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8 Introduction CHRISTOF THOENES Why do architects write? And what do they write about? What is a treatise on architecture and what is architectural theory? The answers to these questions would fill a library. Our little group categorizes itself by nation (language) and period. An introduction like this could order its various s e c ~ , . tions by content and structure or it could Categorize the in: ' dividual titles. But that would achieve little except regroup' the materi
  8 Introduction CHRISTOFTHOENES Why do architects write? And what do they write about?What is a treatise on architecture and what is architectural theory? The answers to these questions would fill a library. Our little group categorizes itself by nation (language) and period. An introduction like this could order its various sec~ , . tions by content and structure or it could Categorize the in: ' dividual titles. But that would achieve little except regroup' thematerial under consideration. We are going to take a different route -- we will investigate the srcins of the architec tural treatise, trying to find outsomething about the motivations of the authors and why architects have been reachingfor theirpens for more than 500 years. ARCHITECTURE AND LITERATURE Leon Battista Alberti, the father of the modern architecturaltreatise; did not only write aboutthe construction of buildings. His first theoretical essay on art was called Della Pittura and was about painting. A later work entitled De statua is dedicated to sculpture. From the very beginning of the RenaisSance, the production of art always went hand in hand with theoretical literature. Themainreason for this was to set the artist apart from the craftsman and make him into an intellectual, thus enabling him to participate in the discus sionsof scholars, poets and literati. However, iri the case of the architect this was only a partial truth. This type of art is more concerned with planning and managing than with craftsmanship and it has little to do with physical work. That is why members ofthe nobility, even ruling sovereigns, could practise architecture. It did not have to be learnt the hard way, which is what architecture and literature have incommon. Alberti, a scholar and man of books with no train-ing in craftsmanship, would not have been able to become agood sculptor or painter when he became interested in art at the age of 30. However, he became one ofthe greatest architects of his time. In contrast to the number of architectswho were writing (I will mention non-writing architectslater), the number of visual artists who tried their hand at lit erature was quite small. The only writer/artists whose liter ary achievements have far outweighed their practical accomplishments have been architects, such as Vitruvius in ancienttimes and Sebastiano Serlio or Paul Decker in modern times. There are, however, some successful, indeed outstanding,writer/architects (for example, Vignola and Palladio) whosestatus in the history of architecture is due as much to their building accomplishments as to their writing.Architects do not construct their buildings themselves.In order to realize their ideas, they need construction workers as well as client!>. The latter supply the funds and indocuments and inscriptions are usually named as the actualcreators of the work in question. The architect must remainin constant communication with these partners. His design must be interpreted; decisions requiring financial participation must be taken wisely and there are constant objectionsto be discussed. The project develops as a dialogue. In addition to the sponsor, the general public also plays a role. Thebuilding will be a part of their world and they need to under-stand what the architect has created and why he has chosen one particular design and not another. In addition, the architect must have the ability to articulate relevant facts in a way that can be understood by non-professionals. Paintings and sculptures speak for themselves; they are a reference to the content they represent. This is not true of architecturalworks. A column is a column is a column: it says nothing about why it is there, what its function is as a building ele- Thoenes, Christof. [2003] Introduction. In Bernd Evers, ChristofThoenes, et.al. Architectural Theory Koln: Taschen: 8-19.  ment or what it could possibly ~mean.  That is why all architects, from Vitruvius and his unknown precursors, right up to Frank Lloyd Wright and Daniel Libeskind, were not onlybuilders, but also writers. But the word was not in the beginning. It ras always been buildings (the choir of the cathedral. ofSL Dedf$f-Btunnellschi's Old Sactisty, Gropius' Fac guswerk)aiid not written mapifestos in which new architec tural ideas first came to light. Nevertheless, writing does make it possible to,unclerstand them. HUM~NISM Whoe~erreads treatises on architecture Will be confrontedwith a name which nearly all modem architectural writerscite o~ have at the back of their minds: Vitruvius. Mter all, he is tlie author of the only surviving ancient textbook onthe suBject. In the light of what we knowtoday aboutthe an cient building methods, Vitruvius' Ten Volumes On Architec-ture (De architectura libri decem) actually~seem to play a somewhat marginal role. Nevertheless, it had a magical influence on the Renaissance. Onthe oneltand, this was due to the deep respect a culture deeply imbued with humanism had for books as such, and indeed any kind of authenticwritten material. On the other, it was due to the fact that Vitruvius' work was a textbook, a work of instruction. This meant that it was possible not only to learn from it what was good and proper architecture, but also, and above all, thatthe Ancients thought that their architecture was theoretically teachable ... It was felt that archite~s could and should write. Their art form needed to be made available in writtenform. This is the message which the Renaissance wanted tohear. Unknown artist, 2nd half of 15th centuryPortrait of Leon BaHista Alberti 9  to THOENES The Italian humanists did not discoverVitruvius. New manuscripts were admittedly found, but for the most partthe texts they contained were familiar and had been repeat edly copied and studied during the Middle Ages. In one case,they were even illustrated, albeit primitively (it should besaid that this was the world of monasteries and scriptoria, not the architect's workshop). Text (litterae) was one thing,'construction (ars meccanica) was another. It was preciselythis demarcation that was breached by the Renaissance hu manists. The innovations consisted in crossing over from the study of texts to the study of things, understanding Vitruviuswhile bringing that knowledge into line with known ancient ruins, forming a picture of the architecture of Classical Antiquity and putting it into practice. The fact that this project succeeded must be considered one of the great intellectual accomplishments of the Early Modern period. Initially, the upshot was criticism of Vitruvius. Alberti was the first and for a long time the only person who really understood him.He neither edited, nor translated, nor commented on theancient writings, indeed only seldom did he quote them.Instead, he wrote his own -ten books which h~ intended as a replacement for Vitruvius, making his teachings, aswell as those of other Classical authors, applicable to the present. However, things did not stop there. Dntil Serlio's Re· gole generali (1537) appeared, the most important books onarchitecture were not treatises, butrather various editions and tianslations of Vitruvius. Annotatededitions like those of Cesariano, Philandrier and Barbarotook on the characterof treatises. At this point, a paradox in humanisticculturebecame evident. Because of criticism of the medieval ver sions of he ancient texts, which had b~Come distorted over, time, the srcinal sources (ad/mites) were now being con sulted. The danger lay in becoming flX~don the ancientideas, which had been historically surp'assed. Thus much architectural theory was invested in the ultimately insolvable problemof interpreting the ancient and per se contra dictory texts as contemporary architectural guidelines. The Jesuit priest, Antonio Possevino (Bibliotheca selecta, Rome, 1593) was a critical voice. He asserted that the writings of Classical Antiquity could no longer serve as a direct source of inspiration. They' had to be understood in their historical perspective and, in the way prescribed by Alberti, be adapted to the needs of the present. He was primarily opposed by protestant authors who were in favour of a literal understanding of Vitruvius' texts. It was advances inthe sci ence of archaeology which re-inserted Vitruvius into his historical context and liberated architectural thought from itsVitruvian straitjacket. THE RENAISSANCE A glance at the architectural map of Europe in the 15th century sho~s that there were two systems competing with eachother. One was Gothic, which had developed local and national variations over the centuries and dominated the continent. The other was basedon Classical Antiquity and wascalled Renaissance. It began in Tuscany and spread throughout the Italian peninsula in the course of the century.It then went on to conquer those regions on the far side of the Alps. This process went hand-in-hand with the rise and expansion of the architectural treatise. Was this a coincidence? And if not, how are these two events related?The answer is obvious: the new style of building required a new way of disseminating knowledge. Gothic wasrooted in the building practices of its time when the mastercraftsmen's lodges or the construction sites themselvesserved at the same time as places of training. There, in sightsranging from construction work to how to shape particulardecorative details were passed down by word of mouth fromone generation to the next. In this way, the system was de-, velopedin an organic fashion. We can conceive of this as akind of growth process in which the phases (early, high and late Gothic) follow one another as if by some natural law. By contrast, the idea of drawing once more on Classical Antiqui ty arose in the minds of artists who, like Brunelleschi, werenot trained architects. There were also scholars who read the ancient authors and used this as a vantage point from which to criticize the modern style. In other words, it was an ideawhich did not arise from actual everyday construction practices but rather in spite of them. It required defining, argumentation, language and finally the written word. Tl).is was more than a change of medium. For the Renaissance architect, familiarity with the written word becamean indispensable part of his professional activities. It was asimple matter for a scholar like Alberti to become an architect; in fact, now an illiterate such as Francesco di Giorgio(who had been educatedas a painter, sculptor, architect and enginee,r) also needed to acquaint himself with Vitruvius. As he said himself, it was like learning to speak all over again ( retrovare quasi come di novo la forza di parlare ). This ledhim to produce his own literary works; not (or not only) inorder to improve his status at court, but because intimacywith words was now the kernel of his work. By writing, hetried to come to an understanding of what he did as an architect. Developing the new style itself and devising a new formal canon all'antica both therefore took place on the levelof linguistic reflexion.The architect's contemporaries regarded his work asanalogous to that of a philologist or textual critic. Like a text,one had to study ancient ruins, ordering their fragments, and  reconstructing wha(had been lost to time so that in spite oflater additions and alterations, the srcinal coUld still be.recognized. The history of language wa~ to become the modelfor understanding styles of architecture. The decline of architecture in the Middle Ages corresponded to the decay ofclassical Latin -a process which the humanists tried to re verse. This is why Filarete praised Brunelleschi for restoringItalian architecture to the level it.enjoyed at the time of Cicero and Virgil. Serlio compared the buildings of the HighRenaissance in Rome with the language of Caesar and Cicero. Aretino explained the classical orders of columns withreferences to the;qassicallanguages. T~e criteria for goodstyle became the mastery of grammatical rules. Beauty was right and ugliness was wrong. .It was hoped that a system for categorizing the newdoctrine would be found in Vitru1!i.us. With the help of the old master's texts, the ancient constructions were read. But because of this, a peculiar paradox aro;~, The principle sections describing classical forms lireto be found in the books III and IV of Vitruvius, which aredevot~d to temple con .struction. His riIies are fOJ::self-supportldg, three-dimen sional structures. Butdurlng Vitruvjus' own lifetime, the Romans 4ad already begun to use structural members in temple,ai~hitecturemosUy for <k@ratlon. The 10ad-beaJing elements of a tabularium or a theatre were columns, walls and vaults. The load-bearing role of pilasters and theirentablatiIres was pure fiction. Ho~ever, these were the verymon'uments which the architects of the Renaissance wereable to study and from which mo~ern architecture's wallwith an order of columns ( Siiulenornungswand ) (HansSedlmayer) developed. At this point, Vitruvius' building instructions became mere rules for the correct proportioning of elevations, andthe theorists developed increasingly subtle regulations. By contrast, the dimensions of the load-bearing sections of a building remained a question of practical experience, from which, in the 18th century, structural engineer ing on a scientific basis developed, while academic architectural theory remained fixed on the aesthetics of proportions. The schism between structure and decoration had itsroots in Italy during the Middle Ages. However, during the Enlightenment it became the subject of critical treatises. Thiswent handinhand with attacks on the class society of the Ancien Regime, a connection we shall deal with later. Thepreferred arguments were of a moralistic/rationalistic na ture: the feigned load-bearing properties of the orders were exposed as deceitful and hypocritical while the Greek templewas heldup asan ideal vis-a.-vis the Renaissance wall withits merely decorative orders. Columns,.the critics said; should stand alone and actually perform the function their form implies -idleness is the root of all evil. Of course, even the Greeksupport system contains a seed of untruthfulness. Claude Perrnult (1613-1688)Allegory of architecture INTRODUCTION 11 The end-paper is an allegorical portrayal of how France -with a tri umphal arch for Louis XIV and the eastern fa~de of the Louvre .by Pen-ault! -continues the Classical tradition in the glory of its new'archi ecture. In: Les dix livres d'arcbitecture de Vitruve, corrigez et traduits nou vell.ement en Fran<;ois, Paris, 1684 Ill. p. 9Unknown artist, 2nd half of 15th centuryPortrait of Leon Batlista Alberti The drawing was reported by Cecil Grayson in 1954. It is onthe titlepage of a manuscript of Alberti's treatise TranquiUita dell'Animo. Contemporary sources relate that Alberti liked to make portraitsketches of himself and his friends. Rome, Bibliotheca Nazionale, Fondo Vittorio Emanuele, cod. 738
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