Greek and Roman Architecture, Research Paper Example

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Words: 794

Research Paper

Introduction

No greater testament to the excellence of ancient Greek and Roman architecture exists than the inescapable fact that these designs have been copied and constructed throughout history, and to the present day.  The two cultures, linking the sensibilities of art to the pragmatic concerns of building, developed techniques and forms unsurpassed in terms of purity of line, innovative skill, and aesthetic pleasure.   While the Greeks predated the Romans in architecture, the latter society also contributed to the legendary forms, and eventually produced design combining the best elements of both.

Research and Assessment

It is not disputed that the Greeks achieved refinements in architecture never before seen in the Western world, and largely unmatched today.  At the same time, this accurate view has been corrupted by the widespread idea that the Romans essentially stole their architecture from the Greeks, adding only minor variations.  The reality is different; as Rome grew into an immense political power, so too did it develop cultural interests on a par with Grecian design and aesthetic intentions.  The Greeks certainly created masterpieces, such as the Parthenon in the 5th century BCE, which established the Doric style as a model of perfection.  A specific Greek contribution was the shape of the Doric columns themselves, bulging in the middle and tapering towards the ends, which assisted in weight-bearing and added to the harmony of the entire model.  That harmony was, in fact, the greatest development of the Greek architects, for it is established that each temple or treasury was conceived both on basic, mathematical principles and with a dominant sense of the aesthetic value (Barletta 618).  Moreover, this was art as function, and the aesthetic concerns went to the movement of the body within the building as well as to its attractive lines viewed from a distance.  To that end, Greeks designed with little attention to what would be blueprints today: “Architects could describe the essential features of their buildings in words and only needed visual representations, such as drawings or models, for details” (Barletta  629).

This excellence was, of course, both noted and desired by Rome.  An acquisitive empire, the state eagerly seized the best of the Greek design models: “Augustus and other Romans, including the Senate, clearly drew from buildings and monuments in the city of  Athens” (Huber 215).  It was also imperative to so powerful a state that it imprint its own aesthetics on the field, and this took the form of altering traditional, Greek decorations and refinements.  For example, the Doric frieze, considered virtually sacred to the Greeks, was often dismissed by the Romans.  There were also changes representing more structural concerns.  Roman Emperor Hadrian, for instance, initiated design orders in which the building’s interior was the main priority, while the classic Greek model strove for an integrated, indoor-outdoor style   The Romans also experimented with proportion in a way that was decidedly anti-Greek, because the needs of the projects often demanded compromise; perfection of proportion, so crucial to the Greeks, was sacrificed for visual grandeur (George  208).  At the same time, the sheer size and reach of the Roman Empire allowed for building to flourish in ways the Greeks could not begin to realize, at least partially because other cultural influences became infused with the Roman as the empire expanded .  This is, in fact, a critical element in any examination of Greek and Roman architecture.  The Greek culture was largely independent to itself, but what was “Roman” actually took on a multicultural meaning, so Roman embellishment in architecture reflected even Eastern and North African influences.

Conclusion

That Rome would alter classical Greek forms in design was inevitable, just as it was inevitable that Roman architects would borrow extensively from the stunning work of the Greeks.  The former would be altered by Roman ornamentation, and even in structural emphais, but the greater reality is that the classic forms devised by the Greeks were as appreciated by the Romans as they are by modern architects.  Buildings were designed less as purely practical spaces and more as works of art, enabling people to work, worship, and move within structures in a way aesthetically satisfying to the senses.  This is then a Roman/Greek tradition clearly never out of date, and adopted in design today.

Works Cited

Barletta, Barbara A.  “State of the Discipline: Greek Architecture.”  American Journal of Archaelogy,  115. 4  (2011): 611-640.  Web. Retrieved from llbc.edu, Jstor.  7 July, 2012.

George, Michele.  “Principles of Roman Architecture.” Phoenix 56.1 (2002): 207-9.  Web. Retrieved from llbc.edu, ProQuest Research Library. 7 July, 2012.

Huber, Melissa.  “Rome Becoming Athens, Athens Becoming Rome: Building Cultural Reciprocity in the Augustan Period.”  Chrestomathy: Annual Review of Undergraduate Research, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, School of Languages, Cultures, and World Affairs, College of Charleston  10. (2011): 204-219.  Web. Retrieved from llbc.edu,  Jstor.  7 July, 2012.

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