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Architects of Democracy

 
  “The goddess Pallas Athena temple” , vintage engraving worked in PS. An illustration of the goddess Pallas Athena temple on a sunny day. In the foreground there is a statue on the right-hand side, on the left-hand side there are people traveling to and from the temple.

“The goddess Pallas Athena temple”, vintage engraving worked in PS. An illustration of the goddess Pallas Athena temple on a sunny day. In the foreground there is a statue on the right-hand side, on the left-hand side there are people traveling to and from the temple.

How often do you admire certain buildings and just go “WOW”? Ever wondered where these styles originated from? The buildings have become such a regular part of society that we rarely stop to take second looks. In actual fact, ancient Greeks were the ones who have vastly influenced various facets of Western society today. This even includes contemporary architecture that all of us see everyday and the heralded idea of democracy, which are strikingly linked to each other.

How Did Greek Architecture Develop?

 Author's own work, created on 16 March 2018, with Keynote. An illustration of a Greek architecture timeline; from left to right, geometric and Orientalising period, archaic period, classical period, middle classical period, late classical period, Hellenistic period, and Greek revivals.   

Author's own work, created on 16 March 2018, with Keynote. An illustration of a Greek architecture timeline; from left to right, geometric and Orientalising period, archaic period, classical period, middle classical period, late classical period, Hellenistic period, and Greek revivals.

 

The development of Greek architecture goes way back to the Geometric Period (900 BCE-725 BCE), when structures were basic formations of mud-brick and debris1. At 700 BCE, their roofs developed to fired clay materials.

The Orientalizing period (725-600 BCE) experienced an increase in commerce with the Middle East. As the Greeks traded with Egypt2, the Greek architects managed to learn and hence, model their architecture using stones instead of wood (650 BCE) to create longer lasting structures.

The Archaic Period overlaps with the Geometric and Orientalizing periods (600 BCE to 480 BCE), where the Greeks made greater enhancements to the temples and thereafter, its model plan. The Doric and Ionic orders started to form during this time.

  1. It’s amazing how buildings could be formed with these materials!
  2. A nation surrounded with stone buildings.

 Khan Academy,  Doric Order , 25 March 2018. An illustration of a labeled Doric Column (Frieze, metope, triglyph, entablature, architrave, capital, fluting, and stylobate) against a white background.

Khan Academy, Doric Order, 25 March 2018. An illustration of a labeled Doric Column (Frieze, metope, triglyph, entablature, architrave, capital, fluting, and stylobate) against a white background.

 Roberta A. Mayer,  Ionic Order , 25 March 2018. An illustration of a labeled Ionic Column (Pediment, cornice, entablature, fasxciae, frieze, architan, capital, abacus, volute, column, shaft, base, and stylobate) against a white background.

Roberta A. Mayer, Ionic Order, 25 March 2018. An illustration of a labeled Ionic Column (Pediment, cornice, entablature, fasxciae, frieze, architan, capital, abacus, volute, column, shaft, base, and stylobate) against a white background.

The Doric style is the first of the three orders (third- Corinthian) and illustrates the change of impermanent (wood) to permanent (stone) material. It is most prominent by its simple column capital and a column that sits on the stylobate of the temple without a foundation. It was the most undecorated style. Its capital is identified by its echinus3. The Doric entablature includes a frieze containing the triglyphs4 and metopes5.

The Ionic order developed after the Doric style and is recognised by volutes6 and a foundation that carries the column.

Following the Archaic period is the Classical Period (480-323 BCE), which was famously known for the Greco-Persian wars. The third and last order - Corinthian order started to develop during this time as well. One of the most well-known architecture was the Parthenon (447–438 BCE), which is often considered the pinnacle of Greek temple architecture7.

  1. A round cushion coming up from the top of the column to the square abacus on which rest the lintels.
  2. Vertical plaques with three parts.
  3. Square areas for adornment.
  4. Scroll-like embellishments on their capital.
  5. It was built with Pentelic marble, some portions as limestone and displayed both the Doric and Ionic styles.

 Pearson Scott Foresman,  Echinus , 16 March 2010. An illustration of a column labeled Echinus against a white background.

Pearson Scott Foresman, Echinus, 16 March 2010. An illustration of a column labeled Echinus against a white background.

 Ernst Wallis et. al.,  Capital of Corinthian Order , 1 January 1875. An illustration of a  Corinthian Capital with Acanthus Leaves against a white background.

Ernst Wallis et. al., Capital of Corinthian Order, 1 January 1875. An illustration of a  Corinthian Capital with Acanthus Leaves against a white background.

The Corinthian Order flourished in the Hellenistic Period (323-146 BCE). Hellenistic architecture became less religious, and urban structures rose rapidly. This could be due to the proliferation of art and literature, where individuals of multiple societies7, started to think and share their different opinions about society. These structures were more innovative and had all three orders present.

 Peason Scott Foresman,  “Line art drawing of Greek orders of building design”,  “Wikipedia”, JPG. 3 December 2007. An illustration of three columns of the three different orders against a white background; from left to right, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian.

Peason Scott Foresman, “Line art drawing of Greek orders of building design”, “Wikipedia”, JPG. 3 December 2007. An illustration of three columns of the three different orders against a white background; from left to right, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian.

Notice Any Consistencies? Symmetry in The Styles of Order.

As you can see from the diagram above, despite the changes in styles and orders, the idea of symmetry remained. This consistency portrays Greek’s desire to attain the ideal model, which is also known as “symmetria8. The Greeks attributed aesthetics towards “symmetria”, which is the combination of various shapes to give sophisticated results. This allows a sense of congruity that encourages one to be a better person. Additionally, Pythagoras posits that “symmetria” is linked to how dimensions are vital to a person’s physical self and hence, relates religiously that it should be perfect in God’s likeness. He posited that certain shapes such as circles and squares are ideal for architecture since they resemble the measurement of one’s anatomy. In a similar vein, the Ancient Greeks also pursued the concept of “logos” (from which the word logic originates), believing that all things abide by a universal reasoning that translated to balance in all things, including the construction of their buildings.

These two ideas - morality and perfect balance, further paved the way in which the Greeks approached politics. They had multiple views that balanced each other out and formed the political discourse that we know today as democracy.

  1. Due to an increased exchange of various cultures.
  2. or symmetry!
  3. It is also known as “The Age of Pericles”.

 Author's own work, created on 24 April 2018, with Canva. A picture of two infographics. On the left it is a infographic of the orders of style where it elaborates on the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian style; and on the right it is a infographic of the timeline of Greek architecture.

Author's own work, created on 24 April 2018, with Canva. A picture of two infographics. On the left it is a infographic of the orders of style where it elaborates on the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian style; and on the right it is a infographic of the timeline of Greek architecture.

Buildings constructed during times of democracy

Prior to the Hellenistic period, Athens prospered during “the golden age of Athens” (480 - 404 BCE)9. During this period, Athens achieved great cultural, financial, and political progress, with the most memorable being the Athenian democracy. Under this, men were recognised as singular entities, influencing surrounding and future political structures.

As Athen’s political influence grew, so did its association with the Athenian identity, which emphasises Athenian superiority, and this started to influence building designs too.

 Sam Valadi,  The Parthenon - Acropolis, Greece , 29 March 2015. A picture of the Parthenon with clear skies in the background.

Sam Valadi, The Parthenon - Acropolis, Greece, 29 March 2015. A picture of the Parthenon with clear skies in the background.

One of the earliest buildings under this influence would be the Parthenon. Built from 447- 432 BCE in the midst of Athenian democracy, the construction of the Parthenon was not due to the decision of one person but the outcome of democracy10.

The Parthenon embodies Athenian cultural, financial, and political achievements during its golden age. Its cultural and financial achievements are clearly exhibited in the Parthenon’s functionality as the city’s treasury as well as the sanctuary for the Athens patron deity - Athena. On the other hand, the display of Athen’s political achievements is less so. Subtle influences from the Athenian democracy can be seen within its aesthetic construction, particularly its columns.

  1. This makes it one of Athens most monumental structures built in that era!

 Egisto Sani,  The Parthenon - XIV East Frieze , 14 August 2014. A picture of sculpted individuals on the inner columns of the Parthenon.

Egisto Sani, The Parthenon - XIV East Frieze, 14 August 2014. A picture of sculpted individuals on the inner columns of the Parthenon.

The facade of the Parthenon consists of eight Doric columns with seventeen on its side. Its columns are a combination of both Doric and Ionic orders. All of its columns stand without a base, encompassed by 20 flutes, and at the very top of the column, it has a metope11 showing mythical epics and humans. While these features are of the Doric order, the frieze12 of the inner columns are sculpted to reflect the Ionic order. These sculpted aspects of the columns particularly the frieze depicts the beliefs of Athenian democracy that individuals are separate entities.

Individually, these different components work together to form a whole and achieving the idea of “symmetria”, as mentioned earlier. The proportions of each component compliment one another achieving architectural symmetry. Similarly, the columns of the Parthenon create an illusion of symmetry during the day despite having larger columns on its outer corners. Such architectural symmetry is representative of the premise of democracy. Like the columns of the Parthenon, the voices of each Athenian man create a unified whole, representing Athens.
From this example, do you see how Greek Architecture is built based on the foundation of democracy?
  1. A rectangular architectural element that fills the space between two triglyphs in a Doric frieze.
  2. The wide central section part of an entablature.

Greek Architecture and Civilizations Synonymous with Democracy

 House Of Cards,  “Democracy is so overrated” , 20 April 2012. An illustration of Capitol Hill attached to a hand directly above it, with red string, behind a black and blue background.

House Of Cards, “Democracy is so overrated”, 20 April 2012. An illustration of Capitol Hill attached to a hand directly above it, with red string, behind a black and blue background.

Architecture and urban planning can be functional in terms of representation and facilitation of democracy through various ways. These methods include increasing citizen participation through planning processes and the use of symbolic materials implicit agenda that attempts to congregate citizens together. For instance, the use of glass in architecture is to signify “transparency” or “accountability” in the context of democracy.

Before we dive deeper into how Greek architecture is synonymous with democracy, let’s take a look the democracy ("demokratia in Greek13) of Ancient Greece. When we talk about democracy, what are some of the things that first come to our minds? Greece had a complex political system with hundreds of Greek democracies by the 4th Century BCE (time of Aristotle) and it was made up of a collection of approximately 1500 cities scarred around the Mediterranean and Black Sea shores. Cities that were non-democratic were oligarchies or monarchies.

When it comes to democracy in Ancient Greece, Athens, which was a city-state that was divided among 4 tribes, was considered the most powerful democracy through the Greek history. In 560 BCE, a general named Pisistratus rose to authority and his beliefs in creative culture led to the creation of the first Athenian library. Theatrical events took place subsequently with the rise of creative culture, with choral shows throughout the city for the various tribes. In 534 BCE, Pisistratus created the annual theatre festival in an attempt to eradicate the segregation among the tribes. With the creation of common spaces like the theatre, Athens could congregate and share common experiences.

You may wonder, how does the history of rising cultures and democracy link to everything that we have talked about? We can do so through The Theatre of Dionysus!

Theatre of Dionysus (VIP Seats, Really?)

 Aleksandr Zykov,  “Theatre of Dionysus” ,  8 June 2010. A picture of the Theatre of Dionysus on a sunny day. In the middle ground there are ten tourists, and in the background, there are numerous trees.

Aleksandr Zykov, “Theatre of Dionysus”,  8 June 2010. A picture of the Theatre of Dionysus on a sunny day. In the middle ground there are ten tourists, and in the background, there are numerous trees.

 Phang Zi Xin  “VIP Seats At Theatre of Dionysus” , 22 March 2018. A picture of the VIP seats at the Theatre of Dionysus. At the center of the picture, there is a marble chair with back support, and the rows of seats towards the background there are foliage growing.

Phang Zi Xin “VIP Seats At Theatre of Dionysus”, 22 March 2018. A picture of the VIP seats at the Theatre of Dionysus. At the center of the picture, there is a marble chair with back support, and the rows of seats towards the background there are foliage growing.

The Theatre of Dionysus was originally built in the late 5th century BCE 14. The front rows of the theatre are made up of marble and are the only ones with back support. These seats were however, solely reserved for the priests of Dionysus and chief of Athens.

  1. This outdoor theatre was built on the slope of the Acropolis with rows of seats that could fit up to 18 thousand spectators.

 Derek Key,  “Dionysus - Statue at the Vatican” , 18 April 2013. A picture of a statue of Dionysus. He is holding a bunch of grapes in his left hand, and a bowl in his right. An animal pelt hangs over his left shoulder.

Derek Key, “Dionysus - Statue at the Vatican”, 18 April 2013. A picture of a statue of Dionysus. He is holding a bunch of grapes in his left hand, and a bowl in his right. An animal pelt hangs over his left shoulder.

During the ruling of Athens, the Athenians had religious practices in honor of the deity, Dionysos15.

  1. A Greek God who personified both wine and fruitfulness.

Although people congregated and worshipped Dionysus, it was not until the construction of the theatre that the practice flourished across Athen. An example of an event is The Festival of Dionysus16.

Throughout the play, Athenian spectators could congregate and discuss the plays, showing their approval or disapproval through their applause (or lack of). Each character gave a different perspective in the play and thus emphasised the democratic ideals that each individual is an entity on its own. Moreover, the plot of the play featured in the theatre revolves around themes such as religion, politics and history, honoring the gods or providing ways in which Athenians could live their lives. The creation of theatre provided a platform in which political values and system can be further emphasised.

To further illustrate how the creation of theatre, in this case, the Theatre of Dionysus can be a powerful force in shaping the opinions of the public. Comic poets such as Aristophanes created plays that revolved around criticism of all the leading politicians of the 5th Century Athens. Those who attended the plays were not the masses, but the rich and powerful individuals. Only few were poor and therefore encouraged personal attacks through the plays that were shown. It is undeniable that there is a connection between democracy and the functions and constructions of the architectures and structures.

Not only are such theatrical places and events function as a public space for democracy, they indirectly/directly address political agenda by involving city and citizen-body. Moreover, buildings were constructed as political spaces as well. The Theatre of Dionysus17, functioned as an alternate location for democratic debate. The complex Greek architectures and buildings are synonymous to democracy through its functionality and construction.

The biggest question now is- how do the above information help us in understanding and translating the knowledge to our modern days? 

  1. It was held during March and April where plays of comic and tragedies will be featured. Prizes were awarded at the end of the day, causing spectators to watch from dawn to sunset.
  2. Which is comparable in terms of its capacity and structure to the Athenian Assembly (or also known as ekklesia).

Modern democracy and architecture

 Author Unknown, “ Morning on Capitol Hill ”, 8 August 2009. A picture of Capitol Hill on a cloudy day. There is a group of people walking away from Capitol Hill on the left foreground.

Author Unknown, “Morning on Capitol Hill”, 8 August 2009. A picture of Capitol Hill on a cloudy day. There is a group of people walking away from Capitol Hill on the left foreground.

In contemporary society, the grandest buildings tend to be those influenced by the architecture of Ancient Greece, specifically the Doric order, which seems to be the dominant order present during the birth of democracy based on the time period. More often than not, we marvel at the intricate or grand architecture of these buildings without realising their significance and how they draw influence from Ancient Greek architecture. In almost every developed nation, buildings of grandeur (like the Metropolitan Museum of Art), and political or religious significance (those on Capitol Hill and within Vatican City) tend to pay homage to previously mentioned buildings such as the Parthenon and The Theatre of Dionysus. Many attribute this18 to the fact that Ancient Greece is considered the foundation and cradle of all of Western Civilisation19.

  1. appropriation or mimicry
  2. Even within the buildings themselves: The layout of most democratic parliament discussion rooms follows that of the Greek Theatre as seen in the photos below!

 Pschemp, “ Debating chamber in Scottish Parliament building ”, 31 May 2006. A picture of a debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament building during the day.

Pschemp, “Debating chamber in Scottish Parliament building”, 31 May 2006. A picture of a debating chamber of the Scottish Parliament building during the day.

 Aleksandr Zykov,  “Theatre of Dionysus” , 8 June 2010. A picture of the Theatre of Dionysus on a sunny day. In the middle ground there are ten tourists, and in the background, there are numerous trees.

Aleksandr Zykov, “Theatre of Dionysus”, 8 June 2010. A picture of the Theatre of Dionysus on a sunny day. In the middle ground there are ten tourists, and in the background, there are numerous trees.

It then makes sense that many buildings across Europe and the United States would imitate their supposed cultural ancestors so as to strengthen the “Western Identity” and “go back to their roots”. However, this imitation goes beyond merely paying tribute to their cultural ancestry, but also extends to inciting ideas of democracy19. While the Ancient Greeks were known for a plethora of marvellous achievements, as mentioned, architectural precision and democracy are two that stand out and remain relevant in current society. Not only do modern civilisations see Ancient Greece as the bedrock of Western Civilisation, they also see it as the birth of democracy and as such, anything that connotes or resembles this ancient civilisation carries with it the representation of democracy.

  1. We see the same thing even for non-western democracies in our very own home country and other non-western civilizations, don’t we!

 “ St. Peter’s Basillica, Vatican, Rome ”, 9 November 2015. A picture of St. Peter's Basillica on a cloudy day.

St. Peter’s Basillica, Vatican, Rome”, 9 November 2015. A picture of St. Peter's Basillica on a cloudy day.

With this in mind, it is easy to see why many buildings model after the Greek Orders in pursuit of symmetry and the aesthetic appeal. State buildings which have no necessity for such adornments also incorporate Greek Architecture into their image. They are seemingly made to represent the same fundamental values and principles that governed the Ancient Greeks in their attempts at democracy. These modern state buildings, such as those on Capitol Hill, or even our own Parliament House (both old and new), incorporate Greek Architecture as a symbolic and physical reminder of how one should govern, and similarly, the ideals that are encompassed within democracy by visually reminding us of the origins of democracy.

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