Thursday, June 2, 2016

[Event 3] Roman Architecture - Tour of the Getty Villa

In week 2, we explored the relationships between Mathematics and Art. The two disciplines intersect in many fields of study, and in particular, the study of architecture. Architecture is one of the first fields to effectively incorporate Art with Mathematics, specifically geometry. In ancient architecture, one could clearly observe how geometry and art complement each other to provide structures that are both practical and aesthetically phenomenal. One of the civilizations that pioneered and excelled in architecture is the Roman Empire. The Romans have built structures that remain iconic through the 21st century.

To experience this cultural legacy, I spent an afternoon at the Getty Villa that is located in the Pacific Palisades near Los Angeles. The architecture was remarkable. The Getty villa, constructed in the early 1970s, is modeled after 1st century Roman villas. The structure was inspired mainly by the Villa dei Papiri in Herculaneum, but it incorporates features of many other first century Roman villas as well. In a sense, the Getty Villa is an encyclopedia of Roman villas.


The outer wall of the villa is simply decorated with rectangles that resemble the golden ratio. The ratio was later defined by a Greek philosopher, but one could see the inspiration and resemblance in the Roman architectures. 

On the inside, geometric features dominate the design of the entire villa. Be it floor tiles, ceiling d├ęcor, or overall building structure, there is a strong geometric element and symmetry that flows throughout the entire villa. 

The Floor
The floor tiles are constructed with mosaic or geometric patterns. The fine mosaic patterns on the interior floor tiles resemble textures of a rug or a carpet. For practicality the Romans used tiles in the interior to keep the villas clean. The exterior floor tiles were constructed with stones of different colors from neighboring countries. These rare stones that construct the floor boasts of the wealth of the owner of the villa.

The Ceiling
The ceiling consists of a square pattern that is not only visually stunning, but also structurally stable. Detailed patterns on the ceiling were hand-carved by masons, once again demonstrating the wealth and power of the villa owner. 

The villa features a fountain in the courtyard. Many Roman villas feature gravity-powered fountains. The landscaping in the courtyard is a symbol of wealth and status. In this case, hydro-technology is used for aesthetic pleasures. 

Another interesting feature are the windows that project sunlight at various angles. Along the corridor of the garden, various windows with specific patterns receive sunlight and project light onto the floor at various angles at different times of the day. This original design was meant for aesthetic purposes, to provide variation in the views of the garden. However, it was later discovered to also pioneer the concept of defining time, as the various positions of the reflected light represented different times of the day. Another example of which artistic gestures pioneered science. 


What stood out to me was the stark contrast between the exterior of the mansion and the interior. The guide told us that the Roman’s were very “under-handed” in flaunting their wealth. This culture resulted in a very interesting design of the villa in which the exterior is plain in contrast to the lavish interior decorations. 

The Getty villa shows how Roman architecture tightly intertwines geometry and art. The geometric principle of designs of the structure creates a delicate balance between practicality and art. In a way, what’s artistic about Roman architecture is its simplicity and functionality. 

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