Why copy the Greek?

St Petersburg (photo: matildaben)

St Petersburg (photo: matildaben)

Once, strolling down the streets of St Petersburg, I thought about the multitude of neoclassical buildings around me. The city is known for its neoclassical and baroque architecture.  Street after street is laden with pillars, statues, curves, ornaments.

Passing a pediment after another, I wondered whether the Western culture really has nothing other to focus on than the ancient Greeks? Why keep reproducing an ideology from around 300 BC? In art we look back to the Greek for their classic proportions, in philosophy we start with Socrates and Plato. Literature students need to read the Iliad & Odyssey. It’s an important era, for sure, but has there not come anything new since?

I’ve recently started reading Ayn Rands massive novel The Fountainhead, which (among other things) describes the shift from classical to modern era in architecture. I’m just a few dozen pages into the book, but I immensely enjoy the juxtaposition between the conservative, traditionalist architecture graduate Peter Keating and the rebel Howard Roark, who is expelled from the university because of his modernist ideas. The year is 1922.

We today take the white, smooth, ornamentless, functional buildings for granted. This is a result of the likes of Roark  having questioned the old Greek paradigm. The modernist movement, of course, changed not only architecture but arts, literature, physics, everything. Whatever you think of the modernist thoughts and dogmas, whether you like it or not, modernism really did provide an alternative to the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian pillars, the iambic pentameter and classical mechanics.

Interestingly enough, Ayn Rand is from St. Petersburg. Maybe she was inspired by the same streets as I…?

Ps. this is another automatic pre-scheduled post… I’m still hiking in the mountains of Jotunheimen, Norway,  far from ornamented pillars or plain surfaces.


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