Thank you to my colleagues at Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty Neal Heery and George Heery for posting this information to their blog regarding the architectural styles in America. Their father, George Heery, Sr., is a famous architect from Atlanta and Chairman of the Brookwood Group, and wrote most of this article, or took information substantially from a book by Lucy D. Rosenfeld and Marina Harrison with comments related to “Southern Architecture” of the Pre-Civil War era.
Colonial (1620 – 1740)
The New England (for the most part) Colonial style, which can be seen throughout the New England area, features simple, boxlike houses, occasionally with a “saltbox” roof (one side lower than the other) or overhanging second story.
These houses are generally modestly sized, built of wood, with shingled or clapboard sides, tall chimneys, lean-to additions, small casement window with diamond shaped panes upstairs, and very little ornament. Churches of the period are also wood-framed, elegantly proportioned, with tall steeples and high, arched many-paned windows.
Dutch and Huguenot versions of the colonial styles of the 17th and 18th centuries (found primarily in the New York and New Jersey areas) feature stone, brick and wood construction. In that region many were built of pinkish sandstone. Some have the stepped roofs typical of Dutch houses, others have steeply pitched, flared, gambrel roofs (with two slopes on each side of the roof).
Family houses often have horizontally divided front doors, raised porches, and end chimneys. Public buildings feature linear designs with each room having access to the outdoors.
Quaker Colonial style is characterized by unusual brick patterns on the exterior walls, and Moravian Colonial style features cut stone common buildings with steeply pitched roofs.
Following a style developed in England (often based on the works of Christopher Wren, who was an admirer of Renaissance styles), Georgian architecture aims for symmetry, elegance, and a dignified sense of order. As the colonies became more prosperous, builders favored grander designs; Georgian architecture features larger, symmetrical, horizontal-focused two-story buildings with flat or hipped roofs, often with classical details such as cupolas and balconies to ornament facades of brick or clapboard.
Other characteristics are elaborate portico entrances and Palladian central windows. Many public buildings were built in this gracious style. “Georgian” in Britain refers to the long period of rule of George I, II & III.
Favored by leaders of the new American nation, the post-Revolutionary Federal style was based on the designs of the Scottish architect Robert Adam, who, along with his brother, John (the “Brothers Adam”) were the architects who first introduced the styles of Palladio* to England in the Banqueting Hall in Whitehall, London.
More refined and dignified than Georgian designs, large Federal houses in the New England and later Washington areas feature a vertical focus, symmetrical frame and clapboard construction with central chimneys, Palladian windows (and occasional round and semicircular widows), wrought iron balustrades and railings, decorative lintels above the windows an elaborate doorways with fan-shaped windows above. Sometimes patriotic symbols such as eagles and stars are part of the surface ornamentation.
* Whose name, actually, was Andreas di Pietro Gondola and who started out as a stone mason whose talents were recognized by a prince who sent him to study the ancient architecture of Rome and who gave him his nickname which came from the Greek goddess Pallas Athene.
Greek Revival (1820-1850)
The popularity of Greek revival design can be seen in the design of many public buildings from this period as well as in elegant private homes. From state capital buildings to banks to classical style churches, the Greek revival design is characterized by the three Greek orders of Doric, Ionic and some Corinthian, strong and symmetrical proportions, low roof slopes, heavy architraves and cornices and gabled porticos – all suggesting the classical Greek temple.
Classical (Roman) Revival (1820-1850)
The domes of ancient Rome are the most characteristic elements of the Classical (Roman) Revival style. Following Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, which was based on Roman design, the centralized dome and the classical porticos, columns, and roof balustrades all refer to ancient architecture.
The Romans had five orders, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian, Etruscan and Composite (Ionic and Corinthian combined). It is interesting that the Romans never used their version of Doric (more different from Greek Doric than the Roman Ionic and Corinthian orders were different from the corresponding Greek orders) the Romans never used their Doric order for freestanding columns, but only as pilasters (as in the Coliseum in Rome) but the Roman Doric was used widely in some of the less ornamental buildings of the Classical Revival.
Note to American Greek and Roman Revival styles in the pre 1861 Southern U. S.
These two styles were very popular with wealthy Southern plantation owners before the Civil War. As a result, many Southerners think of these styles as being used primarily in Southern plantation mansions. However, these styles were just as popular in the Northern states during that period, but there was so much wealth among the Southern planters of the period, that many more of the large residences in the years preceding the Civil War were built in these styles on Southern plantations.
Gothic Revival (1830-1870)
A major architectural style in nineteenth-century America, the Gothic building is still in evidence throughout the areas of America that were more extensively developed during that period, from numerous churches to whole villages of decorative Gothic design, to ornate country houses from Mississippi to Massachusetts and on many college campuses.
An eclectic style loosely based on the picturesque medieval architectural designs of Europe, it features steep gables and towers (some crenellated like castles), sharply pitched roofs, asymmetrical forms, ached and pointed windows and doors, dormer windows, high chimneys, and decoration of all sorts.
The Carpenter Gothic style is picturesque, with lacy cutout ornamentation. Gothic Revival churches are known for their tapering, pointed steeples. Color is a central element in building exteriors.
Based on the design of northern Italian villas and palazzos, this style became popular with designers of palatial country houses.
Following the prototype of the elegant villa, these residences often have Tuscan towers or cupolas, arcaded porches, flat or low roofs, overhanging eaves supported by brackets or narrow columns, and round-headed windows with eyebrow or hooded moldings. Country houses are painted in different colors, and city buildings sometimes have cast-iron exteriors.
Second Empire (1855-1885)
This French-influenced style was based on Parisian design. It became popular in the construction of grand public buildings, as well as large private residences. Tall, stately buildings, some with domes or low symmetrical towers, are distinguished by their Mansard roofs* as well as ironwork and elaborate exterior decoration, including pilasters, pediments, and columns. Varied textures on the exterior are common, other wall surfaces that project and recede, and arched windows are often set into pavilion like sections of the façade.
* Developed to get around building codes by the French architect, Mansard. In Paris, a maximum height had been set for roof cornices. To get around that, Mansard set the cornice at the maximum allowed height, then had a roof so steep so as to allow for another floor in height, then completed the roof with the upper part of the roof structure broken and set at a very low pitch.
Queen Anne (1870-1900)
This is another Victorian style that originated in England. It emphasizes contrasts of form, color, and texture, with a variety of building materials used in the same house for different floors. Stained glass bay windows, steep gabled roofs, and large encircling verandas or other characteristics of these irregularly planned buildings.
Victorian Eclectic (1880-1900)
The Victorian Eclectic style designates complicated inventive buildings with features of many different styles, eras and nationalities. It is sometimes referred to as a “romantic, picturesque irregularity” style for its imaginative and eclectic elements. (Such elaborate concoctions have only recently been considered worth saving.)
Beaux Arts (1880-1920)
Mostly used in the United States for public buildings and palaces for the very wealthy, this grand style is based on French designs. Used in the United States for stations, museums and private estates (such as the mansions of Newport, Rhode Island), Beaux Arts buildings are characterized by massive size, classical details, columns, and statuary as well as by designs that incorporate into the overall plan the layout of outdoor areas around the building, with gardens, fountains, and sculpture.
Arts and Crafts (1895-1920)
An emphasis on simplicity and the hand-made characterize the Arts and Crafts movement (in contrast to the fussiness of late Victorianism and the impersonality of a machine-oriented culture that was developing in America).
Following the strictures of John Ruskin and William Morris in England, the American movement focused on both buildings and furniture. Architectural emphasis is on low dark-wood horizontal houses that feature gable roofs with projecting eves, elaborately jointed and hand-cut overhanging beams (sometimes logs), shingled exteriors and an overall rustic appearance.
Frank Lloyd Wright was the architect who introduced Prairie-style houses, a response to the low, flat plains of his Midwestern U.S. The houses are modern and geometric in their design of space; they are low and horizontal with broad, sheltering, overhanging roofs and little exterior ornament. There are balconies and porches at different levels, a central chimney, and occasional patterned stained-glass windows. The overall effect is of low, geometric forms softened by large glass windows integrating architecture and nature.
Two Memorable Encounters with Frank Lloyd Wright
Having served in the Navy late in WWII, I was a little later than average in years entering college. As a senior in the architectural program at Georgia Tech on one occasion, and as a graduate student at Tech on another occasion, the following memorable exchanges took place. (At that point, Mr. Wright was probably in his late 80s. He lived and practiced into his 90s.)
A number of Georgia Tech architectural students were invited up to the schools of architecture at the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State (only 20 or 30 miles apart from each other) for a two day visit by Mr. Wright who was to serve on a design jury and give talks to students and faculty. Towards the end of the second day, all were gathered at the Master’s feet as he talked about his current practice. It seemed he had many clients waiting, so when I had the chance, I raised my hand and said, “Mr. Wright, you certainly seem to have a lot of clients waiting for you. Could you guess at how many?” He responded, “Yes, I have 95 clients waiting for me.” As future practitioners, we were all wowed.
A year later Georgia Tech had Mr. Wright come to Atlanta for a similar visit and, again, towards the end of his visit, all were sitting at his feet while he discussed his current practice. When I had the chance, I asked him the same question and was shocked and very impressed with his memory. He said, “Young man, I remember you. You asked me the same question last year up in North Carolina, and I am afraid I am loosing ground. I told you then that I had 95 clients waiting and now I have 104 waiting.”
Art Deco (1925-1940)
This fashionable style affected every aspect of design after the trend-setting Expo in Paris in 1925; in the United States it can be seen in major public buildings, skyscrapers, movie theatres, and aspects of fashionable interior design. Large private homes in certain areas also adhere to Art Deco’s brilliant combinations of pattern and architectural line. Art Deco’s characteristics involve a combination of horizontal, vertical and curving lines along with repetitive geometric forms, augmented with embellishments of all kinds. Materials for detailing include stainless steel, glass blocks and tile. Ornamentations include floral, animal and natural images. In the 1930s, with a nod to the new age, Art Deco integrated “streamline” design with machine imagery.
Modernism (1922-1940) and Mid-Century Modernism (1945-1975)
In the period of World War I, as “modern” architecture appeared in Europe in the International style and the Bauhaus style, American architects sought new styles as well. Influenced by leading European architects, (some living by then in the United States) Modernism took hold in the form of simple, functional, geometric buildings. Undecorated boxlike forms with flat roofs, Modernist buildings were often clad in glass or reinforced concrete; these designs became central to tall buildings in cities across the country. Houses from the period emphasized open space in the interior.
Mid Century Mondernism softended the rigorouus boxlike outlines of the earlier perio. This turn to more graceful private residents emphasizing many of the Praries schools’ designs, with houses nestled into – and relating to – the landscape and the use of as many natural materials as possible.
The two schools of Post Modernism: “PoMo” and Post Modern:
A comic, cartoon like copying of earlier traditional styles that swept through rapidly as architects, mainly in the United States, began to look beyond the dogma of Mid-Century Modernism. Thankfully short lived.
Post Modern and Contemporary (1980 and beyond)
The basic idea of the lower case “p” and the lower case “m” post modernist movement as it evolved around 1980 was to release the architect from the dogma of Mid-Century Modernism and allow the well educated architect to call upon any of the architectures of the past. At the same time. some architects were heading off into even newer forms, details and concepts which today can properly be classified as Contemporary.
It was during this period that Brookwood Group designed both the quite Contemporary curving buildings with their machinist like varying sun shades that began to form the new campus of Georgia Tech at Savannah, while also employing “Traditional Recollections” in the design of The Wakefield high end co-op in Atlanta.
Also, today’s architecture by many talented architects has moved into brand new territory, often using very sculptural and high-tech designs.