Posted in History n Theory

POINT: alternatives

In starting out this point essay on the recent Alternatives section we have completed, I decided to look up the definition of “Alternative” from The New Oxford American Dictionary.

Adjective: of or relating to behavior that is considered unconventional and is often seen as a challenge to traditional norms
Noun:  one of two or more available possibilities

One can see by the readings and the lectures, that this unit was definitely labeled appropriately.  Taking the knowledge we had from the ancient forms from Greece, Rome and Egypt and seeing how they have been transformed, or altered, to the modern times of the Renaissance during the 14th to 17th century.  It has been said many times in lecture that we are still in the Renaissance, but for the purpose of this essay, I am focusing on the time period stated above.

Beginning with Egypt, we have learned that they had established the axis and used them in their designing of their architecture.  They used their columns to tell a story to keep their society alive throughout history.  In Greece, they began the design of the early Temples, called a Megaton.  In this design, they included a porch, hearth and a court.  The Greeks had a command for asymmetrical balance and making things all appear ideal.  Romans kept many of the design elements from Greece, however they brought in more of a mathematical way of designing and they began the grid city patterns.  Knowing these basic ideas from each culture, we move forward to the Renaissance and the questions, “How do you take the stuff from the past and make it your own for the future?”(1)

Tempietto of San Pietro

This can be seen in the building of Tempietto of San Pietro · Montorio, Rome, Italy 1502. This is said to be the perfect temple, taking ancient world buildings and perfecting them into this 16’ wide family chapel. As seen from the image provided (2), many ancient design ideas were altered to what is believed to be perfect for this time period.  Unlike Greek columns, You will not see writings on these columns.  The use of domes, columns and materials are very similar to  ancient counterparts, but this is not for the public.  It is a sacred, family space for worship.

Times were also about bending the rules to play with alternative ways of designing and even times, such as in the Baroque era, making something look like what is it not. Designing of the landscape was also important during these times; this went hand in hand with the interior design in many places.  Versailles, for instance, went beyond the boundaries with movement through space.  In the Hall of Mirrors, large mirrors were placed opposite of the large windows facing the gardens.  These helped reflect the view, making the space not only look bigger, but also using the natural landscape to help the interior space design.

Alternatives were also found with the colonization of America. Although what typically happened stateside was what was happening in England (3), function becomes greater then style.  Homes had little architectural detail and they were located near water and/or transportation routes for agricultural reasons.  The Spanish had found alternative ways to construct structures by using Adobe because the wood was limited in their areas. The French who settled in the Louisiana territory, generally had 2 storied homes with exterior stairs.  Due to the humidity and climate, they tried to maximize their outdoor living spaces with steeply pitched roofs that extended over the home.  They had few furnishings and in French Canada, they used stone to construct their homes.

Pennsylvania Station Waiting Room

 One building that I find describes this alternatives section quite well is New York’s original Pennsylvania Station built in 1910.  Not only did the Industrial Revolution have a huge impact in the availability of materials, but also Americans found new ways to display the classical detail of arches, colonnades and control of natural light.  This building, which spanned over two blocks in downtown Manhattan, had a center waiting room that was designed after the Baths of Caracalla.  “ the waiting room designed as a great gate to the city, a monumental termination of the long journey, whereas the concourse was a calculated transition from the monumental classical architecture of the waiting room to the 20th century mechanical utilitarianism of the trains themselves” (4).  What an alternative new way to display this design idea!


(1) class notes dated 10/13/10 on Renaissance
(2) picture credits: great buildings online;  
(3) class notes 10/22
(4) Roth, Leland M. Understanding Architecture. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2007 pp. 505-506


Lover of architectural history, family, building design, coffee and dogs.

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