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Structure and Architecture

 Structure and Architecture


Structure and Architecture



It has long been recognised that an appreciation of the role of structure is essential to the understanding of architecture. It was Vitruvius, writing at the time of the founding of the Roman Empire, who identified the three basic components of architecture as firmitas, utilitas and venustas and Sir Henry Wooton, in the seventeenth century1 , who translated these as ‘firmness’, ‘commodity’ and ‘delight’. Subsequent theorists have proposed different systems by which buildings may be analysed, their qualities discussed and their meanings understood but the Vitruvian breakdown nevertheless still provides a valid basis for the examination and criticism of a building.

‘Commodity’, which is perhaps the most obvious of the Vitruvian qualities to appreciate, refers to the practical functioning of the building; the requirement that the set of spaces which is provided is actually useful and serves the purpose for which the building was intended. ‘Delight’ is the term for the effect of the building on the aesthetic sensibilities of those who come into contact with it. It may arise from one or more of a number of factors.

The symbolic meanings of the chosen forms, the aesthetic qualities of the shapes, textures and colours, the elegance with which the various practical and programmatic problems posed by the building have been solved, and the ways in which links have been made between the different aspects of the design are all possible generators of ‘delight’.‘Firmness’ is the most basic quality. It is
concerned with the ability of the building to preserve its physical integrity and survive in the world as a physical object. The part of the building which satisfies the need for ‘firmness’ is the structure. Structure is fundamental: without structure there is no building and therefore no ‘commodity’. Without well-designed structure there can be no ‘delight’.

To appreciate fully the qualities of a work of architecture the critic or observer should therefore know something of its structural make-up. This requires an intuitive ability to read a building as a structural object, a skill which depends on a knowledge of the functional requirements of structure and an ability to distinguish between the structural and the non-structural parts of the building.

The first of these attributes can only be acquired by systematic study of those branches of mechanical science which are concerned with statics, equilibrium and the properties of materials. The second depends on a knowledge of buildings and how they are constructed. These topics are reviewed briefly in the preliminary chapters of this book.


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