Architectural theory can be defined as the art of thinking, discussing and writing about architecture. Architectural theory is taught in architectural schools and it is practiced by the world’s leading architects. Most times, architectural theory takes the form of a lecture, dialogue, a book, a paper project or competition entry. And since it is most often didactic, architectural theorists stay close or work from schools. It has been in existence since antiquity and as the publication became more rampant, the architectural theory also gained increasing popularity since it became easier for these theories to be published and duplicated. Over centuries architectural theory has experienced a lot of changes and contributions from various great architects and some changes this theory has undergone are explained in the article below.
We are going to examine the various changes that architectural theory has undergone from the antiquity period to the 21st theory.
There is very little information about architectural theory in the antiquity period until the first century with the works of Vitruvius. Even though only Vitruvius illustrated architectural theory at this time, this does not mean that there we no other architectural theorists at that time, but most of the works of these other theorists did not survive the antiquity period.
The rediscovery of Vitruvius works has greatly helped the architects of the Renaissance by providing them with architectural underpinnings to the rise of the Renaissance style, which was already underway. Popular renaissance architects such as Brunelleschi and Leon Battista Alberti found in the book de architecture written by Vitruvius their rationale for raising their branch of knowledge in a scientific discipline.
During the Middle Ages, architectural knowledge was usually passed by transcription and word of the mouth most times in the buildings of master builders. Due to the laborious nature of transcription, there was a little amount of architectural knowledge that was penned down at this time. Most theoretical architectural information from this time was theological and transcriptions from the bible. Since architectural theories were on structures, fewer of them were transcribed then.
Even though architectural theories were not often documented at this time, there are still a few written samples that dated back to the Middle Ages. The Abbot Suger’s Liber de rubus in administratione sua gestis for example in an architectural document that emerged at this time. Another example is the Villard de Honnecourt’s portfolio drawings from about the 1230s.
Leon Batista Alberti’s, de aedification was the first great work of the architectural theory of this period. They placed Vitruvius at the core of the most profound theoretical tradition of the modern ages. From Alberti, good architecture id validated through the Vitruvian triad which defines its purpose. This triplet conserved all its validity until the 19th century. A major transition into the 17th century and the Age of enlightenment was secured through the advanced mathematical and optical research of the celebrated architect and geometer Girard Desargues, with an emphasis on his studies on conics, perspective and project geometry.
This period witnessed a considerable development in the architectural theory on the European continent. At this time, new architectural discoveries were made (discoveries of Pompeii and Herculaneum architectural works) and this drove new interest in classical art and architecture. Thus, the term neoclassicism arose to designate the 18th-century architecture which looked to these new classical precedents for inspiration in building designs.
Starting from the 19th century, architectural theory began to experience vast development and changes like never before. In the 19th century, a reaction against the dominance of neoclassical architecture started and this opposition started in the 1820s to the 1840s, with Augustus Pugin providing a moral and theoretical basis for the Gothic Revival Architecture and finally in the 1940s John Ruskin developed the ethos.
Also in the 19th century, the book “American Architecture was published by Horatio Greenough. In this book, Greenough rejected the limitations of the old style of building and outlined the functional relationship that existed between architecture and decoration.
Towards the end of the 19th century, a significant theoretical event happened in England. Ruskin’s ideas underpinned the emergence of the arts and craft movement exemplified by the work of Williams Morris. This in the long run formed the basics of for art Nouveau in the United Kingdom, exemplified the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and influenced the Vienna secession.
In 1889, Camillo Sitte published the Dar stadtebau nach seinen kunstlerischen Grundsatzen which meant “planning according to Artistic Principles” it was not exactly a criticism of architectural forms but rather it was an atheistic criticism of the 19th-century urbanism. This criticism was mainly a theoretical work but it had a great impact on architecture as the architecture and planning were intertwined. After it was published, the demand for it was so high that five editions were produced in Germany between the year 1899 to the year 1902. And a French edition was also released In 1902.
Although the ideas that Sitte expressed in the book were later rejected by the modern movement, Sitte’s work was revisited by post-modern architects and theorists in the 1970s. Other notable events that also helped shape architectural also happened in the 20th century.
Architectural theory in the 21st century which is the present contemporary time is focused mainly on the position of architectural design within the culture and thought in particular. This is why in the 21st-century schools teaching architecture focus majorly on the philosophical and cultural topics that are related to architectural humanities.
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