The Basics of Roman Architecture
The main components of Roman architecture include the arch, baked brick, cement, roads, aqueducts and columns. Greek and West Asian influences are found in the rich design used by the Romans. During the Republican Period, new developments were made including sewers and amphitheaters. Under the guidance of the first Roman Emperor, Augustus, marble and brick were utilized in the building of Temples.
Understanding Ancient Roman architecture can be fun and informational. Below are several ideas for homework and school projects. Most use limited supplies, some measuring and cutting, lots of dialogue and fun!
Differences Between Modern Construction and Roman Architecture
Imagine building a city without electricity, heavy machinery, vehicles, and modern tools. Pick a structure such as a library, office tower, or government building. Write down the equipment and materials it would take to assemble one of these constructions today. Next, have brainstorm about ways the Romans assembled such large assemblies with limited tools and resources.
Project: “Then and Now”
- Poster Board
- Pictures from the Internet, magazines or books
- Pencils, markers, colored pencils
Assembling the Project:
- Using the poster board as the base, score the center approximately 3-5 inches from the top of the board.
- In the undivided portion of the board, label the project. (Example: “Building a Library, Now and in Ancient Rome.”)
- In the divided sections, label one area “Now.” Label the other side, “Then.”
- Under “Then,” paste or draw pictures from the internet or magazines showing marble temples, the Coliseum, aqueducts, arches, etc. Find images of blocks of marble, crude bricks, stone and simple hand tools. Duplicate the “Now” side with glass and steel buildings, modern architecture, elevators, and the machinery available today.
- Arrange, sketch, embellish and make the piece uniquely your own.
Making an Aqueduct
One of the greatest contributions to ancient architecture was the aqueduct. Built of stone, brick and volcanic cement; these waterways allowed for running water, indoor plumbing and sewage systems.
Utilizing another Roman architecture achievement, the arch, construct a simple aqueduct model for a class project.
- 9 Styrofoam or plastic cups
- Yard stick
- Poster Board
- Packing Tape
Building an Aqueduct Model
- Measure the width of the cup at the brim.
- Carefully cut an arch on both sides of each cup starting at the brim. Allow for at least an inch uncut at the bottom of the cup.
- Place five of the “arched, cut-out” cups (rim on the bottom) next to each other on your work space.
- Cut a strip of poster board for the base. The dimensions should be the width of the cup by the length of the five cups, plus two inches. (Example: If the cup is 3 ½” at the brim, the length should be 17 ½” plus 2”or 19 ½” long by 3 ½ “wide.) You will need two strips of poster board of this size.
- Place the cups on the poster board strip, leaving an inch on each side.
- Secure the cups to the board with pieces of clear packing tape.
- Cut a second strip of poster board to accommodate four cups using the same measuring example.
- Place the second strip on top of the five arched cups and secure with tape.
- Place the four remaining cups on top of the second strip of poster board, brim down.
- The four cups should straddle or begin midway into the first row of cups.
- Secure the second row of cups to the poster board strip.
- Secure the last poster board strip to the bottom of the cups on the second row.
This sounds more complicated than it is. Do not get carried away with the precision of the strips. If the measurements are off a bit, that is perfectly acceptable. The concept is to recreate the importance of the arches utilized in production of the aqueduct.
Building an Ancient Roman Road
“All roads lead to Rome.” That common saying comes from the fact that Ancient Romans built the first solid roads. Thousands of miles of roads! The creation of cement from volcanic ash was new to the ancient world and one of the largest contributors of construction in Ancient Roman times.
Picture Board Project
For this fun and slightly messy project, take photographs of each stage of production. This will be the best way to present your “Roman Road” in the classroom.
- A place to dig
- Small hand trowel
- Sand or dirt
- Stirring stick
- Smooth stones
- Computer to print pictures
- Poster Board
Building the Road
- Prepare to get dirty!
- Make sure to take a photograph of each stage of the road construction.
- Start by digging a small trench with the trowel. The trench needn’t be more than four inches deep, 6 inches wide, and twelve inches long for this demonstration.
- Line the trench with small pebbles, rocks or gravel.
- Place volcanic ash, (sand or dirt for this demonstration) small rocks, and enough water to make a bumpy, pasty consistency, in the bucket. Stir all ingredients to a rocky, muddy compound.
- With the trowel, scoop the “cement” into the trench, covering the rocks. Place enough “cement” to align the trench with the bordering land.
- Push larger, smooth stones into the “cement” to create a cobblestone effect.
Arrange the pictures in succession from start to finish, on the poster board. Label each stage and decorate.
Three Main Column Structures in Roman Architecture
Go over the three main column structures in Roman Architecture. Look up pictures on the internet or go to the library. Understand the differences between Doric, Ionic and Corinthian Columns, and what the importance of the column is. Choose which style you find most interesting.
Research the use of Roman Columns in modern architecture; for example, columns are used in most government buildings in the United States. Look at the differing columns used in the construction of the White House, the U.S. Department of the Treasury, and the Capitol Building. Explore the internet for other examples.
Project: Roman Columns in American Architecture
- Utilize the internet for examples of columns used in American architecture.
- Look for Roman Columns in American architecture especially in Washington D.C. on the internet, in magazines or newspapers.
- Print out or copy pictures of the Capital, White House, etc.
- Make a collage with the photographs, identifying the different styles of columns used.
Project: Road Trip
With sketch pad, pencil and camera, enlist your parent’s help to go on a road trip. Visit city centers, older sectors, and libraries around your home. There should be plenty of examples of Roman architecture where you live. This trip should be enjoyable and educational.
Explore the city. Discuss the modern structures and those influenced by Roman architecture. Stop and sketch the buildings, their columns, fountains, arches, etc. Have your child take photographs of houses with columns adorning the porches.
Make a collage combining the sketches and pictures. The examples can be subdivided into Doric, Ionic and Corinthian column types. Have your child clearly label the type of structure (government building, house, theatre, etc.) and the column utilized in the construction.
Project: Making Columns at Home
- Clay, Play-dough, or modeling compound
- Pencil or orange stick
- Poster Board
- Markers, crayons, pictures from different mediums
Using salt dough, Play dough or modeling clay, construct an example of each column type. Use an orange stick or pencil to make ridges in the shaft of the column. Corinthian capitals are extremely ornate. A primitive representation of scrolling is sufficient for the age of the student creating this project.
The columns should be placed flat against a poster board. The weight of the capital will probably lead to collapse before finishing the project or while transporting it to school.
Make each of the three columns Doric, Ionic and Corinthian. Label the three major components (base, shaft, and top or capital.)
- Roll a tube (1” diameter by 3”length). The shape is more important than the dimensions. The smaller the column, the more strength it will have during transport.
- Lay the shaft on top of a colored or black poster board.
- Make a simple Doric capital by shaping two squares or cubes out of the clay.
- Place one square at the top of the Doric shaft.
- Flatten the second square to approximately half the height of the first block. Place the shortened, fatter square at the top of the structure.
- Use an orange stick or pencil to imprint details such as lines at the bottom of the Doric capital and creases in the shaft.
- Make two more squares for the base.
- Place the first block at the bottom of the shaft.
- Flatten the second block as was described for the capital, this will serve as the base.
- Label the three Doric Column stages (capital, shaft and base) with markers or other mediums.
- Repeat the procedure of the Doric Column for the shaft, base and capital.
- Make narrow snakelike or spaghetti shapes out of the clay or dough.
- Starting at the center, wrap the strand around itself forming the shape equivalent to a sweet roll.
- Attach two of the spiral embellishments on the top square of the capital.
- With an orange stick or sharp pencil, add more designs to the capital.
- Label each section of the Ionic Column in the same manner as the Doric Column.
- Repeat steps for the base and shaft for the Corinthian representation.
- Shorten the shaft by approximately the same height as one of the cubes being used for the capital.
- Make two cubes out of the molding clay. Do not flatten the top square.
- The Corinthian Column is extremely ornate, it is best to imprint lines, dashes, twigs, whatever the child is capable of on the first square.
- The top square should incorporate the Ionic “sweet roll” effect.
- Embellishments of the Corinthian capital are longer than the Doric or Ionic. Make sure the shaft is shorter, not the entire column.
- Label the Corinthian Column in the same manner as the Doric and Ionic Columns.
- Image Source: Reconstructed Roman Columns by Amberly and David under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
- History for Kids.org http://www.historyforkids.org/learn/romans/architecture/romarch.htm
- Rome.mrdonn.org http://rome.mrdonn.org/builders.html
- Image Source: Ancient Rome by Moyan Brenn under CC BY-ND 2.0
- Image Source: Aqueduct Model by Author