Home, Sweet, Home: A Look at Houses in Neoclassical Style
Neoclassical architecture, at its core, was an attempt to revive what architects interpreted to be a glory period for their field of specialization. It was a reaction to increased disenchantment with the popular architectural movements of their era that focused on excessive design and status, far removed from the simple and more imposing structures of bygone eras. Ironically, when one reviews the classical Greek and Roman architecture, such as the Parthenon or the Colosseum, that neoclassicism built itself on to imitate, one realizes that neoclassical designs still carried an aura of elitism that it sought to reject by the baroque and rococo architectural movement.
Specifically, the neoclassical style evident in cathedrals, arenas, or museums, for example, still served a function as a centerpiece for the purpose that it served and in the area in where it was built. That is structures of lesser significance in classical Greece and Rome have long decayed, whereas the classical architecture that carried greater status and function has proven durable. So, the intention of neoclassicism carried, to some degree, a measure of elitism. However, coinciding with the profound political, economic, and societal changes occurring from the 17th century onwards, neoclassical architecture began becoming more affordable and desirable for the masses. Limited functions of neoclassical architecture’s inevitably became stretched, and today it is not exclusive to important collective purposes. Today, neoclassical features are apparent in the homes of individuals.
In particular, neoclassical homes enjoyed immense popularity across the United States in the 19th century. It began at the top as Thomas Jefferson, himself an avid fan of neoclassical architecture, had important political institutions, e.g. the US Capitol, educational institutions, e.g. University of Virginia, and his own personal residence done in the neoclassical style. The Greek revival homes subsequently enjoyed mass popularity in America and Europe in the 19th century, particularly by the wealthy. Greek revival homes were defined by a porch at entry, its entryway columns that extended to the height of a second floor porch or the roof, a triangular rooftop, pediments, and a front gable became fashionable in the townhouse variation of the homes. These became the predominant features of the common house modeled after neoclassical style.
Naturally, there were variations of neoclassical homes depending on conditions and popular tastes. Tidewater neoclassical homes, for example, are one category that are characterized for having extensive porches on one or two stories, and have columns rising to the height of the building. Though neoclassical homes, inspired by classical Greek and Roman architecture, were and remain not the most common design for housing, this style remains popular in the suburb regions because they are afforded space and exclusivity. Exclusivity, in some form, appears to be in the genes of neoclassicism throughout its story.
The White House, the home of the President of the United States, was fashioned after Georgian style, which is a branch of neoclassicism for its similar stringency in maintaining symmetry, balance, and proportion. If the heart of American democracy is designed to pattern neoclassical architecture, it is only appropriate that the huddled masses too have the opportunity to live in such style. Neoclassical homes remain relatively uncommon around the world, yet they can be seen universally. Universally, too, it largely carries significance to those who reside in it, as was intended by those who sought Greek revival. Indeed, they remain as imposing in a residential community as they are when represented in the arenas of religion, politics, or education.