American Architecture

Beaux Arts, French for “fine arts,” describes a type of American architecture that was popular from 1890 to 1920. They have two roof styles: flat or low-pitched hip roof or a mansard roof. These buildings often feature decorative garlands, floral patterns, or shields on their walls. The facade often has quoins, pilasters, or columns with Ionic or Corinthian capitals, and masonry walls of light-colored and smooth stone. Arched, pedimented windows were common. The first story uses stonework joints that are exaggerated, giving it a rusticated look, although the facade is usually symmetrical.

There are several reasons why Beaux Arts style was a dominant choice of public building architecture from 1890 to 1920. Beaux Arts buildings were a popular architecture choice in prosperous urban settings in cities such as Washington, D. C. , New York, Boston, St. Louis and San Francisco, as well as Newport, Rhode Island. They were big, elaborate buildings to build, and their construction one was a way to show off your wealth if you were rich. Beaux Arts buildings were the style of choice for rich American industrial barons, for example.

However, when the Great Depression hit in the late 1920s, these large buildings became too costly to build and maintain, and over time several were destroyed. Some have been preserved as public museums, schools, and clubhouses. Another reasons why they were dominant in public building style in America is the French influence. Americans who served in France during World War I saw examples of these buildings and helped make the style popular when they returned home. Americans who studied at France’s Ecole des Beaux-Arts, the best architectural school in the world at that time, advocated for this style of building when they returned to America.

The Ecole also favored formal planning for the spatial relationships between buildings. This helped drive the American City Beautiful movement, which was popular during this time period. This idea also influenced AMERICAN ARCHITECTURE PAGE 3 the Beaux Arts-style employed by designer Richard Morris Hunt for Chicago’s 1893 World Columbian Exposition. After this, other large cities, including Cleveland, Philadelphia and Washington D. C.

, used these formal design ideas in planning suburbs with massive parks and boulevards that were lined with landmark Beaux Arts-style houses. A further reason why Beaux Arts was a popular architectural choice is their roof’s appearance. The mansard roof became popular in attached urban town houses because it reduces the apparent height of the upper-floor living space as compared to other nearby buildings. It also gave the homeowner a full upper story of attic space to use, and so it became popular to use this style of roof in remodeling older buildings as well as for new ones.

There were tax implications for this style here as well: in France, where the mansard roof originated, expanding a home ‘s “footprint” – adding additional rooms on the ground and increasing square footage – meant that the owner would be required to pay heavier taxes on the structure. Building “upward” – expanding square footage vertically rather than horizontally – constituted a “loophole” which helped the property owner to avoid increased taxation on his home. The Great Depression may have brought an end to the cost feasibility and popularity of these lovely structures.

From about 1933 onward, homes that were constructed were smaller, plainer and more utilitarian. Fortunatly for us, but happily several of the old Beaux Arts have been preserved for our enjoyment and study in cities across the country, including San Francisco, Portland Oregon, Chicago and Rochester New in cities across the country, including San Francisco, Portland Oregon, Chicago and Rochester New York. Even in times during which real estate markets fall, classic old homes such as Beaux Arts houses and buildings continue to command top prices.

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