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Capitol Hill Neoclassical Architecture

Neoclassical Architecture on Capitol Hill
Overview 

The definitive architectural style on Capitol Hill is neoclassical, inspired by the use of ancient Greek and Roman styles in the design of great public buildings. These styles are recognized by the use of tall columns, symmetrical shapes, triangular pediments and domed roofs.

Neoclassical architecture style encompasses the styles of Federal and Greek Revival architecture which were a major influence during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It was during this period that many of the foundational buildings of the United States government were constructed.

Perhaps the single greatest example of these architectural styles is the United States Capitol Building, for which construction began in 1793. Thomas Jefferson wanted Congress housed in a replica of an ancient Roman temple. Since the capitol in Richmond, Virginia, was an example of Roman “cubic” architecture, he thought the federal Capitol should be modeled after a “spherical” temple.

The U.S. Capitol's designs, derived from ancient Greece and Rome, evoke the ideals that guided the nation's founders as they framed their new republic. In the 1850s, architect Thomas U. Walter added to the original design while maintaining the neoclassical styles. His additions included the north and south extensions and the cast iron dome.

Another well-known example of the neoclassical architecture style on Capitol Hill is the U.S. Supreme Court Building. Finished and occupied in 1935, the Supreme Court is meant to resemble a great marble temple. The architect of the Supreme Court, Cass Gilbert of New York City, drew upon the classical Roman temple form as the basis for the Court's new building. Reached by a great flight of broad steps, the portico of tall Corinthian columns gives the building a monumental entrance. Lower wings flank the central temple and help relate it to the lower-scaled buildings of the nearby Capitol Hill neighborhood.