ancient greek architecture // DESIGN HISTORY

This week we’ll be looking at the three Ancient Greek cultures.  This part of the Mediterranean was occupied by three main civilizations, the Minoans, the Mycenaeans and last the Classic Greek.  These civilizations’ contributions to art, decoration and architecture still influence many designs of today.

The Minoans are the oldest of the Aegean cultures.  Dating from 2700-1450 BCE, they occupied the area that is now Crete.  The largest Minoan archaeological site was Knossos.  Minoans were known for their highly decorated walls, columns and floors, many containing scenes inspired by the seas surrounding Crete.


Tholos at Atreus + Best Western Baltic

The catenary arch is the natural curve created by a cable or string that is supported on two ends.  Minoans and later Mycenaeans perfected the use of the catenary shape in architecture in the building of their tombs, or tholos.  This hotel added perforated aluminum cut in the shape of a catenary element to the outside of their new restaurant.  The designer likely selected the design as a call-back to the design of the original building; Ionic capitals top the engaged columns on the original building behind the new façade.


Fresco at Knossos in Crete + Le Meridien Mahabaleshwar Resort

The guilloche, or wave, pattern was one of many colorful decorations found in the Minoan wall frescoes.  These frescoes were usually marine-themed, with the guilloche representing the water that surrounds the island of Crete.  Our contemporary example appears at the bottom of the Mahabaleshwar Resort’s infinity pool is very similar to the design common Minoan fresco design.  This structure also shares other design elements with the Minoan culture – the pool roof is held up by several columns that although larger at the base than the top, are painted red and have a simple capital, a trait of Minoan-style columns.


Mycenaean Tholos + Villa Vals Hotel

Much like the Egyptian pyramid, the Mycenaean tholos were used as tombs.  These beehive structures were built into the ground, but provided ample light and space from the interior.  The contemporary Villa Vals hotel in Switzerland also sits as part of the hill, but ample windows and a curved shape allow light to enter the space.


Classical Greece followed in 1100 and lasted until 100 BCE.  Greek architecture remains one of the most relevant styles today.  Greek revival influences can be found in almost every other modern culture on earth, often in government, financial and other institutional buildings.  But we are going to focus on something less recognized today, Greek furniture.  Like many other wood-based items, not many stood the test of time so our examples are from carvings of classic Greek scenes rather than the objects themselves.  The Ancient Greek kline most closely resembled the modern sofa in its use: for sleeping, sitting and dining.  The Greek version was a rectangle supported by four legs, like in our example.  Later versions also had curved armrests on either side as seen in our recreation example.  The modern version would be suited to all three activities as well, with the two curved sides that act as either an armrest or backrest.




The Ancient Greek klismos chair dates back to the mid-5th century BCE, and yet, still a shape that has withstood the test of practical furniture design.  A klismos has splayed legs and caned or leather seat.  Its back has a single curved rail placed high to support the user’s posture.  This contemporary side chair shares two of the primary design elements of the Greek klismos: saber front and back legs and a concave backrest that attaches at the top of the chair.  It also shares an element with the chair style common to Ancient Egyptian; the diagonal pieces that connect the base of the chair to the seat.

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