How Were Triangles Used In Greek Architecture

Greek Architecture

Triangles were integral to ancient Greek architecture; they were used to provide stability in numerous ways. This role was particularly important in the design of monumental buildings and temples, which had to be able to withstand the various elements that threatened their longevity. Triangles have a sturdy form and are resistant to weight, making them a prime choice for load-bearing walls or columns within temples or other buildings. In addition to a load-bearing capacity, the shape of triangles helps to maintain the structural integrity of buildings. Greek builders often combined triangles with other shapes such as rectangles and circles to create complex architectural designs.

The use of triangles in ancient Greek architecture has been linked to the concept of ‘harmonia’, which refers to the idea of an orderly arrangement of elements within a structure.

According to Greek philosopher, Plato, harmony was perceived to be the most pivotal factor contributing to the overall beauty of structures. Through the use of geometrical shapes or ‘harmonious’ elements, like triangles, Greek architects sought to make their buildings aesthetically pleasing and perfectly balanced. Equally, the use of triangles provided the basis for a stable, strong and enduring foundation at the core of the structure.

Historians believe that the use of triangles in Greek architecture dates back to the pre-classical period, with evidence connecting it to the design of early shacks and houses.

The use of triangles was then refined as Greek architects developed their expertise in designing monumental buildings from the 5th century BC. During this period, temples became increasingly elaborate with increasingly curved and intricate designs featuring in their structure.

In addition to its structural benefits, triangles were used in a symbolic capacity.

Ancient Greek architects thought that the three angles of a triangle echoed the three elements of nature – earth, fire and air – which underpinned their philosophy. Hence, the use of triangles in ancient temples and buildings was thought to unify the physical structure with spiritual contemplation and the elements of nature.

The Ancient Parthenon

The Ancient Parthenon is perhaps the finest example of ancient Greek architecture, featuring numerous triangles in its design. Built by Phidias, the inventive architect and sculptor, the temple was dedicated to Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom and courage, who was said to watch over the Greeks during battles.

The temple was built on the Acropolis, a rocky hill in the middle of Athens and the Parthenon was the centrepiece of this complex.

The structure was built from intricately shaped marble blocks and imitated many of the elements of preceding temples, featuring a triangular pediment, triangular friezes and many other triangular elements. The triangular pediment was framed by two columns, placed at an angle to the sides of the temple and mounted with an ornate sculpture of a chariot. The friezes and other decorations within the temple featured elaborate images of various mythical figures, many of which were enclosed within triangles.

The Parthenon was constructed using a special technique known as the ‘Entasis’.

This involves the incremental angling of the walls of a structure, shaped in concave to create a visually pleasing effect. The triangular pillars of the structure, known as ‘the Parthenon’s catenary arch’, were then made wider at the bottom and narrower at the top, which is thought to improve the stability of the structure.

Triangles in the Colosseum

The Colosseum is another example of ancient Greek architecture featuring triangles. This giant amphitheatre in Rome was used to host gladiatorial games and other public spectacles. The Colosseum featured hundreds of small triangles to create a giant volleyball-shaped structure, with the circular auditorium ringed by a large number of pillars that were triangular in shape.

The structure of the Colosseum was ingeniously designed to provide stability and ensure that the amphitheatre could hold tens of thousands of spectators.

The height of the Colosseum was made critical to its stability, and this was achieved with the help of triangular shapes and height variations. The interior of the amphitheatre had a much shallower rise than the exterior, which meant the amphitheatre had better structural and sound stability. The triangular volutes at the base of the pillars also provided extra stability by ensuring that the weight was evenly spread out.

The Colosseum was further strengthened by the use of several different construction materials

, such as tufa, pumice and concrete, which were built in levels and given additional strength by the use of the triangular shape. The triangular shape of the Colosseum columns also enabled architects to create different visual effects within the structure and make more use of space.

Other Examples

The use of triangle-shaped elements within Greek architecture can also be seen in more modern constructions such as bridges. The design of bridges often requires a stable structure that can withstand the weight of vehicles and other components, and triangles are commonly used to provide this stability. Most modern bridges, such as the suspension bridge, feature triangular shapes within their architecture to support its weight and redirect tension on a larger scale.

Today, the use of triangles in architecture is still widespread, both in the creation of modern structures or the restoration of historical structures.

Greek architecture has been admired and studied globally, and its practitioners are revered for their unmatched innovation and their use of the triangle is testament of this.

Innovative Concepts

The use of triangles in architecture demonstrates the importance of Greek engineers and innovators, whose expertise enabled them to build strong and lasting structures that still stand today. It also shows the ingenuity of ancient architects and builders, who recognised the significance of geometrical shapes, such as triangles, in providing structural support and stability.

Innovative concepts such as ‘Entasis’, which improved the structural stability of monuments, have been studied and applied in contemporary architecture.

For example, the ‘hyperbolic paraboloid’, deformed triangles shaped like a saddle, have been used in structures today in order to provide a degree of shock absorbance and increased load capacity.

The Greeks also used the concept of harmonious proportions in their structures which attempts to balance the visual appearance of a building with its stability and reliability.

This concept has been employed by modern architects, and has helped to create interesting and attractive designs.

Advanced Geometry

The use of triangles in ancient architecture paved the way for more advanced concepts and designs. In fact, Greek architects were believed to have been the first to use mathematical equations to accurately design the shape of buildings, instead of relying solely on proportionate smooth curves and regular shapes.

This type of ‘geometric preciseness’ helped the Greeks to design buildings that were structurally sound and aesthetically pleasing, but also had a symbolic significance.

The geometric accuracy associated with Greek architecture remains a source of inspiration for contemporary architects, who have employed complex shapes and geometrical harmony to create innovative and attractive modern buildings.


In conclusion, it’s clear that triangles have been an important element of Greek architecture since the beginning. From the sturdy, weight bearing columns and pillars of the Parthenon to the intricate geometrical shapes found in modern structures today, the use of triangles has been, and continues to be integral to architecture.

Anita Johnson is an award-winning author and editor with over 15 years of experience in the fields of architecture, design, and urbanism. She has contributed articles and reviews to a variety of print and online publications on topics related to culture, art, architecture, and design from the late 19th century to the present day. Johnson's deep interest in these topics has informed both her writing and curatorial practice as she seeks to connect readers to the built environment around them.

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