Stripped Classicism

Stripped Classicism (or “Starved Classicism” or “Grecian Moderne”) is primarily a 20th-century classicist architectural style stripped of most or all ornamentation, frequently employed by governments while designing official buildings. It was adapted by both totalitarian and democratic regimes. The style embraces a “simplified but recognizable” classicism in its overall massing and scale while eliminating traditional decorative detailing. The orders of architecture are only hinted at or are indirectly implicated in the form and structure.

Despite its etymological similarity, Stripped Classicism is sometimes distinguished from “Starved Classicism”, the latter “displaying little feeling for rules, proportions, details, and finesse, and lacking all verve and élan”. At other times the terms “stripped” and “starved” are used interchangeably.

Description and history
Though the term is usually reserved for the more thorough style that forms part of 20th-century rational architecture, characteristics of Stripped Classicism are embodied in works of some progressive late 18th- and early 19th-century neoclassical architects, such as Étienne-Louis Boullée, Claude Nicolas Ledoux, Friedrich Gilly, Peter Speeth, Sir John Soane and Karl Friedrich Schinkel.

Between the World Wars, a stripped-down classicism became the de facto standard for many monumental and institutional governmental buildings all over the world. Governments used this architectural méthode to straddle modernism and classicism, an ideal political response to a modernizing world. In part, this movement was said to have origins in the need to save money in governmental works by eschewing the expense of hand-worked classical detail.

In Europe, examples as early as the German embassy in Russia, designed by Peter Behrens and completed in 1912, “established models for the classical purity aspired to by high modernists like Mies van der Rohe but also for the oversized, Stripped Classicism of Hitler’s, Stalin’s and Ulbricht’s architects and perhaps of American, British and French official buildings in the 1930s as well”. The style later found adherents in the Fascist regimes of Germany and Italy as well as in the Soviet Union during Stalin’s regime. Albert Speer’s Zeppelinfeld and other parts of the Nazi party rally grounds complex outside Nuremberg were perhaps the most famous examples in Germany, using classical elements such as columns and altars alongside modern technology such as spotlights. The Casa del Fascio in Como has also been aligned with the movement. In the USSR some of the proposals for the unbuilt Palace of the Soviets also had characteristics of the style.

Among American architects, the work of Paul Philippe Cret exemplifies the style. His Château-Thierry American Monument built in 1928 has been identified as an early example. Among his other works identified with the style are the exterior of the 1933 Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. (though not the Tudor Revival library interior), the 1937 University of Texas at Austin’s Main Tower, the 1937 Federal Reserve Building in Washington, D.C. and the 1939 Bethesda Naval Hospital tower.

It is sometimes evident in buildings that were constructed by the Works Projects Administration during the Great Depression, albeit with a mix of Art Deco architecture or its elements. Related styles have been described as PWA Moderne and Greco Deco.

The movement was widespread, and transcended national boundaries. Architects who at least notably experimented in Stripped Classicism included John James Burnet, Giorgio Grassi, Léon Krier, Aldo Rossi, Albert Speer, Robert A. M. Stern and Paul Troost.

Despite its popularity with totalitarian regimes, it has been adapted by many English-speaking democratic governments, including during the New Deal in the United States. In any event, presumed “fascist” underpinnings have hampered acceptance into mainstream architectural thought. There is no evidence that architects who favored this style had a particular right-wing political disposition. Nevertheless, both Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini were fans. On the other hand, Stripped Classicism was favored by Joseph Stalin and various regional Communist regimes.

After the fall of the Third Reich and end of World War II, the style fell out of favor. However, it was somewhat revived in designs in the 1960s. Included was Philip Johnson’s New York Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, evidencing “a revival in the Stripped Classical style”. Likewise, Canberra, Australia saw the Law Courts of the ACT (1961) and the National Library of Australia (1968) resurrect grand Stripped Classical designs. See Australian non-residential architectural styles.

Notable examples

Name Image Location Architect(s) Year completed Notes
Provisional Parliament House Old Parliament House Canberra Australia 01.jpg Canberra, Australia John Smith Murdoch 1927
Parliament House Parliament building Finland.jpg Helsinki, Finland J. S. Sirén 1931
William R. Cotter Federal Building William Cotter Federal Building, Hartford, CT.jpg Hartford, Connecticut, U.S. Malmfeldt, Adams & Prentice 1931
Frist Center for the Visual Arts Frist Center for the Visual Arts.jpg Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. Marr & Holman 1932
Folger Shakespeare Library Folger Shakespeare Library DC.JPG Washington, D.C., U.S. Paul Philippe Cret 1933 John Gregory, architectural sculpture; Brenda Putnam, statue of Puck
Eccles Building US Federal Reserve Eccles Building 1937.jpg Washington, D.C., U.S. Paul Philippe Cret 1937 Sidney Waugh, architectural sculpture; Samuel Yellin, wrought iron; Ezra Winter, murals
San Francisco Mint San Francisco Mint 2007.jpg San Francisco, California, U.S. Gilbert Stanley Underwood 1937
Tennessee Supreme Court Building Tennessee Supreme Court building Nashville TN 2013-07-20 003.jpg Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. Marr & Holman 1937
Virginia Department of Highways Building VirginiaDepartmentofHighwaysBuilding.JPG Richmond, Virginia, U.S. Carneal, Johnston & Wright 1937
Meštrović Pavilion ZagrebMestrovicevPaviljon.jpg Zagreb, Croatia Ivan Meštrović 1938
Oregon State Capitol Oregon State Capitol building.jpg Salem, Oregon, U.S. Francis Keally and Trowbridge & Livingston 1938 Leo Friedlander and Ulric Ellerhusen, architectural sculpture; Frank Henry Schwarz and Barry Faulkner, murals
Patrick Henry Building Patrick Henry Building Richmond.JPG Richmond, Virginia, U.S. Carneal, Johnston and Wright 1938
Houston City Hall Houston City Hall 2007.jpg Houston, Texas, U.S. Joseph Finger 1939
Harry S Truman Building (particularly the War Department Building) of the United States Department of State United States Department of State headquarters.jpg Washington, D.C., U.S. Underwood & Foster 1939
Justice Building NC Supreme Court.JPG Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S. Northrup & O’Brien 1940
Waltham Forest Town Hall Walthamstow Town Hall 20 Apr 2006.jpg London Borough of Waltham Forest, England Philip Hepworth 1941
Dauphin County Courthouse Dauphin County Courthouse.jpg Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, U.S. Lawrie and Green 1942
Lisner Auditorium Lisner Auditorium - northwest corner.JPG Washington, D.C., U.S. Faulkner and Kingsbury 1943
Anıtkabir Anıtkabir, Ankara.jpg Ankara, Turkey Emin Halid Onat and Ahmet Orhan Arda 1953 Mausoleum of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.
Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building Lorenzo de Zavala State Archives and Library Building.JPG Austin, Texas, U.S. Adams and Adams 1959
Çanakkale Martyrs’ Memorial Canakkalesehitleriabidesi.jpg Gallipoli, Turkey Feridun Kip, Doğan Erginbaş and İsmail Utkular 1960 War memorial for the Battle of Gallipoli
National Museum of American History National Museum of American History 1.jpg Washington, D.C., U.S. James Kellum Smith 1964
National Library of Australia National Library of Australia (2192098809).jpg Canberra, A.C.T


Walter Bunning, in association with T.E. O’Mahoney 1968 “… modern derivation in the spirit of ancient Greco-Roman architecture. It is unequivocally a twentieth century building, in the architectural style that is called Late Twentieth Century Stripped Classical”.

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