I am not the Aesthetic Police. But if you want to construct a house devoid of thought, sanity, or good aesthetic qualities: add Greek Columns.
Indeed, the vacuous proliferation of Greek columns needs to be eradicated from our American architectural vocabulary.
Greek, or Roman, columns are a fantastic (archaeological) architectural style. However, Greek columns erected today are a bastardized descendant of these, former, remarkable structures; and sadly, become remnants haphazardly applied to many American houses.
And speaking of bastard children – I blame Thomas Jefferson.|1|
The evolution of the Greek column has become a cartoon of a cartoon. It’s become the Jimmy Fallon – Justin Timberlake coffee mug joke.
- Backstory: Justin Timberlake stole a mug from Jimmy Fallon’s cupboard that had a picture of Jimmy on it. Justin then sent Jimmy a picture of him with the stolen mug. Jimmy then put that picture – of Justin holding the Jimmy mug – on a new mug. Then in some contrived leap, J.J. Watt now has a picture holding the mug with the image of Jimmy holding Justin holding Jimmy. It has spun into some crazy concoction entirely different than the original intention of the mug. A mug with the image of J.J. Watt holding Jimmy holding Justin holding Jimmy no longer belongs in Jimmy Fallon’s cupboard.
This is what has happened to the Greek column. It was modified by the Romans, and then Thomas Jefferson – the Gentleman Architect – copied it from Renaissance Architecture to bring prestige to Monticello and American culture. Then it was repeated in Governmental buildings of prominence. Since Government buildings were deemed important, the style was borrowed on Colonial houses to also gain prominence. Now, since Colonial houses are nostalgic, and deemed historic, the style has been perpetuated on American porches.|2|
The Greeks constructed temples, with Doric columns – famously at the Parthenon, to pray to the Goddess Athena. So, what does the image of Greek columns on banks symbolize today? Are banks symbolically the new temples that we enter to pray to the Money Gods?|3|
Louis Sullivan once wrote,
-Louis Sullivan Kindergarten Chats
I am going to insist that the banker wear a toga, sandals, and conduct his business in the venerated Latin tongue – oral and written…
the Roman temple was a part of Roman life – not of American life; that it beat with the Roman pulse, was in touch with the Roman activities; and that it waned with Roman glory – it died a Roman death.
The Greeks established a rhythm and sizing for their columns that was predicated on proportion to the structural strength of their building materials – stone.
Today, the entire frieze, entablature, cornice, tympanun, and pediment of the Parthenon could be held up by a few HSS 5×5 columns. Yet, we have been ingrained to view the proportions of column sizes based upon our continuous reinterpretation of our Americanized Greek buildings.
There exists a historic building in my downtown that contains Greek columns; predictably, it was built in 1905 as a bank. The building itself appears massive and heavy; thus, the columns would be appropriate to carry the load – yet they still seem out of place.
I can imagine the conversation in 1905 between the Banker and the Architect:
Architect – We will construct the bank out of durable concrete block.
Banker – Hmmm. Perhaps. But is there a way to make the building appear to have been built by an Athenian architect in an unpopulated New World 2,500 centuries prior, until a new culture, society, and city developed around this building?
Architect – I know! We can add Greek fluted columns flanking the doorways.
Banker – Yes. That is the ideal image of a bank.
It is now a caricature of a caricature of the original style. However, this caricature has reached its ultimate corruption in the application at this brown fourplex – with grand white columns at the entrance.
Unlike the columns of the Parthenon holding up massive tons of stone, these columns hold up a 2’ roof overhang with aluminum gutters. These columns are not necessary, but are an ill-fated aesthetic bandage to improve a boring house. A colonnade flanking the sidewalk, supporting nothing, would have the same effect as these white columns.|4|
Furthermore, replicating Greek columns, pediments, and entablatures – diminishes the actual Greek, or Roman, architectural achievements. We have created a distorted cartoon of what we think a Roman temple looks like, and constantly reinforce this aesthetic by misapplying historic styles.
This vacuous indifference, and even perhaps the desire, to replicate Greek and Roman architecture does not lead to a cohesive community, but results in the assemblage of a Frankenstein monster – cobbled together from bargain-counter materials and electricity, it comes alive and destroys the neighborhood.
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1 Fun Fact: There is a “high probability” that Thomas Jefferson is the father of all six of Sally Hemings’s children. Another Fun Fact: Thomas Jefferson, posthumously, received an AIA Gold Medal Award in 1993.
2 Also, why is every porch column white – just like the image of Greek columns. For once, I want to see a lime green porch column!
3 Actually. Money is worshiped, almost as a deity, in America.
4 On second thought, that would look awesome.