Architecture, democracy, and America
Have you ever wondered why so many federal buildings in Washington DC are built with majestic vertical columns that create dramatic shadows, multi-level staircases leading up to the entrance of the edifice, and stone and marble construction materials?
These are characteristics of classic Greek architecture. And it is no coincidence that our Founding Fathers chose to emulate this architecture into the capitol of our fledgling country.
This architecture was not chosen because of its grandeur and functionally, but it was selected for something more.
It was selected for what it represented.
This architecture represented democracy. This architecture stood for something noble that the country was trying to embrace.
The ancient Greeks created democracy in the sixth century BC. The word “Democracy” comes from the Greek words. The Greek words “demos” means people and “kratos” means the ability to rule. Greeks voted directly on laws, rather than for representatives, which we often do in the United States. The architecture of ancient Greece and of the United States provides a powerful insight into the character and soul of its people. Every time the leaders of our young country looked at the buildings of our Capitol, they were reminded of the objective of our country, democracy. And they were also reminded of their obligation to promote and engender democracy into the lives of the people they served.
Classic Greek architecture may be that civilization’s greatest artistic contribution. It employed many dramatic elements. Its most striking component was the vertical column. These columns would generally have a fluted texture to provide more granularity and character. At the top of the columns would be additional artistic details such as rolled scrolls and floral corolla. The Parthenon in Athens is the most internationally recognised structure of Greek Architecture.
The columns of Greek buildings gave a sense of strength, order, symmetry, and balance. And these characteristics in turn reinforced the critical Greek ideal of logic. On top of the columns rested the entablatures. The entablature was a structural element positioned horizontally on top of multiple vertical columns and would be artistically decorated.
The Lincoln Memorial, White House, and Supreme Court are outstanding examples of Greek architecture’s influence on our capitol. Greek architecture also influenced the architecture of Rome. The columns, entablatures, and massive staircase leading up to the buildings make them all the more imposing and demonstrate influences from Greece.
The Romans added their own contributions to Greek architecture by adding the Roman arch and redefining the dome. A prime example of both Greek and Roman architecture in Washington DC is the US capitol building, which is the seat of the legislative branch of the federal government.
Some Los Angeles Area Landscape is the Greek Theater of Griffith Park, The Getty Museum of Malibu, and the Federal Reserve Building at the intersection of Olympic Boulevard and Olive St. are some examples for those in LA.
Architecture can be more than just a practical and functional building. It can project a profound and noble message. And if we do not stop to consider the message, we can miss it all together.
The Greeks established democracy. And the concept of democracy is inextricably linked with the magnificent architecture of Greece. Our Founding Fathers of the United States did not miss this connection. And they incorporated this timeless message of democracy into the buildings of our country’s capital to always remind us of the great mission our country pursues.
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