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Classical Revivals: Exploring the Resurgence of Classical Design

Revival is a term typically attached to an ancient architectural style, which has been adapted as a decorative scheme or design philosophy for contemporary architecture. Notable specific examples in American and European architecture of the previous century include the Gothic revival, Egyptian revival, and Greek revival styles. The terms Classical Revival or Mediterranean Revival can be used to describe a number of architectural styles that draw inspiration from the classical architecture of ancient Greece and Rome. It can be argued that the first waves of revival-type architecture cropped up in the 18th century, during the Enlightenment, when there was a renewed interest in classical learning and culture. This led to the construction of many grand public buildings in the Classical style, such as the United States Capitol and the White House.

A second wave of Classical Revivals occurred in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, during the architectural period known as the Beaux-Arts era. This style was characterized by its monumentality and symmetry, and it was often used for public buildings and civic spaces.

In recent decades, there has been a resurgence of interest in Classical design. This is due in part to the growing dissatisfaction with the excesses of modern architecture, as well as a renewed appreciation for the timeless beauty and simplicity of classical forms.

There are many reasons why Classical Architecture is appealing to modern designers. First, it is inherently timeless. The principles of classical design have been around for centuries, and they are still relevant today. Second, Classical Architecture is often associated with concepts such as order, symmetry, and proportion, which can create a sense of calm and serenity. Third, Classical Architecture can be adapted to a variety of building types, from small homes to large public buildings.

Here are some examples of contemporary buildings that have been influenced by ideas inherent to Revival architecture. These buildings demonstrate that Classical Architecture can be used to create modern and sophisticated spaces that are both timeless and elegant.

  • The Getty Center in Los Angeles, California

The Gettty Center in Los Angeles, CA

Built in the 1980s and directly a product of postmodernist design, The Getty Center is a group of buildings that display art deco influences, which can be traced directly to revival architecture of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The space planning is clearly influenced by classical urbanism, and the materiality is unmistakably Italianate.

  • The American Museum of Natural History in New York City

The American Museum of Natural History in New York City

With construction taking place over more than 100 years, the current totality of the AMNH has seen design work by such luminaries as John Russel Pope and H.H. Richardson. While Pope was a proponent of the Beaux Arts and Richardson famously gave life to the Romanesque revival, the original set of buildings was designed at the beginnings of the Gothic Revival in America.

  • The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.

Perhaps the pinnacle of the American Gothic Revival, the National Cathedral is a testament to the still living spirit of craft and ancient design in modern times.

  • La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Spain

La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona Spain

Antonio Gaudi’s gothic masterpiece, still under construction in Barcelona, demonstrates how both in style and in construction technique, ancient design influences can be cross pollinated with contemporary thought and practice to bring us an unlimited reinvention of beauty.

The resurgence of Classical Revival architecture is a positive development that is likely to continue in the years to come as more and more people seek out architectural styles that offer a sense of permanence and stability. It also shows that people are still drawn to the beauty, timelessness, and permanence of classical forms.


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