Explore Architectural Styles
- Greek Revival
- Romanesque Revival
- Renaissance Revival
- Second Empire
- Beaux Arts Classicism
- Colonial Revival
- Spanish Colonial Revival
- Art Deco and Moderne
- 50s-70s Modern
Federal was the dominant style of architecture in the newly formed United States after the Revolutionary War. Developing out of the Georgian style, Federal architecture drew inspiration from the monuments of Ancient Rome. The first true American architects, including Charles Bulfinch and Benjamin H. Latrobe, emerged during this time. Also known as the Adam style, features of Federal style architecture include symmetry, elliptical fanlights over paneled front doors, elaborate door surrounds, double-hung sash windows, three-part Palladian windows, cornices with dentils or modillions, and graceful decorative ornamentation on mantels, walls, and ceilings.
As American interest in classicism continued into the nineteenth century, Greek Revival became the dominant style for both domestic and public architecture. The style grew to national prominence largely through the work of Benjamin H. Latrobe and his students William Strickland and Robert Mills, all of whom were actively engaged in public building design. Buildings with temple fronts, classical columns, and wide entablatures evoked the democratic ideals of Ancient Greece throughout the United States.
Italian farmhouses were the inspiration for Italianate architecture, which began in Great Britain. A low-pitched roof with projecting eaves supported by brackets was the hallmark of this picturesque style, which architects broadly applied to government, commercial, and residential buildings. Features also include tall first-floor windows, arches, and, in the Italian Villa subtype, square towers. The style declined in popularity soon after the Civil War.
Romanesque Revival buildings are characterized by monochromatic masonry, semicircular window and door openings, corbel tables, and square towers. The style never grew to widespread popularity, and its use was predominantly restricted to churches and public buildings.
Similarly to the Italianate style, Renaissance Revival architecture drew inspiration from sixteenth-century Italy. Renaissance Revival buildings are, however, more faithful adaptations, partly due to the fact that more American architects had firsthand knowledge of Italy at the time of the style’s popularity. These formal, symmetrical buildings usually feature a different window and wall treatment for every floor. Other features include arcades, arched and pedimented openings, projecting cornices, and roofline balustrades.
Popularized in Paris during the reign of Napoleon III, the double-pitched mansard roof became the defining characteristic of the Second Empire style. Beneath the boxy roof line, other building features closely follow the Italianate style and include brackets, paired and hooded windows, and double doors. Unlike the picturesque Gothic Revival and Italianate styles, the Second Empire style was considered very modern. It was used for public buildings constructed during the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant.
Taking its name from France’s Ecole des Beaux-Arts, where prominent American architects studied at the turn of the century, this style is characterized by grandiose compositions with exuberant details. Classical in form, Beaux Arts buildings typically have projecting facades with paired colossal columns, statuary, monumental stairs, and enriched moldings. The Ecole des Beaux Arts also spurred the City Beautiful movement, which emphasized formal spatial relationships between monumental buildings in city planning.
Classicism regained popularity during the early twentieth century. Cities throughout the country demolished earlier, picturesque-style federal buildings and replaced them with classically designed structures. Pedimented porticos with colossal columns dominate the symmetrical facades of Neoclassical buildings. Unlike the contemporaneous Beaux Arts style, however, Neoclassical buildings did not display enriched moldings and statuary.
Though predominantly used in domestic architecture, the Colonial Revival style—and its Georgian Revival subtype—was employed for certain public buildings. Architects most often incorporated colonial elements into post offices and border stations. Though larger than their colonial archetypes, the revival buildings were usually constructed of brick and had symmetrical facades, centered doors with fanlights or pediments, and double-hung sash windows.
Spanish Colonial Revival architecture was most often used in states with prevalent Spanish heritage. Architects utilized materials such as stucco and red tile in designing these buildings. Details include arches and arcades, iron railings and grilles, hip roofs, parapets, towers, and plaster moldings.
As American architects embraced Modernism during the Roaring Twenties, the decorative Art Deco style emerged. The new style broke revivalist traditions, and stressed hard-edged geometric compositions with vertical emphasis. Hallmarks of the Art Deco style include stepped facades, zigzags, and stylized ornamentation.
During the Great Depression, Art Moderne developed as an offshoot of popular Art Deco style. Art Moderne buildings had rounded corners with curved glass windows, horizontal bands of windows, smooth walls, and flat roofs. The resulting streamlined effect remained popular until World War II.
The second wave of the Modern movement swept the United States in the years following World War II. As architects explored new materials and technology, distinct architectural styles emerged:
- International Style: Absence of ornamentation, expansive windows, flat roofs, smooth wall surfaces, and cantilevered upper floors.
- Formalism: Flat projecting rooflines, smooth wall surfaces, columnar supports, and strict symmetry.
- Brutalism: Weighty massiveness, exposed concrete walls, broad wall surfaces, and deeply recessed windows.
- Expressionism: Sweeping curved rooflines and wall surfaces, minimal use of symmetrical forms, concave or convex surfaces, and arched or vaulted spaces.