In life, there are items or objects that we have grown so accustomed to, that we never stop to think about the fact that they all have names. The portico is one of those very things.
For the past few years, there's been a lot of hubbub around so-called untranslatable words, but given that there are descriptions attached to those words, is it really accurate to call them untranslatable?
There is a name, somewhere in the world, for almost everything. The English language itself is derived from multiple European languages, from Latin to French to German. Latin and Greek both, too, originate from a single shared ancestor, and when a master creates their pièce de résistance, they will, inevitably, name it.
The human mind has a natural tendency to describe what it sees in order to process it. This is why names and labels exist. A good example of this is 'zugzwang'; when you're playing chess and you know you're screwed, whichever move you choose to make. Similarly, the feeling of the warm sun against your face on a chilly day is known as experiencing 'apricity'.
Porticos are built, in part, for protection and are a wonderful, sturdy example of a branch of architecture that is constantly being reinvented. The portico is the columned porch-like structure that leads to the entrance of an important or extravagant building. Its name comes from the Greek word pronaos, which roughly means 'before the temple' (pro- before, naos- temple), which is why porticos were originally part of larger structures in Ancient Greece and Ancient Rome, either protecting small walkways or colonnades.
There are different types of porticos. The Romans both preferred the tetrastyle porticos which consist of four supporting columns, and the Greeks used this style too, but only on their smaller buildings. For bigger buildings and colonnades, the most common usage was hexastyle, but the styles go on and up to ten.
Their usage was carried through from Ancient Greece to the extravagance of the Romans who then took it to the shores of Britain and northern Europe where it was to be adopted by the church as cloisters for their monasteries. This use of porticos is continuously revived for use in the modern world, and it's these we see almost everywhere, without knowing. You may have seen porticos in front of the old Colonial houses of New Hampshire, or from the Capitol Building itself.
In my hometown, there's a Greek structure based on the top of a burial mound. It was built in the mid-19th century as a half-sized replica of The Temple of Hephaestus in Athens, as a monument to the work of the colonizer and high commissioner, John Lambton.
It's a wild site that hardly fits amidst the industrial, coal-rich landscape of the hills and valleys that make up that corner of the country but is also a fine example of a hexastyle portico; a style that will never die out.
The Panthéon is a temple and mausoleum within Paris's Latin Quarter. It was built by the French architect, Jacques-Germain Soufflot, commissioned by King Louis XV as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve, the Patron Saint of Paris. Soufflot decided to combine a façade inspired by The Pantheon in Rome, with its portico of Corinthian-style columns and a dome akin to that of St. Peter's Basilica.
Many of France's greatest visionaries are interred in the necropolis behind the colonnade as an honor to their memory; Voltaire, Victor Hugo, and Marie Curie among them.
The National Gallery has, within its walls, one of the greatest and largest collections of art in the world, but it is its style that truly stands out as itself in a history full of beautiful and historical buildings. The colonnade is at the forefront of Trafalgar Square. It is one of the first things that you see when you visit the famed spot that also gives a home to the infamous stone lions around Nelson's Column, as well as the Fourth Plinth - an empty plinth that has become host to specially commissioned and ever-changing pieces of art.
Its neo-Grecian columns have been at the center of hundreds upon thousands of postcards, paintings and many legendary photographs over the years.
Not to be confused with the Parisian Panthéon or the Roman, the Parthenon is a former temple on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. The Greeks built this temple as a shrine to the Goddess of hunting and Patron of the Athenians - Athena. The Parthenon is the most important surviving building left over from Ancient Greece. It is the Parthenon we think of when we think of the wonders of the ancient world, of these columns and structures we've come to know as porticos, and its positioning is linked to the star cluster, the Hyades, that appear within the constellation of Taurus.
Perhaps then, we might allow ourselves the opportunity to ponder the idea that these temples were, figuratively, written in the stars.
The western front of the United States Capitol is one of the most recognizable examples of porticos in the modern world. The great image has been memorialized on film, in photographs, in books and in art, but the portico on the east front of the building is a replica. The original facade was replaced in the 50s as a preventative measure against the sandstone from which the old columns were built.
These old columns are now on display at the National Arboretum, not far from their original home, now supporting nothing but the cloudy skies above..
Everything has a name because everything has a reason in accordance with us. And now, you can tell everyone you walk by one with what the portico is, further extending the legacy of one of the oldest pieces of ancient architecture that the modern age has ever and will ever know.
I had been used to seeing stucco houses in our neighborhood. The plasterwork, however, was always on the outside of the house. It created a bumpy surface that looked as if someone had applied the material in overlapping circles. My brother always thought this made houses ugly, but I saw a beauty in it. It was not until I entered the house of Mr. Carlos that all I had learned about stucco in art history had a meaning.
If I was fascinated by the peach-colored stucco on the outside of the house, the interior of Mr. Carlos' house sent my creativity into orbit. He had invited our family over to cook a meal for us, since my mother always used to cook extra food and send it to him. He was a bachelor, she said, and they never seemed to get enough balanced meals. Sending dishes to him was her way of saving her small corner of the world.
I knew my parents might start screaming at me for touching things inside the house, but I did not care. I felt like I had stepped into an art history book, and I was going to enjoy every single minute of it. I saw my mother blaring her eyes at me, as if to warn me to keep my hands to myself, but Mr. Carlos stopped her. He explained that one of the reasons he invited us was so that my brother and I could see the work inside the house.
Starting with the fireplace in the living room, almost every inch of the walls looked like sculpture. I could clearly make out stucco faces, houses, and landscapes. I got lost just trying to explain every image to myself and see it in context to everything else. Never had I seen plasterwork so fascinating.
So much of what I could run my fingers over in Mr. Carlos' house reminded me of the ancient Egyptian burial tombs and caves I had studied in art history classes. The Egyptians frequently wrote in hieroglyphics and drew pictures to keep a record of their way of life. Every other house I had ever visited only had plain paint on the walls. If there was any stucco at all, it was on the ceiling, which my mother called a popcorn ceiling.
As our night progressed and the adults started talking about things happening in the community and in the national news, I could not stop looking at the walls. Finally, Mr. Carlos stopped talking to my parents and turned to me. He wanted to know if I would like to know why he invested so much in mere plasterwork.
Mr. Carlos originally was not from the United States. He had lived in Brazil during much of his childhood, he told us. During that time, his father was away a lot working on a farm in another city in order to bring home money for the family. His mother took in laundry and did some tailoring on the side to afford food and clothing for her children when her husband was away.
At first, Mr. Carlos said, he started drawing on the walls of his parents' house because he was extremely bored. The exterior of their house was made of plasterwork, so it was something he had been used to since he was born. One day, the man who owned all the houses in his neighborhood announced that he would be doing stucco upgrades to all the houses. No one got excited, since it was the interior of the houses that needed the most work.
Weeks, and then months, and then almost an entire year went buy with no progress. Two trucks had come to the village and dropped off bags of the mixture that would make the stucco. Nobody ever returned to start the project or give the residents an update. As a curious child, Mr. Carlos saw this as an opportunity. He mixed the stucco in small amounts at a time and started sculpting more art over the pictures he had drawn on the walls.
Eventually, his mother's house was unrecognizably beautiful. All the other neighbors began to ask Mr. Carlos' mom if he could do the same for their houses. She was hesitant because school was the priority, but eventually Mr. Carolos had refurbished the whole community.
Being the practical kid that I was, I wanted to know if the men who had dropped the bags of stucco mix got mad at Mr. Carlos. They did not, he told me. In fact, they asked him mother if he could come work for them and they would pay him a salary. Eventually, he made enough to not only leave his mother's house, but to leave Brazil and resettle in the United States.
I wondered as he told us the story if I could ever be this creative. He took what would have normally been a dire situation and turned it into something beautiful. Mr. Carlos did not yet know it, but he had sparked a creative urge in me that would last for a long time. No matter what kind of new project I took on, I always tried to make it as spectacular as Mr. Carlo's stucco and keep people in awe.
I know that Mr. Carlos never imagined that his story of stucco would follow me the way it has, keeping me in my creative zone. No art history course I have ever taken could ever replace the real-life art lessons I got from talking to Mr. Carlos. He helped me understand what it means to take risk in creativity and what it means to be misunderstood.
Each time I have ever created something new, I take it to him for an opinion. I know that the prince of plasterwork is going to give it to me straight and make sure that I have stretched myself to the limit for my work. I could not have had a better neighbor.