Neoclassical Architecture Perseveres In The US Landscape

Neoclassical architecture was born out of classical architecture. The architecture style emerged in the 18th century and flourished through the first half of the 19th century.

Neoclassical architecture

Today, its influence remains as evidenced in many homes across the country.

Recently, US President Joe Biden revoked the Trump administration’s “Promoting Beautiful Federal Civic Architecture” executive order. The order mandated that all new federal buildings constructed in Washington, D.C., be designed by default in classical styles, including neoclassical.

What Is Neoclassical Architecture?

First, to understand neoclassical architecture, you should know that it includes several architectural styles. It includes Renaissance architecture, Palladian, classicism, art deco and postmodernism.

Other influences include Roman and Greek architecture. The base of the buildings is Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome. The US Capitol building in Washington D.C. and the Pantheon are notable buildings featuring this style.

However, neoclassical isn’t only a design for US federal or civic buildings or museums. 

History Of Neoclassical Architecture

Neoclassical architecture began in the 1750s. It was the counterpart to the brighter and louder architectural styles of the time. 

Beginning in the 20th century, neoclassical revivalism became the dominant style for residential architecture nationwide. The style continued through the 1940s and influenced interior design.

As a prominent style in the US, it was renamed “Federal Architecture.” Today, both names are used when referring to neoclassical buildings. 

The Three Neoclassical Architectural Styles

The Three Neoclassical Architecture Styles
 Buildmentor® Inc.

Most architectural styles don’t have established divisions. However, the neoclassical movement has three distinct divisions that classify the buildings.


Temple-style neoclassical architecture is based on the ancient buildings of Rome and Greece. It is the only style featuring a sloped roof rather than a flat roof. Temple-style neoclassical architecture has spires on domes, like the Capitol building in Washington D.C. 


Andrea Palladio’s villa inspired the Palladian style of neoclassical architecture. The villa was created in the 1500s in Italy and named after its creator Andrea Palladio. Inspired by Roman architecture, the style has a renaissance influences.

Classical Block 

The classical block style is the most popular. It was created by the French Ecole des Beaux-Arts or the School of Fine Arts. The style is the least ornate and detailed style of the three.  

It has a simple structure with large pieces and large pillars rather than elaborate or immaculate parts. The base of these buildings in neoclassical architecture is very simple and square, and always geometric. 

Neoclassical Architecture Characteristics

Neoclassical Architecture Style Characteristics
Larry E. Boerder Architects

In order to know what neoclassical architecture is, it’s important to learn about the characteristics of the style. Because you can view the big picture but picking out the details of this type of architecture can be difficult. 

Everything Bigger

Everything in neoclassical architecture is large-scale. The buildings are scaled to suit giants with high ceilings and large pillars. The Lincoln Memorial, for example, features a large statue of Lincoln.

Flat Roofs

Flat roofs aren’t necessarily neoclassical architecture, but they are common among the classic block style. Most homes built with neoclassical architecture styles are flat-roofed. 

Flat roofs aren’t as popular today because they can be problematic. A flat roof, for it to be effective, requires a drainage system. Without one, snow and rain would destroy the home.

Large Pillars 

Neoclassical Architecture with Large pilars
Heirloom Design Build

Very large pillars are seen a lot in neoclassical architecture. In fact, 99% of them have pillars of some kind and it just might be the biggest staple yet. “Neoclassical” architecture without pillars may not even be neoclassical at all.

Historically, pillars were used as a load-bearing piece that acted as a wall with the least amount of materials possible. Today, they can be load-bearing or ornamental. An ornamental pillar is called a pilaster. 

Domes And Arches

While most neoclassical architecture is square and sharp, domes and arches are are used to offer balance. Older public buildings used this style. However buildings constructed after the 20th century do not feature domes.  

Domes and arches are common with Palladian architecture. Ancient Greece and Rome buildings featured domes and arches. The arches can be seen inside and out and the domes are seen atop these homes to create more depth and higher ceilings inside. 

Simple Color Scheme

You won’t see bright colors in neoclassical architecture. Although theaters and such will have bright red accents, for the most part, there will be monochromatic schemes throughout the neoclassical architecture.

It starts with marbles and stones, with little painting being done. The goal is to create something amazing and impressive with natural materials that look manmade. 

Neoclassical Architecture with Classic Art

Classic art, partially from Greece and Italy is important if you even hang art at all. Art can be paintings, sculptures, or something else. As long as it looks a few hundred years old then it can fit into the style.

The true neoclassical buildings will have authentic art from the neoclassical age.  It’s okay to fake it out or focus on the other aspects of neoclassical architecture instead.

Extended Top Story

Oftentimes, a top story is added to neoclassical buildings but it won’t be a full story. The story is set in and is at least a few feet away from the edge of the lower story. It gives a lot of depth and character to the building.

Sometimes, domes make up the top story, as seen in Washington D.C. But the top story can also be flat as well or triangular as long as the pitch is shallow rather than deep. Soft sloped only in neoclassical architecture.

Inside Of Neoclassical Buildings

It is easy to look at a building on the outside and say, “that’s neoclassical!” But it can be hard to imagine what is inside of that building. Because it can’t simply be all pillars and thrones. 

Today, neoclassical architecture interiors aren’t that different than what is found inside any other buildings. But there are a few small details that can help keep the interior authentic as well.

Interior Characteristics 

  • Red – if you add one color, bright red is a great choice. Try not to overdo it and add gold or white accents to balance it out so it isn’t overpowering. But then again, color isn’t necessary.
  •  Art – it really is as simple as that. It’s important to add art to the inside of neoclassical buildings. The buildings themself are a work of art, but adding authentic pieces of art can really amp things up. 
  • Arches – arches are a great addition to neoclassical buildings. In fact, it’s almost necessary s far as interiors are concerned. So any ornaments, doorways, or art that include arches will likely fit in. 
  • Stone – any type of stone will work. From marble to granite to polished stone. If you can’t do stone then you can use plaster instead as it is a classic part of creating neoclassical buildings as well. 

How To Design With Neoclassical Architecture 

How to design your classic house
Knight Architects LLC

Designing a neoclassical house isn’t necessarily the same as designing a federal building. Because when it comes to homes, you may not want huge pillars and marble floors in your home. 

You can buy Italian art, install pillars, and use white granite for your countertops. It doesn’t take much to add touches of the neoclassical style to a home. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)FAQ

What Kind Of Roof Does A Neoclassical Home Have?

Neoclassical homes feature flat roofs. If you want a flat roof, you will need to make sure it has a proper drainage system.

What Colors Are Associated With Neoclassical Architecture?

The color white is the predominant color. Cream-color marble was popular among ancient Greece and Rome buildings. In the US, civic buildings are either white or red brick.

How Are Neoclassical Buildings Preserved?

Aluminum double gazing is applied to neoclassical buildings to help them last longer. Some buildings are given a different coat of paint.

Neoclassical Architecture Wrap Up

The neoclassical styles that spread throughout the US are still standing. Townhouses, homes, county courthouses, main street commercial buildings, and banks used variations of the style. Today, the buildings thrive.
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