Greek Revival was the first architectural style in America not based on a British style. American culture was steeped in the English tradition, and even after the American Revolution, the aesthetics were still English. It changed after the War of 1812 when the British attempted once again to take over.
The need to establish a new cultural identity coincided with the general intellectual preoccupation with ancient Greek culture in the early 19th century. The new republic identified with the birthplace of democracy and its culture. Americans, emphasizing the spiritual connection with Greece — democracy’s birthplace — turned away from the British-inspired Federal style towards the Greek Revival.
Greek Revival is a style of architecture inspired by the symmetry, proportion, simplicity, and elegance of the ancient Greek temples of 5th century B.C. The fuss-free Greek Revival churches, banks, town halls, and houses appeared all over the country, dominating the American architectural landscape until the Civil War.
Characteristics of Greek Revival Architecture
- Greek temple-style façade with columns in wood or stucco
- White paint or construction materials: Many Greek revival homes are painted white to resemble the marble of expensive public buildings.
- Columns and pilasters: A staple in classical architecture, doric, ionic, or corinthian columns. Plain Doric order columns are most popular in Greek revival buildings.
- Front porch or covered portico entrances
- Simple moldings: most Greek revival homes have plain moldings and unadorned friezes.
One of the signature elements of Greek Revival architecture is columns painted white to evoke the white marble used in the temples of Ancient Greece. This is ironic since the white marble columns were originally painted in primary colors. When ancient temples were discovered in the 18th century, the colors faded, leaving the marble in its natural, uncolored state.