Beaux-Arts architecture was a grandiose and ornamental style of architecture that was popular during the Gilded Age. Its name comes from France’s Ecole des Beaux-Arts, or “School of Fine Arts” in France.
Beaux-Arts architects were heavily influenced by the Baroque and Italian Renaissance periods as well as classical Greek and Roman designs. Because of their grandeur and costliness, Beaux-Arts structures were often used as public buildings (such a train station, university campuses and courthouses), rather than private residences.
Beaux-Arts architecture was initially a European phenomenon. However, it became much more popular in North America, especially the United States. This style of architecture is often referred to as “Beaux-Arts” or “American Renaissance”.
A Brief History of Beaux-Arts Architecture
French architects came up with the Beaux-Arts style after reexamining the Louis XIV style from the seventeenth century. They also consulted the Baroque and Gothic movements as well as Renaissance, Gothic, Renaissance and Classical movements that were the precursors to this style. It became the preferred style in French curricula at Ecole des Beaux-Arts by the end of the nineteenth century.
Richard Morris Hunt, an American architect, was the first to visit the French school. He played a major role in the Beaux-Arts style becoming popular. Other prominent architects–including Daniel Burnham, Henry Hobson Richardson, and Charles McKim–began to design buildings in the style. It became synonymous with the wealth and opulence associated with the Gilded Age as it spread from New York City, California to San Francisco. This is why the extravagant style of the Gilded Age fell out of fashion during the Great Depression.
The Beaux-Arts Style Characteristics
Beaux-Arts architects used similar design patterns in both Europe and America. These are the three main characteristics of Beaux-Arts architecture style:
- Beaux-Arts architecture placed emphasis on symmetry: They still respected traditional and symmetrical design. Many buildings had a raised first floor to emphasize the architectural symmetry.
- Grandiose design: Beaux-Arts architects were known for their grandiose designs. Blueprints featured balustrades and cartouches as well as cornices and pediments. They also reflected the styles of ancient societies while expanding on classical Greek and Roman architecture.
- Pronounced ornamentation: Both the insides as well as outsides of Beaux-Arts structures featured statuaries and murals. These structures were intended to convey an abundance and opulence, and these decorations definitely did that.
7 Examples of Beaux-Arts Architecture
Beaux-Arts architecture can still be seen in many places throughout the United States and Europe. These are seven places you can still see:
- The Breakers: This was originally the home of Cornelius Vanderbilt, II. It is proof that even private citizens could afford a Beaux-Arts manor in the Gilded Age. This mansion is located in Newport, Rhode Island and serves as a museum.
- Carnegie Hall: The Beaux-Arts-built Carnegie Hall is still one of America’s most well-known concert halls. The building was built in Midtown Manhattan by Andrew Carnegie, a steel baron and philanthropist from the nineteenth century.
- Grand Central Terminal: This New York City train station was opened in 1913 and is still in use today by commuters who travel to the East Coast. Grand Central Terminal is an example of the power and functionality of architecture.
- New York Public Library: The main branch of New York Public Library has been housed in a Beaux-Arts structure since 1895. In terms of size, it is second only to Library of Congress.
- Palais Garnier: This Paris opera house was designed by Charles Garnier, a French architect. It boasts a famous staircase and auditorium.
- Thomas Jefferson Building: The Thomas Jefferson Building is a symbol of the influence of the Beaux-Arts movement on American architecture. It is the heart of the Library of Congress, and a lasting testament to the Ecole des Beaux-Arts long shadow across the Atlantic.
- World’s Columbian Exposition: You can still visit many buildings that were part of the Chicago World’s Fair. This “White City” was designed by Daniel Burnham, an architect. It was the talk of all the world when it first premiered.