The Origin of Greek Architecture in "Prop-and-Brace" Seismic Construction (20 min)


Richard M. Economakis, University of Notre Dame


Modern attempts to reconstruct the original carpentry of ancient Greek buildings fail to provide a convincing explanation of the structural system of which they were a part. Difficulty in interpreting the forms was already being expressed by Vitruvius, and the exact purpose of many details remains uncertain. This study analyzes the remains of early Greek temples, examines representations of buildings in vase paintings and other artworks, considers the etymology of Greek architectural terms, and uses scale models to demonstrate the origin of Doric and Ionic details in a technique of bracing an internal axial row of narrow posts with composite beams set on a wall plate. The wall plate surrounded plain-walled brick buildings that originally carried flat earthen roofs. The composite beams presented triglyphic faces along the top of the walls and gripped the columns in a way that allowed them to rotate about their vertical axis in response to seismic activity. This may explain the Greek word for column, kion, from the verb kio, meaning something that is able to shift, or move.

A period of experimentation with copper cladding, protective paints, plaster finishes, terracotta revetments, and roof tiles followed. The characteristic color of the triglyphs likely originates in the blue fungicidal copper paint, whereas the red color of the taenia and other horizontal members likely represents copper flashing with a protective coating of red lead paint (miltos). The presentation will include renderings, drawings, and photographs of study models demonstrating prop-and-brace construction as applied in early Greek temples.