Monday, March 11, 2013

Roman Architecture

Joel Sterling
Honors 201

The time period associated with popular Roman Architecture was during the Pax Romana period; this was when Rome was in peace and flourished for over 200 years.  “It is a commonly received opinion that the Romans derived the most of their art, and especially their knowledge of architecture, from Greece” (New York Times, 1).   This statement, published in 1875, is still a revered statement today because of the obvious relationship seen between the ways Greek and Etruscan architecture is distributed throughout Roman building techne and tectonics.  The Romans took previous architectural ideas and created their own architectural details in which they are remembered for today. 
“It was from the Etruscans that the Romans derived their knowledge of the arch” (New York Times, 1).  From this basic understanding of the arch the Romans were then able to create the vault and dome.  “With these elements the Romans could enclose large areas with modestly sized stones cut carefully to shape” (Fazio, 108).  This is seen in their most popular architecture, such as the Pantheon, the Pont Du Gard Aqueducts, and the Colosseum, “Still on of the world’s largest buildings in sheer mass” (Strickland, 18).  It is from this basic understanding of corbeling stones or masonry units on top of one another that the Romans were able to build such massive long span structures.  There is still debate on who was the first to come up with corbeling modular stones, but what matters is that the Romans were the first to master the technique, and create the well-known Roman Arch – as diagramed in the image below.
            On the topic of materials Romans are considered the masters of bricks, this is because of the amount of brick seen in Roman structures, creating a new modular size brick which took spans better because it was longer horizontally, but also because it was more material it could sustain more stress.  However, “The weight of the masonry in vaulted construction pushes not only downward but also outward on the supports on which it rest” (Fazio, 108).  In response to this issue Romans began having thicker load bearing walls.  And eventually the span to wall thickness ratio began to get outrageous cost wise.  From this inefficiency the Romans create this clever material called cement, which is used still today as a material within concrete.  “What the Romans discovered was that when cement was mixed with lime, rubble, and water, the mixture reacts chemically and hardens to a stone-like consistency, even if under water” (Fazio, 110).  The cement used there was similar to volcanic ash, and was named pozzolana because it was located near Pozzuoli.  This material was used regularly from then on and, “…was implemented with the creation of the Pantheon” (Senseney, 176).  “…the development of concrete architecture was, and was for some time to remain, essentially a domestic phenomenon”  (Ward-Perkins, 98).  
           This is what made the Romans so influential in architecture, their understanding of stone based materials, which has them placed in the architectural history books.  We still use both brick and concrete to this day and with it create even larger structures because of our further understanding of the technique and way materials interact with one another.  Without the Roman’s experimentation, and mimicry of older cultures, we may not have our own form of architecture as we know it today.

Works Cited:

Fazio, Michael, Marian Moffett, and Lawrence Wodehouse.  Buildings across Time.  London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd, 2009.
“Roman Architecture.”  The New York Times (New York City, NY) 24 Jan. 1875: 1.
Senseney, John.  The Art of Building in the Classical World.  Cambridge:  Campbridge University Press, 2011.
Strickland, Carol.  The Annotated Mona Lisa.  Kansas City: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2007.
Ward-Perkins, J.  Roman Imperial Architecture. Middlesex:  Butler and Tanner Ltd, 1970.

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