Beaux-Arts Architecture: Definition, Characteristics & Style

Instructor: Amy Jackson

Amy has a BFA in Interior Design as well as 19 years teaching experience and a doctorate in education.

The Beaux-Arts style of architecture is one of the most extravagant in American history. It was popular from 1880-1930. This lesson will focus on the definition, characteristics, and style of the Beaux-Arts period.

What Is Beaux-Arts Architecture?

Beaux-Arts architecture is classical in nature with Greco-Roman styling. The Beaux Arts Movement (beaux arts means 'fine arts' in French) was popular in the United States from about 1880-1930 and reflected the wealth that accumulated during the Industrial Revolution. Beaux-Art architecture harkens back to classic Greek and Roman forms. This style of architecture originated from Ecole des Beaux-Arts (School of the Fine Arts) in France where many architects studied. The first Americans to study there were Richard Morris Hunt and Henry Hobson Richardson. They brought the style to the United States and inspired a number of other students to study abroad. Beaux-Arts architecture is synonymous with America's Renaissance movement.

The Beaux-Arts Style

Beaux-Arts architecture is massive and heavy, lending itself to the construction of monumental public buildings like train stations, schools, and government buildings. The style was seldom used in private homes but can be seen in the grand homes of the elite in Newport, Rhode Island.

Union Station Washington DC

San Francisco Opera House

The San Francisco Opera House was the last Beaux-Arts building constructed in the United States. It was built as a war memorial to honor those who served in WWI. The exterior features a rusticated first floor (note the rough hewn stones), columns and archways on the second floor balcony and a low-pitched roof.

grand central terminal

Grand Central Terminal, New York

Grand Central Terminal in New York was completed in 1913. Its exterior features arched windows flanked by paired columns. Ornate detailing marks the Beaux-Arts style. The interior features grand staircases and vaulted ceilings.

Characteristics of Beaux-Arts Architecture

Beaux-Arts buildings are massive, usually constructed with stone, with a symmetrical façade or front, and flat or low-pitched roofs. The façade of Beaux-Arts buildings typically features adornment reminiscent of Greek and Roman Architecture such as balustrades, or vertical posts, on balconies (a porch that protrudes from a building), held up by large decorative pillars called columns, arched windows and grand arched entryways topped with triangular gables called pediments. Building details and decorations are elaborate and include 3-dimensional carved panels called bas-relief and rounded convex surfaces called cartouches. These are typically surrounded by garlands or vines, decorative swags (garlands raised up in the middle) and medallions or medal-like ornamentation.

Interiors typically have grand stairways and polished marble floors. Arched doorways lead to large rooms and decorations inside the buildings are as ornate as those on the exterior. Government buildings built in the Beaux-Arts style typically have high, vaulted ceilings and central domes.

Allegheny county courthouse

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