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Four Historical Definitions of Architecture

Four Historical Definitions of Architecture

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Four Historical Definitions of Architecture
    Book Description:

    Where does architecture belong in the larger scheme of things? Is it a liberal art? Is it related to painting, music, medicine, or horse training? Is it timeless, or does it have a beginning? To pursue such questions, Stephen Parcell investigates four historical definitions of Western architecture: as a techné in ancient Greece, a mechanical art in medieval Europe, an art of disegno in Renaissance Italy, and a fine art in eighteenth-century Europe. These definitions situated architecture within larger classifications of knowledge, establishing alliances between architecture and other disciplines. They also influenced elements of architectural practice that we now associate with three characters (designer, builder, and dweller) and three things (material, drawing, and building). Guided by current architectural questions, Parcell examines writings in these historical periods and focuses on practical implications of texts by Hugh of St Victor, Leon Battista Alberti, and Etienne-Louis Boullée. Four Historical Definitions of Architecture shows how the concept of architecture and elements of architectural practice have evolved over time. Even the word "architecture" has ambiguous roots.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8687-1
    Subjects: Architecture and Architectural History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 3-20)

    This book investigates four historical definitions of Western architecture: as atechnēin ancient Greece, as a mechanical art in medieval Europe, as an art ofdisegnoin Renaissance Italy, and as a fine art in eighteenth-century Europe. These definitions situated architecture within larger classifications of knowledge. They established alliances between architecture and other disciplines. They also influenced elements of architectural practice that we now associate with three characters (the designer, the builder, and the dweller) and three things (material, drawing, and building). The book examines writings in these historical periods and focuses on the practical implications of several texts: Hugh...

  5. 2 Architecture as a Technē
    (pp. 21-39)

    In the first century BCE,Vitruvius notes that his treatise on architecture was preceded by other writings from ancient Greece that have not survived.¹ Consequently, we must use secondary sources and philological details to discern elements of architectural practice in ancient Greece. The Greeks had no word that corresponds to what we now call “architecture”– or even “art.” They also did not distinguish between what we regard as fine art (painting, sculpture, etc.) and craft (carpentry, weaving, etc.). All of these endeavours, including building, were encompassed bytechnē, a domain with particular meanings and relationships.Technēwas the cumulative set of...

  6. 3 Architecture as a Mechanical Art
    (pp. 40-58)

    “Mechanical arts” was not a separate category that replacedtechnē. Under different names, it developed gradually for more than a thousand years. It originated froma qualitative distinction within the ancienttechnētradition, was developed in different ways by ancient and earlymedieval philosophers, and finally emerged as themechanical arts in the ninth and twelfth centuries. Instead of being an independent category, the mechanical arts and its forerunners in craft were contrasted with a higher and more divine category: the liberal arts.

    Within the category oftechnē, the late classical Greeks regarded certain crafts more highly than others. With their aristocratic tradition...

  7. 4 Hugh of St Victor and the Mechanical Arts
    (pp. 59-104)

    Hugh of St Victor (ca. 1096–1141) was born in Saxony and was educated to become a religious cleric. Unrest in his home province led him to seek a position at the Abbey of St Victor in 1115, when the population of Paris was no more than three thousand. The abbey, located on the Left Bank, had been inaugurated in 1108 and already had a reputation for learning. Later it would become associated with the University of Paris. Hugh remained at the abbey for the rest of his life, not as amonk but as a canon regular whose responsibilities combined...

  8. 5 Architecture as an Art of Disegno
    (pp. 105-121)

    The termarti del disegno(arts of design) appears inLe vite de’ più eccellenti architetti, pittori, et scultori italiani(Lives of the most excellent Italian architects, painters, and sculptors), published in 1550, the first edition of the biographies of Tuscan artists by GiorgioVasari (1511–74).¹ It ismentioned in the dedication to Cosimo I de’Medici, Duke of Florence: “Seeing that your Excellency, following in this the footsteps of yourmost Illustrious ancestors, and incited and urged by your own natural magnanimity, ceases not to favour and to exalt every kind of talent, wheresoever it may be found, and shows particular favour...

  9. 6 Alberti and the Arts of Disegno
    (pp. 122-148)

    Lorenzo Valla (ca. 1406–57) was a humanist scholar who made a small but significant contribution to the prehistory of thearti del disegno. In 1435–44 he wroteElegantiarum linguae latinae(Of the elegance of the Latin language), which argued that Latin should be purged of its medieval corruptions and returned to its classical origins. In the preface, he notes that a similar return to classical excellence is now occurring in several arts: “No more do I know why those arts that most closely resemble the liberal arts – painting, carving, modelling, architecture [pingendi, scalpendi, fingendi, architectandi] – became so degenerate...

  10. 7 Vasari and the Arts of Disegno
    (pp. 149-177)

    Alberti was not the first to promote painting, sculpture, and architecture as liberal arts, nor would he be the last. This effort extended over several centuries, from the fourteenth to the sixteenth – and beyond. Since the ancient era, the liberal arts had been overseen by philosophers who situated subjects authoritatively within a comprehensive epistemological framework, based on specific criteria. The mathematical subjects of the quadrivium – geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music theory – were understood as discoveries of the divine order of the world. The language subjects of the trivium – grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric – described how humans communicate. After Robert Kilwardby asked...

  11. 8 Architecture as a Fine Art
    (pp. 178-219)

    Paul Oskar Kristeller’s essay “The Modern System of the Arts” reminds us that modern concepts of art and aesthetics did not exist before the eighteenth century.¹ Around 1750, five diverse arts – painting, sculpture, poetry, music, and architecture – became classified as the fine arts (beaux-arts). They were guided by principles of taste, sentiment, genius, originality, and creative imagination that emphasized the imaginative artist and the amateur observer, rather than the skilled maker. These principles were sufficiently general to be manifested in different modes (images, materials, words, and sounds) and perceived with different senses (but mainly sight and hearing).

    Peter Kivy, in...

  12. 9 Boullée and the Fine Arts
    (pp. 220-247)

    The early ambition of Étienne-Louis Boullée (1728–99) was to become a painter, but he followed the advice of his father (an architect) by pursuing architecture.As a student of Jacques-François Blondel, he was only one step removed fromthe architectural theory of theEncyclopédie.¹ In 1762, Boullée joined the Académie d’architecture and became actively involved in its various interests, including education, construction, administration, and public building.² Political and economic circumstances in France limited his commissions to a few large houses.³

    Boullée’s major contribution is theEssai sur l’art(Essay on Art), which includes a series of architectural drawings done from 1778...

  13. 10 Conclusion
    (pp. 248-254)

    Having completed our journey through these four historical definitions of architecture, we can reflect on some of their benchmarks and draw some comparisons before returning to the present.

    The elements of practice in ancient Greektechnēwere quite different from our current conventions, despite the etymological trail that linkstechnēto modern technique and technology.Technērelied on a chain of human ancestors and was largely conservative. Artisans did not seek innovation or self-expression; instead, they transformed natural substance into well crafted objects and actions that would extend the normal limits of a patron’s abilities. The role of anarchitekton...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 255-308)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 309-330)
  16. Index
    (pp. 331-338)