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Vitruvius, The Ten Books On Architecture

De architectura (On architecture, published as Ten Books on Architecture) is a treatise on architecture written by the Roman architect and military engineer Marcus Vitruvius Pollio and dedicated to his patron, the emperor Caesar Augustus, as a guide for building projects. As the only treatise on architecture to survive from antiquity, it has been regarded since the Renaissance as the first book on architectural theory, as well as a major source on the canon of classical architecture.[1] It contains a variety of information on Greek and Roman buildings, as well as prescriptions for the planning and design of military camps, cities, and structures both large (aqueducts, buildings, baths, harbours) and small (machines, measuring devices, instruments).[2] Since Vitruvius published before the development of cross vaulting, domes, concrete, and other innovations associated with Imperial Roman architecture, his ten books give no information on these hallmarks of Roman building design and technology.[3]

Vitruvius, the Ten Books on Architecture

Probably written between 30-20 BC,[4] it combines the knowledge and views of many antique writers, Greek and Roman, on architecture, the arts, natural history and building technology. Vitruvius cites many authorities throughout the text, often praising Greek architects for their development of temple building and the orders (Doric, Ionic and Corinthian), and providing key accounts of the origins of building in the primitive hut.

Roman architects were skilled in engineering, art, and craftsmanship combined. Vitruvius was very much of this type, a fact reflected in De architectura. He covered a wide variety of subjects he saw as touching on architecture. This included many aspects that may seem irrelevant to modern eyes, ranging from mathematics to astronomy, meteorology, and medicine. In the Roman conception, architecture needed to take into account everything touching on the physical and intellectual life of man and his surroundings.

Vitruvius, thus, deals with many theoretical issues concerning architecture. For instance, in Book II of De architectura, he advises architects working with bricks to familiarise themselves with pre-Socratic theories of matter so as to understand how their materials will behave. Book IX relates the abstract geometry of Plato to the everyday work of the surveyor. Astrology is cited for its insights into the organisation of human life, while astronomy is required for the understanding of sundials. Likewise, Vitruvius cites Ctesibius of Alexandria and Archimedes for their inventions, Aristoxenus (Aristotle's apprentice) for music, Agatharchus for theatre, and Varro for architecture.

Vitruvius sought to address the ethos of architecture, declaring that quality depends on the social relevance of the artist's work, not on the form or workmanship of the work itself. Perhaps the most famous declaration from De architectura is one still quoted by architects: "Well building hath three conditions: firmness, commodity, and delight". This quote is taken from Sir Henry Wotton's version of 1624, and accurately translates the passage in the work, (I.iii.2) but English has changed since then, especially in regard to the word "commodity", and the tag may be misunderstood. In modern English it would read: "The ideal building has three elements; it is sturdy, useful, and beautiful."

While Vitruvius is fulsome in his descriptions of religious buildings, infrastructure and machinery, he gives a mixed message on domestic architecture. Similar to Aristotle, Vitruvius offers admiration for householders who built their own homes without the involvement of an architect.[6][7] His ambivalence on domestic architecture is most clearly read in the opening paragraph of the Introduction to Book 6.[8] Book 6 focusses exclusively on residential architecture but as architectural theorist Simon Weir has explained, instead of writing the introduction on the virtues of residences or the family or some theme related directly to domestic life; Vitruvius writes an anecdote about the Greek ethical principle of xenia: showing kindness to strangers.[9]

The rediscovery of Vitruvius's work had a profound influence on architects of the Renaissance, prompting the rebirth of Classical architecture in subsequent centuries. Renaissance architects, such as Niccoli, Brunelleschi and Leon Battista Alberti, found in De architectura their rationale for raising their branch of knowledge to a scientific discipline as well as emphasising the skills of the artisan. One of Leonardo da Vinci's best known drawings, the Vitruvian Man, is based on the principles of body proportions developed by Vitruvius in the first chapter of Book III, On Symmetry: In Temples And In The Human Body.

The English architect Inigo Jones and the Frenchman Salomon de Caus were among the first to re-evaluate and implement those disciplines that Vitruvius considered a necessary element of architecture: arts and sciences based upon number and proportion. The 16th-century architect Palladio considered Vitruvius his master and guide, and made some drawings based on his work before conceiving his own architectural precepts.

During the last years of his life, Professor Morgan had devoted muchtime and energy to the preparation of a translation of Vitruvius, whichhe proposed to supplement with a revised text, illustrations, and notes.He had completed the translation, with the exception of the last fourchapters of the tenth book, and had discussed, with Professor Warren,the illustrations intended for the first six books of the work; thenotes had not been arranged or completed, though many of them wereoutlined in the manuscript, or the intention to insert them indicated.The several books of the translation, so far as it was completed, hadbeen read to a little group of friends, consisting of Professors Sheldonand Kittredge, and myself, and had received our criticism, which had, attimes, been utilized in the revision of the work.

The illustrations in the first six books are believed to besubstantially in accord with the wishes of Professor Morgan. Thesuggestions for illustrations in the later books were incomplete, anddid not indicate, in all cases, with sufficient definiteness to allowthem to be executed, the changes from conventional plans and designsintended by the translator. It has, therefore, been decided to includein this part of the work only those illustrations which are known tohave had the full approval of Professor Morgan. The one exception tothis principle is the reproduction of a rough model of the Ram ofHegetor, constructed by me on the basis of the measurements given byVitruvius and Athenaeus.

Vitruvius was not a great literary personage, ambitious as he was toappear in that character. As Professor Morgan has aptly said, "he hasall the marks of one unused to composition, to whom writing is a painfultask." In his hand the measuring-rod was a far mightier implement thanthe pen. His turgid and pompous rhetoric displays itself in theintroductions to the different books, where his exaggerated effort tointroduce some semblance of style into his commonplace lectures on thenoble principles which should govern the conduct of the architect, orinto the prosaic lists of architects and writers on architecture, iseverywhere apparent. Even in the more technical portions of his work, alike conscious effort may be detected, and, at the same time, a lack ofconfidence in his ability to express himself in unmistakable language.He avoids periodic sentences, uses only the simpler subjunctiveconstructions, repeats the antecedent in relative clauses, and, notinfrequently, adopts a formal language closely akin to that ofspecifications and contracts, the style with which he was, naturally,most familiar. He ends each book with a brief summary, almost a formula,somewhat like a sigh of relief, in which the reader unconsciouslyshares. At times his meaning is ambiguous, not because of grammaticalfaults, which are comparatively few and unimportant, but because, whenhe does attempt a periodic sentence, he becomes involved, and finds itdifficult to extricate himself.

Some of these peculiarities and crudities of expression Professor Morganpurposely imitated, because of his conviction that a translation shouldnot merely reproduce the substance of a book, but should also give asclear a picture as possible of the original, of its author, and of theworking of his mind. The translation is intended, then, to be faithfuland exact, but it deliberately avoids any attempt to treat the languageof Vitruvius as though it were Ciceronian, or to give a false impressionof conspicuous literary merit in a work which is destitute of thatquality. The translator had, however, the utmost confidence in thesincerity of Vitruvius and in the serious purpose of his treatise onarchitecture.

3. Owing to this favour I need have no fear of want to the end of mylife, and being thus laid under obligation I began to write this workfor you, because I saw that you have built and are now buildingextensively, and that in future also you will take care that our publicand private buildings shall be worthy to go down to posterity by theside of your other splendid achievements. I have drawn up definite rulesto enable you, by observing them, to have personal knowledge of thequality both of existing buildings and of those which are yet to beconstructed. For in the following books I have disclosed all theprinciples of the art.[5]

4. The reasons for all this are as follows. An architect ought to be aneducated man so as to leave a more lasting remembrance in his treatises.Secondly, he must have a knowledge of drawing so that he can readilymake sketches to show the appearance of the work which he proposes.Geometry, also, is of much assistance in architecture, and in particularit teaches us the use of the rule and compasses, by which especially weacquire readiness in making plans for buildings in their grounds, andrightly apply the square, the level, and the plummet. By means ofoptics, again, the light in buildings can be drawn from fixed quartersof the sky. It is true that it is by arithmetic that the total cost ofbuildings is calculated and measurements are computed, but difficultquestions involving symmetry are solved by means of geometrical theoriesand methods. 041b061a72


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