Elements of Architecture

© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
Architecture (Latin architectura, from the Greek ἀρχιτέκτων – arkhitekton, from ἀρχι- "chief" and τέκτων "builder, carpenter, mason") is both the process and product of planning, designing and construction. Architectural works, in the material form of buildings, are often perceived as cultural symbols and as works of art.
Historical civilizations are often identified with their surviving architectural achievements.

"Architecture" can mean:
A general term to describe buildings and other physical structures.
The art and science of designing and erecting buildings and other physical structures.
The style and method of design and construction of buildings and other physical structures.
The practice of the architect, where architecture means the offering or rendering of professional services in connection with the design and construction of buildings, or built environments.
The design activity of the architect, from the macro-level (urban design, landscape architecture) to the micro-level (construction details and furniture).

The term "architecture" has been adopted to describe the activity of designing any kind of system, and is commonly used in describing information technology.
In relation to buildings, architecture has to do with the planning, designing and constructing form, space and ambience that reflect functional, technical, social, environmental, and aesthetic considerations.
It requires the creative manipulation and coordination of material, technology, light and shadow.

Ancient Egyptian Architecture

Old Kingdom architecture is the earliest form of sophisticated monumental architecture that is known.
The finest examples are to be found at سقارة‎ (Saqqara) in Lower Egypt.
Saqqara is a vast, ancient burial ground in Egypt, serving as the necropolis for the Ancient Egyptian capital, Memphis.
Saqqara features numerous pyramids, including the world famous Step pyramid of Djoser, sometimes referred to as the Step Tomb due to its rectangular base, as well as a number of mastabas (Arabic word meaning 'bench').
Located some 30 km (19 mi) south of modern-day Cairo, Saqqara covers an area of around 7 by 1.5 km (4.3 by 0.93 mi).

Djoser’s Step Pyramid Complex 
At Saqqara, the oldest complete stone building complex known in history was built: Djoser's step pyramid, built during the third dynasty.
Another 16 Egyptian kings built pyramids at Saqqara, which are now in various states of preservation or dilapidation.
High officials added private funeral monuments to this necropolis during the entire pharaonic period.
It remained an important complex for non-royal burials and cult ceremonies for more than 3,000 years, well into Ptolemaic and Roman times.
Contrary to popular belief, the name Saqqara is not derived from the ancient Egyptian funerary god Sokar, but from the Beni Saqqar who are a local Berber tribe.

Djoser’s Step Pyramid Complex 

This has several structures pivotal to its function in both life and the afterlife.
The pyramid was not simply a grave in ancient Egypt.
Its purpose was to facilitate a successful afterlife for the king so that he could be eternally reborn.
The symbolism of the step pyramid form, which did not survive the 3rd Dynasty, is unknown, but it has been suggested that it may be a monumental symbol of the crown, especially the royal mortuary cult, since seven small step pyramids (not tombs) were built in the provinces.
Another well accepted theory is that it facilitated the king’s ascension to join the eternal North Star.

The Enclosure Wall

The Djoser complex is surrounded by a wall of light Tura limestone 10.5m high.
The wall design recalls the appearance of 1st Dynasty tombs, with the distinctive panelled construction known as the palace façade, which imitates bound bundles of reeds.
The overall structure imitates mudbrick.
The wall is interrupted by 14 doors, however only one entrance, in the south corner of the east façade, is functional for the living.
This arrangement resembles Early Dynastic funerary enclosures at Abydos in which the entrance was on the east side.
The remaining doors are known as false doors, and were meant for the king’s use in the afterlife.
They functioned as portals through which the king’s ka could pass between life and the afterlife.
The functional door at the South-East end of the complex leads to a narrow passageway that connects to the roofed colonnade.

Roofed Colonnade Entrance

Roofed colonnade corridor leading into the complex, with stone pillars carved to imitate bundled plant stems.
The roofed colonnade led from the enclosure wall to the south of the complex.
A passageway with a limestone ceiling constructed to look as though it was made from whole tree trunks led to a massive stone imitation of two open doors.
Beyond this portal was a hall with twenty pairs of limestone columns composed of drum shaped segments built to look like bundles of plant stems and reaching a height of 6.6 m.
The columns were not free-standing, but were attached to the wall by masonry projections.
Between the columns on both sides of the hall were small chambers, which some Egyptologists propose may have been for each of the provinces of Upper and Lower Egypt.
At the end of the colonnade was the transverse hypo-style room with eight columns connected in pairs by blocks of limestone.
This led to the South Court.

The Heb-sed Court

The Heb-sed courtyard is rectangular and parallel to the South Courtyard.
It was meant to provide a space in which the king could perform the Heb-sed ritual in the afterlife.
Flanking the east and west sides of the court are the remains of two groups of chapels, many of which are dummy buildings, of three different architectural styles.
At the north and south ends there are three chapels with flat roves and no columns.
The remaining chapels on the west side are decorated with fluted columns and capitals flanked by leaves.
Each of the chapels has a sanctuary accessed by a roofless passage with walls that depict false doors and latches.
Some of these buildings have niches for statues.
Egyptologists believe that these buildings were related to the important double coronation of the king during the Heb-sed.


© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014
© Copyright Peter Crawford 2014

Ancient Greek architecture is distinguished by its highly formalised characteristics, both of structure and decoration.
This is particularly so in the case of temples, where each building appears to have been conceived as a sculptural entity within the landscape, most often raised on high ground, so that the elegance of its proportions and the effects of light on its surfaces might be viewed from all angles.
The plastic shape of the Greek temple is placed before us with a physical presence more intense, more alive than that of any later building.
The formal vocabulary of Ancient Greek architecture, in particular the division of architectural style into three defined orders: the Doric Order, the Ionic Order and the Corinthian Order, was to have profound effect on Western architecture of later periods.
The architecture of Ancient Rome grew out of that of Greece, and maintained its influence in Italy unbroken until the present day.
From the Renaissance, revivals of Classicism have kept alive not only the precise forms and ordered details of Greek architecture, but also its concept of architectural beauty based on balance and proportion.
The successive styles of Neoclassical architecture and Greek Revival architecture followed and adapted Ancient Greek styles closely.

The architecture of Ancient Greece is of a trabeated or "post and lintel" form, i.e. it is composed of upright beams (posts) supporting horizontal beams (lintels).
Although the existent buildings of the era are constructed in stone, it is clear that the origin of the style lies in simple wooden structures, with vertical posts supporting beams which carried a ridged roof.
The posts and beams divided the walls into regular compartments which could be left as openings, or filled with sun dried bricks, lathes or straw and covered with clay daub or plaster.
Alternately, the spaces might be filled with rubble.
It is likely that many early houses and temples were constructed with an open porch or "pronaos" above which rose a low pitched gable or pediment.
The earliest temples, built to enshrine statues of deities, were probably of wooden construction, later replaced by the more durable stone temples.
The signs of the original timber nature of the architecture were maintained in the stone buildings.
A few of these temples are very large, with several, such as the Temple of Zeus Olympus and the Olympieion at Athens being well over 300 feet in length, but most were less than half this size.
The stone columns are made of a series of solid stone cylinders or “drums” that rest on each other without mortar, but were sometimes centred with a bronze pin.
The columns are wider at the base than at the top, tapering with an outward curve known as “entasis”.
Each column has a capital of two parts, the upper, on which rests the lintels, being square and called the “abacus”.
The part of the capital that rises from the column itself is called the “echinus”.
It differs according to the order, being plain in the Doric Order, fluted in the Ionic and foliate in the Corinthian.
Doric, and usually Ionic capitals, are cut with vertical grooves known as “fluting”.
This fluting or grooving of the columns is a retention of an element of the original wooden architecture.
The columns of a temple support a structure that rises in two main stages, the 'entablature' and the 'pediment'.
The 'entablature' is the major horizontal structural element supporting the roof and encircling the entire building.
It is composed of three parts.
Resting on the columns is the 'architrave' made of a series of stone “lintels” that spanned the space between the columns, and meet each other at a joint directly above the centre of each column.
Above the 'architrave' is a second horizontal stage called the “frieze”.
The 'frieze' is one of the major decorative elements of the building, and carries a sculptured relief.
In the case of Ionic and Corinthian architecture, the relief decoration runs in a continuous band, but in the Doric Order, it is divided into sections called “metopes”, which fill the spaces between vertical rectangular blocks called “triglyphs”.
The 'triglyphs' are vertically grooved like the Doric columns, and retain the form of the wooden beams that would once have supported the roof.
The upper band of the 'entablature' is called the “cornice”, which is generally ornately decorated on its lower edge.
The 'cornice' retains the shape of the beams that would once have supported the wooden roof at each end of the building.
At the front and rear of each temple, the 'entablature' supports a triangular structure called the “pediment”. The triangular space framed by the cornices is the location of the most significant sculptural decoration on the exterior of the building.
Every temple rested on a masonry base called the 'crepidoma', generally of three steps, of which the upper one which carried the columns was the 'stylobate'.
Masonry walls were employed for temples from about 600 BC onwards.
Masonry of all types was used for Ancient Greek buildings, including rubble, but the finest ashlar masonry was usually employed for temple walls, in regular courses and large sizes to minimise the joints.
The blocks were rough hewn and hauled from quarries to be cut and bedded very precisely, with mortar hardly ever being used.
Blocks, particularly those of columns and parts of the building bearing loads were sometimes fixed in place or reinforced with iron clamps, dowels and rods of wood, bronze or iron fixed in lead to minimise corrosion.
Door and window openings were spanned with a 'lintel', which in a stone building limited the possible width of the opening.
The distance between columns was similarly affected by the nature of the 'lintel', columns on the exterior of buildings and carrying stone 'lintels' being closer together than those on the interior, which carried wooden 'lintels'.
Door and window openings narrowed towards the top.
Temples were constructed without windows, the light to the 'naos' entering through the door.
It has been suggested that some temples were lit from openings in the roof.
A door of the Ionic Order at the Erechtheion, (17 feet high and 7.5 feet wide at the top), retains many of its features intact, including mouldings, and an 'entablature' supported on 'console' brackets.
The dome and vault never became significant structural features, as they were to become in Ancient Roman architecture.

Each temple is defined as being of a particular type, with two terms: one describing the number of columns across the entrance front, and the other defining their distribution.
Distyle in antis describes a small temple with two columns at the front, which are set between the projecting walls of the pronaos or porch, like the Temple of Nemesis at Rhamnus.
Amphiprostyle tetrastyle describes a small temple that has columns at both ends which stand clear of the naos. Tetrastyle indicates that the columns are four in number, like those of the Temple on the Ilissus in Athens.
Peripteral hexastyle describes a temple with a single row of peripheral columns around the naos, with six columns across the front, like the Theseion in Athens.
Peripteral octastyle describes a temple with a single row of columns around the naos, with eight columns across the front, like the Parthenon, Athens.
Dipteral decastyle describes the huge temple of Apollo at Didyma, with the naos surrounded by a double row of columns, with ten columns across the entrance front.
The Temple of Zeus Olympius at Agrigentum, is termed Pseudo-periteral heptastyle, because its encircling colonnade has pseudo columns that are attached to the walls of the naos. Heptastyle means that it has seven columns across the entrance front.


The ideal of proportion that was used by Ancient Greek architects in designing temples was not a simple mathematical progression using a square module.
The maths involved a more complex geometrical progression, the 'Golden mean'.
The ratio is similar to that of the growth patterns of many spiral forms that occur in nature such as rams' horns, nautilus shells, fern fronds, and vine tendrils and which were a source of decorative motifs employed by Ancient Greek architects as particularly in evidence in the volutes of capitals of the Ionic and Corinthian Orders.
The architects calculated for perspective, for the optical illusions that make edges of objects appear concave and for the fact that columns that are viewed against the sky look different to those adjacent that are viewed against a shadowed wall.
Because of these factors, the architects adjusted the plans so that the major lines of any significant building are rarely straight.
The most obvious adjustment is to the profile of columns, which narrow from base to top, however, the narrowing is not regular, but gently curved so that each columns appears to have a slight swelling, called 'entasis' below the middle.
The 'entasis' is never sufficiently pronounced as to make the swelling wider than the base; it is controlled by a slight reduction in the rate of decrease of diameter.

Stylistically, Ancient Greek architecture is divided into three “orders”: the Doric Order, the Ionic Order and the Corinthian Order, the names reflecting their origins.
While the three orders are most easily recognizable by their capitals, the orders also governed the form, proportions, details and relationships of the columns, 'entablature', 'pediment' and the 'stylobate'.
The different orders were applied to the whole range of buildings and monuments.


The Doric order is recognised by its capital, of which the 'echinus' is like a circular cushion rising from the top of the column to the square abacus on which rest the lintels.
The 'echinus' appears flat and splayed in early examples, deeper and with greater curve in later, more refined examples, and smaller and straight-sided in Hellenistc examples.
A refinement of the Doric Column is the 'entasis', a gentle convex swelling to the profile of the column, which prevents an optical illusion of concavity (see above)
Doric columns are almost always cut with grooves, known as "fluting", which run the length of the column and are usually 20 in number, although sometimes fewer.
The flutes meet at sharp edges called 'arrises'.
At the top of the columns, slightly below the narrowest point, and crossing the terminating 'arrises', are three horizontal grooves known as the 'hypotrachelion'.
Doric columns have no bases, until a few examples in the Hellenistic period.
A column height to diameter of 6:1 became usual, while the column height to 'entablature' ratio is about 3:1. During the Hellenistic period, Doric conventions of solidity and masculinity dropped away, with the slender and un-fluted columns reaching a height to diameter ratio of 7.5:1.
The Doric 'entablature' is in three parts, the 'architrave', the 'frieze' and the 'cornice'.
The 'architrave' is composed of the stone lintels which span the space between the columns, with a joint occurring above the centre of each 'abacus'.
On this rests the 'frieze', one of the major areas of sculptural decoration.
The frieze is divided into 'triglyphs' and 'metopes'.
Each 'triglyph' has three vertical grooves, similar to the columnar fluting, and below them, seemingly connected, are small strips that appear to connect the 'triglyphs' to the 'architrave' below.
A 'triglyph' is located above the centre of each capital, and above the centre of each 'lintel', however, at the corners of the building, the 'triglyphs' do not fall over the centre the column.
The 'cornice' is a narrow jutting band of complex moulding which overhangs and protects the ornamented 'frieze', like the edge of an overhanging wooden-framed roof.
It is decorated on the underside with projecting blocks, 'mutules', further suggesting the wooden nature of the prototype.
At either end of the building the 'pediment' rises from the 'cornice', framed by moulding of similar form.
The 'pediment' is decorated with figures that are in relief.


The Ionic Order is recognised by its 'voluted' capital, in which a curved 'echinus' of similar shape to that of the Doric Order, but decorated with stylised ornament, is surmounted by a horizontal band that scrolls under to either side, forming spirals or 'volutes' similar to those of the nautilus shell or ram's horn.

In plan, the capital is rectangular.
It's designed to be viewed frontally but the capitals at the corners of buildings are modified with an additional scroll so as to appear regular on two adjoining faces.
In the Hellenistic period, four-fronted Ionic capitals became common.
The columns are 'fluted' with narrow, shallow 'flutes' that do not meet at a sharp edge but have a flat band or 'fillet' between them.
The usual number of 'flutes' is twenty-four but there may be as many as forty-four.
The base has two convex mouldings called 'torus', and from the late Hellenic period stood on a square plinth similar to the 'abacus'.

The 'architrave' of the Ionic Order is sometimes undecorated, but more often rises in three outwardly-stepped bands like overlapping timber planks.
The 'frieze', which runs in a continuous band, is separated from the other members by rows of small projecting blocks.
They are referred to as 'dentils', meaning "teeth", but their origin is clearly in narrow wooden slats which supported the roof of a timber structure.
The Ionic Order is altogether lighter in appearance than the Doric, with the columns, including base and capital, having a 9:1 ratio with the diameter, while the whole 'entablature' is also much narrower and less heavy than the Doric 'entablature'.
There was some variation in the distribution of decoration.
Formalised bands of motifs such as alternating forms known as "egg and dart" were a feature of the Ionic 'entablatures', along with the bands of 'dentils'.
The external 'frieze' often contained a continuous band of figurative sculpture or ornament, but this is not always the case.
Sometimes a decorative frieze occurred around the upper part of the 'naos' rather than on the exterior of the building.
These Ionic-style 'friezes' around the 'naos' are sometimes found on Doric buildings.


The Corinthian Order does not have its origin in wooden architecture.
It grew directly out of the Ionic in the mid 5th century BC, and was initially of much the same style and proportion, but distinguished by its more ornate capitals.
The capital was very much deeper than either the Doric or the Ionic capital, being shaped like a large 'krater', a bell-shaped mixing bowl, and being ornamented with a double row of acanthus leaves above which rose voluted tendrils, supporting the corners of the 'abacus', which, no longer perfectly square, splayed above them.
The ratio of the column height to diameter is generally 10:1, with the capital taking up more than 1/10 of the height.
The ratio of capital height to diameter is generally about 1.16:1.
The Corinthian Order was initially used internally.
In 334 BC it appeared as an external feature on the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, and then on a huge scale at the Temple of Zeus Olympia in Athens, (174 BC - AD 132).
It was popularised by the Romans, who added a number of refinements and decorative details.
During the Hellenistic period, Corinthian columns were sometimes built without fluting.


Ancient Roman architecture adopted certain aspects of Ancient Greek architecture, creating a new architectural style.
The Romans were indebted to their Etruscan neighbours and forefathers, who supplied them with a wealth of knowledge essential for future architectural solutions, such as the construction of arches.
Later they absorbed Greek and Phoenician influence, apparent in many aspects closely related to architecture; for example, this can be seen in the introduction and use of the Triclinium in Roman villas as a place and manner of dining.
Roman architecture flourished throughout the Empire during the Pax Romana.


The Roman use of the arch and their improvements in the use of concrete and bricks facilitated the building of the many aqueducts throughout the empire.
The same concepts produced numerous bridges.
The dome permitted construction of vaulted ceilings without crossbeams, and provided large covered public space such as public baths and basilicas.
The Romans based much of their architecture on the dome, such as Hadrian's Pantheon in the city of Rome, the Baths of Diocletian and the Baths of Caracalla.
The use of arches that spring directly from the tops of columns was a Roman development, seen from the 1st century AD.
The arch is seen in aqueducts, especially in the many surviving examples, such as the Pont du Gard. 
The Romans first adopted the arch from the Etruscans, and implemented it in their own building.
An arch transmits load evenly.

All Roman cities had at least one Thermae, a popular facility for public bathing, exercising and socializing. Exercise might include wrestling and weight-lifting, as well as swimming. 
Roman bath-houses were also provided for private villas, town houses and forts. They were normally supplied with water from an adjacent river or stream, or by aqueduct. The design of thermae is discussed by Vitruvius in De Architectura.
Roman architecture was often at its most beautiful and impressive when adapted to the needs of Roman religion.
Some of the most impressive secular buildings are the amphitheatres.
They were used for gladiatorial contests, public displays and public meetings.
Every city had a forum of varying size.
In addition to its standard function as a marketplace, a forum was a gathering place of great social significance, and often the scene of diverse activities, including political discussions and debates, rendezvous, meetings, etc. 


Tile covered concrete quickly supplanted marble as the primary building material, and more daring buildings soon followed, with great pillars supporting broad arches and domes rather than dense lines of columns suspending flat architraves.
The freedom of concrete also inspired the colonnade screen, a row of purely decorative columns in front of a load-bearing wall.
In smaller-scale architecture, concrete's strength freed the floor plan from rectangular cells to a more free-flowing environment.
Although concrete had been used on a minor scale in Mesopotamia, Roman architects perfected Roman concrete, and used it in buildings where it could stand on its own and support a great deal of weight.
Ancient Roman concrete was a mixture of lime mortar, sand with stone rubble, pozzolana, water, and stones, and stronger than previously-used concrete.
The ancient builders placed these ingredients in wooden frames where it hardened and bonded to a facing of stone or bricks.
When the framework was removed, the new wall was very strong, with a rough surface of bricks or stones. 
This surface could be smoothed and faced with an attractive stucco or thin panels of marble or other coloured stones called revetment.
Concrete construction proved to be more flexible and less costly than building solid stone buildings.
Though most would consider concrete the Roman contribution most relevant to the modern world, the Empire's style of architecture can still be seen throughout Europe and North America in the arches and domes of many governmental and religious buildings.

The Orders of Architecture are the basis and foundation of all subsequent architecture.
Modern building (it cannot be dignified with the appellation 'architecture') has abandoned the Orders, and has therefore been reduced to the state of construction, rather than 'art'.


Vitruvius is the author of 'De Architectura', known today as 'The Ten Books on Architecture', a treatise written in Latin and Greek on architecture, dedicated to the emperor Augustus.
This work is the only surviving major book on architecture from classical antiquity. According to Petri 
Vitruvius is famous for asserting in 'De Architectura' that a structure must exhibit the three qualities of firmitas, utilitas, venustas – that is, it must be solid, useful, beautiful.
These are sometimes termed the 'Vitruvian virtues' or the 'Vitruvian Triad'.
According to Vitruvius, architecture is an imitation of nature.
As birds and bees built their nests, so humans constructed housing from natural materials, that gave them shelter against the elements.
When perfecting this art of building, the Greeks invented the architectural orders: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian.
It gave them a sense of proportion, culminating in understanding the proportions of the greatest work of art: the human body.
This led Vitruvius in defining his 'Vitruvian Man', - the human body inscribed in the circle and the square (the fundamental geometric patterns of the cosmic order).
Vitruvius is sometimes loosely referred to as the first architect, but it is more accurate to describe him as the first Roman architect to have written surviving records of his field.
He himself cites older but less complete works. He was less an original thinker or creative intellect than a codifier of existing architectural practice.
It should also be noted that Vitruvius had a much wider scope than modern architects.
Roman architects practised a wide variety of disciplines; in modern terms, they could be described as being engineers, architects, landscape architects, artists, and craftsmen combined.
Etymologically the word architect derives from Greek words meaning 'master' and 'builder'. The first of the Ten Books deals with many subjects which now come within the scope of landscape architecture.


Classical architecture usually denotes architecture which is more or less consciously derived from the principles of Greek and Roman architecture of classical antiquity, or sometimes even more specifically, from the works of Vitruvius.
Different styles of classical architecture have arguably existed since the Carolingian Renaissance, and prominently since the Italian Renaissance.
Although classical styles of architecture can vary greatly, they can in general all be said to draw on a common "vocabulary" of decorative and constructive elements.
In much of the Western world, different classical architectural styles have dominated the history of architecture from the Renaissance until the second world war, though it continues to inform many architects to this day.

Origins and Development

Classical architecture is derived from the architecture of ancient Greece and ancient Rome.
With the collapse of the western part of the Roman empire, the architectural traditions of the Roman empire ceased to be practised in large parts of western Europe.
In the Byzantine Empire, the ancient ways of building lived on, but relatively soon degenerated into a distinct Byzantine style.
The first conscious efforts to bring back the disused language of form of classical antiquity into Western architecture can be traced to the Carolingian Renaissance of the late 8th and 9th centuries.

The gatehouse of Lorsch Abbey (see left - c. 800), in present-day Germany thus displays a system of alternating attached columns and arches which could be an almost direct paraphrase of e.g., that of the Colosseum in Rome.Most of the styles originating in post-renaissance Europe can be described as classical architecture.
The elements of classical architecture have been applied in radically different architectural contexts than those for which they were developed, however.

Later Developments

For example, Baroque (see left) or Rococo (see right) architecture are styles which, although classical at root, display an architectural language very much in their own right.During these periods, architectural theory still referred to classical ideas, but rather less sincerely than during the Renaissance.

Neue Wache - Karl Friedrich Schinkel 
As a reaction to late baroque and rococo forms, architectural theorists from circa 1750, through what became known as 'Neoclassicism', again consciously and earnestly attempted to emulate antiquity, supported by recent developments in Classical archaeology, and a desire for an architecture based on clear rules and rationality.
Claude Perrault, Marc-Antoine Laugier and Carlo Lodoli were among the first theorists of neoclassicism, while Étienne-Louis Boullée, Claude Nicolas Ledoux, Friedrich Gilly and John Soane were among the more radical and influential.
Neoclassical architecture held a particularly strong position on the architectural scene c. 1750–1850.

Paul Troost - Ehrentempel
Albert Speer - Neue Reichskanzlei
Although classical architecture continued to play an important role and for periods of time at least locally dominated the architectural scene, as exemplified by the "Nordic Classicism" during the 1920s, classical architecture in its stricter form never regained its former dominance.
With the advent of Modernism during the early 20th century, classical architecture arguably almost completely ceased to be practised.

No comments:

Post a Comment