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Neoclassical Architecture – A New Revival in Ancient Styles

The neoclassical movement started in mid 18th century in France and Italy and continued to rise its popularity until the 19th century. Neoclassical architecture (1720-1830) was the most prevailing style in the western world. It is prominently associated with enlightenment and empiricism.

Neoclassical architecture is a way of recreating ancient buildings in a more authentic classical style eliminating excessive ornamentation by following simple geometry, shapes, and Symmetry. This style borrowed many ideologies and elements from classical architecture and ancient periods often described as Roman and Greek Monuments. Indeed, Neoclassicism with its Roman and Greek focus was a perfect expression of a new spirit, and also evoked a political as well as moral sense of purpose.

Inspired by the classical architecture of the Greek and Romans such as

Characteristics/Features of Neoclassical Architecture

  • Grandeur of scale
  • Symmetry
  • Strict proportion
  • The simplicity of Geometrical and classical forms
  • Austere exteriors
  • Minimal or lack of Ornament
  • Temple front façade ( An array of evenly spaced columns capped by Pediment)
  • Greek and Roman Orders – Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian columns.
  • Use of Domes and Pediments
  • Marble and Bronze statues, Friezes
  • Coffered ceilings

Examples of Neoclassical Architecture

The buildings were commonly designed with classical elements and traditions that included a portico, pediment, or dome on top, Doric/Ionic/Corinthian pillars, continuous entablature, two layers of windows, and also colonnaded buildings that follow symmetry.

1. United States Capitol

Neoclassical Architecture
Image source: commons.wikimedia.org
  • Building: United States Capitol/The Capital/Capital Building
  • Function/Use: Seat of the legislative branch of the U.S Government
  • Location: Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.
  • Date of construction: 1793 -1800, Last extension in 1962
  • Architect: William Thornton
  • Historical Influence: Roman, Greek, and Renaissance Architecture
  • Key Features: Majestic façade with symmetry and harmony creating visual balance.
  • Façade: The Capitol, built in Neoclassical style with white exteriors, consists of lavish lawns, walkways, streets, driveways, plantations, and monumental sculptures. The Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial are on the west, while the Library of Congress and Supreme Court lie on the east. Raised platform with an entrance portico, columns, colonnades on either side, continuous windows, wide stairs on both sides, and also arches, continuous cornice, additionally a dignified dome – all these elements present as a most iconic building in Washington D.C

2. Palace of the Argentine National Congress 

Neoclassical Architecture
Image source: flickr.com
  • Building: Palace of the Argentine National Congress
  • Function/Use: Seat of Argentina National Congress, Government of Argentina
  • Location: Buenos Aires, Argentina
  • Date of construction: 1898 and 1906
  • Architect: Vittorio Meano, Julio Dormal
  • Historical Influence: Roman, Greek, and Renaissance Architecture
  • Key Features: Impressive façade with colonnades, pediment as well as dome. National historic landmark.
  • Materials Used: White marble, limestone, bronze statues
  • Façade: An elaborate façade of Neoclassical style is made of largely white marble and is crowned centrally with a bronze-plated dome. An 8m high quadriga sculpture stands in Infront of the entrance that is a symbol of the Argentine Republic.

3. British Museum

Neoclassical Architecture
Image source: culturalheritageonline.com
  • Building: British Museum
  • Function/Use: Public Museum
  • Location: Great Russell Street, London
  • Date of construction: 1823 – 1852
  • Architect: Robert Smirke, John Russell Pope, Sydney Smirke, John Taylor
  • Historical InfluenceGreek Architecture
  • Key Features: Greek revival columns, triangular pediment
  • Materials Used: Concrete, cast iron frames, brick, wooden(Oak and Mahogany) floors, and Portland stone.
  • Façade: Inspired by classical Greek Architecture, this monumental façade’s vast four wings, Ionic colonnade, large triangular pediment, enormous steps, sculpture for the tympanum, and artifacts housed inside – all these features exhibit simplicity grandeur, and magnificence. The British Museum includes The Kings Library(now renamed as Enlightenment gallery), forecourt, Great Court, Reading room as well as other galleries. It contains books, artifacts, collections about the history of enlightenment, and artwork related to British history.

4. Panthéon

Neoclassical Architecture
Image source: joinusinfrance.com
  • Building: Pantheon
  • Function/Use: Mausoleum
  • Location: Place du Panthéon, Paris, France
  • Date of construction: 1758-1790
  • Architect: Jacques-Germain Soufflot, Jean-Baptiste Rondelet
  • Historical InfluenceGreek Architecture, Roman Architecture
  • Key Features: Corinthian orders, Pediment and Dome
  • Façade: The façade and peristyle features richly decorated Corinthian orders, a triangular pediment, and is surmounted by a dome. The pediment is decorated with figures of scientists, philosophers statesmen to the left while the soldiers to the right. Below the peristyle is the skillfully carved five bas-reliefs. The dome is capped by a roof lantern as well as a cross.

5. Victor Emmanuel II Monument 

Neoclassical Architecture
Image source: best-cityguide.com
  • Building: Victor Emmanuel II Monument 
  • Function/Use: National monument
  • Location: Rome, Italy
  • Date of construction: 1885 -1935
  • Architect: Giuseppe Sacconi
  • Historical InfluenceGreek Architecture, Roman Architecture
  • Key Features: Raised edifice, Portico, colonnade, a statue of the horseman(Italy’s first king)
  • Façade: A public square built on three levels dominated by a portico, characterized by a richly decorated Corinthian colonnade, featured by a monumental staircase that leads to the entrance is an exemplary work of Neoclassical architecture. A statue of a horseman(Italy’s first king) stands as a focal point of the edifice. The monument not only commemorates Victor Emmanuel II but also all war causalities.

6. The Custom House – Neoclassical Architecture

Image source: en.wikipedia.org
  • Building: The Custom House
  • Function/Use: Local Government offices
  • Location: Dublin, Ireland
  • Date of construction: 1781-91
  • Architect: James Gandon
  • Historical InfluenceGreek Architecture, Roman Architecture
  • Materials Used: Portland stone, Mountain granite, Limestone
  • Key Features: Waterfront façade
  • Façade: The Custom house built with four monumental facades is richly adorned with coats of arms and ornamental sculptures. The designers carve a series of keystones that symbolizes the rivers of Ireland. The four facades are linked by corner pavilions, entrance porticos with Doric order columns and sculptures symbolizing Irish rivers on the surface of the pediment, and a large figure of commerce standing atop of Dome – all these elements combine together to form a marvelous architectural masterpiece of Neoclassical architecture.

7. San Francesco di Paola

Image source: sworld.co.uk
  • Building: San Francesco di Paola
  • Function/Use: Piaza, Church
  • Location: Piazza del Plebiscito, Naples, Italy
  • Date of construction: 1809-1846
  • Architect: Pietro Bianchi, Leopoldo Laperuta
  • Historical Influence:  Greek Architecture, Roman Architecture
  • Key Features: Large and Impressive public square in Naples
  • Façade: The piazza is bounded by the Royal palace on the east and the church of San Francesco di Paola on the west. The central portion of the church resembles Pantheon in Rome, fronted by a portico with six Corinthian columns as well as Ionic columns. Behind, the church is circular with a large dome(53m high) and two side chapels crowing circular domes. Two colonnades extend on either side of the dominant portico enhancing the Piazza with a greater width and symmetry.

8. Palais de Justice

Image source: wsj.com
  • Building: Palais de Justice
  • Function/Use: Courthouse
  • Location: City of Brussels, Belgium
  • Date of construction: 1866-83, renovated in 1948 and 1984
  • Architect: Joseph Poelaert, Joseph Joachim Benoît, François Wellens
  • Historical Influence: Greek-Roman Inspiration
  • Key Features: Landmark of Brussels
  • Façade: Palais de Justice is the country’s most important court building designed in Neoclassical architecture that houses several courts and tribunals. The construction began in 1866 and completed in 1883 by last laying stone. As major portion of the building was demolished, it was later renovated in 1948 and the process has been in progress since 1984.The courthouse includes impressive main hall, courtyards, large and small courtrooms, portico, interior statues, library as well as a large dome.

9. Königsplatz

Image source: en.wikipedia.org
  • Building: Königsplatz
  • Function/Use: Kings square
  • Location: Munich, Bavaria, Germany
  • Date of construction: 1816 – 62
  • Architect: Leo von Klenze, Karl von Fischer
  • Historical Influence : Greek-Roman Inspiration
  • Key Features: A large square
  • Materials used: Marble, red brick, light plaster
  • Façade: The image shows two structures – Propyläen gate on the left and Glyptothek (museum) on the right.
    • The Propylaeon gate constructed in Doric order was a memorial for son of King Ludwig I of Bavaria. The central portion is of a Doric colonnade and a pediment, while the two towers on either side are powerful blocks with portals and staircases leading to upper floor.
    • The Glyptothek is a museum to house the sculptures of Greek and Roman. The portico of the façade is of Ionic columns and the exterior walls are adorned with sculptures in niches.

10. Concertgebouw

Image source: meyersound.com
  • Building: Concertgebouw
  • Function/Use: Concerthall
  • Location: Amsterdam, Netherlands.
  • Date of construction: 1883-86
  • Architect: Adolf Leonard van Gendt
  • Historical Influence : Greek Architecture, Roman Architecture
  • Key Features: Finest concert hall with superb acoustics
  • Façade: The edifice features most of the neoclassical elements – classical forms, Austere exteriors, minimal ornament, Temple front façade ,Corinthian columns, Pediments, Marble and Bronze statues, Friezes, as well as Coffered ceilings.

One of the most widely used Neoclassical Architecture is the Palladian Architecture/Palladianism. It refers to works of 16th century Venetian architect Andrea Palladio.

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