The Federal style broke with the past in theory but ended up looking much like it.
Many Federal style buildings in Philadelphia resemble their Georgian predecessors
but with a portico tacked on to the front entrance or a slightly thinner muntin strips. The
Greek Revival Style made its claim to be the new style of a new world with boldness
It's fitting that in America, the Greek revival style can be traced back to the
arch-revolutionary theorist Thomas Jefferson. In his years in France, he had seen the
small roman temple in Nimes, France, the Maison Carrée. When the Virginia house of
Burgess's decided to move away from Williamsburg, and all of its memories of royal
governors and patronage, to Richmond in 1785, Jefferson choose to create a Greek
temple for Virginia's new capital and created the first Greek revival building in the
United States. When he became president, Jefferson then found a kindred spirit in
Benjamin Latrobe who he hired to be a surveyor of public buildings after seeing his
work in Philadelphia. Latrobe worked on several buildings for the new nation in
Washington, but executed a masterpiece in his beautifully scaled Baltimore Cathedral
(Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary).
The Greek Revival Style
2nd Bank of the United States
We know Jefferson owned a copy of Stuart & Revett's Antiquities of Athens and we also know
that Benjamin Franklin subscribed to the publication for the Library Company of Philadelphia.
One of the first architects to design using these measured drawings was William Strickland.
Strickland's Second Bank of the United States executed for the Graecophile Nicholas Biddle set
the stage for the widespread use of Greek elements in architecture. Strickland followed this up
with his Merchant 's Exchange in 1830 which has a cupola directly lifted from the Choragic
Monument of Lysicrates from the Antiquities of Athens.
Strickland's rival, Thomas Ustick Walter was also busy filling Philadelphia and the surrounding
area with Greek Temples. He added a Greek portico on Nicholas Biddle's country house,
Andalusia, and designed a massive academic building for Girard College where Biddle was a
trustee. These four buildings the Second Bank, the Merchants Exchange, Andalusia, and Girard
College put Philadelphia in the forefront of the Greek revival movement.
After establishing Greek Revival architecture firmly in the Philadelphia area, both Strickland and
Walter took the style south, to Tennessee and Washington, DC respectively. The Greek revival
style quickly became the dominant architectural style in the south and remained so up until the
Civil War. The southern aristocracy could look at their columned mansions and see a reflection of
their own wealth, worldliness and connection to the worldly aristocratic and slave based society of
Greece and Rome. After all, architecture is often a highly political art.