I watched a great episode of PBS’s Nova the other night about the design of the Parthenon. Heard lots of surprises of interest to designers and creators. It’s another example of how many innovations from history we take for granted without even understanding what they are.
What’s also amazing is how many different uses the building has had over 2500 years. It was a temple for Athena, a Christian church, a mosque, and an ammunition depot. It was bombed in several different wars, was stripped of marble and artwork by both the Turks and the British, and was seriously damaged by the first attempts to restore it in the 1890s.
- They cheated on symmetry. Their understanding of aesthetics was so good they realized at the scale of the building several non-symetrical elements had to be added to make it look symmetrical. The middle section of the ground level is curved, and is six inches higher than the sides. Also the columns are tapered and few elements actually use the golden ratio.
- We can’t replicate their quality of work. A $100 million renovation project is underway to repair 2000 years of damage, but they’re struggling to replicate the precision of craftsmanship. What took the Greeks ~9 years to build has already taken more than 30 years to repair, and is not finished yet. Without a computer or electric power, the Greeks had many clever innovations that were lost and are being rediscovered.
You can watch the video online and I highly recommend it if you’re into design history, architecture as technology, and the history of innovation.