What is Neoclassical/Greek Revival Architecture?


Throughout history, architecture has served as a symbol of society, capturing various cultures’ ideals, aspirations, and failures. Art and architecture are essential to understanding the U.S. and world history, as well as the present. Recalling the U.S.’s founding values and the challenges it faced on its way to independence is essential to learning about the country today. These architectural concepts have been embodied in the building that has been erected.

The Neoclassical Architecture

The word “neo-” denotes “new,” whereas the term “classical” refers to the Classical Orders. It was during the growth of the United States that the European movement toward Neoclassical architecture started. Ancient Greek and classical Roman styles impacted the founders of the United States. Neoclassical architecture in the United States was broadly divided between the Federal and Greek Revival styles from 1776 to 1850. Both were inspired by Greek and Roman architecture and considered ideal models for our democracy.

Neoclassical Federal

The federal-style architecture was famous until 1815. It adds Greek and Byzantine characteristics to Georgian symmetry. The Federal-style distinguished itself from Georgian architecture by favoring fewer pilasters/columns and plainer surfaces with less elaboration, typically set within panels, tablets, and friezes. It was influenced by archeological finds made at the ancient Roman sites of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Other features include light interiors with huge windows and a colorful but controlled design. Charles Bulfinch, William Thornton, Asher Benjamin, Samuel McIntire, and Alexander Parris were Federal-style architects. Massachusetts State House, Old Town Hall, and Hamilton Hall are examples of Federal architecture in America.

Neoclassicism’s Greek Revival

Revivalist Greek architecture adhered to Greek principles and style patterns. Neoclassicism in American and French architecture fostered republicanism until Napoleon’s fall. The Gothic Revival of the nineteenth century, on the other hand, might be seen as a backlash to neoclassical republicanism. Late 19th-century Neoclassical architecture was an expression of the American Renaissance: its final phase was Beaux-Arts architecture, and its final public projects included the Lincoln Memorial, the National Gallery in Washington DC, and the Roosevelt Memorial at the American Museum of Natural History.

The History of Neoclassical Architecture

Neoclassical architecture is a term used to describe a variety of buildings created during the Classical Greek and Roman architectural resurgence that peaked in the 18th and 19th centuries, starting around 1750. Greek Revival architecture uses classical components like Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian columns, whereas Neoclassicism revives complete, grand-scale classical volumes. Some of Europe’s and America’s most famous institutional and government structures are neoclassical.

Neoclassical architecture flourished throughout 18th and 19th-century in Europe, Britain, the U.S., and Latin America. Catherine the Famous developed St. Petersburg into a tremendous European center by embracing Neoclassicism. Robert Adam and John Soane encouraged Britain to embrace neoclassical architecture by 1800.

As a fledgling country full of ideas, the U.S. modeled many essential government buildings after ancient Greece, the home of democracy. Early to mid-20th-century Neoclassicism gave way to modernism. Even now, when modern architecture is the dominating style, neoclassical structures are being developed and built, typically labeled as “new classical” buildings.

Famous Neoclassical Personalities

Thomas Jefferson, the third U.S. president, was an architect. He designed Richmond’s State Capitol. To honor ancient republics, Jefferson replaced the Corinthian style with the more restrained Ionic order in this prototype American public building. This building displayed architectural elements of the emerging American republic.

Monticello a World Heritage site is one of Jefferson’s architectural masterpieces. A great tower based on Palladio’s central-plan buildings and Jefferson’s English rural homes. Red and white brickwork contrasts with the building’s white portico and Tuscan-style columns. A dome atop an octagonal drum illuminates the building’s central hall. Red/white hues highlight balance, symmetry, columns, tympana, and trabeation.

  1. Benjamin Latrobe (1764-1820) was a proponent of Greek revival architecture and artistic purity. He designed 1801’s first Greek Revival skyscraper—a Greek Ionic temple with porticoes and a dome. Latrobe made Corinthian capitals from tobacco or maize. Baltimore Basilica (1806–1921) is his masterwork. Besides Adena, he created Pope Villa and Decatur House.
  2. The U.S. Capitol is a famous Greek Revival edifice designed by William Thornton, Benjamin Latrobe, and Charles Bulfinch. Modeled on the Greek Corinthian order, the most opulent Greek architecture, its facade is completely marbled.
  3. Alexander Jackson Davis, William Strickland, Robert Mills, Ithiel Town, Thomas Walter, and Robert Mills were some of Latrobe’s most prominent classical followers. Strickland designed Philadelphia’s Merchants’ Exchange with a lantern modeled on Athens’ Choragic Monument of Lysicrates. Robert Mills created the Patent Office and Treasury in Washington DC and the Washington Monument in Baltimore, America’s first Doric column structure. Thomas Walter designed Girard College’s Corinthian temple and the U.S. Capitol. Davis was a leading architect of Greek-temple houses, such as the Bowers House in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Distinct Characteristics of Neoclassical Architecture

Most Neoclassical structures include one or more of the following four characteristics: (1) symmetrical floor plan shape and window placement; (2) towering columns, often Doric but sometimes Ionic; and (3) a large central dome, which is sometimes adorned with sculpture. A double entrance, (3) triangular pediments, and (4) a central domed roof in residential architecture. More importantly Neoclassical designs are recognizable by three distinct characteristics.

  • Temple-like structures imitate the design of ancient temples. Examples include the British Museum in London and Paris’ Pantheon, modeled after the Pantheon in Rome. This architectural design is unusual in the United States. Italian Neoclassical is another name for this movement.
  • Palladian architecture takes its cues from the villas of Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio. The White House and the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., are two of the most well-known Palladian masterpieces in the United States. The Neoclassical movement has its beginnings in this design, which is more of an edifice than a building. However unusual, this trend can be found on college campuses located in major cities of United States.
  • Classical block buildings typically have square or rectangular shapes, flat roofs, and exteriors with repeated columns or arches to give them a blocklike look. One of the most notable instances of classical block architecture is the Palais Garnier opera house in Paris, constructed by Charles Garnier. Federalist, Colonial Revival, or the Early Republic, this architecture style is the most frequent in the United States and a common element of traditional college campuses.

The Most Famous Neoclassical Building in the U.S.

  1. The White House. To put it simply, the White House is a neoclassical mansion. It is also known as Federal-style architecture, referring to structures built between 1780 and 1830 in the newly established United States of America.
  2. Harvard University. Harvard University and Cambridge are must-sees for visitors to the Boston area. Harvard Yard, the oldest campus area, is a mash-up of architectural styles, reflecting whatever was popular at the time. Some of the university’s original dormitories and lecture halls have been designed following the ideals of Neoclassicism. We might label this Colonial Revival style, although contemporaneous documents indicate that the designers were aiming for the Federalist Neoclassical style, characterized by red brick and white wood trim. Neoclassical design is brought to life in newer buildings, such as the library, by employing current technologies. It is common to see the highest Neoclassical style, Palladian, in academic buildings.
  3. Institute of Technology in Massachusetts. This early 1900s building reflects a Palladian design. Soaring marble columns, simple moldings and pillars, and historic building materials such as stone blocks, brick, and marble produce one of the best instances of American Neoclassicism. The Great Dome complex features Palladian variants.
  4. Supreme Court Building. When it was completed in 1935, the Supreme Court Building was inspired by the great temples of Rome, with a long staircase and an enormous portico made entirely of Corinthian columns.
  5. The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., was designed by Henry Bacon and constructed between 1914 and 1922 as a tribute to an American president known for his steadfast adherence to democratic values in ancient Greece. Parthenon in Athens, Greece, inspired the structure completed in 438 BC and is now considered one of the world’s greatest architectural masterpieces.
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