American Democracy is not Greek!

You can tell by the Architecture…… read on!

Agora of Athens

In Rockford we have a church that resembles this ancient Greek Temple, but most buildings that look like this are Government Buildings


One night at Dinner on the Azamara Journey, a couple days after our day in Athens, Rob gave an Architectural History Lesson at our table.  It went something like this:

Just about everyone knows that the Greeks are credited with the invent of Democracy.  And in Athens you saw how their ancient temples bear strong resemblance to Government buildings as we know them today… Huge Steps, leading to a large columnated porch (stoa), with a frieze above – became the Western symbol of Democracy and open Government.  But if you think about it – Government as we know it today has become anything but OPEN!

In ancient times the citizens of Greece would gather in the “Agora” before an assembly meeting. The agora, a fixture of every major Greek city-state, was a large open space in the middle of the city-state that contained a marketplace as well as government buildings. There, citizens would mingle and discuss the issues of the day before gathering for the assembly meeting. The agora would be surrounded by Stoa, Temple(s), and Marketplace structures that consisted of long steps and one, two, or three depths of columns. One could enter the structures from ANY location in the Agora. You could sit on the steps, listen – and participate – in the politics of the day, or hour.

Temple of Hephaestus

Temple of Hephaestus and other ancient Greek Architecture has inspired the design of Government and Public buildings world wide! This style is the single most replicated style known of, and it’s a temple with a stoa (open space surrounding it). Even churches that replicate it skip the “open space” part! Perhaps it was for budget reasons – – but in doing so they changed the function of the building.


Our Western Version of this Architecture has been polluted and diluted. No more do the steps lead to an open interior where the full discussions of the Government can be heard – let alone participated in. We now enter our edifices from a side entrance with security and a metal detector. Gone are the days of public congregating around our Government buildings. Our public officials hide in the bowels of Architecture that is supposed to represent their volunteer service, openness, and accountability. In this Architect’s opinion the “Greek Facade” has become synonymous with Albert Speers Fascist Architecture of the 1930’s. Buildings designed to intimidate, and let anyone who ventures into one know of the power of the Government over its people.  Our Government buildings are only masquerading as Greek Democracy!

The New Age Architects would tell us that IF we change our Architecture we can also change our actions, belief’s, and outcome. This does not mean a NEW style, but rather a return to the original Greek parti of openness.

The people at the table went from very talkative to speechless….. Rob really gave them some new ideas to think about.  But I think Rob himself will agree that actually going there and experiencing the space is what gave him the revelation.  Until then I think even Rob thought that our government buildings looked Greek because they were symbolizing Democracy!  When he went there and stood in the space he realized that it was VERY different……  American Democracy is not Greek!

Is it the evolution of the architecture that is defining our broken society?

Insanity – Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results ~ Albert Einstein   Ahhh, yes – you see things only change when you make a change.

In ancient Greece women and slaves were NOT citizens – nonetheless, ALL citizens – rich and poor – were not only invited, but REQUIRED to participate in Government. Citizens who did not participate/vote would be marked in red, and publicly punished. Participation was both thru voting, and serving on legislative bodies. Legislative members were randomly picked, not elected. The courts, too, were typically held in the agora. The juries in court cases were very large, often numbering in the hundreds (some in the thousands). To be fair, Greeks wanted their juries to reflect the general population.  Although some of the changes we have made were for the better – not all of them were.

Architects have some silly ideas. One of these is that building both reflect, and influence, our lives. We work REALLY hard to design buildings that reflect the use that is inside them. The New Age Architects, like Frank Ghery and Philip Johnson believe that people are born with a recognition of many architectural elements – ie: the keystone symbolizes entry is not something that is learned. A simple example is the architectural tower: Bell Tower, Steeple, Minaret, Clock Tower, etc. that imbues a building with importance, and signifies it as a place of public gathering.  In these Greek Buildings there was no prominent entrance – they were just open!  The value of the contents was the integrity of the people who would gather there for a purpose that was not secret or protected from the other people.  The buildings that looked so important in ancient Greece were temples.  The Stoa that surrounded a democratic government center was but a little more than a fence.  The Stoa’s unfortunately have all succumbed to earthquake or other natural disaster and lay in ruins….

What do you think?  Is American Democracy Greek?  Let us know by commenting below!

0 views0 comments