etruscan + ancient roman architecture // DESIGN HISTORY

Now it’s on to Etruscan & Ancient Roman design.  Before Rome was the center of an empire so large it spanned most of modern Europe, the region that is now Italy had several cultures, including the architecturally advanced Etruscans. 

Not much is known about the Etruscans because of the lack of textual records, but the culture started in the 8th C. BCE and continued as a strong presence in what is now Northern Italy until they succumbed to the Roman Empire in the 4th C.  The Etruscans borrowed many architectural forms from Ancient Greece, so it is not a surprise to find similarities between Etruscan buildings and those built by the Minoans and Mycenaeans.  


Temple + Private home in Aspen

The Etruscan temple plan typically contained a tripartite, or three-part center room.  The exterior was raised with a staircase leading up to the double-rowed columns.  Like the Minoans, these columns were smooth and simple in their construction and made of wood.  The gabled roof was made of terra cotta tiles which would help wick water away from the main building.  This Aspen cabin features a low pitch roof and a pediment over the entrance that is flanked by two tapered log “columns.”  The eave below the pediment helps to push snow off the roof and is covered with shingles.


The Etruscans were skilled sculptural artisans.  Often cast in bronze, they featured relaxed figures, wearing loose clothing and often gesturing or bent slightly at the knee.  Interior designer Jean-Louis Deniot uses life-size and close-to-life-size figures in many of his interior projects.  The figure used in this Paris home is standing in the contrapposto position, with one bent knee and is leaning from the hip.

Ancient Rome was first established around 800 BCE, spreading throughout Europe for the new few hundreds of years until its eventual fall in 476 AD.  

While the Romans are known for their architectural and engineering feats, most importantly their water systems such as the viaducts that are still in use today, the aesthetics of Roman architecture often calls to mind the word “gaudy.”  The modern examples we found may also find themselves in this category – overdone, combining desperate styles for no aesthetic benefit and not always easy to look at. 


The Pantheon + The Marchesi Antinori Winery

The light coming from the oculus in the Pantheon highlights the arched windows and other decorations at the interior of the dome.  The Marchesi Antinori Winery in Firenze, Italy is one of my favorites – at least as far as the architecture goes.  One of its many interesting features is this oculus which brings bright light to the otherwise dark interior, illuminating the unique white brick floor and staircase.


Arch of Hadrian + 135 Main Street

It is said that art and music are a reflection of a culture’s soul.  Architecture can certainly also be included in this list and the architecture created as the Roman Empire began to fall is a perfect example – chaotic, overly decorated and, I’ll use the word again, gaudy!  Thankfully, our two modern examples are more one-off questionable designs than they are a trend.  Late Roman architecture produces an uneasy feel due to over decoration and the use of several styles in one structure.  Often this decoration serves no architectural meaning or purpose.  The façade of this downtown San Francisco has the same effect.  An entablature featuring Egyptian-like bas relief separates two pilasters and two small columns, both with reeding that appear to serve no structural purpose.  Combined with the rest of the façade makes for an all-around uneasy feel.



Library of Celsus + Hotel Indigo

Late Roman architecture featured an “in-and-out” façade that serves no real architectural purpose.  In addition to combining different materials and sizes of windows, this Hong Kong hotel’s surface has many in-and-out pieces, including a swimming pool that hangs over the entire structure.

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