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.

neoclassical architecture

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

the white house

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.

buckingham palace

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.

university of virginia rotunda

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. 

academy of athens

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.

united states capitol building

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.

el capitolio

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.

le petit trianon

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.

Villa Tittoni Traversi

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.

sydney town hall

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. 

shrine of rememberance

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.