The vernacular or the indigenous building began with largely unplanned shelters – round, oval, then, megaron shaped – using local materials. Mud was mixed with straw then baked in the hot sun. Later stone was cut and carefully fitted together to use with the mud bricks or alone. These simple structures are still being built. Along the shores of the Greek Islands, grouped villages in North Africa, and precariously clinging to hillsides rising from the sea in France and Italy, these native houses created with strong elemental shapes can be seen as cubist landscapes. Powerful, sculptural compositions, these unself-conscious structures continue to influence modern architects and designers. Their elemental forms, honest use of materials, unity of design, their qualities of enduring value and their beauty is strongly affecting. The Mediterranean house, those of the Greek Islands, Andalusia and the South of France, is inward-looking, protecting the family, screening it from the street, its few openings guarded by iron grilles. The patio, developed from the atrium, often has a fountain as the actual and symbolic center of family life. Its interior furnishings are as eloquently simple as the build. Handmade chairs with rush seats, colorful textiles glowing against white walls, bare terra cotta floors warmed by the sun, burnished copper pots, all remind us of the delight of a few cherished, well-made, and lovingly cared for possessions along with more grandiose building styles, this simple cube has been transplanted to designs all over the world.
In striking contrast to the indigenous and organic building forms and their simple contents is the high art architectural heritage of the Mediterranean — the classical vocabulary of Greece and Rome. The ancient Greeks began with vernacular forms and refined them over time into the early temples. A succession of gifted architects, artists, mathematicians, sculptors and theorists continued to perfect the temple form, making subtle changes and refinements in shape, size, and ornament, until it reached its ultimate peak of perfection in the Parthenon, built on the Acropolis in the fifth century B.C. Considered to be one of the most perfectly proportioned buildings ever conceived, achieving unity in all its parts, architects and designers still make pilgrimages to Athens, as they have for hundreds of years, to measure ad draw and be inspired by its beauty.
The Romans were dazzled by the achievements of the Greeks. They incorporated or adapted Greek Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian capitals and columns, pediment and friezes, metopes and ornament into their building forms, while developing the expertise to increase the size of interior spaces. The Greek temple has been designed to be looked at, a background for human activity, an object on the land. The Romans needed urban centers. They needed architecture for great multitudes of people for entertainment, for housing, and for the business of commerce and government. They wanted it to be impressive as well as large in size. Using the arch, the groin vault, and the dome, they built graceful aqueducts, huge amphitheaters and colosseums, marvelously engineered temples and palaces in and around Rome, and throughout the far-flung empire. This fusing of Greek orders and daring Roman engineering became the architectural language for much of the western world for centuries, sometimes dormant, sometimes flourishing. Druing one of the great revival periods, the Italian Renaissance, many of the Graeco-Roman forms were redefined and, in turn, then became the inspiration for future neoclassical revivals. These revivals are the basis for a great deal of American architecture. Greek temple facades and Roman domes, complete with appropriately measured columns and capitals, and a wide range of building ornament, are seen on government buildings, college campuses, bank buildings and private homes.