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EMBCA’s Hellenic Revival Architecture in an Age of Revolution

NEW YORK – The East Mediterranean Business Culture Alliance (EMBCA) presented the Hellenic Revival Architecture in an Age of Revolution Panel Discussion Webinar on June 13. The panel was introduced and moderated by Lou Katsos, EMBCA's President/Founder and former Adjunct Professor of Architecture at the Chanin School of Architecture at Cooper Union. The distinguished panel included architect, lecturer, artist John Fotiadis and Sarandis Zafeiropoulos, Emeritus Professor of Architecture and Urban Design, School of Architecture at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

The panel discussion focused on Hellenic revival architecture, its history and characteristics, and highlighted by examples from Hellas and the United States at the peak of its popularity from 1825 to 1860.

In his introduction, Katsos said, “Greek Revival is a style of architecture that was inspired by the classical Hellenic temples through their symmetry, elegance, and proportion. It is said British architect James ‘Athenian’ Stuart was first to introduce Greek Revival to Britain when taken by the classical beauty of the architecture he discovered on a 1758 trip to Hellas. Documenting his discoveries, he published his Antiquities of Athens in 1762, producing the world’s first reference book detailing Classical Hellenic architecture. It was, however, later when it became a full-blown trend in England and Europe in the 1820s and 1830s and to a great degree due to the Hellenic War of Independence (1821-1829). Access to the original Hellenic architectural masterpieces in Hellas only really became easier to view and study after the Hellenic War of Independence ended and the modern Hellenic state was established in 1832. Lord Byron's participation and death during the war bringing its study additional prominence.”

Katsos continued: “In Hellas, following the War of Independence, the romantic nationalism of the time encouraged and inspired the use of historically Hellenic architectural styles in place of Ottoman or pan-European ones. Classical architecture was used for secular public buildings as well as commercial ones and individual homes. Old Athens was filled with them and gave the city a special elegance. The style inspired also the building and architecture of modern Sparta in the 1830s, and buildings and residences in many other cities and towns throughout Hellas. Examples of Hellenic Revival architecture in Hellas among many others include the Old Royal Palace (now the home of the Parliament of Greece), the Academy and University of Athens, the Zappeion, and the Hellenic National Library. The most prominent architects in this style included Europeans such as Christian and Theophil Hansen and Ernst Ziller and German-trained Hellenes such as Stamatios Kleanthis and Panagis Kalkos.”

Katsos said: “As previously stated and mentioned in our various panel discussions American Philhellenism by 1821 when the Hellenic Revolution broke out, although derived from European origins became more than just a philosophical intellectual movement. It caught America by storm and referred to as the Greek Fever/ Greek Fire historically in the U.S. This storm, and per Percy Shelley’s famous poem Hellas declared in his preface ‘we are all Greeks, Our laws, our religion, our arts, have their roots in Greece,’ also extended itself into architecture. Greek revival architecture was part of that storm in America. It was in America that Hellenic revival architecture fully bloomed. Its extensive use can be seen in Washington, DC, America’s Capitol, in New York, Philadelphia, the North and the South, and throughout the United States, in major cities and small ones. Americans being part of a new democracy were inspired by its birthplace.”

Zafeiropoulos spoke about history, noting that “Athens of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century was, in fact, a large village, but what changed from the middle of the 17th century is that while until then the center of classical antiquity for Western Europe was Rome, from 1750 onwards, Athens began to attract the interest of Europeans because of its antiquities and many visit Athens as the birthplace of Western civilization.”

He mentioned the Enlightenment which included the systematic study of antiquity, the influence of the classical orders on architecture for thousands of years, and how Greek architecture inspired the Romans and “its legacy stretches far beyond antiquity.” When the first reference books on classical Hellenic architecture were published in France (1758) and England (1762), the Neo-classical revolution was already underway.

Zafeiropoulos noted that “the plan for the new Athens was made even before the city was chosen as the capital. Two architects from Berlin, Stamatios Kleanthis and Edward Schaubert, students of the great architect Karl Friedrich Schinkel, wanted to contribute to the rebirth of the new Greek state.”

Fotiades’ presentation, titled Hellenic Revival Architecture in an Age of Revolution, featured examples in England, Scotland, and the United States, highlighted by many slides which showcased how the style evolved over time. He spoke about the multi-volume book The Antiquities of Athens by James Stuart and Nicholas Revett, published in 1762, more than a decade after the authors had left Greece which included detailed drawings and served as a reference book for architects around the world. The book was the result of their systematic survey of the extant architectural monuments of Athens, offering a snapshot of Athens at that time circa 1750, and included “reconstructions” of what the ruins would have originally looked like, helping to popularize the Neo-classical style.

The video of the event is available online:

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