Classical Architecture

Since Spencer has been accepted to Notre Dame's Classical Architecture program, we've gotten a lot of questions about what classical architecture is, exactly. I think most people picture Spencer making a bunch of buildings that look exactly like this:
People assume that classical architecture (CA) means adding columns to any and everything, and being against anything that was built post 1800. In reality, CA is something complex and beautiful that would be really hard to sum up in a blog post, but I'm going to do my best. This post will certainly not be comprehensive, but hopefully it will give you a better idea as to what CA is, and why it's important. 

Have you ever driven through a neighborhood and thought, "wow, these houses were obviously built in the 70s. They're so ugly! Why would anyone have built these? They should be torn down and new beautiful homes should be built." (Example). Well, you're right. They are ugly. But they weren't thought to be ugly when they were built. They were modeled after the style of the time. Now, 45 years later, we have homes and buildings that are being torn down to make way for new buildings. What a waste of those materials from the 70s, yeah? If only they had built something that was a little more timeless (classic) then those homes would still be around. (click to see examples of classic homes - it's not just about pillars! 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

Unfortunately, the buildings that are being built now are no more classic than those being built in the 70s, or whatever era you choose. Let's look at the new, state of the art, Salt Lake courthouse vs. this courthouse I found on pinterest:

Does anyone here really believe that the building on the left will still be considered beautiful in 30 years? Does anyone here think that building is beautiful now?!? If so, you are probably a modernist. Let's talk so I can convince you to be a classicist.  

Here are some ways you can tell if a building is modern:
  1. The building could not be used for any other purpose. Take, for example, the Provo Rec Center.  Sure, I can see how someone might think it looks new and cool, but can you imagine that space being used as anything other than a rec center? A library, a grocery store, an office? Probably not. Which means that once the need for a rec center is gone, or once the building is old and no longer "pretty," it will be torn down. 
  2. You can't tell when construction is finished. Let's look back at the SLC court house. Is that building . . . complete? 
  3. You can't tell where the entrance is/once you are inside you don't know where to go. For this, it's pretty save to picture any hospital or modern museum. Have you ever had to walk around a building for more than 5 minutes trying to find the front door? Chances are you were at a modern building. 
Still not sure if CA is for you? Let's look at the Salt Lake vs Provo Temple. Classic vs Modern. Timeless vs. Birthday Cake

And Classicism goes further than just buildings. Urban design, for example. I could try to convince you about the benefits of classical urbanism, but instead I'm going to direct you to this TED talk: Jeff Speck: The Walkable City. Not sure if you want to watch it? Let me tell you this: it will tell you how classicism will help cure obesity. 

Has anyone ever walked around the streets of Rome and thought, "Meh. Hardly photogenic, not quaint, nothing beautiful or inspiring. I sure wish I was in some suburbs in the States." I doubt it, and that's because the streets of Rome are classic and beautiful! No one thinks, "Man, these quaint little markets are the worst. I wish they had a really big, shapeless, concrete super market surrounded by a mile-wide parking lot. I really hate being able to walk outside and be at the store. I wish I had to drive 20 minutes both ways. I love being able to go for a walk and see nothing but cookie cutter houses." 

Am I right? Classicism. It's using materials, structures, and designs that will stand the test of time. 


  1. That building in Salt Lake? ....FLAMES!!! ON THE SIDES OF MY FACE!!!! What use to stand there was a beautiful old building that housed a diner, a pub, and a club. When it was originally built it had apartments upstairs and a diner downstairs. It had character and was a cornerstone of Salt Lake life. I am rately a "down the Feds" person but...the Feds said, "We need a bigger building in Salt Lake," forced the sale of the old building, PROMISED the city a building of beauty and classic architecture would be built in its place....and then the city got a new mayor and that monstrosity was erected instead. Should an unfortunate event occur (in which no one was injured) that caused that building to crumble, I'd be first in line to dance a happy dance on the pile of rubble. I hate it, in case you can't tell. I am extremely grateful that there are still people who see the value of a classic.

  2. Ok this post was super interesting!! I am happy that Spencer will work towards building cute structures forever. Classical = cute.

  3. I totes dig this. Post all the informative things!!

  4. I love this! As I read, I thought of so many buildings I've been in that needed ...a lot of help. I'd never thought about buildings being built so they could be recycled. I love the Provo Rec Center. But you're right. When it's not a rec center, it will have to be torn down. How sad is that? On the other hand, I love the Provo library, too. And it's classical. However, would a building like the library serve very well as a rec center? ... I'm not sure. Thanks for a very interesting and thought provoking post!