Summer Series: Early American and Federal Architecture


Welcome to America! It is kind of fitting that I write this post on early American and Federal Architecture the week after the 4th of July! Now remember, these periods in history are overlapping with the English Renaissance and the French Post Renaissance. We will see some repeat info and see how it translated differently to the American Colonists.

Early American Architecture:

For the most part the colonies followed the designs of the mother country. England or France, especially in urban areas. We will see the late Gothic Style, Baroque, Neoclassic and a Greek Revival. Residentially, colonists were happy to reproduce the expensive and stylish furniture from england at a lower cost and a much simpler version. When the colonist first arrived they had to build their own structures out of native materials. Homes and public buildings were made of wood and simple in design. One of the first residential home designs was the Hall House. A simple 2 room structure, with sleeping quarters upstairs.

Above is a photo of a hall house with a summer beam, large beam running from the center of the fireplace perpendicular to the opposing beams. Other residential designs called for the Summer Beam as well, the Saltbox House for example (below).

As for public structures, churches, taverns and meeting halls were the most common other than residential buildings. It was the Puritans that put the pulpit and the Alter together in their church/meeting-house on Plymouth. Because their form of worship differed from the Anglican Church/Catholic Church, were the altar was the place of mystical ritualistic ceremonies of high church. Whereas the Puritan Church placed importance on the sermon that took place at the pulpit. Together at the front of the church, facing the benches/pews and the entry way into the church.

Federal Style:

The newly formed United States welcomed the Adam Style of the Neoclassic (Hepplewhite and Sheraton style furniture flourished, residentially).

Above is King’s Chapel is Boston (exterior) a prime example of Adam/Neoclassic style in America. Below is a peek into the Interior of King’s Chapel.

Notice the Roman style fluted columns, simple but beautifully decorated. Simple white wash walls let the eye enjoy the beauty of the columns, apse and molding detail. Another important structure built (pre Revoultion) is the St. Paul’s Chapel in NYC (below).

Features a Palladian Style Exterior and Interior. It is the only Pre-Revolutionary building still standing in NYC.

The interior is a strong reflection of the Palladian, Neoclassic movement.

Greek Revival:

Remember what the Parthenon in Greece looked like? The Pantheon in Rome? Now take a look at the Virginia State Capitol Building, built-in 1785 by Thomas Jefferson…

No, it’s not quiet the same but the structural look is. The fluted columns and decorative molding. Jefferson was then the American Ambassador to the court of Louis XVI (16) at Versailles. He based his design on the ancient Roman monuments seen through travels of France, Mansion Carree at Nimes. It was the first pure example of the Classic Revival.

I am sure y’all recognize the building above. The White House. The design for the President’s Home was based on several French buildings, including the Hotel de Salm. That I talked about in my last post. The central half cylinder projection was the chief design innovation. It produced a cylindrical salon, which created a tend for oval and round rooms in fine residential structures. However, the original structure burned in 1814 by the British. The rebuilt structure was overseen by Hoban, the original designer.

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