Beaux Arts

Union Station, Washington, D.C. c.1908, architect Daniel Burnham. Built as the new gateway into the nation's capital, considered one of America's finest examples of Beaux-Arts.

PERIOD OF POPULARITY:  1893 – 1929  (Between the Chicago Columbian Exposition and the Great Depression)

INTRODUCTION TO REVIVAL STYLES: Each revival style identifies specifically with an architecture of an earlier time and place, especially those related to early American or European precedents. Several popular revival styles are included on this blog, though other, less popular revival styles also appeared. To classify this grouping of architectural styles presents a challenge, as one could argue that many earlier Victorian styles were similarly revivalist. In fact, one publication includes several revival styles within the larger category of Victorian architecture (Cunliffe, et. al. 2010). The concept of “period styles” has also been adopted by some writers (including this one), though it was an early 20th century term used by non-professionals to romanticize the past. On the flip side are the architectural historians who prefer the more academic “Age of eclecticism” or “Eclectic Era,” which is an important concept to provide historical context here. The Eclectic Era, however, includes both revival and early modern styles that competed ideologically and appeared nearly simultaneously before the Great Depression. For purposes here, then, “revival styles” seems most appropriate, adapted widely across America for use in middle-class homes, wealthy country houses, commercial buildings, early skyscrapers, and civic buildings. Though overlapping with the more picturesque Victorian era, these styles largely gained popularity during the first two decades of the 20th century and heavily influenced our residential and commercial landscapes.

During this time (mostly between 1900 and 1929), accuracy of styles became important once again, unlike Queen Anne style, which borrowed from a variety of sources. Most Important, revival styles look to the past for inspiration. The trend toward revivalist architecture gained momentum from the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the Columbian Exposition, where historical interpretations of European styles were encouraged. Simultaneous to the rise of revivalist architecture, the modern era saw its beginnings with architects who were instead looking to the future, not to the past, with more progressive, modernist styles. Thus defines the Eclectic Movement of the early 20th century, which consisted of a simultaneous and perhaps competing interest in both modern and historic architectural traditions. This variety, or eclecticism, provided for one of the most diverse and colorful periods for architecture and urban design in American history, when almost anyone with at least a middle-class income could choose from one of a dozen or more styles for their home.

HISTORICAL BACKGROUND AND FEATURES: The Beaux-Arts style is derived from Les beaux arts (the fine arts)  in France, and associated with the Ecole des Beaux-Arts (School of Fine Arts), where numerous 19th and early 20th century architects studied.  The style emphasized classical (Greek and Roman) forms and features, elaborate detailing, massive plans, and heavy masonry. A hallmark of the style is its elaborate, decorated surfaces with little area left unornamented. Grand Roman arches and colossal columns or pilasters – often paired – are typically featured, along with other Renaissance and Baroque-era designs. Beaux-Arts was mostly used for grand public and institutional buildings, and for the private homes of America’s industrial barons. The primary inspiration for this style was Chicago’s Columbian Exposition  in 1893, the architects of which had been heavily influenced by the teachings of the Ecole. Thus, many of the early, prominent examples of Beaux Arts can be dated to within a decade of the turn of the 20th century.

For More Photos of Beaux-Arts on Flickr, Click Here.

San Francisco, CA. The old Main Library building, c.1917. Converted into the Asian Art Museum after 1995.

 

Kansas City, MO. Union Station, opened 1914. Architect Jarvis Hunt. At the time, this was the second largest railway station in America, after Union Station in Washington, D.C.

 

Washington, D.C. Public Library, c.1902. Gift of Andrew Carnegie.

 

Washington, D.C. Public Library, c.1902. Gift of Andrew Carnegie.

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  1. [...] Beaux-Arts architecture is all around D.C. and one of the main characteristics of the style is its sculptural detail. The Supreme Court, Union Station, and the DC Historical Society are some big, beautiful examples. I enjoy the decorative detail and am especially intrigued by these animal- and human-inspired sculptures. (Speaking of, see the birds in this detailed interior molding in the Polish Embassy–another Beaux-Arts building–which I wrote about last month). German Marshall Fund building. [...]

  2. [...] Beaux-Arts architecture is all around D.C. and one of the main characteristics of the style is its sculptural detail. The Supreme Court, Union Station, and the DC Historical Society are some big, beautiful examples. I enjoy the decorative detail and am especially intrigued by these animal- and human-inspired sculptures. (Speaking of, see the birds in this detailed interior molding in the Polish Embassy–another Beaux-Arts building–which I wrote about last month). [...]

  3. […] Egerton Swartwout designed the Beaux-Art style memorial, which cost 3.1 million dollars to build and furnish between 1923 and 1926. It was […]

  4. […] Paradis, Tom (2012). Architecture, landscape, and urban design: Beaux arts. Retrieved from: http://architecturestyles.org/beaux-arts/ […]

  5. […] city about 25 miles north of me. The Handley Library, now part of a regional library system is Beaux-Arts style architecture. It opened to the public in 1913. It went through a major renovation beginning in 1979 that was […]



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