Week Two

"The Vitruvian Man (L'uomo vitruviano)" as drawn by Leonardo da Vinci (ca. 1490)



Although ARC 1015 is not a history course per se, it certainly does consider "beginnings" as a way to open conversations and considerations of architectural developments, from the global to the personal scale. This week we will look into the roots of the profession in the long-ago traditions of building designers in the ancient and medieval worlds through an examination of its most important survivor: Vitruvius, whom we meet through his book, De Architettura (alternately, Ten Books on Architecture). We'll also look to your personal histories in architecture and consider the ramifications of professionalization and historical consciousness on the development of longstanding vernacular traditions. We will also begin our consideration of the degree to which Christian perspectives can inform our understanding of history, work, and buildings.

Learning Objectives

At the conclusion of this unit, you should be able to:

  • Identify the roots of architectural practice in craft traditions and building trades in diverse places through the medieval period [REMEMBER].
  • Describe the historic development of architectural practice in diverse places through the medieval period [UNDERSTAND].

for Friday

Ancient & Medieval Practices

First: did you finish the "journal" entry on Blackboard for the first lesson/week? Do it before you go any farther.

Let's start at the very beginning (a very good place to start), looking back as far as we can in the historical record to the earliest known practices for the design and construction of buildings. We'll see throughout these centuries (millennia, actually) that different cultures viewed the status and responsibility of the person responsible for the design of buildings differently. The concept of "design" itself, as we understand it, is really an invention of the Renaissance and the word "architect" descends from ancient Greece, where it meant something quite different than it does today. Even so, we recognize that throughout human history there have been people charged with the responsibility to conceive of and fabricate shelters, and learning how they went about that complicated task illustrates important cultural values as well as clarifying how and why the profession of the present day has evolved as it has.

  • First, watch this VoiceThread on "Ancient Practices, part 1: Ancient and Medieval" (60 min.)
  • note: if this is your first time signing into VoiceThread, you may need to go through a log-in routine. When you do, please make sure you list the name you like to use, plus your last initial. Also, include a profile picture that shows your face clearly.  You can add a comment to any VoiceThread at any time, either by adding written text or a recorded message (or no more than 1 min.); you can also use the drawing feature.

  • Next, take this quiz based on the VoiceThread.

Our main guide to the practice of architecture in the ancient world--specifically ancient Rome--is the architect Vitruvius. This Roman architect, who lived during the transition from the Republic to the Empire, would be lost to us (as most ancient architects are) if it was not for his extraordinary accomplishment to write a book that remains the single comprehensive writing on architecture to survive from antiquity. In addition to the wonder of its survival, it's also pretty amazing that it has been almost continuously in print since its "rediscovery" in the fifteenth century.

For more background on Vitruvius, follow this link, which will take you to a short article accompanied by an audio file that is just over four minutes long. To prepare for class, skim through the whole of the Ten Books on Architecture and then:

  • Read the following portions of Vitruvius (download this guide to direct your reading):
    • "The Education of the Architect" (pp. 21-24)
    • "The Divisions of Architecture" (p. 26)
    • The story of Dinocrates (p. 33)
    • "The Invention of the Arts of Building" (p. 34)
    • "First Principles of Symmetry" (p. 47)
    • "The Discovery of Symmetries" & "Discovery of Corinthian Symmetries" (pp. 54-55)
  • Post to the discussion board (Note: throughout the semester, make sure to follow directions and post on the correct day and in the proper way: you will be assigned a specific role and day, [usually] either Friday, Saturday, or Monday; everyone should return to the discussion board to review on the following Tuesday)

Class Collaboration

View the collaborative document on Vitruvius from class on Sept. 1 here

for Monday

Origin Stories

Vitruvius--whose whole book can be understood as an origin story for architectural practice and education--includes an origin story on the beginnings of architecture. This is a theme we find in a lot of theory, and which is a really interesting way to consider cultural values. For example, what does it mean:

  • For Egypt to describe the origin of the world as emanating from the squawk of a great bird who landed on a single mound of earth in the midst of waters of chaos, while Rome was founded as the result of one brother killing his twin? Or
  • For Hungarians to find their national origins in a single sacred/military ruler who gathered diverse tribes under his leadership while Americans tell a story of patriots gathering in Philadelphia to write and sign a document?

The stories we tell about our countries, our tribes (familial, social, religious, professional, etc,), and ourselves may have some root in historical fact but also say something about the values of their authors. What's the story you tell about yourself?

Prepare for Project 1: Personal Histories

In our first class meeting we started looking at different attitudes and approaches to architectural practice and I encouraged you to consider, through metacognitive and reflective exercises, to think about your own assumptions about the field as you start this program. The first project of the semester (which will also be the last, since you'll work on it through November) asks you to think about these ideas more deeply, especially in context of your personal architectural history.

  • Access the Blackboard site and, under "Projects," read the assignment prompt under "Project 1: My Story"
  • Work through the first two steps noted in the timeline (a time of reflection and writing, followed by a Discussion Board entry)
  • Note: this project will eventually be filed in the ePortfolio that you will use throughout your years as a B.Arch. student here at Belmont. For more on ePortfolios, read this from the AAC&U and this from Waterloo

Prepare for Project 2: Vernacular Typologies

Remember the house-sketching exercise in our last class? One of its goals was for the members of the class to see what kind of commonalities appeared in the drawings and to see if we could identify a group vernacular based on common experience. Another was to make you think about what you might assume to be the constituent elements of dwelling places--materials, siting, roof forms, etc.--as a basis against which to begin thinking about traditions in different places.

for Tuesday

Attend Class:

Due to Belmont's adjustment to its "Return to Learn" plan, our class meeting will be online (and synchronous) for everyone. Find the link to our meeting in Blackboard / ARC 1015.

  1. Discuss "Practices from Antiquity to the Middle Ages" *
  2. Discuss Vitruvius *
  3. Review/share progress on Project 1 (Personal Histories)
  4. Discuss Goldberger, Intro & Ch. 1 (pt. 1)
  5. Discussion on Project 2 (vernacular)
  6. Write a summary of the week

*If you are absent from the discussion, complete two writing assignments and send as PDFs to Dr. Amundson at 3:30. Label each attachment with your last name and the title in bold below (e.g., Amundson-No. 1):

  • No. 1: Write a resume for one of the following: Imhotep, Ictinus, Apollodorus of Damascus, Anthemius of Tralles, Villard de Honnecourt. Need advice on writing a resume? Try this or this or this. (Grading criteria: content and creativity)
  • No. 2: In a page or two, write an overall summary of the discussion board concerning Vitruvius in terms of what you learned, or learned better, by reviewing your colleagues' comments. (Grading criteria: content and perspective)