It is important to keep in mind the origins of the United States of America—the obstacles it took to gain independence and the principles upon which it was founded. This country was established through the timeless principles of liberty and order. The architecture constructed represents these principles.
The prefix neo- means “new” and classical describes the Classical Orders. Neoclassical architecture was a movement that began in Europe in the 1700s, during the development of the United States. This style was inspired by the classics of the ancient Greeks and Romans and influenced the founders of the new America.
The Founding Fathers of this nation drew upon the ideals of the Renaissance period. They were inspired by the writings of Renaissance architects, primarily of Andrea Palladio and Giacomo da Vignola, and their accounts of the well-proportioned characteristics of Ancient Greece and Rome. They identified with the image of Imperial Rome—the empire for liberty—exemplifying the nation they sought to establish.
American leaders modeled government structures after Palladian architecture, a style characterized by symmetry and proportion. The order and logic that produced its balanced geometry symbolized the principles of justice and democracy established by these Ancients. While the Founding Fathers of the United States wrote the constitution and developed this new nation, they turned to the Classics as a source of inspiration to model their government structures.
Palladio praised the temples when he wrote: “. . . the ancient Greeks and Romans expended the greatest care on them and composed them with the most beautiful architecture so that they were built with the most magnificent ornaments and finest proportions.”
—Calder Loth, National Building Museum
NEOCLASSICAL CHARACTERISTICS AND EXAMPLES
- Balanced symmetry of building layout, shape and fenestration—window placement
- Columns and colonnades—row of columns
- Pediments—triangular roof gable above the entablature
- Entablatures—horizontal band supported by columns
- Domes and colonnade-surrounded drums
- Portico entries—open roofed space surrounded by a colonnade
District of Columbia
A colonnade supports an entablature below the pediment of the square entrance portico projecting from the north facade of the White House. A balcony sits between the two-story-high columns on the round portico of the south facade.
At the U.S. Capitol Building, balance is achieved in the symmetry of the dome and colonnades flanked by two wings of the floor plan. Atop the dome sits the bronze Statue of Freedom, a classical, female figure designed by artist, Thomas Crawford, and constructed in 1863.
Completed in 1937 and keeping with the Neoclassic style, a colonnade of Corinthian columns surrounds the projecting entrance portico of the National Archives. Above the entablature sits a triangular pediment that contains a relief with figures borrowed from the Ancients.
U.S. Treasury Building
In this 19th-century Neoclassic Greek Revival style, a colonnade of Ionic columns surrounds the south portico of the National Treasury. Alexander Hamilton served as the first Secretary of the Treasury for President Washington from 1789–1795. The original structure was burned to the ground by the British in the War of 1812. This present-day Treasury Building was constructed between 1836–1869.
With an entablature supported by its colonnade, the Lincoln Memorial was constructed in the form of a Greek Doric temple.
The influence of the design principles used by Andrea Palladio in the Villa Capra “La Rotunda,” or Villa Rotunda, is seen in Thomas Jefferson’s iconic home in Charlottesville, Virginia, whose name Monticello means “little mount” in Italian. In 1987, Jefferson’s Monticello was named an UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with his Academical Village at the University of Virginia.
Monticello: Jefferson’s Iconic Virginia Estate
Inspired by the classics, Thomas Jefferson’s iconic home in Charlottesville, Virginia–whose name Monticello means “little mount” in Italian–has become an American icon. In 1987, 200 years after it was built, Jefferson’s Monticello was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site (along with the University of Virginia’s Academical Village that he also designed). This beautifully maintained example of Neoclassical architecture was…
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All photos (except the White House) by Ali Giaudrone
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It’s nice to learn about American history