The charm of tradition: classicism in architecture

Architecture (from ancient Greek – senior, chief carpenter or builder) is the art of designing and erecting various structures and buildings. Often only the external appearance of the building is called architecture, as well as collectively – all buildings and houses.

The charm of tradition: classicism in architecture
Bernardo Bellotto. The Schloss Hof, Garden Side. 1758

Architectural styles, in turn, are the totality of signs and distinctive features of a particular direction of architecture. Such characteristics and distinctive features can be caused by religious, cultural, technical and even climatic factors..

There are quite a few styles of architecture, but the most famous, which became the ancestor of other directions in the design and construction of buildings, can be confidently called classicism.

Timeless classic

Classicism, as a style of architecture, emerged in the 16th century, at the end of the famous Renaissance. The founder of the new direction in the design of buildings is considered to be the Venetian master Palladio, and the entire early period of classicism was called Palladianism. However, in Russia this Western name (unlike the architectural style itself) did not take root and this direction of architecture in our country was called that way – early classicism.

Andrea Palladio is called the most influential and famous architect in history, but it is worth noting that Palladio and his closest disciple and successor Vincenzo Scamozzi did not “invent the bicycle” at all, but borrowed their main ideas from the ancient Greeks, whose temples are probably the very first examples of classicism in architecture. But it is certainly not worth underestimating the influence of Palladio. The villas he erected in the vicinity of Venice and Vicenza are perfectly preserved to this day and are true masterpieces of the architect’s art, in addition, Palladio developed and supplemented the principles of ancient temple architecture with new elements and techniques..

Villa Rotonda, Vicenza, architect - Andrea Palladio
Villa Rotonda, Vicenza, architect – Andrea Palladio

Classicism was enthusiastically received by the intellectuals of continental Europe and England, who by some time had managed to get fed up with the excesses of the too pretentious late Baroque, by that time degenerated into Rococo.

Already under Louis XV, the central Place de la Concorde appeared in Paris, which still remains a vivid example of classicism in architecture, urban planning and the design of large spaces.

View of the Church of Saint-Madeleine from the Place de la Concorde
View of the Church of Saint-Madeleine from the Place de la Concorde

The largest representative of classicism in Great Britain was the Scotsman Robert Adam, who created his own, lighter, airy and relaxed version of early classicism and became the first to decorate the interiors of premises in this style. By the way, Adam influenced furniture manufacturers, in particular, the famous English furniture master Thomas Chippendale.

A large number of buildings erected in the style of classicism can be found not only in Paris (a vivid example is the former Church of Saint Genevieve by architect Jacques-Germain Soufflot), but in the Russian Empire.

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The Pantheon, the burial place of prominent figures of France, formerly the Church of Saint Genevieve
The Pantheon, the burial place of prominent figures of France, formerly the Church of Saint Genevieve

In Russia, early classicism was especially clearly manifested in the era of “enlightened absolutism” – during the reign of Catherine II. It was then that the palace of Count K. G. Razumovsky on the Moika embankment appeared in St. Petersburg, the project of which was developed by J. B. Wallen-Delamot and A. F. Kokorinov, the building of the Imperial Academy of Arts on Vasilyevsky Island, the works of the same masters of the classical style , Yusupov Palace, Small Hermitage and other magnificent buildings that adorn the Northern capital to this day.

Imperial Academy of Arts
Imperial Academy of Arts, now the Repin Institute

There are not so many buildings in Moscow in the strict classical style as in St. Petersburg, but there are also bright representatives of this style, such as Matvey Kazakov, the architect, whose design was used in the construction of the Senate Palace, which is now “the working residence of the President of the Russian Federation “.

Senate Palace, Kremlin
Senate Palace, Kremlin

Matvey Kazakov became one of the founders of Russian classicism, erected many buildings with strict geometry of forms and restrained design of facades in Moscow, Tver, Kolomna, Perm and Smolensk. The most significant examples of his work and, accordingly, the classical style in the Belokamennaya were the Petrovsky Travel Palace and the Golitsyn Hospital.

Petrovsky traveling palace in Moscow
Petrovsky Travel Palace in Moscow, now under the jurisdiction of the mayor’s office of the capital, reconstruction was carried out in 2009
Golitsyn hospital

Golitsyn Hospital, now the City Clinical Hospital No. 1 named after N.I. Pirogov

Another representative of classicism in Moscow is the architect Vasily Bazhenov, who became the author of one of the most famous classical buildings in the capital – the Pashkov House, built on Vozdvizhenka in 1786.

Pashkov House in Moscow
Pashkov House in Moscow

In the 18th century, classicism in architecture flourished, and at the beginning of the 19th century, during the Napoleonic wars, it developed into late classicism or imperial style, better known as the Empire.

To appreciate the greatness and development of imperial classicism (in Great Britain, where there were no emperors, called the regency style), it is enough to see the monument in Place Carrousel and the Vendome Column.

Arch in Place Carrousel in Paris
Arch in Place Carrousel in Paris
Vendome Column, Paris

Vendome Column, Paris

These monuments marked the victories of the Napoleonic army and clearly demonstrated that late classicism significantly departed from strict ancient forms and became more magnificent and solemn.

In Russia at the beginning of the 19th century, classicism, or rather late classicism or empire style, also remained the most widespread style in architecture, the most famous architects who worked in this direction were Karl Rossi, Andreyan Zakharov and Andrei Voronikhin. Karl Rossi, in particular, is known for having worked on the ensemble of the Palace and Senate Squares in St. Petersburg and had a great influence on the formation of the appearance of the Northern capital..

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General Staff Building on Palace Square, St. Petersburg
General Staff Building on Palace Square, St. Petersburg

Experts also distinguish “rural or provincial Empire” – a somewhat awkward attempt to repeat the basic techniques of the Empire style, which were used in the construction of typical manor estates. Despite the departure from the classical canons, just such a “rural empire” helped to form a charming image of a provincial, quiet Russia, living in complete harmony with nature.

In the middle of the 19th century, late classicism was replaced by romantically colored eclecticism, which was a real mixture of styles – neo-Renaissance, neo-rococo, neo-Gothic, neo-Moorish style, pseudo-Russian style, neo-Byzantine style and Indo-Saracen style. From the classics, eclecticism has retained the use of an architectural order, but it has lost its dominant role..

At the beginning of the 20th century, the so-called neoclassicism was able to oust the then popular Art Nouveau from architecture. So, in the United States, it was in those years that the American Renaissance and colonial revival appeared, and in Russia, after the publication of an article by Alexander Benois, who glorified the austere beauty of the streets of St. Petersburg, architects again turned to the main methods of ancient architecture.

Neoclassicism tried to return to the traditions of Italian masters and created the illusion of antiquity, but on the whole it turned out to be a modernized, largely simplified version of classicism. Among the Russian architects who worked in this direction are Fyodor Lidval, who built many buildings of St. Petersburg in the 1900s, as well as Ivan Fomin, an admirer of Russian architecture and neoclassicism, considered one of the founders of the Stalinist Empire style..

The building of the Council of People's Commissars of the Ukrainian SSR
The building of the Council of People’s Commissars of the Ukrainian SSR, Kiev, architect I.A. Fomin, 1935

In the 20th century in the Soviet Union, classicism experienced another round of popularity, receiving the name Stalinist Empire style or Soviet monumental classicism. This direction was formed in the late 1930s and it was in this style that numerous Congress Palaces, Palaces of Culture and Pioneer Houses were built in all major Soviet cities over the next 20 years..

Stalinist architecture also influenced the development of cities in the republics of Eastern Europe, and in communist China and North Korea remained the dominant style for several decades after the death of the leader..

Main building of Moscow State University
Main building of Moscow State University
People's Assembly Palace in Beijing

People’s Assembly Palace in Beijing

Despite the fact that today classicism cannot be called the most popular trend in architecture, many architects still turn to the strict, symmetrical forms of the classics. And even among the new buildings in Moscow, you can find buildings that stand out sharply from ordinary residential complexes.

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A house on Bolshaya Pochtovaya Street and one of the buildings of the Tupolev Plaza complex on the Tupolev embankment, the work of the architect Dmitry Barkhin, as well as the Roman House residential complex in the 2nd Kazachy Lane became vivid examples that made experts talk about the revival of the traditions of classicism. designed by Mikhail Filippov.

House on Bolshaya Postal Street
House on Bolshaya Postal Street
Tupolev Plaza

One of the buildings of the business center “Tupolev Plaza”
Roman house
Residential complex “Roman House”, 2nd Kazachiy Lane

However, while these rare, unusual for modern Moscow buildings remain isolated cases of appeal to the traditions of the classics, yielding to reinforced concrete, facades, which are decorated only with boxes of air conditioners and typical monolithic new buildings.

The main differences of classicism in architecture

The main distinguishing feature of the architecture of classicism was the appeal to the forms of ancient architecture, which the architects considered the standard of simplicity, harmony, rigor, monumentality and logical clarity..

The architecture of classicism is the clarity and geometrism of the volumetric form, as well as the regularity and consistency of planning. The basis of the architectural language of classicism is the order, in its forms and proportions close to antiquity.

In addition, classicism is characterized by strict symmetric-axial compositions, a regular system of planning urban development and restraint of decorative decoration..

It is not surprising that the main element of the classical building is the order (from the Latin – order, structure). This architectural technique, which appeared in the 6th century BC, has become very popular and is found in its various varieties in all classical buildings without exception..

Different types of architectural orders
Different types of architectural orders

The full order includes an entablature, a column and a pedestal, and most often remains the only decoration of a classic building that does not need other decorative elements.

Classics in the interior are a minimum of unnecessary details, clear lines, restrained colors (cream, beige, muted shades of green), as well as the use of expensive, natural materials.

Classic style interior
Classic style interior

Nowadays, buildings in austere classical style have become a rarity and invariably attract attention, causing admiration for austere, clear forms, symmetry of facades and elegance of columns. Of course, it is not yet necessary to talk about the revival of classicism in architecture, but still this direction has its loyal fans.

Unfortunately, more often than not, such attachment is expressed in the design of interiors, and not in the external appearance of buildings, which often creates a mismatch between the facade and internal content. In addition, modern architects still have a lot to learn from the classics, for example, the design of large spaces and entire city blocks, because the planning of urban development according to the principles of classicism was distinguished by thoughtfulness, a rational approach and invariably created a unique, very attractive landscape of a big city.

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