Wednesday, October 19, 2005

About perspective in Architecture ...

As part of ARCHITECTURE SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY, AN INTRODUCTION, course by Antoine Picon, Harvard University.

Evans R., The Projective Cast. Architecture and its Three Geometries, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1995, new edition Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press, 2000, Chapter 6, "The Trouble with Numbers", pp. 241-271.


In this chapter, Evans discuss the comparison between architecture and music. In architectural theory from the 15th to the 18th century, harmonies in music served as evidence as exact ratios underlay our perceptions of beauty in all things. Ratios from the octave scale were invoked to help justify systems of architectural proportion.

Rene Ouvrard, in his book 'architecture harmonique' from 1679 said that architecture should be attuned to music. The Modulor of Le Corbusier (1887–1965) is a scale of proportions, an attempt to discover mathematical proportions in the human body and then to use that knowledge to improve both the appearance and function of architecture.
18th century writers have the feeling that their unity is lost compared than before. There is then the question to know whether it is due to the predisposition to believe that it has 'come and gone'. So this chapter will try to understand if Renaissance proportion is unified or not. During the renaissance writers assumed a universal correspondence between architecture and music.
In 1436 a ceremony happened at the high, octagonal-ribbed dome of the Duomo (cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore) in Florence created Brunelleschi. The motet called Nuper rosarum flores (rose blossoms) was being played for the occasion composed by Dufay. Warren has shown the correspondences between the cathedral and the motel but showing that borrowing of proportions could work both ways: from architecture to music as well as from music to architecture. Brunelleschi was the first to transfer harmonic proportion in music onto his buildings. He believes that while architecture borrowed radical harmony from music, music borrowed its proportioned structure back from architecture. He invented linear perspective, the perspective transformations of actual dimensions into projected dimensions are coherent and systematic. Equal measures of real space were transformed into a harmonic serie of measures in perspective. A clear distinction has been made between a geometry that belonged to the essential structure of the world -Euclidean geometry- and a geometry that recorded appearances -perspective geometry.

The cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore

The opinion of the implicit or explicit character of proportion in Renaissance buildings is currently divided and uncertain. Critics such as Colin Rowe describes Palado's use of proportion as relatively clear and uncomplicated compared to Le Corbusier. Others complain that the rational idea, very clear, cannot be perceived in 3 dimensions. In practice, Renaissance artists were not trying to show proportion in things but trying to bury it in in things in imitation to nature, where it was hard to see.
“Arts needs to be imaginatively undressed in order to be appreciated and so does the world”Clarity can be fond under everything if our vision is sufficiently informed and penetrating. For instance, Donatello and Michelangelo trusted the eye rather than the compas, and Aristoxenus and Mei trusted the ear rather than the numerically subdivided string.

So this chapter concludes that the practice of proportion was not unified in Renaissance, and that the history of it has been overwritten. But is is only a characteristic not a default. The most accomplished work were unified presentations, without saying that they were the product of unifed ideas. Claude Perrault's critique of the architectural proportion did not attack proportion but ideas about it and said that since nature provided no distinct rules for architecture, we must provide them instead. He proposed that vision does not distort things, but that it relates them to one another and moved attention from invisible cause to the visible constitution of building. Finally, 'rules recognized to be necessary, could no longer provide any guarantee of quality'.

"The Vitruvian Man is a famous drawing with accompanying notes by Leonardo da Vinci made around the year 1490 in one of his journals. It depicts a naked male figure in two superimposed positions with his arms apart and simultaneously inscribed in a circle and square. The drawing and text are sometimes called the Canon of Proportions or, less often, Proportions of Man. Marcus Vitruvius Pollio was a roman writer, an architect and engineer, active in the 1st century BC. He was the author of De architectura, known today as The Ten Books of Architecture, a treatise in Latin on architecture and perhaps the first work about this discipline."

The Modulor is a scale of proportions devised by the Swiss architect Le Corbusier (1887-1965). Le Corbusier developed the Modulor in the long tradition of Vitruvius, Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvin Man, the work of Leon Battista Alberti, and other attempts to discover mathematical proportions in the human body and then to use that knowledge to improve both the appearance and function of architecture. The system is based on human measurements, the double unit, the Fibonacci numbers, and the golden section. Le Corbusier described it as a "range of harmonious measurements to suit the human scale, universally applicable to architecture and to mechanical things."


Architecture science and technology in the vitruvian tradition

The Vitruvian tradition
There was not a lot of illustrations in the beginning, not truly roman architecture (not a lot of concrete), architecture was done by slave labor so not seen as a high profession, more credit was put on pure science so instead of doing graphics they were doing fractions. To enhance the status of architecture, one had to use verbal expression. Architects have always admired the treaties of Vitruvius, but buildings are not done this way as there is no greek temples around Northern Europe. Theory can be separated from reality until the 18th century.

They believe in proportion, not at all static. Proportion is not a static thing as there is always a slight variation, the accuracy in the modern sense is not there. The idea is that the world is order in proportion and architecture is the art of order in proportion. Ouvrard thought that music and architecture were linked (see paper). Mathematic and architecture are also linked.

A different definition of architecture
Architecture shared things with science: geometry, perception and how mind works e.g. the statues in buildings and keep the statue from looking like if it was falling into the void, interest in anamorphosis: there is a back and forth relation between world of art, math, physiology and perception. The structure between animal and architecture: the living function and the elements in architecture. And people can then be scientists and architects at the same time, eg. Wren, Perrault. Then why not transforming the building into a scientific experiment, this idea of the meridien link astronomy to cathedrals, buildings have then different shapes and towers coincide with different times in sun passage. The baroque period questions light and parts that would allow light to circulate. An example of baroque building: The Basilica of Saint Peter from (15th-16th century) with the dome designed by Michelangelo, and the The Trevi Fountain as the largest and most ambitious of the Baroque fountains of Rome (1762). In the 18th, this is the passage from having a scientific building to a metaphor.

The Basilica of Saint Peter

The Trevi Fountain

In the 18t, the notion of architectural space does not exist, space is not thought. Architecture of a serie of walls, more 2D not thought of as a space which is a modern idea, it is more a rhythmique architecture. But it varies between countries, there are different philosophy, in France the planes are slightly disconnected from each others and in Italy deformation of a continuous plane. There are different ways to look at a building, before architecture would look at the differences, at the details, they were not interested in describing the structure because it was obvious. Architecture was primarily by imitation with principles already given so the variations then became the only interesting parts. Now, because we are confronted to different buildings we tend to look at architecture from its structure so to understand the baroque, we need to reeducate the eye.

Architecture and technology: the key notion of solidity

People lived in a stable world and buildings had to look reassuringly solid, and the Gothic does not look solid, was too daring; the look should regulate the construction of buildings and obey more visible rules. Blondel said that Gothic church (Notre Dame) was not solid, which is not true but it does not 'look'solid.

Architecture is then not about daring performance, but it is about conveying a harmonoy of proprtions, and technology does not have as much value, innovation is not a value in itself and using geometry can dispense technological knowledge. Architecture becomes the discourse of geometry theory and does not need to know how to build it. Nature itself is understood in geometry terms, the building recipes is given through proportion. The 'new' is not a natural condition. The theory of invention today will have to change as technology allows for mass copying and imitation.

Why geometric discourse of architecture worked?
It worked because the world was technologically stable from the end of the Renaissance to the 18th century. There were relatively few materials and a few evolution of building constructions, but people still view they are in a stable world. Material was tied to nature; for instance in Angers, 'les tuiles a l'envers pour ventilation'.

A few mysteries
About Iron, nobody knows how to control Iron until the 18th century. At the time transportation is very expensive and this is why materials are very local. Also enormous importance in building a shell as the masonery is half the price at the time while now it is very cheap. Masonery gradually replaces wood after the renaissance in building construction. There is a big evolution / concrete. The foundation was the biggest technological problem and a major source of collapse. Wooden pile was cheap but at the time there was lots of water so problem. In Europe, wood has been replaced by concrete. Key technologies: oblique smoke pipe (fireplace does not have to project into a room).

Conservative institutions and professions
Social condition
you stay in the same class as born in, do what your father had done, the master trained his son. The idea of revolution is that of circular motion come back to where it was before (circular model more natural than linear one). They were highly conservative in term of innovation, and tradition is good and innovation was dangerous and not natural.

Measures are not unified, local measures are made by local guilds and governed by local laws. Later the buildings are made through geometric measurment and that method takes over in local buildings.

Profession of the architect
90% were master masons, guild masters and 10% were artistic theorists. Architecture is too close to the world of construction for innovation to happen. The renaissance marks the departure of architecture from master craftmen and innovation is not favorable for intimate connection between architecture and technology. Today theory allows for negotiation after work being done in studio. Today design and theory has a prescriptive relation to reality.

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