Last edited 17 Mar 2021

Neoclassical architecture


Neoclassical architecture, also known as neoclassicism, emerged in the mid-18th century as a reaction to Rococo. Derived from Palladian architecture, it has references to classical Greek and Roman architecture. Unlike Classical revivalism however, neoclassical architecture tends to draw upon the logic of entire Classical volumes rather than just reusing parts.

The characteristics of neoclassical architecture include the grand scale of the buildings, the simplicity of geometric forms, the Greek (particularly Doric) detailing, dramatic columns, and blank walls. By emphasising the simplicity of the wall and its flat, planar quality, as well as the separation of elements, the style was seen as a reaction to the more lavish excesses of Rococo.

The flatter projections and recessions had different effects on light and shade, and sculptural bas-reliefs were flatter and often framed in friezes, tablets or panels. These and other individual features were isolated and ‘complete in themselves’, rather than being integrated with other features.

The emergence of neoclassical architecture dates back to the 1750s, and was widespread across the United States and Europe. In particular, the city of St. Petersburg built a large number of neoclassical buildings under the reign of Catherine II. Similarly, British architecture came to be dominated by neoclassicism by the turn of the 19th century, with the work of architects such as Robert Adam and John Soane.

In France, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux oversaw a ‘second neoclassic wave’ which was more studied and more consciously archaeological, and was associated with the apex of the Napoleonic Empire. This second phase is referred to as ‘Directoire’ or ‘Empire’, as opposed to the earlier ‘Louis XVI style’.

Notable examples of neoclassical architecture include Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s Old Museum in Berlin, Sir John Soane’s Bank of England in London, and the White House in Washington D.C.

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