What Is Classical Architecture?

classical architecture definition
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The most iconic Classical constructs are the large stone temples that were built on a foundation of symmetry and order. As such, there is a longstanding tradition of architects looking back at this architectural history and reviving the values and ideals of the ancient world.

What Is Classical Architecture?

Classical architecture originated in ancient Greece and Rome, and is characterized by symmetry, columns, rectangular windows, and marble, to name a few. For centuries, architects have drawn influence from these civilizations and incorporated traditional ideals into subsequent styles of architecture.

In a broad sense, Classical architecture can encompass all architecture that is derived from the ancient Greeks and Romans. For our purposes, the Classical Revival movement is the most true-to-form style of Classical architecture that exists today.


Classical architecture was constructed in the 5th century BC in Greece and around the 3rd century AD in Rome. The style was revived many times over the years. During the Italian Renaissance, architects worked to restore classical Roman architecture. 

Centuries later in Europe, excavations in Pompeii reignited the architecture of ancient Greece. The corresponding architectural style became known as Greek Revival. This architecture focused heavily on the Greek ideal of proportion and structural integrity. 

One of the most common types of Classical architecture in the United States is known as Neoclassical. This type of architecture came in response to Baroque architecture and relied heavily on the design ideals of ancient Rome. The style originated in Europe in the 18th century and became the iconic style for many government buildings in Washington DC. 

Classical Revival is a style that came into fashion in the late 19th century and has a looser interpretation of classical ideals. The style exploded after the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. The buildings for the fair highlighted classical forms and inspired builders across the country. Many homes, courthouses, banks, schools, and churches were built in this style in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 


Classical architecture prized concepts like boldness, humility, and intellect. These values help define individual components that can be found in several classical architectural styles. Some of these key elements include the following. 

  • Symmetry and proportions. Classical buildings are usually symmetrical and have elements like columns and windows that are evenly spaced out. 
  • Columns in a specific style (or order). These Classical orders can be Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian for Greek architecture. The Romans also had Tuscan and Composite orders. 
  • Front porch topped with a pediment. Many homes and buildings feature a full-height front porch that is set with a classical pediment at the top. The door is usually positioned at the center of the house. 
  • Durable building materials. Classical architecture incorporates materials like marble, concrete, and brick. 
  • Classical design motifs. Homes often have dentil molding, medium pitched roofs, boxed eaves, decorative door surrounds, and broken pediments over the entry door. 
  • Rectangular windows. Windows were often double-hung and included a variety of symmetrical window configurations. 

Interesting Facts

Classical Revival competed with Colonial Revival architecture. 

Both Classical Revival and Colonial Revival architecture were popular during the same period. However, Classical Revival homes were more formal and grandiose. The Colonial Revival style was more prevalent in American cities and suburbs and suited residential life. Classical Revival was significantly more popular for commercial and government buildings. 

Classical Revival architecture is similar to the Beaux-Arts style. 

The Beaux-Arts style of architecture was popular during the same period and also incorporated many classical design elements. One way you can distinguish between the two styles is by examining the level of detail. The Classical Revival style is significantly less ornate. 

Modern Architecture brought an end to the Classical Revival style. 

The Classical Revival of the 19th century was an effort to reconnect architecture with classical political ideals, which were also American political ideals. In response to the expo in Chicago in 1893, many young architects were disappointed with the showing and responded adamantly with new and novel ideas. This response was arguably the beginning of modern architecture, which replaced classical building forms with more current designs. 

You can purchase a Classical Revival home.

Even though this style was not as popular as other styles, there are a fair amount of residential Classical Revival homes still standing. The front-facing columns and full height porch are the biggest clues that a home is likely in this style. 

In summary, Classical architecture is a method of building that originated in Ancient Greece and Rome. The style was revived many times, and many architectural styles incorporate classical forms. Classical architects focus on columns, symmetry, and proportion, among other design rules, to create buildings like the U.S. Capitol and the U.S. Supreme Court Building.