Georgian Architecture

Nassau Hall

Georgian architecture gets its name from the style of architecture common in England and its colonies during the first three Georges (1714-1830). It is based on architectural theories established during the Italian Renaissance with particular attention to the theories of Andrea Palladio. Palladio, active in the area around Venice from 1508-1580, was especially interested in adapting ancient Roman and Greek forms to contemporary building. 

Among his noteworthy buildings are a Greek theater in Vicenza and a series of villas in its surrounding countryside, particularly the Villa La Rotonda which allegedly inspired Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello.

The first architect to use these forms in England was Inigo Jones in a design for the Queen’s house in Greenwich, England and the dining hall of the Whitehall palace in London. These early examples were influential but it would be another 90+ years before the style became widespread. Nicholas Hawksmoor, in the church of St Martin in the Fields (London) and Christopher Wren’s rebuilding program for the London Churches.burned in the Great London Fire 1666, marked the widespread adoption of the Georgian style.

This was also the time the first English settlements were beginning to build in earnest and the colonists quickly adopted the current English architectural fashions in their major public and private buildings.

One fine early example is Bruton Parish church in Williamsburg, Virginia of 1715.The Georgian style incorporates several principles which actually originate in ancient architecture. The most important is symmetry, where one side of a building forms a mirror image of the other side. Symmetry can occur in a building’s appearance from the outside (its elevation) and in its layout (its plan) and even its interior rooms. Georgian architects were known to install false doors (as in Independence Hall) with solid walls behind them on one side of a room to “balance” a functioning door on the opposite side.