"The Parthenon...enjoys the reputation of being the most perfect Doric temple ever built. Even in antiquity, its architectural refinements were legendary, especially the subtle correspondence between the curvature of the stylobate, the batter, or taper, of the naos walls and the entasis of the columns."
This quote from John Julius Norwhich's book, Great Architecture of The World , describes perfectly the reason for which the Parthenon in Athens, which is probably the most famous and most studied building on earth has had an incredible influence on modern and ancient architecture. Buildings even now continue to borrow parts of the doric order of which it is built. The Parthenon while deceptively simple in design is in fact an intricate and complex piece of architecture for which the ancient Greeks should be admired.
The Parthenon built by Pericles between 447 and 438 B.C. to immortalize the greatness of Athens and secure it a place in history did it s job very well. As mentioned before, the Parthenon is deceptively simple in design. It is simple because the structural elements are not overly complex. This is the result of a design process that focuses on determining the size and proportions of the columns, which are used in turn to determine every other aspect of the building's design and size. The width of the average column base is in fact used to determine most of the other major dimensions of the structure and most importantly the interaxial spacing (the distance from column center to column center) determines the center as well as the height of the colonnade and the height of the entire facade. These measurements seem insignificant to us, but to the Greeks, they appear to have been incredibly important and reflect a great deal of experimentation. This approach to architecture may seem somewhat odd to us, but if we think of architectural design primarily as a complex problem of geometry, the Parthenon will make more sense to us.
The Parthenon was the climax of over four centuries of Greek temple architecture. Though no original plans of the temple exist, it appears that the temple was built on a square root-of-5 rectangle, that is, it is +5 times as long as it is wide. These are also the dimensions of the longest side view of the temple. The Parthenon is littered with a (x to 2x + 1) system of proportions also known as the golden rectangle. These proportions are most readily evident in the plan of the temple which uses eight columns across its facade and seventeen along its flanks. More subtly, the Parthenon uses a four to nine ratio throughout much of its design. This four to nine ratio is used the width of the platform relative to its length, the height of the columns are up to the horizontal cornice relative to the temple's width, the diameter of the columns relative to the interaxial distance between the columns, and also the front elevation is built these are only some examples of parts of the building which yield this 4 to 9 ratio.
The Parthenon is really one giant optical illusion. It appears to be made of straight horizontal and vertical lines. The columns have the appearance of being straight up and down when in fact they tilt ever so slightly toward the middle and if extended 2 miles up would touch. The corner columns are slightly larger in diameter, with their spacing reduced to make it possible for the frieze to conform to the rule that it must terminate with a triglyph. The area above the columns is a frieze made up of metopes and triglyphs. The metopes had statues of heroes or gods on them and were the section between triglyphs. The triglyphs are a pattern of three vertical lines between the metopes.. The stylobate or foundation has an upward curvature towards its center. The steps were 508 mm high to conform with the rest of its mathematical exactness. Unfortunately, this was too high for many people to use comfortably, so intermediate steps had to be provided at the center of each of the short sides. The eastern room had internal Doric colonnades in two levels, which were necessary to support the roof timbers.
In Europe as well as the United States, you can see how the Parthenon directly affected the architecture of public and religious buildings constructed during the 19th Century. Even though the purpose of the buildings differed, their influence from the Parthenon s form is evident. The Second National Bank of the United States in Philadelphia has borrowed many feature of the Parthenon in its design as has the Mausoleum of Antonio Canova, in Possagno Italy. Also the Patent office in Washington D.C. is almost an exact replica of the Parthenon. Even in Salt Lake a look at the new courthouse and the old Masonic temple you can find the Doric influence.
Why is the Parthenon used so often in architecture? There is nothing overly apparent which gives answers to this problem. At first look the Parthenon appears only to the ruins of a large rectangular Doric temple. Upon closer inspection it becomes clear why this building has remained so appealing through generations. That is the use of the golden rectangle throughout its design. The golden rectangle is thought by many to be the most appealing shape to the human eye.
This may explain it s continued fascination and use. It continues to have a psychological feeling of stability and permanence in its design it gives a feeling a law and order to it and its architecture. The Golden rectangle continues to be used not only in architecture but also in all form of art. Perhaps it is also the fact that the Parthenon appears so simplistic, a large rectangular room surrounded with a walkways to be held up by many Doric columns.
When the Parthenon was built it was meant to glorify all of Athens achievements and the mathematical perfectness of the world around them. It is hard to believe that even the Greeks could have predicted the lasting effect, which this single building would have on the world. That by using such precise measurements and the golden rectangle they could change architecture forever. When the Greeks built the Parthenon they did more than create a lasting monument, they created an immortal monument. Even when the remnants of the Parthenon are no more than pebbles on the ground, its architecture will be in use throughout the world.