The Neo-Classical architectural style had a deep impact in the early skyscrapers in the U.S. as well as in much of its early institutional architecture. It encompasses a range of styles that share a deep fascination with classical architecture, drawing inspiration from the architectural forms from the past.
Two main substyles which fall under the umbrella of the Neo-Classic are the Classical Revival and the Beux-Arts.
Classical Revival architecture places a strong emphasis on the replication of classical forms and architectural details from ancient Greek and Roman architecture. This includes the use of columns, pediments, and symmetrical designs.
It often involves a direct replication of specific historical architectural elements, such as Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian columns, and other classical ornamentation.
Classical Revival buildings tend to be symmetrical and convey a sense of grandeur and monumentality. They often feature elaborate facades with intricate detailing.
Beaux-Arts architecture is more eclectic in nature. It draws not only from classical sources but also from Renaissance, Baroque, and Rococo styles, among others. It reflects the academic approach of the Beaux-Arts system of architectural education.
Beaux-Arts architects were encouraged to adapt historical elements creatively rather than replicate them faithfully. This often resulted in more imaginative and eclectic designs.
Beaux-Arts principles extended beyond individual buildings to urban planning and design. It emphasized the harmonious integration of buildings into the urban fabric.
Key Figures: Cass Gilbert and Daniel Burnham.
Representative Building: United States Supreme Court Building in Washington D.C, Flatiron Building in NYC.
Neo-Gothic or Gothic Revival
Neo-Gothic emerged as a reaction to the Neo-Classical movement, and for a long time they both coexisted, until Art-Deco took over.
Neo-Gothic designs exhibit pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and decorative tracery reminiscent of medieval Gothic cathedrals, often conveying a sense of verticality and intricate ornamentation. This paired very well with the vertical ambitions of U.S cities in the late 19th and early 20th century, and therefore we can find it mostly in early skyscrapers in major cities.
Key Figures: Ralph Adams Cram and Raymond Hood.Representative Building: Woolworth Building in NYC
Art Deco is an iconic architectural style known for its elegance, geometric shapes, and modernity. Art Deco skyscrapers feature streamlined forms, decorative motifs, and a blend of materials like terracotta, glass, and metal.
The style emerged as a reaction to earlier excesses, blending historical influences with machine-age aesthetics.
Streamline Moderne, a subset of Art Deco, emphasizes curvilinear forms, smooth lines, and aerodynamic aesthetics.
While Art-Deco’s glorious days are already behind us, the truth is that some Art-Deco elements managed to persist and were adopted by the Postmodernist and even some contemporary architects.
Key Figures: William Van Alen, Raymond Hood, and John Eberson.Representative Building: Chrysler Building in New York City.
International Style skyscrapers prioritize functionalism, simplicity, and the use of steel, glass, and concrete. They feature flat roofs, ribbon windows, and a lack of ornamentation.
This style marked a stark departure from Art Deco, rejecting historical references and embracing modern materials and technologies.
Sometimes the “Chicago School” is referenced as a substyle that kicked off the International Style.
Key Figures: Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Walter Gropius, and Le Corbusier.Representative Building: Seagram Building in New York City.
Brutalism is characterized by raw concrete and rugged, expressive forms, Brutalism reflects an emphasis on mass, texture, and functionality.
The style descends from the modernist movement, and is said to be a reaction against the nostalgia of architecture in the 1940s, and was particularly prominent in the U.S. in mid-20th-century institutional buildings.
Key Figures: Paul Rudolph and Marcel Breuer. Representative Building: The Met Breuer (former Whitney Museum) in NYC.
Postmodernism was a reaction against the starkness of the International Style, embracing complexity and a return to historical styles.
Postmodernism challenged the International Style's austerity by reintroducing historical elements and ornamentation, although this time not as literally as the Neo-Classic, but reinterpreting them within the context of modern materials and construction techniques instead.
Postmodernist skyscrapers in the United States are diverse, often combining historical references with contemporary design. They emphasize symbolism, ornamentation, and contextual integration.
Key Figures: Michael Graves, Philip Johnson, and Robert Venturi.Representative Building: AT&T Building (Sony Tower) in New York City.
Contemporary skyscrapers exhibit a wide range of styles and materials, emphasizing sustainability, innovation, and technology.
Designs vary based on context and function.
Contemporary architecture builds upon the principles of the International Style and Postmodernism, but takes them further, incorporating advanced materials and sustainable practices.
Key Figures: Numerous contemporary architects and firms worldwide.Representative Building: One World Trade Center in New York City.