Ancient Buildings With Modern Los Angeles Research Paper

Pages: 5 (2005 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 10  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: Architecture

Karim Snoussi

Christoph Korner

Roman Visions

Take a drive around the always-crowded streets of Los Angeles and you'll notice scores of buildings whose architects drew their inspiration at least in part from the ancient world -- from Babylon and Mesopotamia as well (more commonly) Greece and Rome. Such heavy stylistic borrowing from the cities of Greece and Rome should not be surprising given how many American cities have buildings with Classical and Neoclassical elements. Americans, whose country was born during the Enlightenment's celebration of the Classical world, are inclined to borrow from Greece and Rome in part because of those societies' historical values. This paper examines a number of buildings in Los Angeles that have been influenced by Roman architectural styles. These buildings have thus in many ways been influenced by Greek architectural styles since the Romans themselves incorporated many elements of Hellenistic style. The architects of these buildings, and the people who commissioned them, were intent on borrowing both a pleasing aesthetic and specific cultural connotations.

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Rome was one of the dominant civilizations of the world for centuries, and as the centuries passed there were many changes in the art and architecture of the nation. When Roman (and Greek) style was resurrected during the Neoclassical period of the 18th century, Enlightenment scholars were not as aware as are scholars today of the stylistic differences between Roman eras nor of the exact relationship between Greek and Roman societies (Kleiner 38). Thus when Classical elements were included in 18th century buildings or art, there was often a mixing of different centuries and even different cultures. This mixing of Greek and Roman elements continued into 20th century renewals of Classical style.

TOPIC: Research Paper on Ancient Buildings With Modern Los Angeles Buildings Assignment

Ancient Rome has its roots in a modest farming community that grew on the Italian Peninsula probably in the 10th century. Beginning as a monarchy, Rome later became a republic before a shift to an empire. Through these different political phases, Rome spread its political, cultural, economic, and linguistic dominance across much of southern Europe and the Mediterranean. The size of the empire and the variable quality of its rulers meant that there were numerous periods of instability in the nation (Scarre 26-8). This lead to the break-up of the western portion of the empire in the fifth century, with Italy, Spain, Britain, and Africa forming independent kingdoms, each of which would develop slightly different Classical styles.

Roman architecture was one of the greatest accomplishments of this civilization in terms of both aesthetics and technology. Roman architects and engineers created grand cities across the breadth of the empire, creating monumental works in stone and concrete -- covering this latter humbled material with plaster, stone veneers, gold, mosaics. Roman buildings whether in Rome or across its lands were graceful, symmetrical, balanced, embellished but cleanly designed (Christ 74). They were also sturdy: The delicacy of the sculptural elements belied the fact that these structures were built to withstand their own empire.

A Villa on a Hill

The most dramatic example of a building in Los Angeles that was influenced by Roman architecture is the Getty Villa in Malibu. The building, one of two vast structures that house oil baron J. Paul Getty's art collection, was based on a typical (if grand) Roman country house. The house, the Villa dei Papiri, was built in the first century in the town of Herculaneum, which was destroyed along with the neighboring town of Pompeii by the volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in CE 79.

The entire villa has not been excavated. The original architects who designed the Getty Villa almost forty years ago incorporated what they knew of this home along with elements from other country estates in Pompeii and Herculaneum. The villa was renovated in the late 1990s to add an open-air theater that resembles those at which Romans would have watched plays and feats of oratory. The renovated villa demonstrates the grace of Roman architecture with vertical elements like columns creating a visual balance with the solidity of the horizontal structures of the buildings. A number of the galleries also include friezes -- decorated horizontal bands near the roof-line of a building -- and other embellishments on the surface of the stonework. These decorative elements do not sully the gracefulness of the structure or make it look cluttered but rather humanize the scale of the buildings.

Classical culture -- along with neoclassical culture -- is often called humanistic, and this is a useful reference to remember. Classically influenced architecture like the Getty Villa is designed both to cradle human denizens and to loft them toward the heavens. Standing under the colonnades of the Getty Villa, one feels both rooted and elevated by the tension between the heaviness of the stone and the vertical columns. The villa also offers visitors a sense of peace, in no small part because of the beauty of the gardens that are a significant and meaningful element of the villa. The grounds incorporate many of the same plants that would have been used in a Roman garden.

Typical of Roman buildings of the first century, Getty Villa is more horizontal than vertical, with pediments (a triangular design element at the top of a building) topping the colonnaded galleries and facades, the "face" of a building. While the columns and other vertical elements draw the eye upward, the pediments truncate the silhouette of the building so that the eye is returned to the earth. Such villas were designed to occupy a space between earth and the heavens -- anchored in the land yet soaring upward to the gods (Gournay 119).

These gardens reflect the same philosophy that underlies Roman architecture: One's surroundings should be both beautiful and useful. Thus the gardens include plants that are colorful and graceful but also useful for culinary or medicinal purposes, such as olive trees and lavender, feverfew and hellbore, pear and apple, spearmint and marjoram. These plants are artistically reflected in mosaics that reproduce botanical motifs and literally reflected in the long pool that runs up to the entrance of the villa. Both water and gardens were central to Roman architecture, which was designed to offer shelter from nature rather than as a barrier to it. Classical architecture connects buildings to people to environment.

Rome, via France, to California

There are numerous buildings in Los Angeles that have some classical elements. A walk through downtown would turn up scores of buildings with a pediment or a few columns. These nods to classical architecture are often an important part of the buildings' sense of style and beauty. But probably the best single cluster of neoclassical buildings is on Spring Street, in the heart of downtown Los Angeles. These buildings, such as the 1914 Crocker Bank building (no longer a bank but still architecturally intact), are generally designated as Beaux-Arts style buildings. This is simply another designation for neoclassical architecture, referring to the particular variant of neoclassical style that was developed in the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris. This form of Neoclassicism is slightly more intricate than other variations of Neoclassical architecture.

The Crocker Bank typifies neoclassical/Beaux-Arts style in its strict symmetry as well as its monumental nature. It is a massive building, but its broad facade is lightened by both architrave and pediment. The decorative elements near the roof-line show the shell-like curves reminiscent of Baroque style, which Beaux-Arts style also incorporates (Carlhian, 1979).

One of the major distinctions between the kind of classical re-creation like the Getty Villa and the Neoclassical/Beaux-Arts structures like those on Spring Street is that the latter are much taller than Roman homes or public buildings would have been. Certainly the Romans were quite capable of building monumental structure like the Coliseum, but most Roman buildings would have been only a few stories. The Crocker Bank building, on the other hand, is a ten-story building with Italian marble and tile work that suggest Roman detail and the overall proportion of each story is similar to that of Roman public buildings.

Another of the dozen or so neoclassical buildings on Spring Street is the 1902 Continental Building. The twelve-story building is known as the city's first skyscraper and its exterior calls to mind Greek temples, Roman baths, and Italianate Renaissance neoclassical palazzi. In this one building one can seen the Greek roots of Roman architecture, the core design details of Roman Imperial architecture, Italy's recreation of its classical past, and early 20th-century reclamation of the grace of each of these eras and styles (Lemaistre 29). The building incorporates heaven-reaching columns with a solid, weighty facade, a sense of power and authority, and a use of concrete along with stone and subtle exterior carving to balance the Classical and the Modern.

Key architectural elements of the Continental Building are the arches that define the top of the building and recall the triumphal arches of Rome -- perhaps meaning to suggest that this new form of building (the skyscraper) was a new form of celebratory architecture. The building is also adorned with wreaths, associated… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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