De Architectura / On Architecture

De Architectura (On Architecture) is a treatise on architecture written between 30 and 15 BC by the Roman architect and military engineer Marcus Vitruvius Pollio.

A Model Through Times.

As the only treatise on architecture to have survived from antiquity, De Architectura has been regarded as the first book on architectural theory. It’s based on Vitruvius’ own experience, as well as on theoretical works by famous Greek architects.  The treatise covers almost every aspect of architecture but has its limits since it tells primarily about Greek models, from which Roman architecture was soon about to depart to serve the new needs of proclaiming a new empire.

File:M. Vitruvius per Iocundum solito castigatior factus cum figuris et tabula ut iam legi et intelligi possit MET DP363610.jpg
Vitruvius(De Architectura )-1557

Image source: by Creator:Fra Giovanni Giocondo da VeronaCreator:Fra Giovanni Giocondo da VeronaCreator:Giovanni TaccuinoCreator:Marcus Pollio Vitruvius

A 1521 Italian language edition of De architectura, translated and illustrated by Cesare Cesariano

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De Architectura is devoted to urban planning and architecture in general. The treatise is divided into 10 books: building materials; the building of temples and the use of Greek orders; public buildings (theaters, baths); private buildings; floors and moldings; hydraulics; clocks, measurements, and astronomy; civil and military engines.

The book deals not only with architecture, but also with art, natural history, and building technology, and it is purely Hellenistic in nature, as Vitruvius did not accept modern architecture.

Vitruvius designed and supervised the construction of this basilica in Fano (reconstruction). However, many of the other things he did would not now be considered the realm of architecture

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De Architectura is divided into 10 books:

  1. Urban planning, architecture or civil engineering in general, including the qualifications required of the architect or civil engineer.
  2. Construction materials: bricks, sand, lime, pozzolanic concrete; types of stone and types of stone masonry; timber.
  3. Temples and the orders of architecture.
  4. Continuation of book III.
  5. Civil buildings.
  6. Domestic buildings.
  7. Interior decorations and murals.
  8. Water supplies and aqueducts.
  9. Sciences that influence architecture – geometry, measurement, astronomy, sundial.
  10. Use and construction of machines– Roman siege machines, water mills, drainage machines, Roman technology, lifting, pneumatics.
Vitruvius 'De architectura...': perspective diagram
Vitruvius ‘De architectura…’: perspective diagram

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Three Principles of Good Architecture

There are three principles of good architecture proclaimed by Vitruvius in De Architectura:

  • Firmatis (Strength) – Should stand sturdy and in good condition.
  • Utilitas (Utility) – It should be useful and functional for the people who use it.
  • Venustatis (Beauty) – Should delight and lift people’s spirits.

The “triad” of characteristics, outlined in Book III, derives partially from Latin rhetoric (through Cicero and Varro) and has guided architects for centuries, and continues to do so today. The Roman author also described his research on the architect’s qualifications (Book I), and the types of architectural drawing.

File:Recto- Temple Types- Amphiprostyle (Vitruvius, Book 3, Chapter 2, no. 4); Verso- Temple Types- Pseudodipteral (Vitruvius, Book 3, Chapter 2, no. 6). MET DP160087.jpg
Recto- Temple Types- Amphiprostyle (Vitruvius, Book 3, Chapter 2)

Image source: by Creator:Sangallo familyCreator:Marcus Pollio Vitruvius

Buildings, Machines and Human Proportions.

De Architectura is important for its descriptions of the various devices used for engineering structures, such as hoists, cranes, and pulleys, as well as military vehicles such as catapults, ballistae and siege machines. In ten chapters, Vitruvius described the construction of a sundial and water clock and the use of an aeolipile (the first steam engine) as an experiment to demonstrate the nature of the movement of atmospheric air (wind). In Book III Vitruvius also studied the proportions of man, and his canons were later coded into a very famous drawing by Leonardo da Vinci (Homo Vitruvianus, “Vitruvian Man”).

“Vitruvian Man”, illustration in the edition of De architectura by Vitruvius; illustrated edition by Cesare Cesariano (1521)

Image source: by Ralph Buckley

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