What is neoclassical
The Neoclassical architectural style came to prominence, mainly in France and Italy, during the mid-18th century period. Up until that time, much of the work in those two countries – particularly that which adhered to the Baroque and Rococo styles – involved a lot of detail and decoration.
Neoclassical architecture – a revival of classical architecture – was essentially a rection to the excesses of those two styles. Instead of ornamentation, it delivered the simple, classical forms of Greek and Roman architecture. Instead of decoration, other characteristics like symmetry, geometry, and social imperatives took centre stage during this period.
Archaeology, and in particular the work of Johann Joachim Winckelmann also had a significant influence on Neoclassical design. The movement drew on the logic of Classical work and the new science of archaeology – in which Johann Joachim Winckelmann was a leading light – delivered its practitioners a previously inaccessible understanding of this logic.
The key characteristics of neoclassicism architecture
Neoclassical buildings generally involve grandeur, massive scale, and the use of drama, but steer away from artifice and decoration. Instead, they are designed to evoke a sense of simplicity and conform to rules of symmetry.
They are recognisable for their huge, tall columns; their flat or domed roofs; and their gardens that, like the Neoclassical buildings they surround, conform to rules of symmetry, and follow patterns.
Where was Neoclassical architecture popular?
Italy was one of the main centres of the Neoclassical architecture and its key practitioners included Luigi Vanvitelli and Ferdinando Fuga. Meanwhile in France, Claude-Nicolas Ledoux was a leading Neoclassical architect. Beyond those two nations, the style found favour throughout Europe. St. Petersburg, a city with an impressive number of Neoclassical buildings, is a good example.
England, a country in which the Baroque and Rococo styles never really had much influence, also took to Neoclassical design. Sir John Soane's Bank of England in London is a fine example of this.
Meanwhile, the style also had an impact further afield, in Latin America and elsewhere. The United States became a centre of some significant works, including the White House, the American Capitol building, and more. In this country’s case, during this period, the similarities between the USA as a young growing country and the rise of the Roman empire fuelled much of the enthusiasm for the style.
A collection of some of the best neoclassical buildings
1. The White House
Location: Washington DC, USA
Build Date: 1792 - 1800
Architect: James Hoban
Completed in 1800, The White House has been the official residence of every US President since John Adams. Built by slaves, ex-slaves and others, the building has been modified many times and once endured a fire.
2. Buckingham Palace
Location: London, UK
Build Date: Though the original house at the palace was built in 1703, there was a lot of later work done on it. The East Wing, which is most recognisable to the modern viewer, was completed in 1850.
Architect: John Nash, Edward Blore, and others
The external façade of Buckingham Palace is heavily influenced by the French neoclassical architecture style, which was a favourite of King George IV.
3. University of Virginia’s Rotunda
Location: Charlottesville, VA, USA
Build Date: 1822 - 1826
Architect: Thomas Jefferson
One of a group of the university’s original buildings that Thomas Jefferson dubbed the “Academical Village”, the Rotunda is modelled on Ancient Rome’s Pantheon. Along with Monticello, the Academical Village is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
4. The Academy of Athens
Location: Athens, Greece
Build Date: 1859 - 1885
Architect: Theophil Hansen
Together with Athens University and the National Library, The Academy of Athens is part of an ‘architectural "trilogy’. There are also sculptures by Greek neo-classical sculptor Leonidas Drosis on the site. It is a fine example of Neoclassical design.
5. The United States Capitol Building
Location: Washington, DC, USA
Build Date: 1793 - 1800
Architect: William Thornton
Built in the American Neoclassical style, The United States Capitol Building is instantly recognisable. Though it has been damaged, rebuilt, modified, and renovated many times of the years, its neoclassical design style remains intact.
6. El Capitolio
Location: Havana, Cuba
Build Date: 1926 - 1929
Architect: Eugenio Rayneri Piedra
Similar in appearance to the United States Capitol Building, El Capitolio (National Capitol of Cuba) is one of the most recognisable Neoclassical buildings in the Cuban capital. The building was the seat of the Cuban Congress until 1959, then until 2013 it was home to the Cuban Academy of Sciences and the National Library of Science and Technology.
7. Le Petit Trianon
Location: Versailles, France
Build Date: 1762 - 1768
Architect: Ange-Jacques Gabriel
Indicative of the move from the Rococo style of the early 18th century to the Neoclassical style, Le Petit Trianon is located on the grounds of the Palace of Versailles in Versailles. It was built for Louis XV’s mistress, Madame de Pompadour, who died before it was finished.
8. Northern Italy: Villa Tittoni Traversi
Location: Desio, Italy
Build Date: 1776
Architect: Giuseppe Piermarini
Located in Northern Italy, Villa Tittoni Traversi was built in 1776 and the façade pictured was added in the 1840s by architect Pelagio Palagi.
9. Sydney Town Hall
Location: Sydney, NSW
Build Date: 1868 - 1890
Architect: John H. Wilson
Built in two stages, Sydney Town Hall took more than 30 years to complete. A monumental brick and stone structure, its materials include locally sourced Sydney sandstone.
10. Shrine of Remembrance
Location: Melbourne, VIC
Build Date: 1927 - 1934
Architect: Phillip Hudson and James Wardrop
Though built to honour those who served in World War I, the Shrine of Remembrance now functions as a memorial for all wars. In terms of design, it is based on the Parthenon in Athens, as well as the Tomb of Mausolus at Halicarnassus.