Greek Revival Architecture - Explained

Greek Revival Architecture - Explained

Architecture
By Alex Mikayelyan October 10, 2022

While some architectural and interior designs will require a more experienced pair of eyes to identify, Greek revival-style homes are far easier to distinguish. It is one of the most iconic architectural designs, not only in the United States but throughout the world, with many features that give it a unique aesthetic appeal.

Considering how extravagant and regal Greek revival architecture may be, not all homeowners think they can have something similar to this aesthetic in their own homes. But once you learn about the intricacies of this type of architecture and all the minute ways you can incorporate Greek revival aesthetics into your home, the task becomes far more doable.

History of Greek Revival Architecture Style

Greek revival architecture has a long and rich history.

Greek revival architecture has a long and rich history.

It’s almost poetic how an architectural design style inspired by that of Ancient Greece two millennia ago was actually popularized in the 1800s and not in ancient times. It was in Scotland where the first traces of Greek revival architecture would be found. The style spread throughout the United Kingdom and at some point sailed overseas to the United States.

In the early 19th century, American architects were inspired by Ancient Greek architecture and many of its elements when designing anything from public buildings to homes. While the elements of Greek revival are more subtle in residential homes, federal and government buildings proudly exhibit their Classical Greek inspiration both in their facades and interiors. 

Residential homes around this time, however, would mix Classical Greek influences with other styles such as Georgian architecture, Colonial architecture, and Neoclassical architecture. This is why you don’t see many homes in America that look like Ancient Greek temples, though some easily identifiable elements are still very much present. Today, there are small instances of inspiration from Classical Greek architecture, but nowhere near as much as there were in the past. 

Important Elements of Greek Revival Style

What are the distinguishing elements of Greek revival exteriors?

What are the distinguishing elements of Greek revival exteriors?

In order to identify and work with Greek revival architecture, one must first know what defining features this particular style has. Luckily, the Greek revival is one of the more visually apparent architectural styles out there and you can quite easily pinpoint several elements even without extensive knowledge of architecture or interior design.  

Greek Revival Columns

The iconic columns of Greek revival architecture are the cornerstone of the style.

The iconic columns of Greek revival architecture are the cornerstone of the style.

First, there are those famous columns we’re all so familiar with. In Ancient Greece, these stood as high as 34 feet tall, made of stone or gorgeous marble. The ones you find in the Capitol Building or the National Treasury are also quite large and very decorative. But the ones you find in standard residential homes are significantly smaller and usually made of wood, aluminum, or fiberglass. These may not look as impressive as marble or stone, but they are still quite regal in their own right.

A Greek revival house will typically have these columns near the entrance, either built into the porch or supporting the entrance portico. These are significantly slimmer than the ones you’ll find lining the Acropolis and they’re nowhere near as tall. But anything taller than 40 feet would be far too big for most American residential homes. 

Greek Revival Exterior Colors

Exterior colors you can use with Greek revival generally include white and off-white.

Exterior colors you can use with Greek revival generally include white and off-white.

Another very visible element of Greek revival architecture is the color of the facade. While Ancient Greek temples in their time were various shades of white thanks to the natural stone and marble that was used to build them, today, most houses are made of more conventional materials, such as wood. To bring out the Greek revival aesthetic, the facade is usually painted white or off-white.

For the trim, muted colors are favorable with a Greek revival facade. If surrounded by robust nature, you may even be interested in using dark green trim as it accentuates the exterior and complements the surroundings. Various shades of beige and olive also give the exterior trim those earthy hues that go so well with Greek revival facades, but most people typically choose gray.

Minimal Molding and Decor

Greek revival structures are known to keep decor at a minimum.

Greek revival structures are known to keep decor at a minimum.

Considering that this architectural design is inspired by ancient temples, one would think that Greek revival house plans would be very complex and ornamental, especially with molding, such as with baroque architecture. But this is where your expectations are a little curbed - despite the original temples having plenty of ornamentation, the molding and decor on Greek revival exteriors are actually quite minimal.

Greek Revival Architecture Examples

There are a lot of famous examples of the Greek revival style in the United States. While many residential homes borrow elements from the Ancient Greeks, the most visually stunning and memorable Greek modern architecture you will find are typically government or public buildings. Washington D.C. is where you will find some of the best examples of the style.

Capitol Building

The US Capitol building exemplifies Greek revival architecture.

The US Capitol building exemplifies Greek revival architecture.

The United States Capitol building is by far one of the most important structures in the country. It would be downright impossible not to include this building in the list of the most famous examples of Greek revival architecture.

In all fairness, the Capitol building is not a pure example of this style of architecture. There is some Roman influence as well in certain key aspects of the Capitol building’s architecture, more specifically, the ornamentation and all the intricate details. But regardless of this, the Capitol building is still one of the country’s best examples of the key elements which make the Greek revival so unique. 

U.S. Treasury 

The US Treasury features an abundance of Greek revival elements.

The US Treasury features an abundance of Greek revival elements.

The U.S. Treasury Building is another example of Greek structure, and as with the Capitol, it is located in Washington D.C. While the Capitol building mixes a bit of Roman influence with the Greek, the US Treasury leans more toward Greek architecture. With its gable roof, off-white facade, and huge columns with minimal ornamentation, the US Treasury is a great example of the Greek revival with all the most important elements of the style clearly represented. 

The Vermont State House

The Vermont State House mixes Georgian and Greek revival design aesthetics.

The Vermont State House mixes Georgian and Greek revival design aesthetics.

Each state in the U.S. has its own house assembly buildings. The Vermont State House is located in Montpelier, the state’s capital, and it is a perfect example of blending the Greek revival with Georgian architectural elements. While the state house retains some of the classic Ancient Greek building design elements, such as a gable roof, columns, and an off-white exterior, the window trim, and molding, as well as the layout of the windows borrow more from Georgian designs. This blend of the two styles creates a very unique design aesthetic that equally reflects both influences.

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Written by
Alex Mikayelyan

Written by Alex Mikayelyan

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