On our historic tour of architecture, we’re starting with the Roman empire.
Because time frames and styles often run together, quite a lot of Roman architectural elements are taken almost directly from the Greek styles. However, with a few changes and some innovation, the Romans were able to significantly change the floor plans of their buildings. Ever think that the “open concept” floor plan is a modern invention? In actuality, it can find its roots in ancient Roman architecture, typically classified as starting about 750 BCE and ending about 650 AD.
Picture the quintessential Greek temple. Large colonnades support a heavy entablature and pediment with typically low-sloped wood roofs. Greek temples also followed one of the three orders of style, Doric, Ionic, or Corinthian. The widespread use of stone limited the Greek temple to a relatively small floor plan dominated by lots of closely positioned columns.
While some Greek elements like the use of the entablature, pediment, and style orders transitioned to Roman design, the Romans began to innovate on some of these ideas.
Arches and domes started to be widely used in designs. Concrete also began to be used as a primary building material. When asked to picture Roman architecture most people will think of the Pantheon and the Colosseum, which both used these elements.
Ancient Modern Romans
The open floor plan was a benefit from the Roman use of these elements.
The arch for instance, when compared to the Greek lintel, allowed masons to use readily available smaller stones and the strength of the arch allowed wider and taller buildings while using fewer columns. The use of the dome also meant that interior spaces could increase in size since the dome could span over large distances without the need for supporting columns.
The creation and eventual perfection of a concrete formula furthered the Roman’s ability to increase the size of interior spaces. Concrete could be lighter than the previously used solid stone, but could also be stronger. This allowed buildings to be even taller and larger than ever before with wide-open modern interior spaces.
Fall of Rome
With the fall of the Western Roman empire many of the innovations of Roman architecture were lost (the formula for concrete was only rediscovered in 1710 by a French engineer). However, the Eastern Roman Empire took over as the next primary architectural style. So stay tuned as we move on to Byzantine architecture next!