Architecture {3} ~ The History Of Architecture

Going back two millennia, to the early first Century AD, you will find the very earliest writings on the subject of architecture, which were penned by Roman architect Vitruvius who defines the qualities of a good building as durability, utility and beauty (which are, completely coincidentally, almost identical to Riluxa’s three criteria for defining luxury: durable, beautifully designed and designed for life, i.e. made to be used.)

Italian Renaissance architect Leon Battista Alberti developed Vitruvius’s ideas, suggesting that beauty is not as much about ornamental value as it is about proportion and that architecture must strive to achieve, and will be defined by its achievement of, ‘the golden mean’. The golden mean is when two parts of a whole – a and b – have a ratio that is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities. The Great Mosque of Kairouan, in Tunisia, for instance, shows an application of the golden mean in the main part of its design. Architectural beauty was, therefore, based on inherent properties of an object, rather than on style, which was not developed until the 16th Century with the Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects series of biographies by Giorgio Vasari.

Vasari’s writings were a European smash hit by the time of the 18th Century and had been translated into four different languages. This gave rise to a wider public interest in the discourse of architecture and, by 1836 with the publishing of English Architect Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin’s Contrasts, a dialogue concerning the aesthetic differences between the modern, industrial world and the idealised neo-medieval world of Gothic architecture was well underway.

19th Century English architectural and art critic John Ruskin was among the first to write on the philosophical implications of architectural beauty as an aid to “mental health, power and pleasure” and developed the idea that buildings must be “adorned” – not just well-proportioned – if they are to achieve aesthetic excellence. And, as the 19th Century turned into the 20th, a polemic on the difference between architecture and simple construction was first given attention via the writings of architect Charles-Édouard Jeanneret, better known as Le Corbusier, who distinguished architecture by its ability to, “touch my heart… do me good. I am happy and I say: This is beautiful.”

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