Neoclassical architecture was a rebirth of Classical architecture during the 18th and early 19th centuries. It was a reaction to the extravagance and ornamentation of the earlier styles. This style is considered as the rebirth of classical architecture going back to the simplicity of geometric forms influenced by the classical form of the Greek and Roman architecture era. The Rococo and Baroque architectural styles had quite an influence on this style. The movement involved grandeur of scale, simplicity of geometric forms, Greek and Roman details, and dramatic use of columns. The Neoclassical movement has continued to inspire architects to this very day and has prospered in the United States and Europe.
Here are ten things everyone should know about neoclassical architecture:
1. Though influenced by Baroque and Rococo architecture, the Neoclassical style was a lot different.
Neoclassical buildings emphasized long, blank walls and flat roofs whereas Baroque and Rococo architecture had sculptural ornamentation, chiaroscuro, and trompe l’oeil effects. The notable feature of Neoclassical architecture was its use of Classical Roman and Greek orders. They were based on examples taken from surviving buildings and the traditional three orders: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian.
2. The book that influenced Neoclassicism:
In 1755 German art critic Johann Joachim Winckelmann published a book based on archaeology. It provided the outline for the Neoclassical style and expressed appreciation for harmony, proportion, symmetry. According to him, Perfection and beauty originated in the human mind and not the natural world. The philosophers of ancient Greece were the first to articulate this idea.
3. Neoclassical Architecture is also known as ‘Vitruvian architecture’.
The work of 1st Century BC Roman architect Vitruvius was a great help and influence for the Neoclassicists. His ideas about proportion and symmetry influenced their work and can be seen in many of the structures discovered over the 18th Century. Palladio used Vitruvius’ De Architettura as the foundation for his study of classical forms.
4. Inspired by the finds at Pompeii
The excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum and the rediscovery of ancient Greek architecture influenced the interest in archaeology and antiquarianism. The style emphasizes the use of appearance and solidity, where the orders were used in a structural rather than a decorative manner. They decorated Interiors with singular ornamental items, such as vases and cameos. Friezes adorned the walls of some of the famous European palaces. This led to the re-introduction of the grid system of roads in many important cities in urban planning.
5. The 3 Types of Neoclassical Architecture
Neoclassical architecture has three main variations.
- Temple-style buildings imitate the style of ancient temples. Paris’ Panthéon which is based on the Pantheon in Rome and the Greek-inspired British Museum in London are such examples.
- Palladian buildings were inspired by the villas of 16th-century Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio had designed. He was inspired by the buildings of ancient Greece and Rome. In Britain, architect Robert Adam designed many neoclassical-style houses which were influenced by the Palladian style.
- Classical block buildings which are rectangular or square had flat roofs and exteriors which display repeating columns to form a classically decorative block-like appearance.
6. Neoclassicism’s spread in Russia
In the 18th Century, London and Paris had become quite fashionable, and these two major European cities became centres for this architecture style. The style gradually spread eastward across Europe. The Russian Empire was undergoing a period of ‘Westernisation’ – adopted the architectural style most popular in Western Europe at the time. 18th Century Russia embraced Neoclassicism vastly and built the entire city of the new capital of St Petersburg in this style.
7. Neoclassical architecture is thought to have developed in two phases:
First was the Palladian period, around 1700-1750. This period was named after the designs being directly inspired by Palladio’s designs. It was initiated by the British architects Inigo Jones and Colen Campbell. London’s Chiswick House is one of the most famous examples of this style.
Then, from 1750, arrived ‘High Neoclassicism’, or often simply Neoclassicism which differed from Palladianism. It incorporated features taken from Greek buildings instead of being just Roman in style.
8. Neoclassicism in America
Neoclassical style grabbed root in the United States of America. The Americans became quickly obsessed with Neoclassicism, before as well as after their revolution, and it became a symbol for the American nation. All because the founding figures shared an obsession with ancient Rome. The reason being: ancient Rome was a great example of a major republic in Western history.
9. The Neoclassical movement was important to early Americans.
Thomas Jefferson played a great role in drafting the Declaration of Independence of America. Jefferson was a respected architect as well. He was one of the most important American architects who first embraced this style as a connection between the American ideas of republican government and ancient Rome. one of his earlier attempts at a neoclassical design is his home, called Monticello.
10. Neoclassical architecture influence in India
In the early days of the introduction of the railway in India, the builders, sponsors, and their architects were primarily British which led to the colonial railway architecture being influenced by ‘Neoclassical’, ‘Romanesque’, ‘Italianate’, ‘Gothic Revival’, ‘Indo-Saracenic’ and ‘Modern’ schools. The first station built in Madras (now Chennai) falls in the Neoclassical category. Its features include fluted columns, the ‘Corinthian’ capital, a classical balustrade on the roof, and blind doorcases.