Back to Roots: Classicism

Between 1770 and 1840, an old construction method showed itself in a new guise. To this day, classicism brought forth famous and well-known landmarks, inspired by ancient buildings. What constitutes classicism, and what can we learn from it in our modern construction industry?

The sumptuous architecture of the Baroque period gradually went out of style at the end of the 18th century. Exuberant, completely exaggerated decorations, and blazoned gold everywhere: The building owners didn't want that anymore. As is so often the case, the taste of the ruling class changed, and a new architectural style arose. Strictly speaking, it is not necessarily new, but is based on the principles of ancient temple buildings, but also shows some features of the Italian Early Renaissance.

So architecture returned to its roots. Many buildings, especially government buildings, were built in the classicist style and often shine in bright white. We will introduce you to the features of this fascinating architectural style and then look at some examples of classicist buildings. In conclusion, we will discuss whether we can perhaps take something from classicism for our modern construction industry. What can we learn from old master builders? Be excited!

Features of Classicism

It is not difficult to recognize classicist buildings from a distance – on the contrary. The buildings, often white, gray, or pastel-colored, with clear symmetry and simple facade, have such a monumental effect that they are difficult to miss. Old, often Greek architecture with its columns and pilasters is an unmistakable source of inspiration for this impressive architecture: the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders celebrate a new heyday.

The classic triangular gable rises sublimely above the entrance or in the middle of the facade, enriched with sculptures or an elaborate relief, while the ground plans of the building were planned in clear, axially symmetrical forms. In general, symmetry plays an important role in classicism. Meticulous mathematical precision and the exact determination of proportions refer to the ancient architectural style to make it shine in a new light.

In response to the opulent and playful design of previous periods, the building owners longed for classic magnificence and harmony. This simple elegance combined with clear lines and structures makes classicism a fascinating art of architecture that accompanies us not only throughout Europe, but as far as the United States.

Examples of Classicism

You've just read it: Interesting classicism buildings are not only available on the European continent. Presumably, the most famous of them can be found in the USA, right in the government capital, Washington D.C. Both buildings have an eventful history that we want to take a closer look at. Most importantly: What makes these buildings classicist?

White House

Washington, D.C., USA

Let's start with the most famous building of all: the residence of the US President. Since June 1791, the remarkable building on Pennsylvania Avenue has been the home of all US Presidents, except George Washington. By the way, its original name was the Presidential Mansion. In 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt officially decided that the nickname "White House" should also be the official one from then on.

Like many important buildings, the design of the White House was determined by an architectural competition that was won by Ireland-born Englishman Jaime Hoban. The construction was completed promptly at the turn of the century in 1800. This may be of interest to you: The iconic facade was originally painted yellow.

However, the luck of the Presidential Mansion did not last long, because the Second War of Independence broke out in 1812. British soldiers occupied the building in 1814 and burned it down completely. The reconstruction was only completed a few years later: this time with a facade painted white to this day.

The classicist features are obvious even at first glance. The facade is almost undecorated, elegant, absolutely symmetrical and the columns support a typical triangular gable. By the way, the coloring is an off-white called Whisper White, which comes from a company based in Germany.

United States Capitol

Washington, D.C., USA

Washington's landmark shines out at us from high up on Capital Hill. The symbol for the Democracy of the Free World shines in classicist white: The Capitol. It was built, as already suggested by the impressive dome, according to the model of the ancient Pantheon. Legislative meetings of the USA have been held here since 1800. The joy of a permanent place for the House of Representatives, Senate, Supreme Court, and Library of Congress lasted only a few years.

First of all, the building paid the price for complaints in the construction industry at the time. Shortages of materials and a lack of specialist staff quickly led to the fact that in the north wing completed in 1806, a leaking roof, crumbling plaster, and moldy floors were causing resentment. In 1811, the interior should, therefore, be redesigned, but this project was quickly put a stop to.

Like the White House, the United States Capitol fell victim to British forces during the Second War of Independence and almost completely burned down. The reconstructed building was enlarged several times, as the space was regularly too small for the acceding countries. The most remarkable thing is the dome dominating the structure. The rotunda was already completed as a timber structure, and later replaced by a cast-iron dome with a height of 55 m (180.5 ft).

Not only the monumental dome is a clear reference to the ancient architecture. The simple yet elegant white facade design with its columns and the typical triangular gable on the east side are the characteristics of classicism.


Paris, France

The history of this interesting building goes back to the long history of the square where it is built. There has always been a church here since the fifth century. At the end of the 18th century, the plans were clear: By order of King Louis XV, a church of the powerful abbey of Sainte-Genevièvein should be built there.

In 1790, the building was completed after 26 years, but at a turbulent time. The storming of the Bastille in 1789 marked the beginning of the French Revolution, and turning away from the monarchy and the temporal power of the church. The revolution leaders explained the building as a secular memorial, and it remains so today.

The National Hall of Fame of Heroes and Revolutionaries of France is still an impressive tourist destination today. In addition to the classicist gray facade with mighty columns and a triangular gable, there is also a monumental dome, inspired by the Roman namesake, the Pantheon. A huge pendulum hangs from the dome on a cable with a length of 67 m (220 ft). Jean Bernard Foucault proved the earth rotation using it on March 26, 1851.

Brandenburg Gate

Berlin, Germany

The symbol of Berlin was commissioned by King Frederick William II and completed in 1791, after three years of construction. Just two years later, the famous sculpture was placed on the Brandenburg Gate: a two-wheeled chariot, drawn by four animals running side by side, while the governess, Victoria, holds the reins in her hand. This Quadriga symbolized the coming peace in the city.

But that was just the beginning of an eventful story. The heavy damage caused by bombings in the World War II caused, among other things, that the sculpture had to be replaced during the reconstruction.

After the division of Germany and the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, a restricted area formed around the landmark, which was only filled with people again when the gate was opened after the Berlin Wall came down in 1989. The Brandenburg Gate became a symbol of the German reunification.

The triumphal arch with Doric columns and the quadriga on the top is strongly reminiscent of the Propylaia of the Acropolis in Athens. It is one of the most important classicist buildings.


Regensburg, Germany

The Valhalla is one of the most important German national monuments. The temple is majestically enthroned on a hill above the Danube. However, its origin does not lie in ancient times, as its typical appearance suggests. It is one of the most impressive classicist buildings from the early 19th century.

When the Holy Roman Empire of German nation declined due to the consequences of the Napoleonic Wars, the German Federation was formed. In view of these high losses, King Ludwig I of Bavaria felt obliged to create a central national memorial.

Thus, he commissioned Leo von Klenze, one of the most famous architects of classicism, to build a hall of fame for famous German personalities with the "German tongue". The construction lasted from 1830 to 1842 and is considered a classicist masterpiece for its synthesis of traditional ancient forms and the state of construction technology of that time.

Visitors can find here marble busts of 131 personalities and commemorative plates of another 65 important people in the German history. With its gleaming white facade, ornate triangular gable, and column aisles, the temple resembles its ancient archetypes in both respect and precision: a true masterpiece of classicist architecture.

Conclusion Classicism

After centuries of pomp and splendor of absolutist rule as well as the power of the church, architecture returned to the old ideals. We find stylistic ancient features in these impressive landmarks, which inspire a completely different form of awe in viewers.

Tranquil, neutral facades without much frills stand out in an almost brilliant way from their surroundings and immediately catch the eyes of visitors to the region. Such buildings leave a lasting impression and still cast a spell over us even after centuries. So what can we learn from the builders of classicism for our modern construction industry?

What can we learn from classicism?

Impressive buildings take time. This refers not only to the building itself, but especially to the planning. Classicist architects and engineers were often occupied with the planning and careful preparation for months or years.

Of course, we have completely different ways today to shorten this period of time. However, we can take this diligence as an example. The more time in the design of buildings, fewer mistakes will occur later during the construction. Otherwise, the hours saved can quickly add up to unexpected heights.

Delays or rescheduling due to errors in the initial planning stages cost time and money: Resources that can quickly lead to problems in our modern construction industry. If we took more time for planning and preparation of a construction project than always wanting to implement everything as quickly as possible, we could achieve far more efficient and precise construction progress.

When it comes to building decoration, less is sometimes more, as the elegant facades of classicist buildings clearly show. Moreover, we can use the knowledge of the architectural tradition of old builders to construct timeless, innovative pieces of art with a more advanced form of the techniques of that time. So our modern construction industry needs a little more creativity and courage to further develop the existing instead of stopping by the standard.


As a copywriter in marketing, Ms. Ruthe is responsible for creating creative texts and gripping headlines.