Georgian Revival Architecture: Characteristics & Style

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Architecture can tell us a lot about people's attitudes and beliefs. In this lesson, we'll look at Georgian Revival architecture in the USA, and see what this shows us about American identity and heritage.

Colonial Revival Architecture

For many nations of the Western Hemisphere, identity and heritage can be tricky subjects. Do we celebrate the time spent as a European colony, or does our national heritage begin only after independence? Each formerly-colonial nation has addressed the question differently. In the United States, national heritage is generally seen as having begun in the 18th century, during the late colonial period. So, there's something about colonial America that's worth celebrating. One of the ways we can connect to that heritage is through our architecture, and throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many American architects embraced a style of Colonial Revival, in which the architectural styles of the nation's colonial past were reintroduced and reinterpreted in new ways. Being a colonial nation has its challenges in terms of national history, but creating visual, solid structures that celebrate our history can help.

Colonial Styles: Georgian

Before we can talk about the Colonial Revival styles, we need to first understand the colonial styles themselves. In the 18th century, as the foundations of an American national identity were being developed, architects sought to find styles that demonstrated the American colonies' place in the world. One of those styles was Georgian architecture, so named because it became popular during the 18th century, when England was ruled by a series of kings who each took the name George. Students of American history should recognize the name George III, the king from whom the American colonists rebelled.

Georgian architecture was very popular in New England, where it reflected the dominant fads of Europe. In Europe, Palladian architecture was all the rage. These styles, based on the master of the Italian Renaissance Andrea Palladio, emphasized the Classical elements of ancient Roman aesthetics: cool, rational symmetry and order. Georgian architecture in the American colonies was most commonly seen in large, rectangular houses with two stories, high ceilings, and a taste for white-trimmed windows and doorways. Symmetry was highly encouraged, and was most visible through the common repitition of 5 windows on each floor (or 4 windows and a door). Wealthy colonists embraced this style to demonstrate that they were as refined, as sophisticated as Europeans, with whom they desired to be treated as equals. The Georgian style was common in the American colonies from roughly 1700 through the American Revolution.

Georgian-Style House
Georgian architecture

Georgian Revival

In the early 20th century, Colonial Revival styles became very popular in the United States, especially in New England where colonial heritage was most visible. From about 1900 to 1950, Georgian architecture became one of the most commonly-emulated styles, resulting in the Georgian Revival. Georgian Revival architecture shared many of the traits of Georgian architecture. Houses were generally two-storied and rectangular, trimmed in white, and emphasized symmetry and order. In addition, chimneys and brick facades became prominent features. Both of these were very common in colonial architecture, but in the 18th century that was less about style and more about practicality. In the 20th century, these elements became purely matters of design.

Georgian Revival
Georgian Revival

Georgian Revival architecture sought to emulate the aesthetic of the New England colonies, but it was never meant to copy it entirely. The Georgia Revival is a different style than the Georgian, and that's largely because the architects had different intentions. In the 18th century, Georgian architecture was meant to demonstrate a connection to Europe. In the 20th century, it was meant to demonstrate a connection to the American national past.

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