On this Independence Day July 4, 2018 I thought I would look back at several significant buildings that represented the new United States and the timeless design principles that our founding fathers used to create these enduring symbols of our Independence.

In 1776 the members of the Continental Congress issued the Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies. After the American Revolutionary War, the 1783 Treaty of Paris recognized the existence of the new republic, the United States of America. The Georgian influences marked the buildings constructed during this time. As public and commercial needs grew in parallel with the territorial extension the buildings of these new federal and business institutions used the classic vocabulary of columns, domes and pediments, in reference to ancient Rome and Greece, which symbolize the democracy of the newfound nation.  These design elements were part of a new found optimism and hope of a free people. 

The Federal Style


Massachusetts State House, 1795–1798)           Hamilton HallSalem, Massachusetts 1805.



Thomas Jefferson who was the third president of the United States, was a scholar in many domains, including architecture. Having journeyed several times in Europe, he hoped to apply the formal rules of palladianism and of antiquity in public and private architecture and master planning. Roman rotundas inspired by the Pantheon of Rome were combined to create a uniformity thanks to the use of brick and wood painted white. Jefferson was inspired by the many Roman buildings and chose the Ionic order for its columns. A man of the Age of Enlightenment, Thomas Jefferson had participated in the emancipation of New World architecture by expressing his vision of an art-form in service of democracy. He contributed to developing the Federal style in his country by combining European Neoclassical architecture and American democracy.

Thomas Jefferson also designed the buildings for his plantation Monticello, near Charlottesville, Virginia. Monticello is a tribute to the Neo Palladian style, modeled on the Hôtel de Salm in Paris, that Jefferson saw while the ambassador to France. Work on Monticello commenced in 1768 and modifications continued until 1809.


Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia 1778-1809          Independence Hall, Pedophilia, PA

Timeless Design Then and Now

Even though modern architects don’t commonly discuss or apply centuries old design principles the same design principles we see in these timeless buildings can be applied in the 21st century. Scale, rhythm, balance, order, contrast, proportion are familiar, comfortable and steadfast concepts that give people a strong sense of place and time. Those ideals are as important on modern buildings as they were in 1776.   

It seems fitting that on this day of Independence we remember some of the significant buildings and design principles that shaped our countries beginning and remember that those buildings contain design principles that are enduring symbols the  new republic we now call the United States of America. 

Happy 4th of July!

Darrell L. McAllister, NCARB is the Principal Architect at McAllister and Associates Architects, PLLC. Oklahoma City, OK  He can be reached by email at [email protected].