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Second Empire architecture

Mairie de Tarbes (Hautes-Pyrénées, France, An example of French Second Empire architecture

Second Empire is an architectural style, most popular between 1865 and 1880, and so named for the architectural elements in vogue during the era of the Second French Empire. As the Second Empire style evolved from its 17th century Renaissance foundations, it acquired an eclectic mix of earlier European styles, most notably the Baroque often combined with mansard roofs and low, square based domes.[1]

The style quickly spread and evolved as Baroque Revival architecture throughout Europe and across the Atlantic. Its suitability for super-scaling allowed it to be widely used in the design of municipal and corporate buildings. In the USA, where one of the leading architects working in the style was Alfred B. Mullett, buildings in the style were often closer to their 17th-century roots than examples of the style found in Europe.[2]


  • In France 1
  • In the United States 2
  • Notable buildings 3
    • United States 3.1
    • United Kingdom 3.2
    • Canada 3.3
    • Australia 3.4
    • Argentina 3.5
    • Belgium 3.6
    • Turkey (Ottoman Empire) 3.7
  • Notes 4
  • References 5

In France

Élysée Palace garden façade.

In the United States

Alfred B. Mullett's former State, War and Navy Building, Washington, D.C., begun during the Grant administration and built between 1871 and 1888.

In the United States, the Empire style frequently combined a rectangular tower, or similar element, with a steep mansard roof, the roof being the most noteworthy link to the style's French roots. This tower element could be of equal height to the highest floor, or could exceed the height of the rest of the structure by a story 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. Although still intact in some examples, this original cresting has often deteriorated and been removed. 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.

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. Virginia and Lee McAlester divided the style into five subtypes:[3]

  • Simple mansard roof – about 20%
  • Centered wing or gable (with bays jutting out at either end)
  • Asymmetrical – about 20%
  • Central tower (incorporating a clock) – about 30%
  • Town house

The architect H.H. Richardson designed several of his early residences in the style, "evidence of his French schooling".[4] These projects include the Crowninshield House (1868) in Boston Massachusetts, the H. H. Richardson House (1868) in Staten Island, New York, and the William Dorsheimer House (1868) in Buffalo, New York.

Leland M. Roth refers to the style as "Second Empire Baroque."[5] Mullett-Smith terms it the "Second Empire or General Grant style" due to its popularity in designing government buildings during the Grant administration.[6]

The style was also used for 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 during 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 revival of the Queen Anne Style and its sub-styles, which enjoyed great popularity until the beginning of the "Revival Era" in American architecture just before the end of the 19th century, popularized by the architecture at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893.

Notable buildings

United States

United Kingdom


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.


In Australia, and especially in Melbourne, this style became popular during the boom years of the 1880s. Many grand buildings exist today, particularly many of Melbourne's town halls.



Turkey (Ottoman Empire)


  1. ^ Copplestone, p. 310.
  2. ^ Copplestone, p. 311.
  3. ^ McAlester, .
  4. ^ Ochsner, .
  5. ^ Roth, .
  6. ^ Mullett-Smith, .
  7. ^ , May 1996.The Atlantic Monthly by Paul Bochner. Someplace Like Home: An eerily familiar house rises in many American landscapes


  • Copplestone, Trewin (1963). World Architecture. Hamlyn.
  • 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, Marcus, American Architecture Since 1780, The M.I.T. Press, Cambridge Massachusetts, 1977
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