Renaissance Revival Architecture

Pennsylvania Bank

Italian buildings in the middle ages were often inward looking, since in towns streets were dangerous places, especially at night. At ground level, exteriors were often rusticated (stone cut to emphasize a rough massive surface) and iron grilles were placed over small ground floor windows.

Upper (harder to reach) windows were larger but still appeared to be punched into the massive stone walls. These upper walls were often decorated with the classical orders and other classical details, but the overall feel is still fortress like. 

In the early nineteenth century, the first buildings to adopt these models were grand semi-public buildings like men’s clubs and government buildings. Later in that century, this form of Renaissance revival would be used in office buildings and large retail stores, like the Wanamaker Department store (now Macys in Philadelphia).

Venetian buildings were different. Venice developed as a sea power and with a city-state located on an island, they never had to create a protective architecture like most of Medieval Europe. Instead, using Roman architectural elements like colonnades formed of semicircular arches and columns, the Venetians created villas with facades more open than closed and interiors bathed in light. 

In the early nineteenth century, this style was almost perfect for emerging commercial needs, like banking and merchant’s offices creating an architecture which could be inviting and bathed in daylight. Later the style would be mined again, this time built in cast iron, for stores with tall windows and marble for the homes of the American plutocrats.