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Commenting on Architecture: An Introduction

How To View, And Comment, On Architecture

Walking hand in hand with your girlfriend and being able to point up at a building and talk about the beauty of its design and the origins of the style can’t help but make you look cultured in her eyes. But what are the main things to look for when commenting on architecture?

As a tourist, most guidebooks will point you to the churches as great examples of art, history and architecture. However, the elements of architecture are everywhere, and though the churches are the most obvious, once you start walking and looking, you’ll see more example.

Doric columns

Doric columns

As opposed to most other forms of art, architecture has to serve a definite function as well, which is holding up the building. As any of us who have played with Lego’s knows, you can’t build a building on top a stack of double dimpled bricks. So, to start with, here are some of the structures used to distribute the weight of the building that are perfect places for architects to decorate and for you to find as you do the tourist thing.

Columns: The three main classical orders of columns are Ionic, Doric and Corinthian. Used for support, they take the downward force of the materials above to the structure or foundation below. The area for decoration is the capital, or the top of the column.

1. The Doric column has a very simple capital, or top of the column, has a wider circumference and generally has no base.

2. The Ionic column adds a base, has scroll like decorations at the top and is much slimmer than the Doric column.

3. The Corinthian column has a base and is slim like the Ionic column, but adds more decorations to the scrolls at the top in the form of leaves.

Arches: Another way to think of columns is that they support large slabs of stone. (Think Stonehenge.) What if you don’t have large stones? Then you rely on the arch, which allows you to use smaller stones to distribute the weight outward to the columns on either side. (The columns have to be reinforced to support this outward force.) It also allows a larger open area underneath without the interruptions of columns. A unique example of many arches in their different forms (like a dome, which is just a series of arches with the same center and a vault, which is a series of connected arches) is the interior of the Pantheon in Paris.

Flying Buttresses: This is just another way to reinforce an arch and is just a cool thing to spot. Common in Gothic architecture, before that time the structures were usually covered with a roof. Once left exposed, they appeared to be “flying.” The most famous flying buttresses are used to support the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. With such a large open interior the half arch-like structures on the outside (the flying buttresses) support the outward pressure of the structure.

Just a few things to try to look for as you walk around in your travels. In the future, I’ll look at specific cities and types of architecture as you broaden your base of walking around knowledge to go beyond food trucks.

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About Jason McClain Jason is an aspiring novelist, which means there is a lot of time to put off writing and watch baseball or go fly-fishing, hiking and traveling. By "a lot of time", Jason means "procrastination."

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