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Building typology refers to the study and documentation of a set of buildings which have similarities in their form. There are two ways of looking at the term "building types". The first is a very common one used by architects that refers to the building's use. (See a list of building types by use.) Common building types under this definition are hospitals, schools, and shopping centers. The second term, which is explained is this article, are formal building types, which are usually ordinary buildings rather than monuments or specialized buildings like hospitals. A building type, such as a row house, is a building that has a specific form: side-by-side with others, vertically oriented up to four stories tall, and facing the street. Many different variations of this type are found around the world, each with different configurations that are the result of local materials, habits, age and technology. Documenting a type is the process of discovering the elements of similar forms which are the same. Usually building types are distinguished by their basic form, site configuration, and scale, but not their specific architectural style, color, or even precise use.and are related to the era, the culture, and the environment in which they arise.
The idea of autonomous building types arose in part from the general Enlightenment notion of categorization, a prelude to scientific discovery. At first types were intended as ideal models, which could be variously copied. In this sense types were commonly used forms (a basilica, for example), that were adapted over time in new buildings with quite different uses: from Roman fora to early church forms (St. Peter's Basilica), to 19th century train stations. The fact that these forms are very similar and are derived from each other is an important way of understanding typology: types are evolved over time and therefor can convey a sense of history or cultural continuity. The idea of building types as formal configurations was enhanced by J.N.L. Durand, who developed two important works, the Parallele (1799), a huge, handsome book that reproduced plans, elevations and sections of historic buildings at the same scale. He categorized them by formal types, so that their basic similarities could be recognized. Following this work, Durand also created a second book that manipulated and reconfigured the classical elements of architecture—columns, walls, etc. in order to adapt them to new, emerging uses. Durand's system, a language of architecture, demonstrated one essential characteristic of types: a way of designing that was neither entirely free of constraint nor overly prescribed.
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