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The Three Orders of Greek Architecture

By Josh Antwhistle
First year Architecture

History and Theory Assignment Year 1

Introduction to Architectural History and Introduction to
Interior Architecture History
Module: BE1057 + BE1197
Word count: 1624
The Three Orders of Greek Architecture
By Josh Antwhistle

Greek architecture is a fine example of ancient architecture at its best. The Greek
architectural period provided some of the most idiosyncratic buildings, temples, theatres and
stadia that later provided inspiration to following periods. There are three main orders in this
movement, Doric, Corinthian and Ionic; these orders were later used in roman architecture;
where they later developed their names. The Doric order was the earliest out of the three
orders, followed by the Ionic order found in fifth century B.C.E, the last order of the three is
the Corinthian order, and this is the latest and most modern order developed by the Greeks
and progressed by the romans with small variations.

Doric order-

Opening the three orders of Greek architecture is the Doric order; found in 7th century B.C.
fundamentally applied in columns of Greek temples, as shown in Figure 1 the diagram of the
Doric order; this shows the different sections of the Doric column. Figure 2 demonstrates
how the columns are placed close together and frequently without a base. Initially the Greeks
sculpted columns out of wood, an impermanent material, and then later progressed on to
permanent materials such as stone and concrete. The Doric order is the oldest and
undeveloped order of the three; this order is identified by the heavy fluted columns with
basic shaped capitals, also another way to identify this order is by recognizing that this order
does not retain a base at the bottom of the column. A good example of this is the Parthenon
an ancient Greek temple constructed in 447-432 BCE; this ancient Greek temple is a fine
example of the Doric order. With a large limestone base and Pentelic Marble columns these
were materials that had rarely been used pervious to this construction.

Figure 2- The layout of the Doric

Figure 1- Diagram of the Doric
Figure 3- The Parthenon

The corner conflict of the Doric order-

The corner conflict was a problem that lies within the Doric order, the basis of the conflict
was down to the fact of the columns commonly had a Triglyph over each of them and one in
the middle; this the meant that the outer triglyph was always located in the corner, this then
lead on to another problem; the thickness of the architrave was wider than the triglyph. This
meant that what should have been the corner triglyph didn’t fall in the middle of the last
column as seen in the diagram shown. One of the only ways to avoid this conflict was to
shorten the structure or make the corner columns wider than the rest. This conflict later
went on to the Doric order being abandoned due to the vast amount of problems that lay
within the first order. Although this was a massive problem in the start of Greek architecture
it allowed the Greeks to then move on and develop the way they construct architecture. The
development of this then led on to the next two orders; the Ionic order and the Corinthian
order, which were both used excessively throughout ancient architecture.

Figure 4- The Doric corner conflict

Ionic order-

Following the Doric order is the Ionic order, as the name suggests this order originated in
Ionia in the 6th century; regions off the coast of central Greece. Central Anatolia (also known
as Turkey) is fundamentally where the Ionic order first publicized; Anatolia was a place where
ancient Greek settlements were located. The Ionic order has a distinctive form of sea scrolls
volutes on the columns as seen in Figure 4. Roman historian Vitruvius compared this delicate
order to a female form, in contrast to the stockier "male" Doric order. The Ionic order was
used for smaller buildings and interiors unlike the Doric order that was used for larger
buildings such as temples; the reason for this was because of its delicate form, this allowed
the Ionic order to fit into interiors easier than the other two orders. Also the more detailed
volutes gave the Ionic order an advantage of being added into an interior. A prime example
of the Ionic order is The Temple of Athena Nike located in Athens the capital of Greece. This
temple no doubt did double duty: it stood as a shrine to Athens’ patron goddess, and also
acted as a symbol of Athens’ military and political strength.

Figure 5- Diagram of the Ionic Figure 6- Diagram of the Ionic

order volutes order

Figure 7- The Temple of Athena Nike

Corinthian order-

The final order in Greek architecture is the Corinthian order; the most modern and
extravagant order of the three. The Corinthian order portrays a more elegant approach to
Greek architecture characterized by slender fluted columns and elaborates capitals
decorated with acanthus leaves and scrolls. With the ornamental, elegant and decorative
approach this order was seen as the development of the two previous orders. As the name
suggests, the Corinthian order originated in the Greek city state of Corinth. The earliest
known Corinthian temple to date is temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae dated 420 BC;
created by the architect Iktinos, who also worked alongside Kallikrates designing the
Parthenon in 447-432 B.C.E. As seen in Figure 7 the level of décor that the Corinthian order
brings to the final order of the three is astonishing how far the ornamental features have
come. According to architectural writer Vitruvius, the sculptor Callimachus spotted a set of
leaves surrounding a votive and began to sketch them, this is where the initial idea of the
ornamental values of the Corinthian order came from. Promoting the Corinthian order is the
Temple of Olympia Zeus in Athens, began in 2nd century B.C.E and took almost 700 years to
finalise the structure due to the fact of the vast amount of detail that this temple has.

Figure 8- Corinthian detail

Figure 9- Corinthian shafts

Figure 10- The Temple of Olympia Zeus (Athens)

The Legacy of Greek Architecture-

Greek architecture has a solid structure throughout its orders; it is rational to say that the
orders have been a colossal inspiration on later movements, architects and imaginations of
designers. Despite the fact that Greek architecture plays a huge part of Roman architecture
its legacy springs further than ancient times. When James “Athenian” Stuart and Nicholas
Revett visited Greece during the period from 1748 to 1755 and subsequently published The
Antiquities of Athens and Other Monuments of Greece (1762) in London, the neoclassical
revolution was underway. This then flourished the neoclassic movement allowing Greek
architecture to play a key part in the influence of another key movement.

Figure 11- The Parthenon

Throughout its time Greek architecture has given us some astonishing temple, theatres and
stadia. Not only did the Greek architecture become a legacy but it also gave us the three
orders, the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian order, of which are described in the text above;
alongside the orders a fair amount of architects and sculptors were brought to light as well,
this allowed designers who were unheard of develop a name in history. Subsequently after
the Greek architecture period the romans took great inspiration from the work that Greece
had constructed alongside with the three orders and the geometrical form; after all Greek
architecture was the start of geometry in architecture. As Ralph Waldo Emmerson stated
‘Greek architecture is the flowering of geometry.’ When the Roman period started they
adopted several Greek features, techniques and materials; there for it is fair to say that Greek
architecture was a main influence in most Roman architecture, this is easily noticeable when
looking at the two in depth. Not only did the Greeks inspire the Romans but they inspired
many others in ancient and modern architecture, still to this day you can see the Greek
influence flourish in modern day buildings and interiors


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