The roots of Classicism are in ancient Greek and Roman architecture - in the temple architecture of ancient Greece and in the religious, military and civic architecture of the Roman Empire. The style comprises a range of conventional forms, notably columns (known as orders) each with fixed proportions and ornaments (especially Doric, Ionic and Corinthian). Proportion, symmetry and the relationship of individual parts to the whole also characterise Classicism. However, it is possible to describe a building as Classical solely for its proportion, with none of the trappings associated with Classical architecture.
The term is associated with an academic revival of Classicism that began in France in the mid 18th century when architects began to study classical buildings anew rather than later derivatives or Renaissance examples. During the 18th century there was a greater interest in archaeology and antiquarianism, partly fuelled by the excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum and the rediscovery of the architecture of ancient Greece. The style is characterised by severity of appearance and solidity, with orders being used in a structural rather than a decorative manner.
Classical Revival loosely describes architecture employing classical elements, but that is less severe in appearance than Neo-Classical architecture. Examples of it can be seen throughout the 19th and the early 20th century.
What to look for in a Classical building:
- Use of orders
- Repetition of elements such as windows
- References to Classical architecture
Article by Suzanne Waters
British Architectural Library, RIBA
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