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What Is Neotraditional Architecture?


The Shaw's Supermarkets building in Windham, NH

The Shaw's Supermarkets building in Windham, NH is an example of Neotraditional architecture. It has a complicated roofline with a decorative cupola and weather vane.

Photo (cc) the Northern New England Chapter of the American Planning Association / Flickr

Neotraditional (or Neo-traditional) means New Traditional. Neotraditional architecture is contemporary architecture that borrows from the past. Neotraditional buildings are constructed using modern materials like vinyl and mock-brick, but the building design is inspired by historic styles.

Neotraditional architecture does not copy historic architecture. Instead, Neotraditional buildings merely suggest the past, using decorative details to add a nostaligic aura to an otherwise modern-day structure. Historic features like shutters and weather vanes are ornamental and serve no practical function.

Neotraditional Architecture and New Urbanism

The term Neotraditional is associated with the New Urbanist movement known as Traditional Neighborhood Development. Traditional Neighborhoods by New Urbanist designers often resemble historic villages with homes and shops clustered together along quaint, tree-lined streets. See: Celebration, Florida

Neotraditional Architecture and American House Styles

Since the 1960s, most new homes constructed in the United States have been Neotraditional in their design. Builders incorporate details from a variety of historic traditions, creating houses that might be called Neocolonial, Neo-Victorian, Neo-Mediterranean, or, simply, Neoeclectic.

Neotraditional Architecture and Commercial Buildings

Neotraditional design is often used for modern-day commercial architecture. Look for the pseudo-historic details in these chain stores and restaurants:
  • Applebee's Restaurant
  • Cracker Barrel Old Country Store
  • T.G.I. Friday's
  • Uno Chicago Grill

Neotraditional Architecture and Walt Disney

Neotraditional architecture is fanciful. It strives to evoke warm memories of a fairy tale past. It's no wonder, then, theme parks such as Main Street in Disney World are lined with Neotraditional buildings. See: Disney Architects
Also Known As:

Although there are distinctions, a Neotraditional (or Neo-traditional) building may also be called:


Here are just a few details you might find on a Neotraditional building:

  • Complicated roof with several gables or parapets
  • Towers, cupolas, and weather vanes
  • Awnings
  • Mock shutters
  • Ornamental brackets
  • Half-timbering
  • Stained glass windows
  • Palladian windows, arched windows, and round windows
  • Embossed tin ceilings
  • Victorian lampposts

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