqueness to a world, and to help explore a culture or civilization. Architecture can reflect the environment – reflecting climates, changing populations, and the local terrain. When incorporating architectural styles and elements into a fictional world, consider the following.
Genre, Tone, & Themes
The architecture of a fictional world may be influenced by the genre, tone, and themes of that world. Fantasy worlds frequently feature half-timbered buildings, gothic architecture, or country cottages while cyberpunk worlds are full of giant, futuristic megastructures. Worlds that contain fascist regimes may incorporate a brutalist architectural style to help accentuate the theme of oppression. A world of any genre may use features that help set a tone, such as narrow alleyways to create a sense of claustrophobia. If you are building within a genre, tone, or theme, consider if there are commonly used architectural styles or elements and if this may be something you would want to include.
Narratives & Gameplay
For worlds with a narrative component or those used for games, architecture can be used to either enhance and further a plot or become central to a critical game mechanic. Cities and towns can be designed to create elaborate rooftop spaces that be explored while old buildings may incorporate hidden rooms or spaces between the walls. Consider how the architecture of a locations can be used to enhance or constrain the agency of a player or a character – can it be used for movement, destroyed, interacted with, or used to conceal a secret?
Climate & Local Weather
The climate and local weather will impact the architecture of an area. Locations with hot climates may feature thick walls, small windows, large awnings to provide shade, and open courtyards to help keep occupants cool. Locations with high rain and snowfall may have sloped roofs to keep the rain and snow from accumulating and damaging the buildings. Places with inhospitable weather may use covered walkways, skyways, or underground tunnels to help protect people from the elements.
Terrain is often used by worldbuilders to help create memorable towns and cities. These same elements can also have an influence on the architecture of a place. Areas with rivers, waterfalls, and lakes may feature extensive bridge systems or canal networks. If a settlement is located near a stunning vista, large windows, patios, and open spaces may be used to try to capture the view. Consider how the architecture and the terrain of a location reflect or grow from one another.
Consider what materials or resources are nearby (or are missing) which may influence or constrain the architecture of the region. Desert towns may need to rely on clay, sand, and stone as their primary building components (unless trade routes are present to bring in other materials). Forest towns may build with wood. Extreme examples of this may lead to places like shipwreck towns (towns built primarily from wrecks) or scrapyard towns (towns built primarily from scrap).
If your world has fictional materials, consider if they may be incorporated into buildings.
Era & History
Different time periods may feature different architectural styles. This may mean that settlements that have existed for long times may be a mixture of different styles from different eras. This may offer worldbuilders an opportunity to both age a world as well as explore the history of a place. Towns or cities may feature old towns – sections of the settlement that represent the oldest sections (and oldest architecture). Worlds with ancient civilizations may have ancient architecture scattered across certain territories (either still standing or as ruins).
Different cultures may have their own architectural styles based on their shared histories and traditions. The migration of a people may transpose architectural styles to different regions. More cosmopolitan locations (capitals, trade centers) which feature a more diverse set of people from a wider area may have more variety in architectural styles while small towns with more static and homogenous populations may be more unified in architectural themes. Of course, cultures that hold strongly to a sense of identity may force inhabitants to participate in shared traditions including a unified architectural style.
Worlds that feature magic, advanced technologies, bizarre physics, or other extreme elements may also feature architectures that reflect those elements. What is impractical or impossible in the real world may be common place in a fictional one. Consider how fantastic architectures may be included in your own world. Worlds that feature large dragons that people ride may incorporate many wide open spaces or high ceilings. Worlds in which teleportation doors are common may have houses with rooms on different planets. And worlds that feature dimensions beyond human comprehension may have architecture there that is equally incomprehensible.
- Columns: Vertical support structures that are typically cylindrical in shape and used to support the weight of the building.
- Beams: Horizontal support structures that are used to transfer the weight of the building from the columns to the walls or foundation.
- Walls: Structural elements that are used to enclose and define the space of a building.
- Windows: Openings in the walls that allow light, air, and views into the building.
- Doors: Entry points into a building that provide access and security.
- Roofs: The uppermost covering of a building that protects it from the elements.
- Stairs: A series of steps that provide access between different levels of a building.
- Balconies: A platform that extends from the building’s upper floors and is supported by columns or brackets.
- Cupolas: A small dome-like structure that is often used to provide light and ventilation.
- Archways: A curved structure that spans an opening, such as a doorway or window.
- Domes: A rounded or curved roof structure that is often used to cover large spaces, such as churches or public buildings.
- Foundations: The base of the building that supports the entire structure and transfers its weight to the ground.
- Buttresses: An external support structure that is used to reinforce walls and prevent them from collapsing under the weight of the building.
- Vaults: A series of arches that form a tunnel-like structure, often used to cover long distances or create grand spaces.
- Balconets: A small balcony or railing that is often placed outside a window and used for decoration.
- Spires: A tall, slender, pointed architectural element that is often used as a decorative feature on roofs or towers.
- Chimneys: A vertical structure used to vent smoke or gases from a fireplace or heating system.
- Skylights: A window or opening in the roof that allows natural light to enter a building.
- Awnings: A roof-like structure made of fabric or other materials that extends from the building to provide shade or shelter.
- Cladding: The exterior finish of a building, which can be made of various materials such as brick, stone, wood, or metal.
- Ornaments: Decorative elements such as sculptures, carvings, or reliefs that are used to add visual interest to a building.
- Pergolas: A structure consisting of parallel columns or posts supporting a roof of crossbeams and open latticework, often used to shade walkways or outdoor spaces.