Saint Cecilia of Rome, by François-Joseph Navez. Provided by General Delegation for the Digitization of Cultural Heritage.

Neoclassical architecture is a design language that originated in the mid-18th century as part of the broader Neoclassical movement. This style is fundamentally inspired by the architectural norms of Classical antiquity, notably incorporating Vitruvian concepts and the design principles of Andrea Palladio, an Italian architect. The Neoclassical style has its roots deeply embedded in a reaction against the more ornate Rococo style and also borrows some features from the Late Baroque period.

Key Influences in Neoclassical Architecture

Classical Antiquity

Classical antiquity, particularly the architecture of ancient Greece and Rome, has profoundly influenced the Neoclassical style. This influence is visible in the form of symmetry, proportions, and the extensive use of columns and pediments.

Vitruvian Principles

Vitruvius was an ancient Roman architect whose work, "De Architectura," emphasized the aspects of durability, utility, and beauty in architecture. Neoclassical architecture often adopts these principles, seeking to create buildings that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also functional and long-lasting.

Andrea Palladio

Andrea Palladio, a 16th-century Italian architect, is known for his works that revived Classical forms. His architectural guidelines and buildings, often composed of simple geometrical shapes, became a crucial point of reference for Neoclassical architecture.

Key Features of Neoclassical Architecture

Neoclassical architecture places a significant focus on the wall structures rather than using light and shadow effects (chiaroscuro). Each segment of a Neoclassical building maintains a distinct identity. Here are some primary characteristics:

Wall Emphasis

In contrast to styles that use the interplay of light and shadow, Neoclassical architecture focuses more on the wall surfaces. This means the walls themselves become significant elements of design, often embellished with classical motifs and detailing.

Separation of Components

Unlike some architectural styles where different parts of the building merge into a single unit, Neoclassical architecture prefers to keep each section separate and distinct. Each part, be it a column, window, or pediment, is designed to stand out as an individual component.

Opposition to Rococo and Baroque Elements

Neoclassical architecture emerged as a reaction against the overly decorative elements of Rococo style. It also incorporates some features from the Late Baroque period but streamlines them to align with classical simplicity.

Contemporary Adaptations

Neoclassical architecture continues to be relevant in modern times. However, contemporary buildings in this style are often referred to as New Classical Architecture to distinguish them from their historical counterparts.

Historical Context

The Neoclassical movement, which began in the mid-18th century, was a cultural wave that affected various forms of art, including architecture. It was a period marked by a return to classical ideas and aesthetics, fueled by archeological discoveries and a reaction against the excesses of the preceding Rococo and Baroque styles.

Significance and Impact

The Neoclassical style has been widely adopted in various types of buildings, ranging from government edifices to educational institutions. Its principles of proportion, symmetry, and grandeur make it an enduring choice for structures that seek to convey authority, permanence, and cultural significance.


Neoclassical architecture is a prominent architectural style that draws its primary influences from Classical antiquity, Vitruvian principles, and the works of Andrea Palladio. Marked by an emphasis on wall structures and distinct components, this style serves as a counter-reaction to the naturalistic ornamentation of the Rococo style and borrows certain aspects from the Late Baroque period. Despite its historical origins, Neoclassical architecture remains an important and relevant style, now often termed New Classical Architecture when referring to modern constructions.

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