Before the early 18th century only Roman classical architecture had been generally known. However, the discoveries at Herculaneum and Pompeii (1738–48), and the analyses of the buildings of Greece, especially Athens, by LeRoy, and James ‘Athenian’ Stuart and Nicholas Revett in the 1750s and ‘60s, extended architecture's formal vocabulary. Architects began advocating buildings based on Greco-Roman models. Stuart himself was a keen supporter of Wedgwood, utilizing his products in designs and nominating Josiah for his Fellowship to the Royal Society in 1783.

Scottish architect and designer Robert Adam was predominant in introducing the neoclassical style to Great Britain. The Adam style, as it became known, adopted the motifs of antiquity even if it remained somewhat rococo in its emphasis on surface ornamentation and refinement of scale. Adam envisaged his designs as a whole, creating interiors and furnishings befitting a classical building, using colour and pattern reminiscent of the newly discovered Roman wall paintings. Manufacturers such as Josiah Wedgwood and Matthew Boulton were quick to realize the commercial opportunities that Adam’s designs offered by creating wares suited to these neo-classical interiors.

The neo-classical approach to urban design was ambitious and idealistic, with architects envisaging the city as a harmonious, visually balanced environment. At the Adelphi in London, Robert Adam with his brother John created a single complex of buildings, a group of austere houses that were almost devoid of decoration.

This project was challenged eight years later by the Adams' great rival William Chambers, who embarked on the construction of his great public work, Somerset House, with its massive columns and an imposing archway running parallel to the River Thames. Chambers, too, was a friend of Josiah Wedgwood, providing advice and design ideas.





A building by Robert Adam, demonstrating neo-classical features

A building by Robert Adam, demonstrating neo-classical features