Roman Architecture

Beginning in the fourth century B.C. Roman forces consolidated and created a period of expansion and dominance unrivaled in Western History. Securing the Italian peninsula, the Romans rapidly expanded building a safety barrier around the seven hills of Rome. The capital city was the center of all things Roman. All roads led to Rome making it the greatest city in the world at that time. Giant amphitheaters, arenas, basilicas, and circuses juxtaposed into a dense city fabric with marketplaces, forums, governmental buildings, baths, and libraries. Each of the individual buildings featured a central interior connected to one or more exterior spaces of the city. Roman architecture joined interior and exterior volumes in a much different manner and for many unique reasons than the Greeks with their placement of temples in the natural landscape. Romans designed the city as interconnected spaces linking the topography with the streetscape with public space and public interiors at large scales. The integration of the building as objects into the urban landscape matched with the intent to answer the function of the building with the appropriate interior space remains a concept integral to buildings built in the complex fabric of modern cities. From Augustus to Hadrian, from Diocletian to Constantine, the Romans enjoyed self-rule for many centuries and constructed a civilization whose order and architecture has continued to influence contemporary cities and cultures worldwide. The remains of the Forum in Rome still records Rome’s splendor.

Activity 1 – All Roads Lead to Rome

The saying all Roads lead to Rome became true as the Romans conquered nature by extending roads and aqueducts further in all directions than any other civilization. At its peak, the Roman Empire’s stone paved roads reached across 53,000 miles or 85,000 kilometers! Moving goods and water and Roman law, the empire extended its network to England in the North, Syria in the East and Tunisia in the South. Roman Roads marked with gateways and triumphal arches such as the Arch of Constantine (315 A.D.) announced the power and right to passage of all that was Rome’s. The Romans constructed columns as mile markers marking the distance to Rome; this practice is in use today with mileage postings on our highway system. Roman Roads had several layers of materials. They were built to last. Draw a section of the layers in a Roman Road and make a model of the layers using beans, sand, gravel, etc. Roman roads are still in use today!

Activity 2 – Arches & Vaults of Roman Architecture

Roman architectural construction developed into a much different and more versatile language than the Greek temple prototype of stone columns and walls. With the widespread use of concrete over masonry construction or opus reticulum, Roman architecture was not as dependent upon the column for structural purposes or singular gender expression. Roman architects challenged with developing new building types for new civic functions chose to interface the Classical Orders in a variety of expressive ways. The Roman technique of engaging columns with the wall and stacking taller orders on smaller orders is known as superimposition. The Roman Coliseum structurally supported by arches has superimposed columns. Built in 80 A.D. the massive structure spans 617 feet by 511 feet and utilizes 80 arches to seat over 50,000 spectators for civic and sporting events. The arch, known well before Greek society but scarcely used, became a dominant feature in Roman architecture. Fully developed into the vault, the groin, and the dome, Roman architects, created great interior volumes in the new building types. In the giant Baths of Caracalla, 212 A.D., the extensive ruins display the creative use of concrete in expressive domed and vaulted interiors. Draw or build the Coliseum showing both the arches and the superimposed columns.

Activity 3 – Roman House

The typical Roman house had an inner atrium marking the idea of center and the meeting of the interior and exterior use of space. The entry axis opened onto the atrium with its impluvium, or water collecting and reflecting pool, and passed through to connect to a rear peristyle or colonnaded courtyard. Main rooms were covered with mosaic tiles and painted frescoes. The roof was covered with clay tiles. The spaces attached to the axial procession were carefully arranged as to their private and public functions, revealing the Roman interest in the proper placement of rooms for daily living and entertaining. The open atriums and courts encouraged air movement to col interior spaces. Draw a floor plan and section and label the parts of a typical Roman house.

Activity 4 – Roman Theaters

The Roman theatre differed from its Greek predecessor in that it was no longer an open stage to the distant natural landscape. Instead, it focused intimately on the actors popping in and out of a theater wall and backstage. Rather than pursue the ideals of the unworldly perfection, the Romans were intent on living history. Draw a section through a Roman theater showing the stepped seating, the stage, the wall of the stage, and the back stage area.

Activity 5 – The Pantheon

The Pantheon, 118-128A.D., built for Hadrian as a temple to all the gods and one of the most revered and timeless examples of Roman architecture at its finest, was dedicated to all the gods. A 142-foot sphere can be inscribed in the space touching the floor, the six-meter walls, and the underside of the Oculus, or celestial eye, which opens the great dome to the outside, illuminating the interior with a bold stream of light. The principle of arches combined to create a circular plan with the single oculus as the only source of light at the apex of the concrete dome. Geometry and numbers configure the Pantheon with the union of math. Seven circles the diameter of the center oculus represent the seven days of the week and measure the width of the cylinder supporting the dome. A coffered ceiling of twenty-eight tiers counts the days of the month in the Roman Calendar. The proportions of the golden rectangle set the front portico in plan and elevation. Pure geometry creates an architecture of time and space. Constructed Egyptian granites, African colored and Aegean white marbles the Pantheon remains one of the largest and best preserved Roman buildings. Make a measured drawing of the plan and section of the Pantheon.

Activity 6 – The Roman Forum

The architectural development of the Forum began in the 5th Century B.C., and it rapidly became the commercial, political, and ceremonial center of ancient Rome. Caesar, Augustus, and other leaders built their palaces and triumphal arches celebrating their victories overlooking the forum.


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