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Neoclassical Style Guide

A revival style that looks back to the Classical past and the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome, but unlike the re-interpretation of classical forms seen in the Renaissance, this was a much more academic approach. It began in France from the mid-18th century, with writers and architects theorising over the supremacy of ancient Greece versus ancient Rome, following the rediscovery of the Parthenon and the excavations at Herculaneum and Pompeii. For example, artists Charles-Nicholas Cochin and Jerome-Charles Bellicard published their, ‘Observations sur les antiquities de la ville d’Herculaneum’ from 1753. The same year Abbé Marc-Antoine Laugier, a French Jesuit published his, ‘Essai sur L’Architecture’, which set out to define Classicism as a logical need for shelter, illustrating his interpretation of the origin of the stone temple as a ‘Primitive Hut’, formed out of tree trunks and branches fashioned into columns supporting a triangular shaped roof. In 1762 architects James Stuart and Nicholas Revett, published their Antiquities of Athens’, which was hugely influential in promoting Neo-Classicism in England.

It marked a return to simplicity and an architecture of pure geometrical form, favouring, clarity, proportion, and symmetry. The correct use of the orders from the ancient world, i.e. Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns as structural, rather than decorative was also encouraged. Characterised by severity of appearance and solidity, Neo-classicism dominated much of European and American architecture until the emergence of the Gothic Revival from the late 1830s.

Features of a Neo-Classical building

  • Purity of form

  • Use of the Orders

  • Symmetry and Proportion

  • References to Classical architecture

Explore these galleries from the RIBA Collections illustrating the main features of Neoclassical Architecture

For further reading on the Gothic Revival below is a selection of books from the British Architectural Library on the subject:

  • Neoclassicism by David Irwin. Library Reference: 7.034(4).8/.88 // IRW
  • The neoclassical source book by Caroline Clifton-Mogg. Library Reference: 729.098.034.8/.88 // CLI
  • English neo-classical architecture by Damie Stillman. Library Reference: 72.034(42).8/.88 // STI
  • Neoclassical and 19th century architecture by Robin Middleton and David Watkin. Library Reference: 72.034(4).8 // MID
  • The Greek Revival: neo-classical attitude in British architecture 1760-1870 by Jan Mordaunt Crook. Library Reference: 72.036.3(41/42) // CRO
  • Neo-classicism by Hugh Honour. Library Reference: 7.034.8/.88 // HON

Style Guide written by Suzanne Waters

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Tyringham House, Buckinghamshire

RIBA17154
Ihne, Ernst Eberhard von (1848-1917)
NOTES: The house was substantially altered in 1907-1909 by Ernst Eberhard von Ihne for its new owner F. A. Koenig.

Somerset House, Strand, London: entry to the east court

RIBA77837
Chambers, Sir William (1723-1796)

Pitzhanger Manor, Walpole Park, Ealing, London: the east facade

RIBA103274
Soane, Sir John (1753-1837)
NOTES: Pitzhanger Manor was owned by Soane from 1800 to 1810 during which time he radically rebuilt it. He demolished most of the existing building except the two-storey south wing built in 1768 by George Dance.

Pitzhanger Manor, Walpole Park, Ealing, London: the east facade seen from the entrance

RIBA103275
Soane, Sir John (1753-1837)
NOTES: Pitzhanger Manor was owned by Soane from 1800 to 1810 during which time he radically rebuilt it. He demolished most of the existing building except the two-storey south wing built in 1768 by George Dance.

Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire: the yellow drawing room by John Soane, looking north with skylight above

RIBA130688
Gibbs, James (1682-1754)
NOTES: The house dates originally from c. 1640, when it was begun and possibly designed by its owner Sir Thomas Chicheley. It subsequently underwent many alterations. From 1693-1710 a detached orangery to the rear and a service wing were added. From 1713 James Gibbs added wings and library to the north-west. In 1742-1745 the central block was reroofed and the elevations reconstructed by the architect Henry Flitcroft. Another wing was added on the garden side to balance the library. Between 1791-1806 the interiors were remodelled by John Soane. The last phase was the extension of the east and west wings by H. E. Kendall (senior) in 1842 (largely demolished in 1953). The house was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1976. The drawing room by Soane (c. 1792) was created out of a courtyard and stairwell from the 17th century house. See RIBA158761 for a colour version of this image.

Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire: detail of pilaster and entablature in the yellow drawing room

RIBA130691
Gibbs, James (1682-1754)
NOTES: The house dates originally from c. 1640, when it was begun and possibly designed by its owner Sir Thomas Chicheley. It subsequently underwent many alterations. From 1693-1710 a detached orangery to the rear and a service wing were added. From 1713 James Gibbs added wings and library to the north-west. In 1742-1745 the central block was reroofed and the elevations reconstructed by the architect Henry Flitcroft. Another wing was added on the garden side to balance the library. Between 1791-1806 the interiors were remodelled by John Soane. The last phase was the extension of the east and west wings by H. E. Kendall (senior) in 1842 (largely demolished in 1953). The house was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1976. The drawing room by Soane (c. 1792) was created out of a courtyard and stairwell from the 17th century house. See RIBA158763 for a colour version of this image.

Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire: the warming room off the bath house

RIBA130724
Gibbs, James (1682-1754)
NOTES: The house dates originally from c. 1640, when it was begun and possibly designed by its owner Sir Thomas Chicheley. It subsequently underwent many alterations. From 1693-1710 a detached orangery to the rear and a service wing were added. From 1713 James Gibbs added wings and library to the north-west. In 1742-1745 the central block was reroofed and the elevations reconstructed by the architect Henry Flitcroft. Another wing was added on the garden side to balance the library. Between 1791-1806 the interiors were remodelled by John Soane The last phase was the extension of the east and west wings by H. E. Kendall (senior) in 1842 (largely demolished in 1953). The house was bequeathed to the National Trust in 1976. See RIBA158779 for a colour version of this image.
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