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Read 72 reviews from the world's largest community for readers. The oldest and most influential book ever written on. The only full treatise on architecture and its related arts to.

Author Vitruvius. Marcus Vitruvius Pollio commonly known as Vitruvius, was a Roman author, architect, civil.. Printed and illustrated editions of De Architectura inspired Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical architecture. Filippo Brunelleschi, for example. Read "Ten Books on Architecture Illustrated " by Vitruvius Pollio available from of interest in this fully illustrated reproduction of the edition translated by. As the human body attains perfection through harmony, so must architecture.

Consequently, the architect becomes less of a freelance designer and more of an interpreter, translating the proportions and elegance of the body into the forms of perfect buildings. As the human body has legs, torso, and head, architecture must have base, middle, and top.

As the human body is symmetrical from left to right, architecture must be symmetrical from left to right. As the human body considers each organ in relation to the greater being, architecture must consider each detail in relation to the greater building. Vitruvius emphasizes continuity between man and his world, a place where man has an environment befitting his stature. Yet, behind this devotion to replicating human forms in architecture, there are the seeds of racial prejudice. There seems to be the following implication: If perfect buildings replicate perfect humans, then humans are the perfect species, no further evolution required.

Furthermore, since Roman people are the finest people in the world, Roman architecture must be the finest architecture in the world. To the modern world, the existence of the perfect species or the perfect anything is laughable given the basic biology mantra: There is no perfect genotype. Nonetheless, we should forgive Vitruvius, assuming he never took high school Biology.

Vitruvius sees aesthetics as a linear evolution where Roman architecture and Roman culture are the specious pinnacles of progress.


Modern architecture, unlike Roman architecture, does not obey Vitruvian principles of construction and aesthetics. Building materials have changed; sheetrock, fiberglass, and plastic have supplanted stone, earth, and wood. Scale has also grown, the superhighway and skyscraper of today dwarf the Roman road and proud obelisk of yesterday. Unlike Vitruvius, the modern architect probably would not lay claim to racial or aesthetic divinity.

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The constraints of economy, in tandem with the desire for architectural variety, dictate that modern structures need not model the human form. In other words, the Roman human to building harmony seems no longer to be a guiding principle. On the one hand, the absence of aesthetic standards and the wide array of new building materials gives the architect greater autonomy.

On the other hand, this same absence permits clutter and disorder. Most Roman structures have a clearly defined base, middle, and top usually the terracotta roof and are of similar symmetry, height, style, and scale. Most structures also relate to their urban environment through their density and orientation.

The scale is human; the city is a microcosm. On the contrary, Las Vegas, a modern city created virtually overnight, is fabricated of all materials with little planning or care for beauty. Consequently, the highway and city street feel hectic and visually crowded. The presence of a foe brick and stone casino clashes with the glass and metal of a next-door skyscraper. The Moroccan style theater clashes with the Federalist style motel, which clashes with the postmodern fairy tale castle. Las Vegas is not alone; rather, its chaos and clutter are merely exaggerations of Main Street and roadside America, which employ the principles of Las Vegas more discretely.

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Ancient architecture imbued order; modern architecture imbues confusion. Yes, anything goes when buildings may adopt any form or any style from any culture, regardless of Vitruvian principles. But, this variety comes at the cost of aesthetic disarray that would make Vitruvius aghast.

The question then arises: Might it be possible to continue practicing the aesthetic of Vitruvius in contemporary society?

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Probably not. From its position within the treatise and especially from examples found in Greek temples, it is certain that the term scamilli impares refers to the rise of stylobates as they curve towards the center along a horizontal plane. While the objective of scamilli impares is presumably dual: to counter the illusion of downward curvature and to allow moisture to drain more effectively, the term remains problematic and no one has yet been able to clearly articulate its technical significance.

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In other words, while "uneven benches" is one way one could translate the words, exactly what these would have been and what they would have done is not known. Giocondo's treatise and Cesariano's Como edition include drawings that attempt to convey its meaning but theirs as well as other Renaissance views have been shown to be incorrect. IDR opts to leave the term in Latin, italicized, with a simple reference to Figure 46 in the Commentary.

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Now there are two generally posited solutions to the term: First, there is the possibility that scamilli are little step-like notches cut into the stylobates; these notches would be impares , that-is-to say, uneven, or odd-sized. Second, scamilli may be referring to specific devices used to generate a rise at the center of the horizontal stylobate arrangement; these would perhaps be leveling blocks of graduated sizes.

The Texts of Vitruvius on LacusCurtius

The implication in the Commentary, however, is that Vitruvius employed the term with this particular meaning in mind. This is a good example of the difficulties that can arise when allowing drawings to interface directly -- without corresponding textual remarks -- with the reader's imagination.

Another example of what could be seen as a slightly liberal interpretation of the old treatise relates to the passage describing Vitruvius' basilica at Fanum V, 1. IDR translates the passage quite clearly and, in fact, when compared with Morgan and Granger, the depiction is eloquent. In this part of the treatise Vitruvius outlines a set of proportions and dimensions that go beyond his normal generalizations; indeed, some hypothesize that the passages were inserted at a time after Vitruvius' writing of the treatise.

Regardless, when drawings are presented in Figures 79 and 80, complete with a detailed axonometric outlining truss and beam arrangements, they appear to stretch the textual depiction. Vitruvius did not precisely outline this array of timbers; nor did he stipulate the roof structures posited. Thus, while the textual interpretation seems appropriate, the visual depictions generate what could be construed as exaggerations. The difficulty of course, is that the reading of the text, regardless of its philological accuracy, can be significantly altered by visual representations.

As archaeologists, architectural historians, theorists and practitioners continue to arbitrate the classical through Vitruvius' treatise, the text's interpretation becomes even more significant when new pictorial dimensions are added. The problem is magnified when the illustrator blends imagery that represents the passages with diagrams that are meant to show the state-of-the-architecture of the day.

The Ten Books on Architecture by Vitruvius

Recall that Vitruvius is not describing architecture as it is; he is depicting it as it should be. Further, when the illustrator writes that "gaps and ambiguities in the drawings are left because that is probably the way he [Vitruvius] intended them to be understood" xvi , the implication, undoubtedly unintentional, is that there were many drawings accompanying the De architectura libri decem. The point is, however, that Vitruvius would not have "intended them to be understood" because there were only ten drawings with his text as opposed to the over illustrations included within the figures of the present book.

That said, many of the drawings do support the translation. The illustrated temple types and column ratios in Figures 39 to 42, for example, seem fair visual depictions of the words in Books III and IV. Similarly, the techniques sketches outlining what Vitruvius probably meant as he wrote about brickwork -- opus testaceum , opus incertum and opus reticulatum in Figures 31 and 32 -- complement the translation.

Other drawings, like that depicting men "chopping down trees to build an encampment" in Figure 36 are perhaps unnecessary. Inclusion of secondary chapter titles helps to make sense of Vitruvius' sometimes meandering digressions. The Book titles, on the other hand, do not clearly identify subsequent contents or topics; Book II, for instance, does not solely discuss what its title suggests: Aside from "Building Materials", the Book includes the important "first house" narrative and details on building techniques.

Individual Book titles, it should be noted, did not appear until the Renaissance.