Saturday, March 22, 2014

Roman Architecture: Weeks 7 & 8

Trajan's Column
I signed up last autumn for an online course from Yale University Department of Classics on Roman Architecture. The last couple of weeks we have been focusing on the emperors Trajan and Hadrian, great patrons of architecture at a time when Rome was at the peak of its power. We also received our most challenging assignment yet: To put ourselves in the place of an architect of ancient Rome competing for the major commission of a lifetime, to design and build a newly founded Roman city. To obtain the commission we must submit a proposal to the patron describing our city including drawings and a letter to the patron. I'll share what I submitted in conclusion.

Trajan 98 - 117 C.E.

Grandiosity. The most fitting word I can think to describe the architecture that Trajan would commission for Rome. The world had not seen anything like it. His first order of business was to have a forum built as large as all of the existing imperial fora combined. Though much of it was later destroyed and pillaged for marble, remarkably the famous Column of Trajan stands virtually intact. What a masterpiece! A visual "scroll" unfurls as a spiraling frieze recounting in relief the conquest of the Dacians, a people from modern day Romania who fiercely and nobly opposed the Roman conquest. There is a stairway inside that can still be climbed to the very top, a height of 125 feet, marking the amount of soil removed from the Quirinal Hill for Trajan to build his forum!

An extension of the forum and a remarkable project in its own right were the Markets of Trajan. The shear size and complexity of them makes it hard to believe it approaches 2,000 years. Serving as an ancient shopping mall it would have accommodated hundreds of vendors, the Via Condotti or 5th Avenue of its day.

Markets of Trajan

Hadrian 117 - 138 C.E.

Canopus, Hadrian's Villa
Rome could not have asked for a better architectural patron than Hadrian. He was an architect himself! Both contemporary critics and those of his day try to diminish him as an amateur; however, the attributed Temple of Venus and Roma as well as several of the projects at his sprawling villa give testimony of a gifted sense of design, combined with formal studies. Notice the use of the "Serliana" or "Palladian" opening, the original design informing these Renaissance architects who rediscovered this form some 1,400 years later.

However, the undisputed champion of Roman architecture, representing the triumph of Roman concrete and engineering skill is the Pantheon. What a remarkable accomplishment. Aside from a myriad of remarkable features there is the signature unreinforced concrete dome 142 feet across, the oculus 27 feet across and 7 1/2 feet thick at the opening. I can imagine as the barbarians descended on Rome burning and pillaging centuries later they stayed their hand from the torch at the sight of the Pantheon. Even they could appreciate the excellence, the sheer majesty of her.

The Pantheon

Design Your Own Roman City

It is with utmost humility before your divine majesty, Imperator Augustus, that I present before you these plans for a new Forum for the town of Luna. As I bear witness, your great building program has turned Rome into a symbol of greatness for the world to observe and you have instructed humble servants such as I to share the greatness of Rome throughout the provinces. Luna indeed, is a fine beneficiary of your benevolence for our fellow citizens diligently oversee the quarrying of the finest marble in service of the Republic.

The selection of a very healthy site is proposed, elevated from the river Macra, away from the marshes, closer to the marble quarries. Much thought was also given to the dangers of unfavorable winds from the sea and mountains. The Decumanus Maximus has been laid from Solanvs (east) to Favonivs (west), granting access to the forum through the precinct wall whilst the Cardo Maximus runs from Septentrio (north) to Avster (south) and lead to Suburbia. Concerning materials for the building works the province is richly blessed with cypress and fir producing timbers felled in autumn, suitable clays for brick making and the finest marble for the cooking of lime. Just the pit sand of Baiae is lacking for the Opus Reticulatum and
Caementicium (concrete) works should your excellence deems these plans worthy of your patronage.

Mercury has indeed blessed our people with a fine economy so a prostyle, tetrastyle, pseudoperipteral Templum to honor him is raised upon a grand Podium against the precinct wall of the Forum manifesting the symmetry of god and man, duly proportioned in its whole as in its members, of the Ionic order as befits the statesman of the gods. I have taken note in its placement the wise observations of your servant Vitruvius, "the temple and the statue placed in the cella face the western quarter of the sky. This will enable those who approach the altar with offerings or sacrifices to face the direction of the sunrise in facing the statue in the temple, and thus those who are undertaking vows look toward the quarter from which the sun comes forth, and likewise the statues themselves appear to be coming forth out of the east to look upon them as they pray and sacrifice."

The Basilica adjoins the Forum, has its breadth exposed to the southern sun and its entrance situated to avoid a direct wind, a suitable orientation so that the discomforts of inclement weather will in no way hinder the matters of the Republic. For the citizens both a Theatrum and Thermae has been included. The theater follows the Greek model of concentric circles as the wave of the voice like the wave of water emanates in similar fashion while a vaulted passage allow the Decumanus to pass through. The Palaestra and Natatio provide for vigorous exercise, Apodyteria for changing, and the requisite Tepidaria, Caldaria, and Frigidaria.

May the gods continue to bless your valor and noble policies.
Your humblest servant Marcus Julius Patricius

DCCLXVI  (14 C.E.)

Contributed by Patrick Webb 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Roman Architecture: Weeks 5 & 6

Cornice fragment from
Temple of Venus Genetrix
I signed up last autumn for an online course from Yale University Department of Classics on Roman Architecture. The last couple of weeks we have been discussing how Rome politically transformed from a Republic into an Empire and the significant implications this had for its architectural development. It was always so difficult to recall the various emperors and when they ruled; however, tying them to innovations in construction and well known monuments make it much easier to remember. We'll cover one dictator, 8 emperors and about 150 years in this review.

Julius Caesar 49 - 44 B.C.E.

In the year 63 B.C.E. Julius Caesar campaigned fiercely for and seized the highest religious office, that of Pontifus Maximus. With his ascension to dictator in 49 B.C.E. he effectively became both the head of state and of religion, a precedent that would continue throughout Roman Imperial times. One of his first architectural commissions was the Forum of Julius anchored by a temple dedicated to Venus Genetrix, the goddess of motherhood and domesticity.

Augustus 27 B.C.E. - 14 C.E.

Procession scene on the
  Ara Pacis Augustae
Caesar's posthumously adopted son and eventual successor, Octavius took on the name and title of Augustus Imperator, the first Emperor of Rome. He followed his grand uncle's example by building his own forum, the Forum of Augustus, anchored by a temple dedicated to Mars Ultor or "Mars the Avenger". The capitals of the temple served as one of the finest examples of the Corinthian order developed by the Romans that would be used as a precedent in their later works and again much later during the Renaissance.  The historian Suetonius quotes Augustus as claiming to have, "found Rome a city of bricks and left it a city of marble." It was in fact under his rule that marble from Luna, present day Carrera, was significantly exploited for many projects including the aforementioned Temple of Mars Ultor and the incredibly preserved Ara Pacis monument which celebrates the subsequent peace ushered in by Augustus' significant military conquests.

Tiberius 14 - 37 C.E.

Villa Jovis, Isle of Capri
Although Tiberius would make some contributions to temple building and civic architecture he manifested a
distinct preference for the country life. So much so that he essentially moved to the isle of Capri, establishing the first Imperial villa, a private estate from which he ran the empire.

Caligula 37 - 41 C.E.

Caligula did have a reputation as a wanton, hedonistic, irresponsible emperor. He took Tiberius' shift toward private architecture to the extreme, building one villa after another. This directly led to his reign coming to a swift end by assassination. Nevertheless, he did commission two major aqueducts into the city of Rome. Also, during his rule tufa and pumice began to be incorporated as aggregates for a "lightweight" Roman cement that would open up architectural possibilities for vaults and domes.

Aqua Claudia

Claudius 41 - 54 C.E.

Porta Maggiore
Now we arrive at my personal favourite, the late blooming Claudius. He didn't become emperor until 50 years of age and was only chosen after the assassination of Caligula because he had a terrible stammer. The Praetorian guard and others mistakenly assumed he was dimwitted and would be easy to control. In fact, Claudius had spent all those years in scholarly studies: history, antiquarianism, linguistics. He had written histories on Rome and Etruria, was the last known Roman scholar to be able to read and write Etruscan and proposed additional letters to the Roman alphabet that were adopted upon his becoming emperor. 

Claudius also had an interest in architecture and civic architecture specifically. He commissioned an amazing harbor to be constructed at the mouth of the Tiber river, at the town of Portus. "Porta" is Latin for "door" or "gate" and the town of Portus was so named as the Tiber river was considered the symbolic "gateway" to Rome. This is how the word "port" arrives to English today, meaning a constructed harbor. Heavy rustication contrasted with delicately carved elements typified public works under his rule, perhaps denoting a nostalgia for an Etruscan past.

Nero 54 - 68 C.E.

Octagonal room, Domus Aurea
With notorious Nero the party began anew. He began a campaign of building palatial complexes in the heart of Rome. His initial project, the Domus Tranistoria, burnt to the ground together with a large residential section of the city. After the fire, Nero appropriated the entire Esquiline hill, a good portion of the Palantine and Caelian hills for a total area of about 300 acres for himself. Several grandiose projects would arise from the ashes, the most of ostentatious of which was the Domus Aurea or "Golden House". This palace was the most ambitious construction work in Rome until that time. The walls abandoned the vulnerable opus incertum construction in favor of the more fire resistant opus latericium, brick facing over Roman concrete. This substrate was in turn clad with marble or rendered with lime stucco often to be finished in buon fresco. The full potential of concrete was being explored in the "Octagonal room". The departure from a rectilinear plans combined with the domed roof and huge oculus placed more emphasis on volumetric space and illumination. 

Vespasian 69 - 79 C.E.

Colosseum groin vaults
With the forced suicide of Nero, the Claudian line of emperors came to an end. After some civil strife, Vespasian would establish the subsequent Flavian line. He was quick to make amends with the people by initiating a popular campaign of public construction, the most notable of which was the Flavian amphitheatre better known as the Colosseum. The building is truly a wonder, elliptical in plan, stacked annular vaulting all in concrete. The annular vaults were crossed by vaults leading to the interior creating the arcades around the structure. The intersection produces "groin vaults", the intersection of two barrel vaults and the first known use of this system. 
Colosseum façade

Also of significant architectural interest is the hierarchical arrangement of the Classical orders on the façade: Doric, Ionic and Corinthian columns are placed as a system one surmounted above the other. They serve no structural purpose as the load is carried entirely by the concrete system of vaulting. However, they visually reinforce the sense of vertical support and adorn and refine the façade with a logical system of proportion. The more geometric, austere Doric columns rest below, terminating with slender, delicate Corinthian pilasters at the very top. This precedent of superimposition of the orders continued to be used from antiquity through the Renaissance and into our time.

Titus 79 - 81 C.E.

Titus was best known for his conquest of Jerusalem, as a Roman general in 70 C.E. He also commissioned a magnificent public building, the first of the imperial bath houses, the so called "Thermae Titi" or Baths of Titus. Though only fragments survive today, enough of the building was remaining in the 16th century for Andrea Palladio to accurately survey and record the plan which made even more elaborate use of groin vaulting than the Colosseum. The famous triumphal "Arch of Titus" commemorating his victory in Jerusalem was actually erected in his honour by his brother and successor, Domitian.

Forum Transitorium
Domitian 81 - 96 C.E.

The last of the Flavian line, Domitian was an omnivore for architecture, commissioning his own grand palace, a new forum and an incredible stadium. A little known treasure is the Forum Transitorium. The entablature of the colonnade projects and recedes to form bays in a rhythmic pattern that conveys a movement and vitality that would be once again explored in the 17th century Baroque.

The "Circus Agonalis" or stadium of Domitian must have been a wonder with the arena floor at over 700 feet in length and the seats rising to 100 feet above. Not much is left of the structure; however, the footprint of the arena is occupied by the lovely Piazza Navona, one of the most cherished gathering places in Rome.

Piazza Navona

Contributed by Patrick Webb 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Architectural Word of the Day; 51 - 60


The representation of a human or at least partially human face, often caricatured or grotesque.
Historically utilized as a means of warding away evil spirits, ‘mascarons’ or ‘masks’ represent some of the most delightful, personal and playful expressions of ornamentation.


‘Acanthus’, both the spinosus (thorny) and mollis (smooth), are herbaceous plants native to the shores of the Mediterranean. Their leaves are one of the most utilized for stylization of foliage in Classical Architecture.

For the ancient Greeks the acanthus came to symbolize death, re-birth, immortality. The first know use of the Corinthian column, prominently featuring the acanthus leaf in its capital, was at the Temple of Apollo Epicurius in Arcadia, circa 450 B.C.E.

Courtesy of Plâtres Vieujot


An advancement in groin vault design reached dizzying heights of articulation in the Gothic cathedrals of the late Medieval period. Stone ‘ribs’ gave increased support to the vaults, allowing clerestory windows to be placed higher and enlarged resulting in increased light into the interior.  

Courtesy of Vicat

A thin, decorative column having a cylindrical shaft.


‘Mashrabiya’ can refer to a geometrically ornamented window screen of traditional Islamic architecture or the entire oriel window balcony that contain such screens. Mashrabiyas allows for the passage of air and light while providing a level of privacy.

Courtesy of Plâtres Vieujot


‘Atlas’ was the Greek Titan who had to hold up the sky as punishment from Zeus. ‘Atlante’ was the Titan’s Roman name whereas ‘Telamon’ was a companion of Jason from the legend of the Argonauts.

These titles are used interchangeably for the strained male figures that hold up the weight of a building in the place of columns or corbels.


Meaning “between the antae”. In temple architecture they occasionally are used to terminate the portico, framing the entry.


Plural of ANTA, antae are engaged piers that terminate either side of a colonnade. Antae do not have entasis or diminution and typically have a unique capital not associated with the main order.

Contributed by Patrick Webb

Saturday, March 1, 2014

En Defensa de la Artesanía

Estructura de Madera Tradicional
cortesía de
American College of the Building
Alimentos, ropa y refugio. Ahí es donde empezó todo para nosotross. Los seres humanos son criaturas de otro modo bastante frágiles pero con nuestra capacidad para obtener tales necesidades fundamentales hemos sido capaces de no sólo sobrevivir, sino prosperar. Llegamos bastante bueno en eso también, y rápido! Los rápidos avances en la agricultura, la cría, el textil y la construcción colocaron el base para lo que hoy llamamos civilización.

La mera supervivencia era bueno y bien, pero a final de las cuentas no era tan satisfactorio. Así que empezamos a cocinar y dar sabor a nuestra comida, las tradiciones culinarias nació para satisfacer a nuestros sentidos del olfato y el gusto. Nos teje de colores, diseños complejos en nuestras prendas de la lana y el lino más fino, más suave y una tradición textil nació para satisfacer a nuestros sentidos táctiles y visuales. Y finalmente comenzamos la construcción de refugios para las familias que les ornamentamos con formas literales e icónicos y por fin llegamos a un lugar a la vez personal, seguro y tranquilo. No tengo ninguna duda de que era bueno llegar en casa.

Supongo que podría seguir hablando de la música, el ritual, el amor y una docena de otras necesidades humanas, sin embargo, creo que mi opinión es que nada ha cambiado realmente. No hemos evolucionado en los últimos 200 años o los últimos 20.000. Tú y yo hoy tiene esas mismas necesidades humanas que siempre hemos tenido. Voy a centrar mi atención en las embarcaciones que se aplican a la vivienda no porque tenga más mérito que los demás, sino porque es donde mi experiencia personal descansa.

Una Definición de la Artesanía 

Mimi Moore
Albañil de Piedra
Qué significa la artesanía a diferentes personas hoy en día es bastante variado. Tal vez está volviendo a la moda algo viejo y encantador como todas las cervecerías artesanales surgiendo (tenemos 6 aquí en Charleston, una buena señal de la cultura!) O tal vez podría ser un pasatiempo, algo de aficionados que lo hacemos por diversión como elaboración de coronas florales para las fiestas o un proyecto de la carpintería en el garaje. De vez en cuando se puede entender como algo hecho en realidad para ganarse la vida, como un albañil o un herrero.

Nuestra palabra "artesanía" entró en español a través de Latina y el italiano. Llevó el sentido de "poder mental y habilidad", pero indicó uno especialmente instruido en las artes. Así que, históricamente, el significado de "la artesanía" era todo menos encantador o trivial, más bien era una expresión seria de la capacidad física y mental del hombre, era especialmente sagrado.

Cuatro Conceptos Erróneos Relacionados con la Artesanía  

Dejando a un lado la definición anterior, hay varios ejemplos de los cuales la Artesanía es mal entendido. Como un artesano que me gustaría ofrecer mi opinión con respecto a algunos de los malentendidos más frecuentes:
  1. La Artesanía no es Trabajo
  2.  El Arte no es la Artesanía 
  3. Nadie hace eso ya 
  4. Industria y tecnología son el futuro de la producción. Artesanías cuesta demasiado

Hierro Forjado
cortesía de

American College of the Building Arts
De alguna manera, como sociedad, hemos llegado a ver la sudoración y ejerciendo a sí mismo físicamente fuera del deporte como degradante para el espíritu humano, una indicación de bajo nivel social y la inteligencia inferior (quizás esta mentalidad contribuye al hecho de que se cree que somos la más obesa generación nunca). Este "estigma" ha llevado a algunos artesanos que insistir en una separación estricta entre el trabajo y la artesanía. No quiere decir que no hay trabajo servil, ajeno que se encuentra comúnmente en la industria y la construcción que cumpla con la descripción anterior. Sin embargo, siempre hay que empezar como trabjador en el proceso de adquisición de la habilidad de crecer hasta el nivel de un artesano. No hay nada innoble en ello. Muy por el contrario, incluso en la rutina diaria de un artesano se encontrará haciendo tareas mundanas, a veces muy laborioso y no particularmente experto. Así es la vida. Francamente, hay veces en que usted aprecia el descanso mental para que enderezar la tienda, barriendo el suelo y sacar la basura es un consuelo. Trabajo sólo es degradante cuando hay un deseo de progresar, pero no la capacidad y la oportunidad de progresar

Durante la Ilustración del siglo 18 otra distinción se elaboró, esta vez entre el arte y la artesanía. Ah ... tantas jerarquías artificiales! La artesanía fue en ese momento condescendido como un impulso estrictamente técnico, un trabajo solo práctico y funcional. Por el contrario, el arte o más bien las "bellas artes" debían ser distinguido por la creatividad, la inutilidad y el carácter conceptual. Esta fue una distinción totalmente arbitraria fuera de contexto con la reciente precedente histórico y el sentido común. Escultores, yeseros y pintores como Michelangelol, Leonardo da Vinci y Rafael, todos tenían que empezar como trabajadores o aprendices antes de dominar las técnicas prácticas de sus respectivos medios y en última instancia para expresar su habilidad en el discurso altamente creativo. Me acuerdo en que gran parte de la basura inepto que pasa por obras de arte contemporáneo es de hecho "inútil" de la manera más fundamental, que responde a ninguna necesidad humana alguna. Esto no tiene la intención de menospreciar a muchos de los artistas expertos que trabajan en la pintura y otros medios en los trabajos conceptuales. Más bien, es a felicitar a la persona experta que domina la ornamentación y las artes decorativas aplicadas y al hacerlo puede expresar plenamente su creatividad mientras que trae alegría a su patronos.
Yeso Ornamental
cortesía de
American College of the Building
"Nadie hace ese tipo de trabajo más." Oigo esto todo el tiempo. Lo he oído, mientras yo estaba sobre un andamio en el mismo momento haciendo ese tipo de trabajo. Alguien va a pasar para preguntarme lo que estoy haciendo, tal vez estoy colocando una pieza de ornamento de yeso, y me dice, "que lastimal, nadie hace ese tipo de trabajo más!" Por un instante creo que esta persona es un tanto estupido o peor, tratando de ser malicioso, hacer una broma de mí. Eso, por supuesto, generalmente no es el caso. Esta idea está tan firmemente arraigada que a pesar del hecho de que la persona ve la artesanía ocurre en frente de sus ojos todavía no pueden creer. El sistema educativo les ha dicho que la artesanía está muerto, entonces debe ser cierto. La realidad es muy diferente, por supuesto. Por lo general, la mayoría de la arquitectura antes de la Segunda Guerra Mundial tenía un nivel de artesanía en su construcción. Esa es una gran cantidad de inventario que tiene que ser mantenido ... por artesanos. Es cierto que la mayor parte de nueva construcción hoy en día utiliza principalmente materiales baratos, hecha de fábrica, diseñados para ser instalados por los obrero poco cualificado. Sin embargo, en la nueva mercados de construcción natural y arquitectura tradicional, artesanía continúa prosperando.
Existe la idea errónea de que la industria y la tecnología son el futuro de la producción. Rechazo esta opinión. Declaro que la industria y la tecnología son claramente el presente indiscutible de la producción y lo han sido durante muchas décadas. Y así, en qué mundo han creado para que nosotros vivimos? Un mundo barato seguro que , aunque no sin su costo. Hablaré de algunos hechos evidentes. Sabemos que nuestros hogares modernos son tóxicos. Sabemos que nuestros hogares modernos están mal construidas, poco probable que dure la hipoteca. Nosotros, al menos, sentimos que nuestras casas modernas fueron mal diseñados utilizando materiales baratos y mano de obra más barata. Nada de esto contribuye al bien de la sociedad o nuestra felicidad personal.
"No hay casi nada en el mundo que un hombre no puede hacer un poco peor, y vender un poco más barato. La persona que compra sólo por precio es presa legítima de este hombre "-. John Ruskin
El Valor de la Artesanía

Si quieres una regla de oro
  que se ajuste a todo, eso es:
No tienen nada en sus casas
  que usted no sabe que es útil
  o no cree que es hermoso.
- William Morris
Como un artesano, yo veo el valor de la artesanía como muy personal. Me ha hecho más materialista. No, por supuesto, en el deseo vacío de adquirir más, sino en un profundo aprecio por las materiales mismas, el grano fino de nogal que cuenta la historia de su vida, el veteado intrincado de un precioso mármol Nero Portoro que fractaliza en una sinfonía de color y diseño, la sensación suave y sensual de la arcilla de tierra
moldeada por el poder de mi toque. En el mismo instante me transformo en el creador y el devoto más humilde.

Siempre se puede notar cuando una casa se ​​construyó en un apretado calendario y un presupuesto más ajustado, cuando los trabajadores llevan a cabo las tareas bajo coacción. Haga el trabajo, a la siguiente, es un negocio y nada más. Nadie se preocupaba por ti, por tu lugar de descanso. Es palpable, lo puedes sentir claramente y es un lugar terriblemente opresiva para vivir. Los costos son exorbitantes por algo que contribuye tan poco a nuestra comodidad y humanidad. 

Leon Tolstoy escribió una vez: "No hay grandeza donde no hay sencillez, bondad y verdad." En armonía con estas palabras que presento una alternativa: vivir honestamente, con si mismo y con los demás. No hacer justificaciones falsas, construir o remodelar una casa auténtica que desea vivir. Rellenarla con arte que es a la vez útil y hermoso. Emplear los hombres y mujeres que se preocupan profundamente por su trabajo y quieren darle el mejor. Puede ser al principio un concepto intimidante, pero finalmente es una liberación para darse cuenta de que en realidad se puede comer, beber, amar y vivir en un lugar que contribuye a su felicidad.

Escrito por Patrick Webb