Ten Books on Architecture







What it is that an Architect ought principally to consider, and what Sciences he ought to be acquainted with.

But to the Intent that the Architect may come off worthily and honourably in preparing, ordering and accomplishing all these Things, there are some necessary Admonitions, which he should by no means neglect. And first he ought to consider well what Weight he is going to take upon his Shoulders, what it is that he professes, what Manner of Man he would be thought, how great a Business he undertakes, how much Applause, Profit, Favour and Fame among Posterity he will gain when he executes his Work as he ought, and on the contrary, if he goes about any thing ignorantly, unadvisedly, or inconsiderately, to how much Disgrace, to how much Indignation he exposes himself, what a clear, manifest and everlasting Testimony he gives Mankind of his Folly and Indiscretion.

Doubtless Architecture is a very noble Science, not fit for every Head. He ought to be a Man of a fine Genius, of a great Application, of the best Education, of thorough Experience, and especially of strong Sense and sound Judgement, that presumes to declare himself an Architect. It is the Business of Architecture, and indeed its highest Praise, to judge rightly what is fit and decent: For though Building is a Matter of Necessity, yet convenient Building is both of Necessity and Utility too: But to build in such a Manner, that the Generous shall commend you, and the Frugal not blame you, is the Work only of a prudent, wise and learned Architect. To run up any thing that is immediately necessary for any particular Purpose, and about which there is no doubt of what Sort it should be, or of the Ability of the Owner to afford it, is not so much the Business of an Architect, as of a common Workman: But to raise an Edifice which is to be compleat in every Part, and to consider and provide before−hand every Thing necessary for such a Work, is the Business only of that extensive Genius which I have described above: For indeed his Invention must be owing to his Wit, his Knowledge, to Experience, his Choice to Judgment, his Composition to Study, and the Completion of his Work to his Perfection in his Art; of all which Qualifications I take the Foundation to be Prudence and mature Deliberation.

As to the other Virtues, Humanity, Benevolence, Modesty, Probity; I do not require them more in the Architect, than I do in every other Man, let him profess what Art he will: For indeed without them I do not think any one worthy to be deemed a Man: But above all Things he should avoid Levity, Obstinacy, Ostentation, Intemperance, and all those other Vices which may lose him the good Will of his Fellow−Citizens, and make him odious to the World.

Lastly, in the Study of his Art I would have him follow the Example of those that apply themselves to Letters: For no Man thinks himself sufficiently learned in any Science, unless he has read and examined all the Authors, as well bad as good that have wrote in that Science which he is pursuing. In the same Manner I would have the Architect diligently consider all the Buildings that have any tolerable Reputation; and not only so, but take them down in Lines and Numbers, nay, make Designs and Models of them, and by means of those, consider and examine the Order, Situation, Sort and Number of every Part which others have employed, especially such as have done any thing very great and excellent, whom we may reasonably suppose to have been Men of very great Note, when they were intrusted with the Direction of so great an Expence. Not that I would have him admire a Structure merely for being huge, and imagine that to be a sufficient Beauty; but let him principally enquire in every Building what there is particularly artful and excellent for Contrivance or Invention, and gain a Habit of being pleased with nothing but what is really elegant and praise−worthy for the Design: And where−ever he finds any thing noble, let him make use of it, or imitate it in his own Performances; and when he sees any thing well done, that is capable of being still further improved and made delicate, let him study to bring it to Perfection in his own Works; and when he meets with any Design that is only not absolutely bad, let him try in his own Things to work it if possible into something excellent.

Thus by a continued and nice Examination of the best Productions, still considering what Improvements might be made in every thing that he sees, he may so exercise and sharpen his own Invention, as to collect into his own Works not only all the Beauties which are dispersed up and down in those of other Men, but even those which lie in a Manner concealed in the most hidden Recesses of Nature, to his own immortal Reputation. Not satisfied with this, he should also have an Ambition to produce something admirable, which may be entirely of his own Invention; like him, for Instance, who built a Temple without using one iron Tool in it; or him that brought the Colossus to Rome, suspended all the Way upright, in which Work we may just mention that he employed no less than four−and−twenty Elephants; or like an Artist that in only seemingly working a common Quarry of Stone, should cut it out into a Labyrinth, a Temple, or some other useful Structure, to the Surprise of all Mankind. We are told that Nero used to employ miraculous Architects, who never thought of any Invention, but what it was almost impossible for the Skill of Man to reduce to practice. Such Geniusses I can by no mean approve of; for, indeed, I would have the Architect always appear to have consulted Necessity and Convenience in the first Place, even tho' at the very same Time his principal Care has been Ornament. If he can make a handsome Mixture of the noble Orders of the Ancients, with any of the new Inventions of the Moderns, he may deserve Commendation. In this Manner he should be continually improving his Genius by Use and Exercise in such Things as may conduce to make him Excellent in this Science; and indeed, he should think it becomes him to have not only that Knowledge, without which he would not really be what he professed himself; but he should also adorn his Mind with such a Tincture of all the liberal Arts, as may be of Service to make him more ready and ingenious at his own, and that he may never be at a Loss for any Helps in it which Learning can furnish him with.

In short, he ought still to be persevering in his Study and Application, till he finds himself equal to those great Men, whose Praises are capable of no further Addition: Nor let him ever be satisfied with himself, if there is that Thing any where that can possibly be of Use to him, and that can be obtained either by Diligence or Thought, which he is not thoroughly Master of, till he is arrived at the Summit of Perfection in the Art which he professes.

The Arts which are useful, and indeed absolutely necessary to the Architect, are Painting and Mathematicks. I do not require him to be deeply learned in the rest; for I think it ridiculous, like a certain Author, to expect that an Architect should be a profound Lawyer, in order to know the Right of conveying Water or placing Limits between Neighbours, and to avoid falling into Controversies and Lawsuits as in Building is often the Case: Nor need he be a perfect Astronomer, to know that Libraries ought to be situated to the North, and Stoves to the South; nor a very great Musician, to place the Vases of Copper or Brass in a Theatre for assisting the Voice: Neither do I require that he should be an Orator, in order to be able to display to any Person that would employ him, the Services which he is capable of doing him; for Knowledge, Experience and perfect Mastery in what he is to speak of, will never fail to help him to Words to explain his Sense sufficiently, which indeed is the first and main End of Eloquence. Not that I would have him Tongue−tied, or so deficient in his Ears, as to have no Taste for Harmony: It may suffice if he does not build a private Man' s House upon the publick Ground, or upon another Man' s: If he does not annoy the Neighbours, either by his Lights, his Spou s, his Gutters, his Drains, or by obstructing their Passage contrary to Law: If he knows the several Winds that blows from the different Points of the Compass, and their Names; in all which Sciences there is no Harm indeed in his being more expert; but Painting and Mathematicks are what he can no more be without, than a Poet can be without the Knowledge of Feet and Syllables; neither do I know whether it be enough for him to be only moderately tinctured with them. This I can say of myself, that I have often started in my Mind Ideas of Buildings, which have given me wonderful Delight: Wherein when I have come to reduce them into Lines, I have found in those very Parts which most pleased me, many gross Errors that required great Correction; and upon a second Review of such a Draught, and measuring every Part by Numbers, I have been sensible and ashamed of my own Inaccuracy.

Lastly, when I have made my Draught into a Model, and then proceeded to examine the several Parts over again, I have sometimes found myself mistaken, even in my Numbers. Not that I expected my Architect to be a Zeuxis in Painting, nor a Nicomachus at Numbers, nor an Archimedes in the Knowledge of Lines and Angles: It may serve his Purpose if he is a thorough Master of those Elements of Painting which I have wrote; and if he is skilled in so much practical Mathematicks, and in such a Knowledge of mixed Lines, Angles and Numbers, as is necessary for the Measuring of Weights, Superficies and Solids, which Part of Geometry the Greeks call Podismata and Emboda. With these Arts, joined to Study and Application, the Architect may be sure to obtain Favour and Riches, and to deliver his Name with Reputation down to Posterity.



De re aedificatoria, 1452, this translation 1775