Mediterranean Revival Architecture: History & Characteristics

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

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

The Mediterranean is a big area, so how do you capture all of it in a single aesthetic? In this lesson, we'll look at the Mediterranean Revival style and see what elements manage to define it.

The Mediterranean Revival

The Mediterranean has a great reputation. Warm sun, soft beaches, cool drinks, and bright flavors - who wouldn't want to live there? Well, if you can't afford to make the move overseas, or if you're simply unwilling to give up hamburgers for the rest of your life, then how about just bringing the Mediterranean to you? That's the idea behind the Mediterranean Revival style of architecture. This title is a bit of a misnomer since it's more about capturing the feel of the Mediterranean than reviving any specific style, but it's still a fun aesthetic. All you need is a pitcher of sangria and a cup of gelato, and the Mediterranean is right at your fingertips.

The Broadmoor Hotel of Colorado
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History

The Mediterranean Revival style in architecture is based on capturing the feeling of a Mediterranean villa. It became popular in the United States in the 1920s and 1930s, but why? The wealth and obsession with leisure that defined the Roaring Twenties led to a boom in seaside resorts in the United States. Warm, tropical places such as California and Florida developed their first sustainable tourist industries around these coastal playgrounds. To attract more tourists, they sought to embrace a unique aesthetic - something that felt exotic and relaxing.

Florida and California had something else in common as well: a Spanish colonial history. The remnants of Spanish architecture were spotted across these two states, and to many tourists, were a prime attraction. So, architects began combining Spanish features with those of Mediterranean villas and seaside palaces to create relaxing oases of style and adventure within the United States. In Florida, the style was largely propagated by Addison Mizner, while Californians flocked to the structures of Bertram Goodhue, Paul Williams , and Sumner Spaulding. Over the next decade, other parts of the country embraced the Mediterranean Revival as well, although never as fully as in Florida and California.

The Mirasol Hotel in California
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Characteristics

The Mediterranean Revival is a unique style, but also very similar in many ways to the Spanish Revival and Mission Revival buildings of the era. Here are a few definitive traits of the Mediterranean Revival to help you identify it on your next trip to the coast.

Eclecticism

The foremost characteristic of the Mediterranean Revival, and the one to talk about first, is eclecticism. In architecture, eclecticism refers to selecting elements of multiple styles to capture a desired aesthetic. All revival styles are inherently eclectic, mixing old styles with modern tastes, but the Mediterranean Revival is especially so. Rather than draw from a single source, the way most revival styles do, this draws from several. Motifs of the Mediterranean Revival are drawn from Spanish Colonial architecture of North America, the Spanish Renaissance, the Italian Renaissance, and Venetian styles. Architects may mix or match different aspects of each of these, depending on the desired outcome, but if you see a building that is clearly part Spanish, but also pretty Italian, it's probably Mediterranean Revival.

The Roof

In terms of specific design elements, one of the most obvious is the roof. Roofs tend to be low-pitched, with broad overhanging eaves, and most importantly, covered in heavy red tiles. The red-tiled roof is one of the most distinctive elements of this style, but be careful, it's common in other forms of Spanish revivalism as well.

The Façade

Moving down from the famous red-tile roofs, we can see some more unique elements in the façade. Mediterranean Revival buildings are almost always covered in stucco and are usually painted white. This crisp white contrasts sharply with the bright red tiles and is a distinctive element of the style.

The Villa Vizcaya of Florida
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Again, this is common in many Spanish revival styles. Apart from the white stucco, however, Mediterranean Revival facades tend to be very Italian. They follow the rules of Palladian architecture, developed in Renaissance Italy and stress symmetry above all else. This gives Mediterranean Revival styles a unique aesthetic, making them serious and rational in their design.

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