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If you’re a history buff or had the good fortune to see “Hamilton” (or remember high school), you probably have an idea of what was going on in the United States of America during this time. Things were going down between Great Britain and the burgeoning United States.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jKw6n0PnTMY

You’ve probably noticed by now that there were a lot of revivals. In fact, you may be thinking that each style we’ve shown you isn’t really different from the others at all – that we’re just pulling a fast one. Well, hold on to your hats, the Georgian and Federal styles were inspired by our favorite Greek and Roman architecture.

Mean girls meme in front of the Roman Colosseum

Georgian and Federal architectural styles were popular at roughly the same time (mid-1700’s to about 1830ish) – we’re basically looking at Colonial Architecture again.

Georgian Architecture

Portrait of King George III
Figure 1 King George III, Allan Ramsay / Public domain

 

When I said we would just be looking at Colonial architecture again, I wasn’t lying – Georgian is often referred to as Colonial.

Just imagine, the colonies have finally gotten to the point where they can build “decent” buildings similar to those being built back in England. Oh, the excitement! So you order a pattern book from back home to mimic all the sweet buildings that Christopher Wren had designed – symmetrical, classic proportions, decorative elements, and associated with King Georges I-III. These pattern books would be similar to looking for a home in the Sears Roebuck catalog or flipping through “House Beautiful” or Pinterest. It was a source of ideas and a how-to. Perfect for a colony who didn’t quite have the design expertise.

pages from "Practical Builder," a pattern book for builders
Figure 2 Page Extracts from "Practical builder, or, Workman's general assistant...", Author: William Pain, 1774.

 

Federal Architecture

If you were living in the United States of America during or after the Revolutionary War, you would have noticed that the old Georgian style standby was rapidly declining in popularity.

meme from The Office
Figure 3 Do yourself a favor and search "Revolutionary War meme" on Pinterest

Well, you can’t have British architecture named after the king you just rebelled against in your newly established country. A little unpatriotic, yes? What to do…..ah yes! Take control of the Georgian style and modify/simplify it. Then harken back to the Republic of Rome by taking some of their details – voila! We have classicized American architecture.

Distinguishing The Styles

Can’t decide whether it’s Georgian or Federal from the exterior? Never fear! The interior will tell you. Federal interiors are more restrained and delicate while Georgian interiors are heavy, almost Baroque in feeling with lots of woodwork.

Peckover House stair
Figure 4: Georgian Style, Peckover House, photo by Christine Matthews
Nathaniel Russel House stairs
Figure 5: Federal Style, Nathaniel Russell House, Historic American Buildings Survey Photographer C.O Greene / Public domain

Quick Facts:

Well known Georgian architect: Richard Boyle, 3rd Earl of Burlington

Well known Federal architect: Thomas Jefferson

Random Factoid: We could have had flush toilets by this time as they were invented by Sir John Harington in the late 1500s. But they never really caught on. In 1775, Alexander Cumming was the first to patent a design of the flush toilet.

The Going’s On: The Industrial Revolution (~1760-1840) had begun. Queen Victoria would start her reign in 1837 which is a mere ~10-20 years away by the time the Georgian and Federal style periods would be considered done.

 

Ending Thought

A lot was going on in a small amount of time in this period. Unlike architectural styles that reigned for hundreds of years previously, the Georgian and Federal styles stayed in play for a little under a century. There’s also the Regency Era, a sub-period from ~1811-1820 (shout out to the Jane Austen fans) that we didn’t even touch on.

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