I recently wrote a story in which one of the characters, a woman named Andrea, is an architect who has some distinct positions on the history of Classical architecture. My workshop colleague, Steve Popkes, suggested that this particular potted history overloaded the story, and, on revision, I decided he was right. The story is about public spaces and some particularly high-tech ways of formulating them, not about architecture per se.
Steve also suggested I put it in the blog, and I decided he was right about that too. Read it here, because you won't be able to read it there.
Andrea had always insisted that the original Greek style had never travelled as well as people thought. It was developed with foursquare structures supported by forests of columns, with a big cult statue inside. Sacrifices and divination rituals took place in the open air out front: once you’d stuck in enough columns to hold up the roof, there wasn’t a lot of room left.
The Romans had conquered Greece, taken their graduate students as slaves to teach them literature and history, and mushed up their architecture to spread as a paste over triumphal arches, circular arenas where people were murdered for entertainment, and vaulted concrete baths.
Then people had to let the whole thing slide for a while. The one thing the sight of Classical architecture did tell you was that there was a powerful state around, with some taxing power. When the Renaissance decided the previous thousand years or so had been a big mistake—a horrendous job, a terrible marriage—and demanded a do-over, they fell on Classical remains and the notes of Vitruvius and then wrote their own stories about them in stone: architectural fanfic. Through analysis and experiment they created tight ratios of proportion: column height, arch width, bay spacing. Mess with the ratios, and whatever you built became a drunken slur. Like any language created rather than evolved, it said some things much better than others, and some concepts were inexpressible.
The following Baroque loved the implied hierarchy of the language, the austere discipline not so much. They stretched the triumphal arch into entire cathedrals, cut the pediments into pieces, and covered everything with swollen swags and simpering cherubs. As long as the pastry cart included an acanthus leaf or two, they were happy.
After some screwing around with Gothic, Chinese, Egyptian, and Indian pastiches, there had been a renewed period of more academic revival--not stringy-haired fanboys scribbling late at night but grad students grimly bucking for tenure with heavily footnoted articles—that had dominated the offices of government departments, banks, and other bureaucratic institutions across the European and American national states.
Then it ended altogether, and everyone forgot about it, except as random details on suburban office parks and drivethrough banks…and except for Andrea.