From Greece to Main Street

In what ways did Greek architecture influence American architecture?


Key Staff

Classroom teacher

Key Skills

Global Connections: Connecting to History and Culture
Creative Thinking: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Developing Arts Literacies: Analyzing and Evaluating - Critique


Students will learn defining elements of classical Greek architecture by comparing the Lincoln Memorial with the Parthenon in Athens, Greece. They will identify buildings in their communities that have elements of American Greek Revival architecture and design a building of their own.

Learning Objectives

Students will:

  • Learn to recognize elements of American Greek Revival architecture
  • Compare and contrast the Parthenon with the Lincoln Memorial
  • Identify the parts of a classical Greek building
  • Recognize the orders of classical Greek columns
  • Identify an American Greek Revival building in their own community

Teaching Approach

Arts Integration

Teaching Methods

  • Cooperative Learning
  • Research
  • Multimedia Instruction
  • Discussion

Assessment Type

Performance Assessment


Lesson Setup

Teacher Background

  • Visit the 'Greek Revival Style, Buffalo NY website' to learn the basics about Greek Revival architecture.
  • For additional information on this architectural style go to the Loggia website. Another good source is A Digital Archive of American Architecture from the Boston College website. These sites provide good examples of different buildings which use elements of Greek architecture.

Prior Student Knowledge

  • Students should be familiar with the principles of architecture and should have some background knowledge about ancient Greece.

Physical Space

  • Classroom
  • Computer Lab
  • Media Center or Library


Large Group Instruction


Test your classroom computer's internet connection.

Find a variety of images of residential architecture from Google images or your local real estate listings, or magazine articles or advertisements, or a Digital Archive of American Architecture from the Boston College website. Choose at least three distinctly different images of residential, commercial, and public buildings to present to the class.

Accessibility Notes

Note: Prior to teaching this lesson, you will need to tour your community to locate and photograph examples of Greek Revival architecture. You can also contact your local historical society to request pictures and information about any Greek Revival style buildings in the community.


Resources in Reach

Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.

Build Knowledge


What is Architecture? Why does it matter?

1. Display three or four images of a variety of residential houses to the class. Choose images that are distinctly different, for example: a humble cottage, a stately mansion, a ranch style house, or an old colonial or Victorian home. Ask the class which house they would rather live in.

2. Engage the class in a discussion about why they would choose one house over the other. For purposes of discussion, agree that all the houses have the same basic amenities of neighborhood conveniences of shopping, schools, jobs, parks, etc. They are just to consider the houses based on their architectural style. Points they may consider: is it durable, will it be useful to their family and their families interests, is it beautiful, it is a status symbol or an anti-status symbol. Does the image of the house evoke certain emotions, desires or antipathies?

3. Now display an image of a Greek revival building, a drive through burger or coffee joint, a commercial or office building, a box warehouse style building. Choose generic examples or cover any identifiable business signs that may be on the building. Ask the class what do they think takes place in each of these buildings? What message or mood does the architecture suggest for the patrons of these buildings? They may use words like, formal or informal, serious, relaxing, a hang out place, intimidating, off putting, welcoming and so on.

4. Identify for the students which building in the photos is a Greek revival building. Make special note of the features which differentiate the Greek revival building from the other buildings and which descriptive words or phrases the students may have used to talk about this building. Explain that in this lesson we will be considering the legacy of the ancient Greeks who inspired this type of architecture.

5. Pose the question to the class, why would anyone go to the effort and expense to “design” a structure with any particular features? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to build everything the same way? Why does it matter how it looks if it has the right number of bedrooms or doors or windows or offices? If students are stuck for answers to this question you can relate it to their clothes, why don’t we all dress the same? Sample answers might be: to express individuality, to win an award, to stand out from the crowd, to fit in, because we each have different needs.

6. Encourage the students to consider that architecture matters. Explain that “architecture” is the art and science of designing buildings, structures and public spaces. Good architecture does more than provide shelter from the physical elements. In a well designed structure we feel and are supported in our purpose or mission. For an example in a home we need a space that provides a place to relax and rejuvenate and where families can easily gather, communicate and live and work together. While in a bank building we want to have a sense that our resources are secure, or in a store we want to easily find merchandise that we need or want to buy.

Build Knowledge

1. Write the following vocabulary on the board and refer to them throughout the lesson

  • Capital: the upper part or crown of a column
  • Marble: a metamorphic limestone
  • Pediments: a broad triangular space as above a frieze
  • Frieze: the wide central part of an entablature
  • Entablature: the part of a classical structure between the capital and the roof
  • Post and lintel construction: the use of vertical columns and a horizontal beam
  • Columns: a vertical element that can be structural or decorative
  • Post: a vertical structural element
  • Lintel: a horizontal structural element, often weight bearing, above a door way or opening

2. Briefly survey what students may already know about Greek architecture and culture. Students may know that the ancient Greeks were a sophisticated society, that some of their structures still exist today in ruins, that our modern Olympic Games originated in ancient Greece. They may know about the comedy and tragedy masks of ancient Greek Theater. Some may know about the Parthenon. Point out that their responses and reactions to the Greek Revival image earlier in the lesson indicates that they already have an internalized awareness of Greek architecture.

3. Take a virtual tour of the Parthenon and of the Lincoln Memorial. As you "tour," refer to the vocabulary words and show examples of them. For definitions refer to Merriam-Webster Online. Talk with the students about how the elements of Greek architecture relates to the ancient Greek ideals of order, harmony, balance and beauty. This style of building also has a strong association with classical tradition and democracy. Invite students to suggest ways in which these ideals were represented in the architecture. Students may notice the following:

  • Symmetry that creates a sense balance
  • Repetitive elements create a sense of order
  • Proportions relate to the golden mean or the Greek letter Phi and create a sense of beauty

Remind the class of the earlier discussion about design evoking emotion and present this as a perfect example of these emotions and ideals. Consider the powerful emotions and purposes connected with the Lincoln Memorial.

  • On the common five dollar bill: circulation, connection, power, influence, affluence
  • The site of many historic events to do with freedom: Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech and Marion Anderson’s performance.

4. Engage the class in a discussion about the architectural elements of each building. Ask students to use the Venn Diagram located within the Resource Carousel to compare the Parthenon and the Lincoln Memorial. Sample student responses might be:

  • They both have columns or Doric columns
  • They both are much larger than life scale
  • The Lincoln Memorial has interior walls and a roof, the Parthenon does not
  • The Parthenon in high on a hill, the Lincoln Memorial is not.
  • The friezes are decorated differently
  • They are both symbolic of hard-won freedom and were built after a brutal war
  • They both honor a larger than life personality with a larger than life statue, although the statue from the Parthenon no longer exists

5. Distribute the handout, Greek Column Orders located within the Resource Carousel. Using the handout point out to the class that there are three orders of Greek columns:

  • Doric
  • Ionic
  • Corinthian

6. Direct students to examine the columns. Ask the students to note the similarities and differences between the columns. Students could make a Venn diagram of the similarities and differences.

7. Teach the students about the architectural style in America called the American Greek Revival style. Explain to the class that revival means to take something that has gone out of fashion and bring it back again into prominence. In terms of architecture it means to return to that style of building that was previously predominant and “revive” it for contemporary use. Everything old is new again. This style of architecture was very important in America from about 1818-1850 and was found throughout the country. The American Greek Revival style was easy to adapt and was used in all types of buildings, from government structures to family homes.

8. Display several images of Greek Revival architecture. See the Image Reference Sheet located within the Resource Carousel for suggested image links. If possible select images of residential, commercial and public buildings. Emphasize the Lincoln Memorial, designed by Henry Bacon in 1897, as a good example of Greek Revival architecture.

9. Show the class images of Greek Revival architecture in your community. It is easy to find local examples of Greek Revival building. Often libraries and Government buildings are in this style. Contact your local historical society for images or suggestions. While doing this, again review the elements that make it a Greek Revival building.


1. Distribute the handout, Greek Revival in Today's Community. Explain that students will be hunting for examples of Greek Revival architecture in their community. Review the handout checking for student understanding. Encourage students to be looking for this style of building as they travel about in the community. With any luck, there may be an example on or near the school grounds. Suggest that some may find elements of Classical Greek Architecture in interior design as well, maybe even their own homes. Allow one week for the students to complete this project. Check student's progress mid-week. Give hints as needed as to where students might locate an example. When students have completed their projects, have them share their work with the class.

2. After students have completed their projects, distribute the handout, Classic Greek Architecture Questions located within the Resource Carousel and have students complete it. Give students ten minutes to complete the handout.

3. Review and discuss the students’ responses to the handouts. Direct students to make corrections as needed and to keep their handout for further reference.


1. Divide students into pairs or groups of three. Explain that they will be designing their own Greek Revival style structure. Students should select a person or group of people they have studied to date and create a Greek Revival style structure to honor them. Teachers should distribute the Planning Sheet located within the Resource Carousel after explaining the task to students. Students will then follow the directions on the planning sheet to brainstorm and outline their structure.

2. Allow time for students to present their designs and research to the class. Students should share what their idea about their building is and why they used whatever design elements they used. The class might respond with questions or comments acknowledging the elements of Greek architecture.

3. Ask students to share with each other what they learned, enjoyed or didn’t like from the lesson. Consider the following questions or make up your own discussion starters:

  • Ask students if they look at buildings differently now, and if so how?
  • Do they agree/disagree that ancient Greek Architecture displays the ideals of harmony, balance, and beauty?
  • Are they curious about other styles of architecture, their history and significance?

Sample student responses might be:

  • I was surprised to learn buildings in our country were inspired by ancient Greek Civilization
  • I get it/ don’t get it about how Greek architecture has harmony and balance with all those columns.
  • It’s boring/beautiful to look at
  • I wonder where the “colonial” style (or name any other style of architecture) came from
  • I wonder what style of architecture my home/ school is.

Recommended Resources:

  • Planning Sheet
  • Assessment Rubric
  • Greek Revival Style Structure Assessment Rubric


Using the Assessment Rubric and the Greek Revival Style Structure Assessment Rubric, assess students on their class participation and discussion, as well as their work in presenting a local Greek Revival structure and creating their own Greek Revival structure.

Extend the Learning

If possible, invite a local architect to speak to the class or plan a field trip to see local Greek revival buildings in your community.


Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.

The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the National Core Arts Standards (http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.

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Ann Reilly

Daniella Garran
Original Writer

Phyllis Gron
Original Writer


  • Blumenson, John J. Identifying American Architecture. A Pictorial Guide to Styles and Terms, 1600-1945. New York, London: W.W. Norton, Second Edition, 1981.
  • Glancey, Jonathan. The Story of Architecture. London, New York, Sydney, Delhi, Paris, Munich, and Johannesburg: Dorling Kindersley, 2000.

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