Italian Renaissance Revival Architecture in New York

Italian Renaissance Revival spans the period from the 1890s to the 1930s, but its popularity peaked in 1900 – 1920.

The original Italian Renaissance was itself a revival style that looked to emulate the Classical period. In its turn, 14th – 16th-century Florentine and Roman urban palazzi inspired its rebirth during the 20th century in America — the trend boosted by the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, aka Columbian ExpositionWhile informed by a European aesthetic, the style appeared concurrent with steel-frame construction, lending itself to the design of early skyscrapers.

Renaissance palazzi were designed to have thee clearly separated parts: heavy base, middle, and elegant light top. The practical reason for the imposing base was that it usually hosted a family business and needed to appear well protected; the middle part hosted family living quarters. Strong visual separation of these parts is one of the style’s main features.

These characteristics translated well to the Renaissance revival skyscrapers, with one significant difference: the proportion — a central element in the Italian Renaissance architecture. In skyscrapers, the middle part is unproportionally stretched — the detail that would cause any true Renaissance master to laugh hysterically or even faint.

Italian Renaissance Revival is one of many revival styles popular during the late 1800s-early 1900s. A variety of historical interpretations of European styles resulted in one of the most diverse and colorful periods of American architecture.

Characteristics:

  • Symmetrical facades
  • Tripartite composition: bottom, middle and top
  • Horizontal bands of brick or stone visually separating the parts
  • The heavy, rusticated ground floor often with arched windows and doorways.
  • Light top part embellished with statuary, pilasters, and balustrades.
  • Low-pitched or flat roofs hidden by cornices, short parapet walls, or balustrades
Lotte New York Palace/ Villard Houses, 1884
Architect: McKim, Mead & White
Address: 455 Madison Ave

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