Throughout history, the Western world has always returned to the first great civilizations. The medieval Romanesque period was characterized by the Roman arch, the Renaissance was a rebirth of the classicism, while the Neoclassicism marked the rationalism of the Age of the Enlightenment, Age of the Elegance.
The artist and architects of the 18th century looked for a new style that wasn’t associated with the church. They went back to the ancient, pre-Christian civilizations of Greece and Rome and so they formed architecture based on order, balance, and harmony, today known as Neoclassical architecture.
The Neoclassical architecture was a revival of the Classical architecture that started in the mid 18th century. Its beginnings were in Italy, although it became especially active in France, as a reaction to Rococo and Baroque architectural styles.
It was inspired by the classical architecture of ancient Greece and Rome, ‘neo’ meaning “new” and classical alludes to ancient Greece and Rome. The Neoclassicism was inspired by the desire to return to the arts of Rome, Greece, and renaissance classicism.
The temple was the ideal model of Neoclassical architecture. The Neoclassical buildings are massive with free-standing dramatic tall columns and clean elegant lines. The columns served to carry the weight of the building’s structure.
However, later they became a symbolic element. Columns are often multiplied to create an impression of height, while facades are flat and long, decorated with a combination of rotundas, colonnades, and porticoes.
The roof is usually flat and horizontal, symmetrical and visible from the ground. On the outside decorations are reduced to a minimum with repetition of windows to express the ideal classicism. The gardens are usually around the buildings completed by geometrical model.
Regarding the interior design, the new phase began when the Scottish architects and furniture designers Robert and James Adam, traveled in Italy and Dalmatia in the 1750s, to observe the ruins of the classical world.
They published the book ‘ The Works in Architecture’ when they returned to Britain. This book was available throughout Europe and intended to simplify the rococo and baroque styles which had been popular in the preceding decades.
The Neoclassical architecture in France appeared at the end of Louis XVI’s reign. Later, it continued during the Napoleonic era. One of the most famous French architects who designed the Parisian Pantheon was Jacques Germain Soufflot (1713-1780).
In Britain, the British Royalty employed one of their best architects John Nash (1752-1835) to redesign the city parks and blocks. The upper classes embraced the style renovating their country mansions. Also, museums, banks and post offices were built in the Neoclassical style.
Catherine the Great is responsible for spreading the Neoclassical architecture throughout Russia, unlike her Imperial predecessors, who preferred the Rococo style.
She commissioned the Scotish architect Charles Cameron (1745-1812) to design the Alexander Palace, the Pavlovsk Palace, and the Razumovsky Palace. Catherine also added neoclassical extensions to the Catherine Palace and Palace Square in St Petersburg.
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) the third President of the United States, was amongst the first architects who used the neoclassical design in the USA. His work includes the Virginia State Capitol, Monticello House, and the Rotunda at the University of Virginia. Perhaps the most iconic Neoclassical building in the USA is the US Capitol building in Washington DC.
It is inspired by the Louvre and the Pantheon in Paris. At first, the dome and rotunda were made of wood but later were reconstructed with stone and cast-iron. The Neoclassical architecture spread to colonial Latin America as well.