Classical Architecture: History, Characteristics, Example
With architecture being all about storytelling through design elements, classical architecture always stays on top with its intricate designs. From symmetry in structures to the use of timeless materials like marble, the classical style of architecture imbibes historic tales within every feature.
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The modern world is just an evolution of the designs heavily influenced by the past. To understand how current design stays rooted in the classical era, let’s delve deep into the subject and explore examples of traditional architecture.
What is Classical Architecture
Classical architecture is generally derived from ancient Greek and Roman designs. It encompasses features like rectangular windows, timeless materials like marble, natural stone, bricks, etc., columns, and symmetry in their designs, which one can see in the traditional architecture of Greece and Rome.
While the Greeks influenced proportions and symmetry in the classical style of architecture, Roman influence further enhanced it through the intricacy of designs. A classical design language was well-defined, with architectural elements comprising highly ornamented columns and pediments.
Although the ancient Roman and Greek architectural influences laid the foundation of classical architecture, the style traveled across the world and stays true to its form even in the modern world.
History of Classic Architecture
The history of classical architecture dates back to 3rd-century Rome and 5th-century Greece. The principles of design- Firmitas, Utilitas, and Venustas were introduced by Marcus Vitruvius, a Roman architect. His principles stated that each building must comprise strength, utility, and aesthetics.
Architects have continuously strived to revive the style over the years. During the Italian Renaissance era, architects worked on restoring Rome’s classical architecture. Later, Greek architecture was revived, and the style was popularly known as Greek Revival. This style of architecture worked with the Greek design principles of structural integrity and proportions.
Classical architecture was not restricted to Greece or Rome; instead, it traveled across the globe. This architectural style in the United States was popularly known as Neoclassical. Baroque style inspires the neoclassical architecture style, the basics of which belong to the principles of ancient Roman architecture.
Later in the 19th century, Classical Revival architecture came into the picture. It accentuated the classical architecture elements serving as an inspiration to several architects and builders.
Characteristics of Classical Architecture
Sturdy materials like stone, brick, concrete, and marble comprise the material palette of classical structures. Concrete in these buildings aided in constructing domes, vaults, and arches. Adopting durable materials helped these buildings retain their glory even after centuries.
A Specific Order of Columns
Classical architecture accommodates specific styles of columns. While Greek architecture offers Ionic, Doric, and Corinthian columns, Roman architecture uses Composite and Tuscan orders in design.
Symmetry and Proportions
Buildings with a classical style of architecture stand out due to their well-balanced proportions and symmetry. You can see it in their evenly designed windows and columns.
The front facade of classical architecture accommodates intricate motifs. Dentil molding, boxed eaves, medium-pitched roofs, decorative door surrounds, and broken pediments above entrance doors are a few of the typical design elements in the style.
Harmony in Design
Classical design language considers harmony as one of the essential principles. Consistent design elements and coordinated materials throughout the structure help harmonize the facade. This approach helps create a visual balance and logically bind the entire design.
Pediment Sprucing Up the Front Porch
As entrances are flanked by a full-height porch, classical pediments on the top complete the look. The main entrance door stays at the facade’s center, following symmetry principles.
Facades of classical architecture structures incorporate double-hung windows. These are present at an even distance, and mixed compositions help achieve symmetry and proportions.
Columns Inspired by the Traditional Architecture
Column is one of the most prominent features of classical architecture. With Greek and Roman influences, this architectural style adopts five unique types of orders.
The Doric Order
Doric columns are known for their simplicity in design. These are without base and have minimal decoration. A horizontal band on the top of the column, known as a frieze, is ornamented with metopes and vertical grooves called triglyphs.
The Corinthian Order
These are intricately ornamented columns with bell-shaped capitals. The capital features carving of natural elements like flowers and leaves. A Corinthian column is taller than the Doric order but of comparable height to the Ionic order.
The Ionic Order
Ionic order in classical architecture features narrow columns placed on a circular base. These columns are taller and ornamented with scroll-like features on the top of columns known as volutes. An ionic column has a graceful visual appeal owing to the fluted pattern.
The Tuscan Order
In the case of Tuscan columns, little or no ornamentation is present in the design. From column to frieze, no design is incorporated. The capital of a Tuscan order features a simple and round base. These are comparatively thicker and shorter in proportion than the other orders.
The Composite Order
Composite orders feature the blend of highly carved Corinthian capitals and ionic volutes. Merging the aesthetics of both columns, a composite order results in rich and ornate visual appeal exuding grandeur.
Classical Architecture Elements
The classical designs achieve their grace by integrating columns in the main facade. Roman and Greek orders have a great influence on the design of columns. A single column comprises a base, capital, and shaft. The design language of these elements, along with proportions, defines the column style.
The pediment is the triangular structure sitting on the top of a building’s facade. It is supported on the top of columns and adds to the grandeur of the form. A pediment accommodates intricate design and details.
A capital is the topmost element of a column. Its design and level of ornamentation are dependent on the style of the columns. For example, while Corinthian capitals host intricate carvings of scrolls and acanthus leaves, Doric capitals, on the other hand, are comparatively simple and plain.
Friezes are the decorative horizontal bands present on the upper part of a facade. They feature minute craftsmanship and relief sculptures that add to the depth and aesthetics of a structure.
You can find the entablature on the top of a column, and is used to support the roof. It includes architrave, frieze, and cornices.
These are the horizontal projections placed at the top of a facade. Cornices define the transition between the roof and external walls of a structure. It can either have a simple design or a cluster of intricate patterns.
8 Examples of Classical Architecture
1. The Parthenon
- Location: Athens, Greece
- Building Typology: Temple
- Year of Construction: 447-432 BCE
The Parthenon is one of the most ancient temples dedicated to the Athena. It is one of the most important structures of the classical era, exhibiting the Doric order. The walls were home to intricate sculptures showcasing Greek art. There are 17 columns on the sides and 8 decorating either end of the building.
Fun Fact: It is a symbol of Western democracy and civilization and the most significant cultural monument globally.
2. Kaufmann House
- Location: Palm Springs, United States
- Building Typology: Residence
- Year of Construction: 1946-47
Kaufmann house is one of the unique designs built by Richard Neutra. Integrating a private swimming pool into the property made it stand out from the other residence designs in the 90s. The users utilized this vacation home to escape from the cold northeast winters. A composition of stone, glass, and steel imparts a modern touch to the design.
Fun Fact: Kaufmann House is one of the most iconic houses of the 20th Century.
3. Maison Carree
- Location: Nimes, France
- Building Typology: Roman Temple
- Year of Construction: c. 2 AD
Maison Carree exhibits one of the finest examples of classical architecture that dates back to the Roman Empire. The temple is nestled in Nimes, formerly part of the Roman territory. It is one of the best-preserved temples, inspiring several structures worldwide like the Virginia State Capitol building, St. Marcellinus Church, Eglise de la Madeleine, etc.
Fun fact: The temple is an example of Vitruvian architecture, built as a replica of the temple design described in his writings.
4. The Farnsworth House
- Location: Plano, United States
- Building Typology: Residence
- Year of Construction: 1945-1951
The Farnsworth house is both simple and intelligent. It is a classic example of residence design from the mid-90s era. It draws inspiration from classical design language while keeping the overall visuals modern. The house cocoons within greenery and wooden construction further add to its class. Designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the design is an inspiration to several modern architects.
Fun fact: To keep the house lighter on land, Mies raised it by 5 feet 3 inches from the ground to enable landscape flow throughout.
- Location: Rome, Italy
- Building Typology: Amphitheater
- Year of Construction: 70-80 AD
The Colosseum is a standing amphitheater known to be the largest in the world. It took ten years to complete its construction. The design comprises brick-faced concrete, travertine limestone, and volcanic rock. It is one of the finest examples of Greek traditional architecture.
Fun Fact: The Colosseum is one of the seven wonders of the world, even after stone robbers, natural calamities, etc., ruined the design. It is an ideal example illustrating the essence of Imperial Rome.
- Location: New Canaan, United States
- Building Typology: Residence
- Year of Construction: 1949
Glasshouse is one of the first works of modern architecture. Philip Johnson took inspiration from Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House and proposed this unique residence. The overall visual composition borrows classical architecture’s principles of simplicity and proportions. Clear glass and lively reflections make the design a one-of-its-kind and bridge the gap between indoors and outdoors.
Fun Fact: The sleek lines of Glass House merge with the natural landscape and offer a sense of unending visuals.
7. Eames House
- Location: Los Angeles
- Building Typology: House
- Year of Construction: 1949
Eames House exhibits an example of classic architecture, which was built as a home and now serves as a museum. It follows simple architecture that hints towards modern flair. The modern construction has used prefabricated materials, and the composition showcases attention to detail. This home welcomes natural light and enables a seamless connection between indoors and outdoors through standard windows.
Fun Fact: Despite the level difference, distinct spaces stay connected to each other with the incorporation of double-height areas
- Location: Rome, Italy
- Building Typology: Temple
- Year of Construction: 118-125 AD
The Pantheon is an example of Roman classical architecture built as a Catholic Church in Rome. The cylindrical shape defines the form of the building, where the front porch accommodates 16 Corinthian columns under a simple pediment. A rectangle vestibule helps in connecting the patio to the dome. Due to regular maintenance, it is one of Rome’s most well-preserved ancient structures.
Fun fact: The Pantheon is the largest dome in the world, constructed without reinforcement.
The Evergreen Trend of Classical Architecture
The influence of classical architecture design is perceived even in modern designs through simplicity in form. This style has influenced other design languages and aided in navigating them to a sense of elegance and drama.
From majestic Greek temples to modern classic residential designs, classical design embraces simplicity while curating grandeur in aesthetics.
The five orders of columns popularly used in classical architecture are Ionic, Doric, Corinthian, Tuscan, and Composite.
Style of columns, ornamentation in pediments, balance, and symmetry are the basics that define classical architecture.
The three classical styles of architecture are Doric, Corinthian, and Ionic.
The classical style of architecture followed the principles of the traditional architecture of Greece and Rome.
Any structure possessing symmetry and design elements like evenly spaced out windows and columns are examples of classical architecture.
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