In my recent post Connecting Architecture to History, I described how we chose to include a regular study of Architecture in our homeschool. Because we were studying Classical Greece, when I decided to pursue this idea, we started with columns!
We learned that most Classical columns were actually in sections that were pegged through a center hole and then stacked and dry fit or mortared together. This helped the columns withstand lateral forces, which in a mountainous region prone to earthquakes, makes the difference between a roof that stands and a roof that falls!
We studied the three primary styles of columns Doric, Ionic and Corinthian, and GraceNotes sketched each one. Used largely for temples, Doric columns began on the Greek mainland, Ionic columns developed largely in Greek colonies in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), and the Corinthian style was a more decorative, Roman embellishment.
In antiquity, the columns were part of a rigidly followed system, or order, that involved proportion of the height of the column to the diameter of the column, the position of the lintel (the support beam above the columns) and the pediment. The pediment is the low-pitched triangular gable that served as the end of the roof, and also provided space for dramatic scenes in sculpture or decorative friezes.
Unlike the architecture of today, the Greeks did not seek to express themselves or create something new and exciting with the shapes of their buildings. They simply strove to make ever more perfect, the perfection of the order. In a chapter entitled “The Greek Way with Math,” in John Hudson Tiner’s book Exploring The World of Mathematics, he explains that the Greeks had discovered the pleasing properties of the Golden Rectangle, in which the length and width are equal to the golden ratio: length/width = 1.618. The Parthenon in Athens is 101 feet wide and 62 feet high, which is 1.63, less than one percent different from the golden ratio. What’s in your wallet? A credit card? driver’s license? Both of these have the shape of a golden rectangle.
After reading through the pertinent sections on Greece and Rome in our books, GraceNotes sketched each Greek Order. Then we took to the streets for an Architectural Scavenger Hunt to find examples of Classical architecture. Our historic district neighborhood offers a porch for every house (almost) and therefore a quantity of columns! Many are square columns unique to the Arts and Crafts period of American Architecture, (and not classic) but we found quite a few Doric columns! Another historic neighborhood, older that ours, had several homes with lovely fluted Ionic columns.
Ironically, we found that local houses of worship were our best examples of the elements used in Greek temple architecture! Trinity Presbyterian features four large Doric (I’ve also seen these called Tuscan if they are not fluted) Columns topped by a plain pediment. The Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church and the Jewish Temple Ohef Shalom both feature Ionic columns also topped by a pediment. Next door, the Ghent United Methodist Church has elaborate Corinthian columns, yep, topped with a pediment.