Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
A while ago City Comforts had a minor theme on columns, colonnades, classicism and neo-classicism in architecture. One of the obvious problems was that 'classicism' is regularly redefined. I don't think the discussion there really settled on a definition; felt that the term is used to mean anything pre-automobile, especially with columns and cornices. The architects (?) were earnest that classical architecture is a language in which c. and c. are words but not required words; they didn't demonstrate this in Backus-Naur. I found an online version of Vitruvius, which I boiled down for a comment (copied below); he's very appealing, I think, in his combination of aesthetic and practical concerns.
Classical Greek Architecture stood out on the new-books shelf of the library for its size and glossy whiteness. Its purpose seems to be to reprint some lovely, probably pre-WWI photographs of classical ruins, especially the Acropolis, said ruins sizeable and white on unpeopled hills. Most of those ruins are of temples and temenos, temple complexes, not places many people lived; but the book also has site plans of entire cities, and close-ups of columns and bases.
The text was probably speaking to those who already know; for one thing, its 'modern' seems to mean 'not archaic', and almost to mean 'rational'. There is a little historical comment on one of the more recent 'moderns', which explains some of the anxiety around The Decipherment of Linear B. 19th c. and 20th c. scholars, especially German ones, really wanted the classical Greeks to have come as a group from Northern fastnesses and immediately leapt to greatness, without cultural cross-pollination; so the language of a pre-greatness not-blond group wasn't 'supposed' to be Greek. Perhaps there was a little crosstalk between that theory and the desire to remake the world that led also to what we think of as Modernist architecture. That's my interpolation; Tzonis is explicit that classical revivals have been used for all sorts of political movements, not all compatible with each other, and indeed that the Homeric age itself was doing exactly the same thing: "forging a Hellenic identity through reconstruction of the past." (p. 23)
Even inside that reconstruction, there was a split now familiar; Tzonis, partly in tracking cultural cross-pollination, remarks that technicians, builders and makers, were already thought of as naturally cosmopolitan and often expats; he cites the Odyssey,, . Culture at large found innovation worrisome because it might be impious.
They had plenty of innovation, including the introduction (possibly from Egypt) of gridded urban planning, to which the Greeks used to separate public/business and residential areas and also to reflect the democratic equal allocation of land shares (p. 150). Of this: "stoae began to flank the main streets... enhancing environmental comfort and enabling social interaction." Also, "the stoa became the first kind of building in ancient Greece that was used as a means of defining an outside area... of forming places, rather than simply as an independent object inserted in space." There's a lot more by Tzonis on how the columns around a building made it a discrete spatial object, unlike the stuck-together palace complexes of the Mycenaeans; and also an object that was an expression of a total rational plan, of world-making. The pictures show the grid beginning to apply to everything, not just the buildings in a new town and the columns along the building but the elements of the frieze and the stones themselves of the wall, all on the same grid. It still looks pretty good; I expect it stunned the perception of anyone who had seen only natural, never comprehensible, geometry. This is where Tzonis sees the modern; systematic thinking, with "no place for falsehood or accident".
Therefore I can believe a great deal of architectural mysticism on the part of the Greeks, although it's hard to believe that, for instance, the Myceneans didn't experience their palaces as defined places. I was also struck by how the technical challenges of building were being met by columns; the Telesterion of Eleusis held thousands of people, the Thersilion has a surprising arrangement of columns allowing (I think) good sightlines for the people in it.
Moving from Greece to Rome,appeals to my practical sense. My cherry-picking of his On Architecture, copied from City Comforts, where we were arguing over the usefulness of classicism for cities with cars:
I was going to say what Chris Burd just said about the grid being classical even if you think it's obvious. I'd go a little further and say that the enthusiasm that built the courthouses and public squares in the gridded railroad towns was often consciously, if naively, classicist.
About how classicists would deal with the urban car: there's precedent, of course. The city is built to be navigated on foot, and wheeled traffic for heavy deliveries is limited to after dark. Works for me. Heck, it might take the Eleusinian Rites to build transit in Seattle. (I am mixing my references. Sorry.)
Seriously, though, you could consult Vitruvius to see if the canonical classical architect is concerned with plan as well as elevation. One summary of Book V, put up by Bill Thayer, runs:
"In which the author warns you that architecture is highly technical, then proves it in spades in his exposition of civil public spaces: the forum, the basilica, the theatre and its porticos, the palaestra and the baths; harbors. "
There are specific measurements for pillars and so forth, but part of the Classic habit was the reasoning given for the standardized site designs. Particularly 3-Rules-relevant stuff:
"for the convenience of the spectators, the intercolumniations must be wider; and the bankers' shops are situated in the surrounding porticos with apartments on the floors over them, which are constructed for the use of the parties, and as a depôt of the public revenue. "
"The basilica should be situated adjoining the forum, on the warmest side, so that the merchants may assemble there in winter, without being inconvenienced by the cold. "
"The tribunal is in the shape of a segment of a circle; the front dimension of which is forty-six feet, that of its depth fifteen feet; and is so contrived, that the merchants who are in the basilica may not interfere with those who have business before the magistrates. "
And, my favorite; a completely utilitarian reason given for a cornice:
"The [curia] walls, moreover, at half their height, are to have cornices run round them of wood or plaster. For if such be not provided, the voices of the disputants meeting with no check in their ascent, will not be intelligible to the audience."
Later he worries about the walkways of the city; they should ideally be protected, verdurant, well-drained, and made of charcoal that will serve as fuel during sieges.
In book VI he considers private buildings. He also manages to explain why every climate except that of Italy develops inferior people, but the discussion of climate starts with:
"These [private buildings] are properly designed, when due regard is had to the country and climate in which they are erected. For the method of building which is suited to Egypt would be very improper in Spain, and that in use in Pontus would be absurd at Rome: so in other parts of the world a style suitable to one climate, would be very unsuitable to another..."
His practical argument for arches: beams sag and are very hard to repair in place. The upper story, he says, can be built as you like, beams or arches, because it can be redone if you get it wrong.So wrote clew in Cities. , History.