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The Education of the Architect

An architect is a very important member of any society. However, becoming a fully-fledged architect is not an easy process for it requires meticulous work, both theoretical and practical, and a natural ability to translate imagination into sketches and diagrams. However, an orderly and beautifully built environment cannot be realized without some form of accord about architecture, and no accord will be realized without some critical reappropriation of tradition, in other words, there should be a continuation of the traditional view of architecture into modernism (instead of its replacement).

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The author’s introductory remark points to the need for an architect to be knowledgeable on a wide range of topics for architecture is about art, and art entails everything around us. This realization forms the basis of an architect’s work, both practical and theory. The author further points out to the two-point perspective in which architects perceive their surrounding, i.e. the thing signified, and that which gives it its significance. In other words, apart from the outward meaning, every aspect of our surrounding has a deeper meaning. An architect should be able to identify and assess both of these facets and this requires a natural gift and a knack for following instructions (Chesterton, pp. 30). Being perfect in only either of the two requirements disqualifies one as an architect.

To justify the need for an architect to be all-rounded, the author lists a number of disciplines and their importance to the architect’s work. He states the roles of education, knowledge of drawing, geometry, optics, arithmetic, history, philosophy, music, and a knowledge of medicine, law and astronomy. What is the role of a liberal education in an architect’s work? The answer to the question is clear from Vitruvius’ definition of architecture. He says that the primary concern of architects is the art of building which entails the construction of different types of buildings for various purposes, a process that requires liberal knowledge to achieve success. Vitruvius also warns that becoming an architect is no easy feat; one has to progress gradually through the steps to reach architectural heights.

In chapter II, Vitruvius discusses the basic principles of architecture. He states the six fundamental principles on which architecture depends: order, arrangement, eurhythmy, symmetry, propriety, and economy. To show his understanding of the principles, Vitruvius explains the meaning of these principles, their importance, and implications in architecture. Vitruvius draws on several historical facts and ancient buildings such as the Corinthian and the Doric, this shows that architecture has always been part of man for a very long time. In his discussion, he directs more focus on the principles of propriety and economy, perhaps due to their vast significance in the field of architecture. Proprietary, he says, “arises from usage when buildings having magnificent interiors are provided with elegant entrance-courts to correspond” while economy refers to “the proper management of materials and site, as well as a thrifty balancing of cost and common sense in the construction of works” (Vitruvius, pp. 38). Both of these factors are very critical in the final appearance of the building and its precincts. He writes that all structures, governed by propriety “must be built with due reference to durability, convenience, and beauty” (Vitruvius, pp. 39).

Vitruvius’ wide view of architecture leads him to assert that architectural education must be comprehensive and although he fails to openly discuss the importance of the craft of the building, knowledge of materials and how to put them together, this is clear from his underlining of durability as he writes “knowledge is the child of practice and theory… [and] those who have a thorough knowledge of both have the sooner attained their object and carried authority with them” (Vitruvius, pp. 40).

Works Cited

Chesterton, Gilbert. Orthodoxy. New York: Doubleday & Company, 1959.

Vitruvius: The Ten Books of Architecture, translated by Morris Hickey Morgan. New York: Dover, 1960, Book I, chapters I-III.

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