From Vitruvius to Zachmann

“Architecture is frozen music”


“If you know the notes to sing, you can sing most anything”

Maria von Trapp

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Black Death swept across the European continent. As it abated it left behind a swelling population and upsurge of demand for goods and services. The following period of regrowth and renewed prosperity very quickly came to be known as the Renaissance or ‘rebirth’. Whole populations were inspired to find a more civilised existence than the Medieval times they left behind, leading to a surge of interest in ‘higher things’ such as science, art and architecture. Many great ideas and inventions came out of the renaissance, such as Gutenberg’s printing press, which were to transform the way that business was conducted and, perhaps more importantly, that information was communicated. Indeed, where would Europe’s revolutions have been in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, without the ability to produce and distribute pamphlets to a literate audience?

The rebirth of the arts led to a resurgence of interest in the ‘great civilisations’, namely the Roman and Greek periods. Italian architects such as Donatello and Brunelleschi used to pick around the remains of ruined Roman buildings, seeking inspiration for their neoclassical designs. Shortly before 1450 came a breakthrough with the rediscovery of the treatise De architectura libri decem, or “Ten books on architecture” by Marcus Vitruvius Pollo. As an artillery engineer, Vitruvius served under both Julius Caesar and his successor, Augustus. Some time around the birth of Christ, when Vitruvius was still involved in building works, he documented the principles of the both Roman and Greek architecture so, “to deliver down to posterity, as a memorial, some account of these your [Caesar’s]magnificent works.” The result was a ten-volume manual covering in depth architectural workings of all that he saw around him, both military and civilian.

Leon Battista Alberti, one of the unsung heroes of the Italian Renaissance, translated Vitruvius’ treatise and added his own architectural ideas. Following its translation the book was one of the most influential works of its time, being widely used both in Italy and outside. Since the earliest times, architecture has been seen as a subject worth taking seriously.

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