“The one way for us to become great, perhaps inimitable, is by imitating the ancients,” wrote the 18th-century German art historian and archaeologist Johann Joachim Winckelmann, encapsulating the core idea of the movement known as neoclassicm.
Neoclassical architecture, sometimes also referred to as “Classical Revivalism”, is an architectural style that emerged in the late 18th century as a revival of classical Greek and Roman architectural principles. It was a reaction against the ornate and extravagant Baroque and Rococo styles that were popular in the preceding centuries.
This movement drew inspiration from the ancient architecture of Greece and Rome, particularly the classical orders, such as the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian columns. The style aimed to capture the elegance, simplicity, and proportionality of classical buildings, emphasizing clean lines, symmetry, and harmonious proportions.
6 Details to Recognize Neoclassical Architecture
Classical, But Modernized Appearance
Neoclassical buildings often incorporate classical orders, such as Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian columns. Look for columns with distinct capitals and fluted shafts.
Neoclassical architecture tends to exhibit a high degree of symmetry. Buildings are often organized around a central axis, with balanced design elements on either side.
The same goes for proportions and scale. Neoclassical buildings strive for harmonious proportions and a sense of balance. Look for well-proportioned façades, evenly spaced columns, and a sense of visual order.
Pediments and Porticos
Pediments, which are triangular gables often adorned with sculptures or decorative elements, are a common feature in neoclassical architecture. Porticos, which are porches with rows of columns, can also be found.
Simple and Geometric Forms
Neoclassical buildings typically favor clean lines and simple geometric shapes. Look for rectangular or square shapes, as well as circular or semi-circular elements like domes or arches.
Classical and Simple Ornamentation and Motifs
While neoclassical architecture is generally more restrained in terms of ornamentation compared to earlier styles, there are still decorative elements to watch for. Look for friezes, cornices, moldings, and other classical-inspired decorative details.
White or Light Colored Facades
Neoclassical buildings often feature white or light-colored facades, reminiscent of the classical buildings of ancient Greece and Rome. This color choice emphasizes purity, simplicity, and a connection to the ideals of ancient civilizations.
5 Finest Examples of Neoclassical Architecture
After neoclassical architecture rose to prominence in the 18th century, it became a popular choice for important public buildings, cultural institutions, and even residential developments.
While the following only represents a fraction of the many stunning buildings constructed in the neoclassical style, they are also considered among this movement’s finest examples.
The Brandenburg Gate – Berlin, Germany
Built between 1788 and 1791, the Brandenburg Gate is one of Berlin’s most iconic landmarks. Designed by Carl Gotthard Langhans, it features classical-inspired elements such as Doric columns, a grand arch, and a chariot sculpture on top.
The United States Capitol – Washington, D.C., United States
Construction of the United States Capitol began in 1793 and continued into the 19th century. Designed by William Thornton and later expanded by several architects, it showcases neoclassical features such as a prominent dome, porticos with Corinthian columns, and a symmetrical layout.
The Teatro alla Scala – Milan, Italy
The Teatro Alla Scala, built between 1776 and 1778, is one of the world’s most renowned opera houses. Designed by Giuseppe Piermarini, it features a neoclassical exterior with Corinthian pilasters, a triangular pediment, and a grand portico.
The Royal Crescent – Bath, England
The Royal Crescent is a residential building in Bath, constructed between 1767 and 1774. Designed by John Wood the Younger, it exemplifies Georgian neoclassical architecture. The grand crescent-shaped structure features a row of identical Georgian townhouses with classical elements such as columns and decorative details.
The Prado Museum, Madrid, Spain
The Prado Museum, completed in 1819, is a neoclassical art museum that houses a vast collection of European paintings. Designed by Juan de Villanueva, it showcases a neoclassical façade with Ionic columns and a pediment adorned with sculptural reliefs.