Neoclassical Architecture: A Return to Order

Starting in the mid-1700s, Europeans began to grow tired of the ornate, over-the-top Rococo and Baroque styles that infused their culture. Instead, they wanted to return to the perceived perfection and intellectual superiority of the Romans and ancient Greeks. This movement back to the wisdom of the ancients is called Neoclassicism, and it influenced a new style of architecture that remained popular for nearly a hundred years.

Physical Characteristics of Neoclassic Architecture

Neoclassical architecture is usually quite easy to spot. It heavily employs the use of pillars and rectangular shapes. Most structures are straight-sided and appear fairly simple from the outside. Indoors, Neoclassical style maintains a simplicity, with decorative touches in walls and ceilings remaining fairly flat, and using geometric, symmetrical designs and shapes rather than natural, asymmetrical ones.

Popularity and Symbolism of Neoclassic Architecture

This style was extremely popular during the American Revolution, and the brand new republic liked using the style in its civic buildings to emphasize the rational, democratic ideals it stood for, and to separate itself from the tired, overly decorated style loved by the monarchs of Europe. The rationalism of Neoclassicism was also attractive to the French during the French Revolution a few years after the American Revolution, as the French also were attempting to throw off the burden of monarchy and aristocracy.

Famous Neoclassic Buildings

The Capitol building in Washington D.C. is built in a Neoclassical style, as is the Lincoln Monument and many, many other important buildings to U.S. history. The style was popular in Europe as well, despite the sometimes old-fashioned monarchies. The Bank of England and British Museum in London are both designed in the Neoclassical style. On the mainland, the Altes Museum in Berlin and Prado Museum in Madrid are two excellent examples of Neoclassical architecture tailored to the country’s heritage and style.