What defines this timeless movement?
Even the most inexperienced and naïve of the world of architecture would be capable of identifying the architectural landmarks that define the neoclassical movement. Indeed, many that are standing today remain as visually impressive as when they were constructed. Descriptive terms such as ‘classical’ and ‘imposing’ are among the characteristics that immediately are identified with neoclassicism. This is altogether unsurprising. Neoclassicism, after all, as a movement was rooted in two things: first, a backlash against the newer schools of architecture that gained popularity in the early 18th century. Second, neoclassicism was a product of an aching nostalgia for a lost world of architecture that inspired pride and strength, namely the classical Greek and Roman architecture.
Visuals such as Capitol Hill in the United States or the Prado Museum in Madrid offer a window as to why neoclassical architecture may be the most identifiable style that exists in architecture, even if many cannot identify it by name. The buildings are elaborate, symmetrical, imposing, and timeless works. Though neoclassicism adapted itself differently in individual countries, this commanding presence was the cornerstone of the Neoclassical movement. Because it was a reaction to the Baroque movement – which was generally characterized by its ostentatious use of shapes, lack of symmetry, and its statement of individual wealth and status – neoclassicism is, by contrast, minimalist. Everything in the structure must have a practical function as much as it must be aesthetically pleasing. Rather than the convoluted curves and shapes evident in Baroque architecture, neoclassical architecture returned to a more basic geometrical style – a return to the classical architecture.
Symmetry and balance are the most predominant characteristic of neoclassicism, which is appropriate as proportion was an essential component in Greek and Roman architecture. One identifiable element in many neoclassical buildings is the use of columns. On the exterior, columns are an obvious and effective method to ensure proportion in a building. The arch and columns have become a cliché symbol of classical Greek and Roman society in popular imagination. However, this notion has been strengthened by neoclassicism’s belief that they are an important part in the revival of the classical architectural style. Columns remain visually imposing and provide buildings with a symmetrical and solid foundation. In addition to its symmetrical shape and high-rise columns, pediments that are supported by the columns, as would be seen in the Parthenon in Athens, remain a staple of neoclassical architecture, adjacent to its distinctive domed roof.
The interior of neoclassical buildings vary. Traditionally, attempts were made to maintain its interior design to be similar to buildings uncovered in Pompeii and Herculaneum. In this way, it was even more minimalist in its interior than its exterior. The status-obsessed Baroque architecture was bombastic and judged by its style; meanwhile, the interior of neoclassical buildings had to inevitably evolve and become more flexible. After all, the functions of a home will not have the same function as that of a library, museum, or a government office. Actually, neoclassicism intentionally set out to lack the excessive decorative ornaments on the interior of a building that were present in the newer styles of architecture. Students of the neoclassical school viewed excessive decorative ornaments as a degeneracy of the art and unnecessary. Therefore, neoclassicism limits itself to focus primarily on the exterior.