Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Rome is everywhere

I have recently been watching a series of lectures on Roman architecture. The twenty-four part series is a complete lecture season from Yale University taught by Professor Diana Kleiner. The more I watched the more I realized how prevalent Roman architecture still is today. So I set out to find some examples here in Ottawa and it wasn't very difficult.

Tabaret Hall at the University of Ottawa is one of the most striking examples in our city with Ionic capitals and a classic Roman pediment.

The composite columns of the Bank of Commerce on Sparks Street showing elements of both Corinthian and Ionic orders.

The Doric order is represented well by the Bank of Nova Scotia on Sparks Street.

Though you can see the influence of Roman architecture in residential houses the features tend to be subtle. Not so for two houses in the Golden Triangle.

A house on Somerset West with the classic Ionic order.

The triangular pediment and Corinthian order really make this entrance stand out.


  1. These are all Greek in origin, and later adopted by the Romans, just like it has been adopted by us. You should get your facts straight before you start blogging.

  2. Simon,

    I would be interested to know the extent of your training in architecture history as your knowledge of these orders seems somewhat cursory.

    First, the Romans did indeed benefit from earlier Greek temple architecture and came to adopt the three Greek orders (Doric, Ionic and Corinthian), but why stop there? The Greeks were in turn influenced by earlier architecture, significantly Egyptian and Mesopotamian, both of which featured columns, and further back still the very idea of the bearing agent (the column or pier) and the born agent (the pediment or roof structure) goes back to the very dawn of building. Further, not all columnar architecture can be traced back from Rome across the Adriatic and Ionian seas - the Etruscan column, also known as the Tuscan column, is believed to pre-date all of the Greek orders. And finally, the clincher for me is the usage of the columnar architecture as seen in these images. The Greeks used columns (and orders) for their temple architecture - it was never used in a residential or otherwise non-sacral context. The columns encircled the entire building in what is known as a peristyle. The Romans changed all this. In addition to inventing a fifth order - the Composite - they also began using these elements in a more eclectic way, separating them in an essential way from the rest of the building. They ceased to have a load-bearing function and became purely decorative. And this is what we see today in Canada and other places where these architectural elements are used - they re not used in the original Grecian context, but in the Roman vein.

    If you remain confused about this I can recommend "A History of Western Architecture" by David Watkin as a good introductory text.

  3. Simon, I guess you didn't bother to read the tags (Greco-Roman). Anyway, I think you just had your intellectual ass kicked! Ouch!

    Normally I appreciate all comments but yours doesn't really contribute anything of value. Feel free to drop in again but maybe bring a more constructive spirit.