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Vitruvius and Early Architectural Education

Vitruvius, one of the earliest architectural theorists, writes his book specifically addressed to the Roman Emperor, in an effort to educate about architecture and dismiss any misconceptions associated with the trade. Vitruvius’s constant references to Greek practice (including pages 24, 25, and 31) reveal his tendency toward traditional techniques and conservative approach to his career. Denying the simplicity of architecture, Vitruvius states the architect must, as agreed by everyone until the present day, flourish with the experience of practice and the education of reasoning. In addition, Vitruvius argues the architect ought to obtain basic knowledge and skills in numerous other fields, nominally literacy, draftsmanship, geometry, optics, arithmetic, history, philosophy, physiology, music, medicine, and law (pages 22–23). While admitting the near-impossibility of mastering all such crafts at once, Vitruvius believes their basic understanding makes the architect exceptional and efficient, incorporating his multidisciplinary knowledge of these fields for healthy as well as aesthetic reasons.

The Vitruvian theory of architecture can be summarized to the three aspects of firmness, commodity, and delight. In discussing firmness, Vitruvius provides a comprehensive explanation of the different properties of various kinds of masonry. Vitruvius describes the content of the building material in terms of the four Classical elements: earth, fire, water, and air. Vitruvius shows the advantages and disadvantages of each type of masonry (page 37), whether mud-brick, sand, lime, stone, or timber, as well as the most appropriate season for manufacturing them and the recommended period of drying time (page 39). However, only one of the Ten Books, Book Two, is dedicated to the description of proper structure; in that one book, however, he provides ample information regarding the most effective support techniques, and he expresses great knowledge of chemistry, geography, and climate. In his interpretation of commodity, Vitruvius associates the function with the form, locale, building material, and many more aspects of the design. The types of construction are classified into different genres, including federal buildings, public buildings, temples, residences, and villas. Even temples differ in function according to the particular deity each is dedicated to. In explaining delight, Vitruvius recommends a modular system, and he argues that an architect must accomplish symmetry and consider proportion (page 47). His own mastery of the mathematics is evident when he also discusses the perfect numbers (page 47). The outstanding instructions by such an ancient man provide an exceptional window to the finest works Classical architects executed and an informative glimpse into the techniques they utilized.

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