I’ve always enjoyed looking at beautiful buildings and marveling at the construction techniques and engineering capabilities of the building sciences. That’s not that unusual, we all like looking in awe at attractive things. I’ve been even more interested though in finding out what makes a building popular, lasting, and one that people enjoy using, all at the same time.
I’ve seen the Sydney Opera House in Australia, the Empire State Building in New York City, Soldier Field of the Chicago Bears, Ely Cathedral in England, and countless other iconic and well-built older structures all over the US, Europe, and Latin America. They aren’t exactly famous like those places, but I’ve seen more towns and cities that I could mention which have beautiful homes, relaxing and bucolic town squares, and pleasant plazas with parks in the middle. This latter form of “Main Street” architecture seems to be the US’s strong suit.
The more I studied architecture and sought it out as something worth learning about it, the more I realized, with quite a bit of surprise, how intertwined it is with the human body. As a matter of fact, I’ve never even seen or heard of anyone discussing the correlation between physical fitness of the body on one hand, and successful architecture on the other. It turns out though, the two fields are closely interrelated.
After reading Tom Wolfe’s book, “From Bauhaus to Our House” about the pretensions, ideology, and flawed approach to modern building practices, I became even more interested in what was going on with architecture. So I took some online courses, read several books, did some drawings, gazed over photos I’d taken all over the world, and even worked through an online course offered at Yale University called “Roman Architecture.” What I discovered was fascinating:
Successful architecture is based on the symmetry and proportion of the human body.
Vitruvius, a Roman architect and engineer was one of the first to leave a record of his principles in a multi-volume book called “De Architectura,” written around the year 40 BC. Based on his expertise in human anatomy and many other fields, he taught that there were 3 essential attributes in the field of architecture:
- Firmitas – Strength, Solidity, Firmness
- Utilitas – Commodity, Comfort, Serviceability
- Venustas – Delight, Beauty
The famous work by Leonardo da Vinci, “Vitruvian Man” is based on his idea that the human body is perfectly proportioned and that buildings should be as well. The drawing implies perfect symmetry emanating out from the navel, and reflected the universe as a whole:
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