Second Empire (architecture): Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The canonical example of Second Empire style is the Opéra Garnier, in which Neo-Baroque meets Neo-Renaissance.

Second Empire is an architectural style, reaching its zenith between 1865 and 1880, and so named for the "French" elements in vogue during the era of the Second French Empire. In France, a significant variation is sometimes called the Napoleon III style. While a distinct style unto itself, some Second Empire styling cues, such as quoins, have an indirect relationship to the styles previously in vogue, Gothic Revival and Italianate eras.

In the United States, the Second Empire style usually combined a rectangular tower, or similar element, with a steep, but short, mansard roof; the roof being the most noteworthy link to the style's French roots. This tower element could be of equal height as the highest floor, or could exceed the height of the rest of the structure by a storey or two. The mansard roof crest was often topped with an iron trim, sometimes referred to as "cresting". In some cases, lightning rods were integrated into the cresting design, making the feature useful beyond its decorative features. The exterior style could be expressed in either wood, brick or stone. More elaborate examples frequently featured paired columns as well as sculpted details around the doors, windows and dormers. The purpose of the ornamentation was to make the structure appear imposing, grand and expensive.

Floor plans for Second Empire residences could either be symmetrical, with the tower (or tower-like element) in the center, or asymmetrical, with the tower or tower-like element to one side. In Australia, especially Melbourne this style became popular during the boom years of the 1880s. Many grand buildings exist today, particularly many of Melbourne's fine town halls.

The style also found its way into commercial structures, and was often used when designing state institutions. Several psychiatric hospitals proved the style's adaptability to their size and functions. Prior to the construction of The Pentagon in the 1940s, the Second Empire–style Ohio State Asylum for the Insane in Columbus, Ohio was reported to be the largest building under one roof in the U.S., though the title may actually belong to Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, another Kirkbride Second Empire asylum.

Second Empire was succeeded by the Queen Anne Style era, and its sub-styles, which enjoyed great popularity until the rise of the "Revival Era" in American architecture just before the end of the 19th century.

Leland M. Roth [see references] refers to the style as "Second Empire Baroque." Mullett-Smith [see references] calls it the "Second Empire or General Grant style" due to its popularity in building government buildings during the Grant administration.

The architect H.H. Richardson designed several of his early residences in the style, "evidence [Ochsner, see references] of his French schooling." These projects include the Crowninshield House, Boston Massachusetts, 1868, the H.H. Richardson House, Staten Island, New York, 1868 and the Dorsheimer House, Buffalo, New York, 1868.

In regard to the use of the Second Empire style for residences, the McAlesters [see references] divided the style into five subtypes:

  • Simple mansard roof – about 20 %
  • Centered wing or gable
  • Asymmetrical – about 20 %
  • Towered – about 30 %
  • Town house


Notable Second Empire buildings




Montreal City Hall, original design. Rebuilt after 1922 fire in the Beaux-Arts style.

In Canada, Second Empire became the choice of the new Dominion government in the 1870s and 1880s for numerous public buildings and the provinces followed suit.

United States

Frank Jones Mansion, Portsmouth, New Hampshire



Hotel Windsor, Melbourne


  • Estação de Porto S. Bento 1916. Porto, Portugal


Buenos Aires Central Post office



  • McAlester, Virginia & Lee, A Field Guide to American Houses, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1986
  • McCue, George and Frank Peters, A Guide to the Architecture of St. Louis, University of Missouri Press, Columbia, Missouri, 1989
  • Ochsner, Jeffrey Karl, H.H. Richardson:Complete Architectural Works, MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1984
  • Roth, Leland M., A Concise History of American Architecture, Harper & Row, New York, 1980
  • Scott, Pamela and Antoinette J. Lee, Buildings of the District of Columbia, Oxford University Press, New York, 1991
  • Smith, D. Mullett, A.B. Mullett: His Relevance in American Architecture and Historic Preservation, Mullett-Smith Press, Washington, D.C., 1990
  • Stern, Mellins and Fishman, New York 1880: Architecture and Urbanism in the Gilded Age. The Monacelli Press, New York,1999
  • Whiffen, Marccus, American Architecture Since 1780, The M.I.T. Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1977


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