EGYPTIAN REVIVAL

This architectural and decorative arts style is among the most easily identifiable of all
revivalist styles. Early Egyptian architecture has been studied, admired, and emulated
throughout time. The arch was used in ancient Egypt for what is believed to be the first
time, and the ancient Greeks considered Egypt the source of all civilizations. During the
Renaissance, Egyptian motifs were incorporated into the decorative arts, and many
architectural and decorative traditions to follow were influenced by Egyptian ornament.
For centuries, Egypt was inaccessible to foreigners because of its relative isolation and
strict religious and political restrictions. Early examples of the style were fanciful and
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highly interpretive, with no effort made for accuracy until the 19th century, when
archaeological discoveries in Egypt captured the popular imagination. In 1798, Napoleon
initiated a military campaign into Egypt and sent numerous scholars and researchers to
excavate archaeological sites, resulting in a 22-volume treatise, Des cription de l’ Egypte (1829), a text that
would later become a major source of inspiration for designers. In addition, in 1799, the
Rosetta Stone, a basalt slab covered in hieroglyphics, was discovered by Napoleon’s
troops. Rubbings of the stone were made and sent to several European scholars, foremost
of whom was Jean Francois Champollion, who deciphered the hieroglyphics and
identified the Greek and demotic scripts inscribed on the stone. These events fueled a
further fascination with the Egyptian style, but a pervasive romantic interpretation of
these findings diluted its historically accurate application.
The Egyptian Revival style is expressed primarily in two ways—as a specific massing
with corresponding structural elements that evoke the architecture of ancient Egypt and
as decorative ornament that is applied to a conventional building. In the case of
architectural massing, each example of Egyptian Revival is configured with distinctive,
exotic features. Frequently, buildings in this style suggest the architecture of dynastic
Egypt in multiple ways—with battered (slanted) walls; columns that resemble bundles of
bound stalks with lotus, papyrus bud, or flowering blossom capitals; tall window frames
that mimic the battered walls and; an overall massing effect with heavy, thick walls and
strong, simple geometric volumes. In addition, an Egyptian Revival structure may include
an Egyptian gorge or cavetto cornice—a partially rounded, outwardly concave molding at
the roofline. Another common device is a pylon, a pair of towers with battered walls that
flank an entrance and is reminiscent of the monumental gateway into an ancient temple.
In terms of applied ornament, the Egyptian designs are incised or affixed, usually to the
surface of a fairly conventional building. The affixed elements are often in the medium of
terra-cotta. One of the most commonly used symbols is the winged sun disk flanked by
serpents, which represents the sun goddess joining the sun god Ra in his journey across
the sky. The disk symbolizes eternity, the wings serve as the spirit, and the serpents
represent wisdom. Another popular icon is the scarab beetle, which represents the sun
god and symbolizes life eternal.
There are limited examples of the Egyptian Revival style in Europe, but it
is a phenomenon found primarily in the United States, in cities both large
and small. The style became popular during the 1830s, the 1850s, the end
of the 19th century, and the 1930s, during the Art Deco era. During the
19th century, architects in the United States, most of whom had received
classical training in Europe, were attempting to assimilate the
conventional and classically academic architecture of Europe to the
different geography and available building materials of the country. It was
a time of great experimentation in the design and adaptation of popular
Greek Revival, neoclassical, and Renaissance styles. However, because
Egyptian architecture was not completely embraced by the traditional
vocabulary of academic and Beaux Arts architects, it remained a stylistic
experiment that was not popularized by a definitive school of American
architects. Nonetheless, architectural structures including jails,
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monuments, cemetery structures, theaters, churches, and Masonic lodges
were built in this style, including Robert Mills’s Washington Monument
(Washington, D.C., 1833); Thomas U.Walter’s Debtors’ Apartments (built
1835, demolished 1968) at Moyamensing Prison in Philadelphia;
H.H.Richardson’s Ames Monument (1882), located near Laramie,
Wyoming; and Thomas

Paul Gerhardt’s Marmon Hupmobile
Auto showroom, Chicago (1910)


B.Stewart’s Medical College of Virginia (Richmond, 1845). Daniel Burnham and John
Root’s Monadnock Building (1891) in Chicago is a remarkable 16-story office structure
built of traditional brick and mortar that evokes ancient Egyptian architectural forms in
its severe simplicity. It is a tall, narrow tower, devoid of all traditional ornament, that an
architectural critic once likened to a chimney.
American Masonic lodges, in particular, have had an interesting relationship with the
Egyptian Revival style, and many well-known architects were Masons. The Egyptian
Hall of the Masonic Temple (1873) in Philadelphia by architect James Windrim, a
heavily embellished, large, high-ceilinged room, and the Masonic Temple (1912) in
Charlotte, North Carolina, by architects Hooks and Rogers, are two examples. The
theatrical aspects of this style provided a backdrop for the secret rites and clandestine
activities for which the Masons are known.
In the 20th century, the Egyptian Revival style reached its zenith in the Art Deco era
of the 1930s. The development of polychromatic terra-cotta as a decorative architectural
medium and Art Deco’s abstract geometric design often manifested in quasi-Egyptian
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ornament. The style was popular in the design of theaters and commercial buildings. The
best-known example of this type is the fully restored Egyptian (Ada) Theater (1927) in
Boise, Idaho, by architects Tourtelotte and Hummel. A good example of a commercial
application is the Reebie Storage and Moving Company headquarters (1923) in Chicago
by architect George Kingsley—an otherwise conventional building profusely ornamented
both inside and out with Egyptian design. Another example is Paul Gerhardt’s Marmon
Hupmobile Auto showroom (1910) in Chicago, an unexpectedly pleasing storefront with
a heavily embellished temple facade. A submission to the Tribune Tower Competition of
1923 by Alfred Fellheimer and Stewart Wagner, architects from New York, is a large
obelisk with clear Egyptoid references. Also noteworthy is the use of the lotus blossom in
a stylized Art Deco pattern incised above some of the Chrysler Building’s elevator cab
doors.
After the 1930s, very few structures were built in the Egyptian Revival style until the
1970s, when it resurfaced in the redesign of the entrance to the Louvre (Paris, 1970–77)
by I.M.Pei, in which a prominent feature is a pyramid structure. Also notable is the
design of the Luxor Casino and Hotel (1993) in Las Vegas by architect Vernon Simpson.
This massive casino/recreation complex incorporates a pyramid, a sphinx, and Egyptian
interior decor, bridging the distinction between revivalism and theme-based novelty that
has often typified this stylistic form.

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