Monday, February 18, 2013

Greek Architecture

By Jessica Benz
     The study of Greek architecture started around the 18th century, but much more information has been brought to light over the topic in the past 30 years (Barletta 611). This was mainly due to the fact “buildings, unlike sculptures and vases, cannot easily be assembled and displayed in public or private collections” (Winter 105). With the increased abilities to travel to the ruins of these old monuments, scholars have been able to obtain much more information than in past times. The expansion of archaeology in the 19th century also had a major impact on this study (Barletta 615).
     So what information were scholars able to discover from these massive buildings? Greek communities appeared to be built in a precise, organized fashion, incorporating group design into the construction of each building. According to Robert Scranton from The Art Bulletin, “One of the most important effects of an architectural design is that produced by a building in its relation to its setting, or to other buildings associated with it” (247). The Greeks knew exactly how to implement this technique of group design, making their creations appealing to the eye. Greek architecture mainly consisted of houses, temples, stoas, miscellaneous structures, statues, terraces, and walls (Scranton 249). Some of the other important buildings in Greek architecture included theaters and stadiums. Palaces were not common during the Classical times (Sakoulas).
     Since the temples are usually what people think of when discussing Greek architecture, we should comment on the aspects that make up these buildings. Unlike the houses developed during this time period, temples were built so no other buildings could be connected to them. Each side of the building was considered significant and constructed to look like it could be the front “grand” side of the building. These temples were supposed to be recognized as a free space, and this architectural aspect made this idea extremely easy to envision when looking at the building. The columns, or colonnades, around the building create a transition space between the exterior and interior cella (Scranton 249). Scranton stated in his article, “The pattern of shadows cast by the columns against the wall emphasize the enclosure of the interior solid by a surrounding element whose volume has a sense of interpretation with the exterior space” (249). This shows the spatial relationship awareness the Greeks succeeded in portraying throughout their communities and buildings.
     Unlike the temples, many of the other buildings, such as the houses, were built right next to one another almost as if they were attached. These buildings had dominant entrances, creating a single focus on the building (Scranton 249).  Stoas consisted of a long wall with a row of columns in front of it, with the space in between being covered by a roof. Statues were also an important architectural aspect to Greek communities. The statues were normally placed in rows, facing a particular direction to define a specific line running through the area (Scranton 250). Terraces were used in the hilly lands, consisting of two retaining walls and a surface. Even these simple terraces were architecturally exact and precise.
     When thinking about the time period in which these magnificent buildings would have been constructed, the question of how these people actually assembled these buildings comes to mind. It is believed the Greeks used compound pulley systems and earth ramps to build these structures. U-shaped holes could be cut into blocks and used to position the blocks next to each other snuggly. J. J. Coulton of The Journal of Hellenic Studies stated, “A temporary ramp of earth and mud-brick was built against the wall under construction, its height being raised as work progressed, and the stone blocks were hauled up the ramp on rollers and then lowered into position” (11).
     Overall, I found much more information than I could ever imagine trying to fit into a post of this size. The fact that civilizations this long ago were so creative and precise in their buildings blew me away. After doing this research over Greek architecture, I have a new appreciation for even the smallest details that can be found within these ancient buildings. Every single aspect of their architecture had a purpose to the Greeks, and even more information about these details is being discovered today.


Above is a photo of the Parthenon, a Greek temple from 447 BC dedicated to the goddess Athena.


Works Cited

Barletta, Barbara A. “Greek Architecture”. American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 115, No. 4 (2011): 611-640. Web. 13 Feb. 2013. <>

Coulton, J. J. “Lifting in Early Greek Architecture”. The Journal of Hellenic Studies, Vol. 94 (1974): 1-19. Web. 13 Feb. 2013. <>

Sakoulas, Thomas. “Greek Architecture”. 13 Feb. 2013. <>

Scranton, Robert. “Group Design in Greek Architecture”. The Art Bulletin, Vol. 31, No. 4 (1949): 247-268. Web. 13 Feb. 2013. <>

Swayne, Steve. The Parthenon Athens. Photograph. (1978). Wikipedia. 17 Feb. 2013. <>

Winter, Frederick E. “The Study of Greek Architecture”. American Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 88, No. 2 (1984): 103-106. Web. 13 Feb. 2013. <>

1 comment:

  1. I found it really interesting that the temples were constructed so nothing could be built around the building. I think this makes a curious image as to how proactive the Greeks were. I believe this is why temples were constructed in this manner. Greeks were thinking ahead to the people who would construct buildings after them. By creating a building this way, the people to come after Greeks would have to respect the qualities of the buildings. Even the Greeks who followed in later generations would find construction near these temples to be difficult. I think the Greeks of this time realized later peoples may be different,and this could have contributed to the structure planning of these temples.