Neoclassical and Romantic Architecture


Table Summary

Summary of Neoclassical and Romantic Architecture
Neoclassical temple-style Panthéon, British Museum
Palladian Robert Adam, US civic buildings
classical block Labrouste (Library of Sainte-Geneviève), Garnier (Paris Opéra)
Gothic Revival Houses of Parliament, St Patrick's Cathedral

General Features

As the elaborate age of Baroque and Rococo drew to a close, appreciation for classical restraint resurfaced. This trend was accelerated by the excavation of numerous ancient ruins, both Roman (e.g. Pompeii) and Greek (e.g. Athens), which rekindled interest in antiquity and expanded classical architectural vocabulary.1

Such excavations also made clear the distinct architectural styles of the Greeks and Romans. This finally allowed architects to deliberately design buildings that were purely Greek, purely Roman, or a Greco-Roman hybrid. All three options proved popular.

Concurrent with Neoclassical architecture was the Gothic Revival, a British-born movement. Gothic Revival (aka Neogothic) may be considered the architectural manifestation of Romanticism, given the Romantic affinity for medieval nostalgia and the wild, fanciful nature of the Gothic style (as opposed to the restraint and order of classicism; see Western Aesthetics). (It should be noted that Gothic construction had never gone completely dormant in Western Europe, given the style's suitability for churches and university buildings.)13

Neoclassicism and Neogothic flourished across Western Europe (especially in the north) and the United States, and to a lesser extent in Eastern Europe. Both aesthetics thrived in the form of sacred and secular architecture. Indeed, construction in these styles diminished only gradually in the twentieth century, and even continues (to a limited extent) to this day.

For most of history, temples (buildings for religious ceremony) and palaces (grand residences) served as the leading forms of monumental architecture. During the Neoclassical/Romantic era, these building types were superseded by government architecture (e.g. legislatures, courts, public service buildings, schools) and commercial architecture (e.g. office and apartment buildings, performing arts centres, transportation terminals).D408-09 Today, government and commercial buildings dominate cityscapes the world over.

It should be noted that while Neoclassical and Neogothic architecture were the main focus of this period (ca. 1750-1900), they were accompanied by a variety of less popular styles. In addition to Gothic, Romanesque was also revived; the resulting style is known specifically as Neoromanesque, though the term "Neogothic" is often stretched to include it. Likewise, the term "Neoclassical" is often stretched to include the Neobaroque aesthetic.

This period also featured significant influence from non-Western art and architecture. Elements were borrowed from such exotic traditions as Islamic, Indian, Chinese, and Egyptian.D386,F396,H956-57

Main Article

Neoclassical Architecture

ca. 1750-1900

Neoclassical buildings can be divided into three main types. A temple style building features a design based on an ancient temple, while a Palladian building is based on Palladio's style of villa construction (see Renaissance Architecture). The third type is the classical block building, described later in this section.

Temple style buildings were uncommon during the Renaissance; architects of that period focused mainly on applying classical elements to churches and modern buildings (e.g. palazzos, villas). Temple style architecture exploded during the Neoclassical age, thanks largely to wider familiarity with classical ruins. Many temple style buildings feature a peristyle (a continuous line of columns around a building), which is rarely found in Renaissance architecture.

The most famous temple style buildings of the Neoclassical age may be the Panthéon (Paris, by Jacques-Germain Soufflot) and the British Museum (London, by Robert Smirke). The former is Roman-based (modelled after the Pantheon in Rome), while the latter is Greek-based.

British Museum
Temple style Church in Paris
'The Rotunda', University of Virginia (by Thomas Jefferson, modelled after the Pantheon)

Palladian architecture is derived from the villas of Andrea Palladio, the greatest architect of the Late Renaissance. Palladio, like famous artists generally, was followed by many successors who absorbed and worked in his style; these ranged from unoriginal imitators to artistic geniuses, the latter of whom applied old ideas in brilliant new ways. Interestingly, Palladio's greatest successors emerged primarily in England.D360

The most famous Palladian architect of the Neoclassical period is Britain's Robert Adam, who designed many fine country houses.1 These mansions illustrate that while Palladian architecture shares certain basic features (derived from the villas of Palladio; see Renaissance Architecture), it takes diverse forms. For instance, Adam's design for Osterley Park (see aerial view) includes a classical gateway, corner towers, and a courtyard, none of which are found in any villa by Palladio. Another famous example of Adam's creativity is the facade of Kedleston Hall, which mimics a triumphal arch.24

Osterley Park (Robert Adam)
Kedleston Hall (Robert Adam)
House by Robert Adam
House by Robert Adam
House by Robert Adam
Monticello (house in Virginia, by Thomas Jefferson)
White House
United States Capitol

While Robert Adam is the most famous Neoclassical architect to work in the Palladian style, the most famous of all Palladian buildings are two American civic buildings, the White House and United States Capitol. Both were constructed over long periods under various architects.

Note that some of the buildings in the above gallery feature a balustrade (a railing with vertical supports) along the edge of the roof. (The vertical supports within a balustrade are known as "balusters" or "spindles".) The balustrade is a common classical method of crowning a building that has a flat/low-lying roof.

A classical block building features a vast rectangular (or square) plan, with a flat (or low-lying) roof and an exterior rich in classical detail. The exterior is divided into multiple levels, each of which features a repeated classical pattern, often a series of arches and/or columns. The overall impression of such a building is an enormous, classically-decorated rectangular block. (The classical block aesthetic is also known as "Beaux-Arts style", since it was developed principally by the French École des Beaux-Arts.)

Two names are especially prominent in the field of "classical block" buildings. The leading early practitioner was Henri Labrouste, whose masterpiece is the Library of Sainte-Geneviève. The most famous classical block of all is the Palais Garnier, a Neobaroque opera house designed by Charles Garnier.25

Library of Sainte-Geneviève (Labrouste)
Paris Opéra Garnier (Garnier)
New York Public Library
Butler Library, Columbia University
Boston Public Library

Along with France, classical block architecture flourished most strongly in the United States, particularly in New York.

Gothic Revival Architecture

ca. 1750-1900

The Gothic Revival movement was initiated in the late eighteenth century by wealthy British pursuing the Romantic dream of living in a castle. Consequently, the earliest Gothic Revival buildings were simply country houses embellished with a veneer of Gothic elements. Over the ensuing decades, however, architects thoroughly revived the Gothic aesthetic and building techniques, allowing them to design authentically Gothic structures. The style was especially popular for churches and public buildings.13

Many Neogothic buildings feature castellation: crenellated walls and towers in imitation of medieval castles (see Castle).13 Indeed, heavily castellated Neogothic buildings are often referred to as "castles", even though they never served a defensive purpose. Among them was Strawberry Hill (demolished), the most famous early work of Gothic Revival.

Strawberry Hill
Neogothic 'Castle'
Neogothic 'Castle'

Gothic Revival flourished throughout the West, especially in Britain and the United States.13 The two favoured building materials were stone and brick. The foremost Gothic Revival monument of Britain is Westminster Palace (aka the Houses of Parliament), by Charles Barry; the crowning American work is St. Patrick's Cathedral (New York), by James Renwick.

Westminster Palace
St Patrick's Cathedral
St Patrick's Cathedral

Britain and America each developed a unique substyle of Neogothic. In Britain, it became popular to use multiple hues of brick, allowing for colourful patterns to be woven through a building's primary colour (typically red or brown). This practice, which may be dubbed polychrome brick Gothic, was adopted from medieval Italian Gothic architecture (in which the primary colour is typically white).13

The American substyle is carpenter Gothic (aka fisherman's Gothic or rural Gothic), in which the Gothic aesthetic is applied to a simple wooden building. A relatively easy and inexpensive style to produce (when timber is readily available), carpenter Gothic became popular throughout the United States and Canada. Typically, a building in this style is only lightly imbued with Gothic decoration (e.g. pointed-arch windows, Gothic mouldings and tracery).30

Italian Gothic (medieval building)
'Polychrome Brick Gothic' Building (Keble College Chapel, Oxford)
'Polychrome Brick Gothic' Church (London)
Carpenter Gothic Church (Colorado)
Carpenter Gothic Church (Florida)
Carpenter Gothic House (Ohio)
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