Neoclassical Architecture And How It Is Still Relevant

There are hundreds of different architectural styles out there today. From Hawaiian architecture to Mexican Hacienda-style architecture. These are just two of the hundreds of styles, and we’re about to show you one more.

Today, we’re going to talk about neoclassical architecture. This style of architecture is a great one that has inspired dozens of designers of very important buildings around the world. Let’s find out why it is so inspiring. 

What Is Neoclassical Architecture?

What Is Neoclassical Architecture
Image from Knight Architects LLC

The primary influences for neoclassical architecture were Rome and Greece. But later on, Italy and others were added. However, the base of these buildings is Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. Two of the oldest architectural styles in existence. 

Neoclassical architecture can now be found all over the world. But it is easy to forget that it isn’t simply a design for federal buildings or museums. This is an important architectural style with ancient origins. 

Think the White House or The Pantheon. These are buildings that inspired neoclassical architecture. The White House is neoclassical while The Pantheon is an inspiration that is 2000-years old and still standing. 

History Of Neoclassical Architecture

Neoclassical architecture was first spotted in Europe in the 1750s. It was the counterpart to the brighter and louder architectural styles of the time. That along with the fall of Pompeii and other classic cities caused the style to soar.

For a couple of hundred years, this style was one of the most popular styles for large buildings, especially those pertaining to the government. But when the 1900s rolled around, many architects chose a more modern style. 

But the style was so prominent in the United States that it was renamed Federal Architecture. Today, both names are used equally with the term neoclassical architecture remaining dominant as it pays tribute to the cultures that inspired it. 

The Three Neoclassical Styles

Image from Buildmentor® Inc.

Most architectural styles don’t have set branches as neoclassical architecture does. But this old architectural style has three distinct styles that can further classify the building that you are admiring. 

Each style is unique so if you’re looking for inspiration, it’s best to start with one style to inspire you. Find the one that you like the details or overall look of and begin there. Then you can incorporate the others styles if you like. 

Temple

Temple-style neoclassical architecture was based on the ancient temples of Rome and Greece. It is the only style that usually has a sloped roof rather than a flat roof. This is different than the other two styles.

Temple-style neoclassical architecture also often has spires on domes, which is rare in this usually geometric and symmetrical architecture style. It is easy to spot a temple style neoclassical style because of this.

Palladian

It is said that 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. This is a distinct style of neoclassical architecture.

This style of neoclassical architecture has a renaissance touch to it as it was inspired by a villa build during the renaissance in Italy. Atop these buildings are often domes and raised top stories which are easy to recognize. 

Classical Block 

The classical block style is one you’ve seen time and time again. It was created by the French Ecole des Beaux-Arts or the School of Fine Arts. This is the least ornate and detailed building of them all, which is okay.

It has a simple structure with large pieces and large pillars rather than elaborate or immaculate parts. The base of these buildings in neoclassical architecture is very simple and square, and always geometric. 

Neoclassical Style Characteristics

Image from Larry E. Boerder Architects

In order to know exactly what neoclassical architecture is, it’s important to learn about the characteristics of the style. Because you can view the big picture but picking out the details of this type of architecture can be difficult. 

These details aren’t consistent with every single neoclassical building but together they make up the whole of what neoclassical architecture is all about. Here are a few details about neoclassical architecture that you need to know. 

Large Everything 

It’s not that everything in neoclassical architecture is simply large but everything is large-scale. It’s like the opposite of a fairy garden. Everything is scaled up to suit giants with high ceilings and large pillars.

You can imagine the Lincoln Memorial and how large everything is to suit the statue of Lincoln. This is how neoclassical architecture works too. You won’t see many tiny details when the details can be large. 

Flat Roofs

Flat roofs aren’t necessary for neoclassical architecture to be classified as such, but they are very common, especially in classical block style. Most homes that are built with neoclassical architecture in mind are flat-roofed. 

Flat roofs aren’t as popular as they used to be because architects have learned that they often leave roof problems. Flat roofs without a good draining system can wreak havoc when it rains or snows.

Large Pillars

Image from Heirloom Design Build

Very large pillars are seen a lot in neoclassical architecture. In fact, 99% of them have pillars of some kind and it just might be the biggest staple yet. Neoclassical architecture without pillars may not even be neoclassical at all.

Historically, pillars were used as a load-bearing piece that acted as a wall with the least amount of materials possible. 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 are what brings it down to earth and offer balance. They aren’t seen on all neoclassical buildings but they are very common.

This is most common in Palladian architecture but can be seen in any style. The arches can be seen inside and out and the domes are seen atop these homes to create more depth and higher ceilings inside. 

Simple Color Scheme

You won’t see many bright colors in neoclassical architecture. Although theaters and such will have bright red accents, for the most part, there will be monochromatic schemes throughout the neoclassical architecture.

It starts with marbles and stones, with little painting being done. The goal is to create something amazing and impressive with natural materials that look manmade. Make the most out of natural resources. 

Classic Art

Classic art, partially from Greece and Italy is important if you even hang art at all. The art can be paintings, sculptures, or something else. As long as it looks a few hundred years old then it can fit into the style.

The true neoclassical buildings will have authentic art from the neoclassical age. But not everyone is that lucky. It’s okay to fake it out or focus on the other aspects of neoclassical architecture instead.

Extended Top Story

Oftentimes, a top story is added to neoclassical buildings but it won’t be a full story. The story is set in and is at least a few feet away from the edge of the lower story. It gives a lot of depth and character to the building.

Sometimes, domes make up the top story, as seen in Washington D.C. But the top story can also be flat as well or triangular as long as the pitch is shallow rather than deep. Soft sloped only in neoclassical architecture.

Inside Of Neoclassical Buildings

It is easy to look at a building on the outside and say, “that’s neoclassical!” But it can be hard to imagine what is inside of that building. Because it can’t simply be all pillars and thrones. Not anymore! 

Today, what is found inside neoclassical architecture isn’t that different than what is found inside any other buildings. But there are a few small details that can help keep the interior authentic as well.

Interior Characteristics 

  • Red – if you add one color, bright red is a great choice. Try not to overdo it and add gold or white accents to balance it out so it isn’t overpowering. But then again, color isn’t necessary.
  •  Art – it really is as simple as that. It’s important to add art to the inside of neoclassical buildings. The buildings themself are a work of art, but adding authentic pieces of art can really amp things up. 
  • Arches – arches are a great addition to neoclassical buildings. In fact, it’s almost necessary s far as interiors are concerned. So any ornaments, doorways, or art that include arches will likely fit in. 
  • Stone – any type of stone will work. From marble to granite to polished stone. If you can’t do stone then you can use plaster instead as it is a classic part of creating neoclassical buildings as well. 

How To Design A Neoclassical House

How To Design A Neoclassical House
Image from Knight Architects LLC

Designing a neoclassical house isn’t necessarily the same as designing a federal building. Because when it comes to homes, you may not want huge pillars and marble floors in your home. It may look gaudy. 

But you can buy Italian art, put up a few downscaled pillars, and use white granite for your countertops. It doesn’t take much to add touches of neoclassical architecture to any home. You just have to try. 

In fact, as long as you love the results, it doesn’t matter if it is neoclassical or not in the end. Because finding inspiration in different styles isn’t about copying another style, but creating your own style that no one can recreate.