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Greek Architecture. Kevin J. Benoy. Origins. Our word “architecture” comes from the Greek architecton , which means “master carpenter.” Early Greek architecture therefore employed wood, not stone. These early structures, as well as those of mud-brick, have not survived.

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Greek Architecture

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greek architecture

Greek Architecture

Kevin J. Benoy

  • Our word “architecture” comes from the Greek architecton, which means “master carpenter.”
  • Early Greek architecture therefore employed wood, not stone.
  • These early structures, as well as those of mud-brick, have not survived.
wood features in stone
Wood Features in Stone
  • By the 6th Century BC, stone replaced wood in the construction of important temples.
  • Designs still reflected their origins in wood, however.
  • The trigyph, which alternates with the metapes, began as wooden beam ends.
  • In moving from wood to stone, builders had to adapt to the differing properties of their building materials.
  • Stone has greater compressive (resistance to crushing) strength than wood, but lacks tensile strength (resistance to bending or twisting). Therefore, while columns/posts might be relatively thin, the entablature/beams, must be quite thick.
  • Greek temples, like Egyptian temples, used basic post-and-beam construction.
  • This is sometimes referred to as trabeated.

Temple of Hera, Paestum

Hephaistion, Athens

  • Early temples had massive pillars as architects worried about their ability to support the weight above.
  • Later temples appear more elegant.
  • Some experts feel that the entasis, the outward bulging in the middle of Greek columns, may originally have been an imitation of the effect of great compression in wooden posts.
  • It also serves as a kind of correction to an optical illusion, however.
  • Entasis counteracts the tendency of the eye to reach upward, forcing it to travel up and down the shaft.
  • Columns that are straight appear thinner in the middle when seen against light, making the supports appear flimsy.
  • The middle bulge counteracts this.
  • The upper 2/3 of the shafts to the right are tapered.
temples purpose
Temples - Purpose
  • Unlike modern churches or mosques, Greek temples were not meant to be meeting places for congregations.
  • They were homes for the community’s god or goddess and a place to keep offerings
  • A cult image was centrally located within a naos, or chapel.
temples purpose1
Temples - Purpose
  • In the mild climate of Greece, ceremonies generally took place outdoors.
  • Even the alter, upon which sacrifices were made, were outside the temple structure.
temple forms
Temple Forms
  • Greek temples, like Egyptian ones, tended to follow set patterns, which were regarded as ideal forms.
  • Variations are few in any given period, tending to reflect the choice of a particular classical order, rather than new and novel design.
the classical orders
The Classical Orders
  • The three classical orders are:
    • Doric
    • Ionic
    • Corinthian
the doric order
The Doric Order
  • Doric columns are the heaviest in appearance
  • The capital is plain.
  • The shaft is thick – though it loses some of its mass over time.
  • There is no base.
the ionic order
The Ionic Order
  • These have greater elegance.
  • The capital has distinctive volutes.
  • The shaft is thinner than its Doric equivalent.
  • A base is apparent.
the corinthian order
The Corinthian Order
  • This is also a tall, elegant form.
  • The capital has distinctive acanthus leaf decoration.
  • A base is also employed.
parts of a greek temple
Parts of a Greek Temple
  • There are four distinct parts to a greek temple.
    • The bottom, horizontal part is the steps. Most Greek temples had three of them.
    • This part is called the stylobate.
parts of a greek temple1
Parts of a Greek Temple
  • The next section is vertical and is the column.
    • Most columns had a base (though not the Doric), at the bottom, a shaft in the middle, and a capital at the top.
    • The shaft may be smooth or fluted.
parts of a greek temple2
Parts of a Greek Temple
  • Above the column is the entablature. If the column is the leg, think of this as the tabletop.
    • It has 3 parts: the architrave, a kind of base.
    • The frieze, a decorated part
    • The cornice the top.
parts of a greek temple3
Parts of a Greek Temple
  • The top section is angled and is called the pediment.
    • The sloping top part is called the sloping cornice.
    • The triangular part below is called the tympanum. This is often carved and decorated.
    • Sometimes there are caved features sticking up from the room. These are called antifixae or acroterions.
plans of greek temples
Plans of Greek Temples
  • The grandeur and evident expense of a temple can be seen in the number of columns employed.
  • Simple tempes have blank walls around a naos, or chapel. With an open area or porch in front, called a pronaos, with two or four supporting columns.
designs of greek temples1

Reconstruction of the Parthenon in Nashville.

Designs of Greek Temples
  • Grander temples, like the Parthenon, had both a front and back porch, as well as a colonnade surrounding the entire structure.
  • This is called a peripteral temple.
designs of greek temples3

Artist’s reconstruction of the Temple of Artemis, Ephesus, Turkey

Designs of Greek Temples
  • Grander still, and generally from the Hellenistic age, are dipteral temples.
  • They have a double colonnade surrounding them.
important structures the acropolis
Important Structures – The Acropolis
  • The most famous Greek buildings topped the Athenian Acropolis.
  • These include: the Propylaea, the Temple of Athena Nike, the Parthenon, and the Erectheum.
the propylaea
The Propylaea
  • This is the monumental entry point to the acropolis.
temple of athena nike
Temple of Athena Nike
  • This is a small temple dedicated to the victorious Athena.
  • The ratio of height to diameter of the columns is 7:1 and not the 9:1 or 10:1 generally found in Ionic temples.
the parthenon
The Parthenon
  • This is the most important and perfectly formed temple on the acropolis.
  • Dedicated to Athena, it housed an enormous cult image.
  • This building is the culmination of Classical Greek architecture.
  • Optical refinements are many, and the result is a building reflecting the Greek concept of arete, perfection.

Click here to see a NOVA video clip on the Parthenon’s optical refinements.

the parthenon1
The Parthenon
  • One of the Parthenon’s most impressive features was not seen by most worshippers – the great frieze showing the Panathenaic Procession.
  • The colour of this reconstruction is indicative of what much of the structure would have looked like before being bleached by centuries of Mediterranean sun.
the erechtheum
The Erechtheum
  • This is a complex building of up to four distinct spaces.
  • It is also built on a slope, so its walls are of differing heights.
  • It is dedicated to Athena Polias and Poseidon Erechtheus.
the erechtheum1
The Erechtheum
  • The most distinctive element of this building is the Porch of the Maidens.
important structures the great altar of pergamum
Important Structures – The Great Altar of Pergamum
  • This Hellenistic building broke completely with traditional style.
  • The frieze was brought down to the level of outside observers.
  • The colonnade was raised above it.
the greek heritage
The Greek Heritage
  • Greek architecture had a lasting impact on the world.
  • The Romans adopted it as an ideal, but modified it to meet their practical needs.
the greek heritage1
The Greek Heritage
  • Today, elements of Greek architecture surround us everywhere, from the Doric columns gracing local homes to the great Ionic capitals of the Vancouver Art Gallery.
the greek heritage2

The Supreme Court of the United States

The Greek Heritage
  • Greek forms have become an integral part of the vocabulary of world architecture