A Classical Style

Architecture has been a part of the human experience for as long as man decided he needed a roof over his head. And while today we may find such breathtakingly innovative examples of structural housing as the School of Art, Design and Media at Nanyang Tech in Singapore (pictured below), there is still something comforting, beautiful, and awesome about the styles that emerged 3000 years ago in Greece and Rome.

The Nanyang Technology University School of Art, Design and Media

When used today, this classic style takes on the name Neoclassical architecture. It has been used in such important monuments as the Jefferson Memorial and the National Gallery to capture the timelessness, gravity, and history of these institutions. Common features of this style include columns, porticos, and domes.

Columns are some of the oldest systems in architecture, forming the first half of a post-and-lintel construction. In ancient Greece, columns found their defining and standardized appearance. Orders, or styles, emerged and today we can identify them as the Greek orders: The first order consists of a tall shaft with little ornamentation, without any ornate base of support, and a topmost capital of simple and rounded stone. This is the Doric style of the 7th century B.C. and can be seen in the Temple of Hera, in Olympia.

Temple of Hera, Olympia

The 6th century found a new order, the Ionic style, consisting of a stepped base and a shaft culminating in a scrolled capital called a volute. The Temple of Athena Nike, built in 427-424 B.C., is still intact enough to display its Ionic columns.

Temple of Athena Nike (photo by Steve Swayne)

The Corinthian order emerged in the 4th century B.C. and increased the detail of both the column’s bases and capitals, its most defining feature being the ancanthus leaf bouquet of its capital. A crowning example of this style is the Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens, a marble temple completed in the early centuries A.D.

Temple of Olympian Zeus in Athens (photo by Marcok at wikipedia)

Another common feature of the classical style is the portico – a rectangular, covered porch that leads into the main building. It was prominent in ancient Grecian architecture and continues to be used in prominence in such structures as the United States Capitol and the University College London. Its most basic components are a roof, a walkway, and columns or walls in support. The Pantheon in Rome, built in the second century A.D., showcases the other common attributes of the portico when used in a classical sense: columns of elaborate capitals (in this case, of a Corinthian order), a carved entablature (the flat construction above the columns), and a rectangular, crowning pediment.

The dome is another common trademark of the classical style. Defined as an arch rotated 360 degrees, it can be pointed or hemispherical. Made possible through the refinement of arches and vaults, it was perfected by the Romans with the Pantheon, one of the first domed structures created.

The Pantheon in Rome, Italy

In past few centuries, architecture has often looked back on these classical roots. Called the Neoclassic style, it returns to the modern scenery the classical features covered here. Famous examples can be found in Washington, D.C., yet less prominent showcases of the style can be found scattered in historic sites throughout the world. In 1894, the cornerstone was laid for a quaintly grand, three-story courthouse, the Placer County Courthouse, in the little town of Auburn in northern California (numerous photos below). Created after the classical style, it features a Renaissance-inspired dome, a small portico, and columns of Corinthian allusion. The two porches, facing north and south and each introduced by mighty stairs, consist of a simply-decorated entablature set atop six Corinthian columns. A pediment at the top of the main portion of the building, topped by a appropriate female figure, is also doubled on northern and southern sides of the structure. The pointed dome is reminiscent of the Tempietto by Donato Bramante (c. 1508) in Rome, which itself was patterned on ancient Roman architecture. An arial view reveals the Renaissance-inspired shape of the building. The structure itself was composed of granite, brick, terra cotta, lime, lumber, and slate, all taken from the local area.

The Tempietto, Donato Bramante, ca. 1508The Tempietto, Donato Bramante, ca. 1508

Dome of the Placer County Courthouse (photo by zachotak11)

Examples like this one show how prevalent and influential the classical style is in the architectural world. The classical style laid its foundation many, many years ago, yet is still able to enchant architects thousands of years later. Its style is timeless and intricate. Today, its wonders are still analyzed and its beauty, still highly appreciated.

The Placer County Courthouse. Click images to enlarge.

The Placer County Courthouse in 1908

The Placer County Courthouse claims a few interesting trivia to its name. Its cornerstone, laid on July 4, 1894, contains with it a copper box with several local memorabilia, including a share of a local railroad company. The wooden courthouse it replaced, made of wood and cloth and adjacent a log jail, was wheeled away as the new courthouse was built. The current Placer County Courthouse is one of four remaining courthouses in the northern and central Californian area that still retains much of its original embellishment and majestic domes.

Information of the Placer County Courthouse from these sites:
Placer County Courthouse at wikimapia
History of the Placer County Court System
Art Sommer’s timeline of Auburn, CA


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