Do You Know These 4 Common American Architectural Styles?

While people are great at picking out Greek Revival, English Gothic, and Georgian architecture, many have trouble identifying some traditionally American architectural styles. Yet, these types surround us every day. Learning the characteristics of different styles will allow you to identify them. Here are four common architectural styles in America that you probably never knew the name of.

Ranch Style

Ranch architecture features an asymmetrical one-floor home. It often has a patio door that allows people to go from inside to outside entertaining easily. The roofs on these buildings are usually low, and many are happed. Moderate to wide overhangs are often found on these American architecture-style homes. Traditional Home explains, “the long, low ranch home was the go-to housing design after World War II, when people—and their cars—flocked to the suburbs. But its actual origin was earlier—in the 1930s—when California architect Cliff May began designing homes that took aspects of working houses on actual ranches and the haciendas of Spanish descent and incorporated them into a new style of architecture.”

Mid-Century Modern

Mid-century modern, often called atomic fanch, started being constructed about 1946. Modern Mailboxes explains, “the emphasis in design was on natural materials and a floor plan that flows seamlessly from indoor to outdoor spaces. Contemporary patterns, simplified forms, and functional forms are combined into a hip style in the mid-century modern home.” The first of these homes were constructed in 1922. Most mid-century homes have a post-and-beam foundation.

Prairie School

First designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and his students, these homes can have one or two stories. They are designed to blend into their natural surroundings. Additionally, many feature a unique blending of indoor and outdoor living spaces. Broad, often boxed, overhangs are found on most. Swartzendruber Furniture Creations describes, “geometric styles and strong lines define this uniquely American, turn-of-the-century school of architecture. Architects wanted to “break the box” and explore new conceptual approaches to home design and furnishings.” The windows in these homes form horizontal bands. The windows are often surrounded by ornamental friezes. These homes often have flat roofs that help them blend into their natural surroundings. The first prairie-style homes were constructed in or near Chicago around 1902.


Shingle homes are usually built of materials from the local environment, so there is a lot of variation in this style of American architecture. The first ones were constructed by wealthy families along the Eastern seacoast about 1870. Many elements from other styles are borrowed, making it more difficult to identify these homes that often have lower stories built of stone. They also typically feature at least two stories. According to Wentworth Studio, “The houses were often built on stone foundations that seem to emerge from bedrock. Thus, the massive, horizontal structures appeared to hug the ground. Palladian window, gambrel roofs, and complexity of the forms and stone are often attributed to the Richardsonian Romanesque style popular at the same time.” Frequently, they also feature a small, stylized front porch and a wider-side porch for entertaining.

There are many different styles of American architecture. Learning the characteristics of each and walking through different areas can be a fun hobby. Start by seeing if you can find at least one example of these homes. You may even live in an example of one that you never knew the name of, until now.

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