Neoclassical Architecture Perseveres In The US Landscape

Neoclassical architecture, or New Classicism, is distinguished by its grand size and simple designs. It originated in the 18th century and flourished through the first half of the 19th century.

The neoclassical movement emerged as a revival of classical architecture from ancient Greece and Rome. The style features geometric elements, stone walls, and sizable columns.

What Is Neoclassical Architecture?

Neoclassical Architecture

Neoclassical style has these traits:

  • Symmetry: Neoclassical architecture is symmetrical, with identical elements on either side of a central axis.
  • Proportion: Neoclassical architecture emphasizes proportion, with building elements balanced.
  • Neoclassical buildings have tall columns inspired by ancient Greece and Rome. Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian columns are each unique.
  • Pilasters: Neoclassical buildings may also have flat, rectangular columns attached to walls, called pilasters.
  • Neoclassical architecture lacks exterior and interior ornamentation. As a result, these structures are elegant and understated.
  • Rotundas: Neoclassical buildings may have rotundas, circular rooms with domed roofs. Visitors can see the building’s height from the inside.
  • Neoclassical buildings have triangular pediments above doors and windows.
  • The buildings have long, rectangular friezes with carvings or sculptures.

History Of Neoclassical Architecture

Neoclassical architecture emerged in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The style drew inspiration from ancient Greece and Rome’s classical architecture, symbolizing order and rationality.

Neoclassical first appeared in Europe in the mid-eighteenth century. It arose in response to the ornate Baroque and Rococo styles popular at the time. It marks the return to classical ideals of simplicity and symmetry. Architects used these symmetrical designs on government buildings, banks, and museums.

The style is dominant in United States courthouses and university buildings. Neoclassical buildings include the White House, the US Capitol, and the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

Russian Neoclassical Style

Catherine the Great was instrumental in the development of the Russian neoclassical style. She was Russia’s Empress from 1762 to 1796. She preferred neoclassical designs to the Baroque and Rococo styles of the time. 

Russian motifs and elements, like onion domes and ornate decor, distinguish Russian neoclassical architecture.  Famous Russian neoclassical buildings include the Moscow Kremlin and St. Petersburg’s Kazan Cathedral. 

American Neoclassical Architecture

Neoclassical architecture is typical in public buildings in the United States. American versions use classical motifs such as columns, pediments, and symmetrical facades. 

Italian Neoclassical Style

One of the most famous Italian neoclassical buildings is the Pantheon in Rome. It was built in the second century AD and renovated in the 18th century. Rome’s Trevi Fountain and Caserta’s 18th-century Royal Palace for Naples’ Bourbon kings are other examples.

Englands Neoclassical Architecture

Robert Adam, an influential 18th-century English and Scottish architect popularized the Neoclassical style in England. 

English neoclassical structures include The Bank of England, the British Museum, and the Royal Opera House.

The Three Neoclassical Styles

The neoclassical movement has three distinct divisions that classify the buildings.

1. Temple

Temple-style neoclassical is based on the ancient buildings of Rome and Greece. It is the only style featuring a sloped roof rather than a flat roof. Temple-style features spires on domes, like the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. 

2. Palladian

Andrea Palladio’s villa inspired the Palladian style of neoclassical architecture. The villa was created in the 1500s in Italy and named after its creator Andrea Palladio. Inspired by Roman architecture, the style has renaissance influences.

3. Classical Block 

The classical block style is the most popular. It was created by the French Ecole des Beaux-Arts, or the School of Fine Arts. The style is the least ornate and detailed.  

It has a simple structure with large pillars. The base of these buildings is simple, square, and always geometric. 

Neoclassical’s Orders

Neoclassical Architecture Style

Neoclassical buildings abide by three orders: Doric, Corinthian, and Ionic. Their column designs are distinct, and each order has three sections. The top section is the capital, the middle section is the shaft, and the bottom is the pedestal.


Doric is a more simplistic architectural design thicker than ionic and corinthian. It has a plain column capital and no base. The frieze of the Doric colonnade consists of vertical plaques. It has a shaft that’s wider at the bottom than at the top.

People believed a Doric column held the most weight of a building. Therefore, they used it on the lowest level of neoclassical multi-story buildings. 

Doric columns were available in two variations: Roman and Greek. Roman Doric columns are often taller and have a base at the bottom of the shaft.


The Corinthian columns are named after the city of Corinth in Greece. Corinthian is more intricate than Ionic and Doric orders. The top part of a Corinthian column has decorative carvings resembling flowers and leaves. It’s built in rows or pairs to create symmetry. 

The corinthian column is common in the facades of public buildings. They include libraries, churches, and museums. The thin and tall column has a base of ornate details and grooves trailing down its length.


The Ionic order traces its roots from Ionia, a region in present-day Turkey. Ionia was home to ancient Greek settlers. 

The Ionic column features twin volute scrolls or volutes at the top. It’s slimmer than Corinthian or Doric columns. 

Elements of the Ionic order, including the Ionic frieze, are featured on the Parthenon and the Propylaia. The Ionic order has discerning proportions, making it slimmer and more elegant than the Doric order.

Neoclassical Architecture Characteristics

Here’s a more detailed breakdown of the main characteristics of neoclassical-styled homes and buildings.

Everything Bigger

Everything in the neoclassical style is large-scale. The buildings feature high ceilings and large pillars. 

Flat Roofs

Flat roofs are common among the classic block style. Most homes built with neoclassical architectural styles have flat or low-sloped roofs. 

Large Pillars 

In neoclassical architecture, 99% of structures feature pillars or columns. 

Historically, pillars were used as load-bearing structures. Today, they can be load-bearing or ornamental. An ornamental pillar is called a pilaster. 

Domes And Arches

While most neoclassical architecture is square and sharp, domes and arches offer balance. Older public buildings used this style. But, most buildings constructed after the 20th century do not feature domes.  

Domes and arches are common with Palladian architecture.  

Simple Color Scheme

You won’t see bright colors in neoclassical structures. While theaters use bright red accents, most other buildings and homes feature monochromatic schemes.

Extended Top Story

Oftentimes, a  partial top story is added to neoclassical buildings to add depth and character.

Inside Of Neoclassical Buildings

Today, neoclassical architecture interiors aren’t much different than other types of buildings. Here’s a look at the original features of Neoclassical interiors.

Interior Characteristics 

  • Red – While color schemes were neutral, bright pops of red acted as accents.
  • Art – Neoclassical buildings featured classic art. 
  • Arches – Arched doors ways were a common feature.
  • Stone – Stone floors, counters, and accents are typical of neoclassical interiors

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

What Kind Of Roof Does A Neoclassical Home Have?

Neoclassical homes feature flat roofs. If you want a flat roof, you will need to make sure it has a proper drainage system.

What Colors Are Associated With Neoclassical Architecture?

The color white is the predominant color. Cream-color marble was popular among ancient Greece and Rome buildings. In the US, civic buildings are either white or red brick. 

How Are Neoclassical Buildings Preserved?

Aluminum double gazing is applied to neoclassical buildings to help them last longer. Some buildings are given a different coat of paint. 

Neoclassical Architecture Wrap Up

The neoclassical styles that spread throughout the US are still standing. Townhouses, homes, county courthouses, main street commercial buildings, and banks used variations of the style.