15 October 2019

Work cited:

Alberti, Leon B, Joseph Rykwert, Neil Leach, and Robert Tavernor. On the Art of Building in Ten Books. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1997.

Orginal title De re aedifactoria.Written by Leon Battista Alberti in Latin circa 1452.Originally published 1485.

Note: I am dividing this text into three separate posts. This post contains notes for Books I, II, III only.


This text is an attempt to categorize and professionalize building construction and architecture during the Italian Renaissance. Its original audience was intended to be architects and the educated men around them, not tradesmen or craftsmen or the people doing the hands-on labor. In terms of architecture,  it is not an examination of particular existing buildings or an art historical survey or lessons in style. Instead, it takes readers through the elements and materials of the building process, element by element, chapter by chapter.

Alberti’s main sources are previous writers, chiefly Artistotle, Vitruvius, Cato, Pliny, Theophrastus and Varro. He also pays attention to tradition, superstition and folklore. At times, he draws from personal experience, although he does not refer to specific works or experiences in his own life. 

This is the first Western text devoted singularly to architecture after Vitruvius. In fact, Alberti references Vitruvius throughout the text and structures the text similarly. 

How does this related to scenography?

See Alberti’s discussion of three-dimensional models in Book II, Part 1. He excoriates representational types in favor of diagrammatic ones.

Additionally, to Alberti, architecture is the construction of lines. It is about form and geometry. Material and structure are only secondary components.  In a way, Alberti's premise reminds me of the stage (at least the traditional one) - a world in which visual, not textural or material, expression is supreme.



Humans possess a natural inclination to create buildings. Beautiful, appropriate and long-lasting structures are important for empire building. Architects, not craftsmen, are important components within society and should be appreciated.

Book 1: Lineaments

1.1 Lineaments = “the precise and correct outline, conceived in the mind, made up of lines and angles, and perfected in the learned intellect and imagination.” The act of building is to compose with lineaments. Building = lineaments and structure. Lineaments have nothing to do with material.1.2 The six “linear” categories of a building: locality, area, compartition, walls, roof, openings. [I think that he is saying that “locality” is the canvas for laying out a prospective building. It seems that Alberti easily blends geometry and geography, very civil engineering.) 1.3 Locality: climate, sun, wind.1.4 Locality: accessibility, influence on health, pleasing, water quality. “We say that water has the best flavor when it has none.”1.5 Locality: harvest, animals, historical record. 1.6 Locality: disadvantages, actual and superstition. 1.7 Area = the precisely limited and defined section of the overall locality taken for future building; building type re: geographical placement; area “outline” and geometrical composition1.8 Area: “outline” and geometrical composition cont.; level surfaces, slopes, hills.1.9 Compartition = the dividing of the building into “the parts by which it is articulated, and integrates its every part composing all the lines and angles into a single, harmonious work that respects utility, dignity and delight.” Appropriateness, grace, nobility, utility.1.10 Walls: column = “certain, solid, and continuous section of wall, which has been raised perpendicularly from the ground, up high, for the purpose of bearing the roof.” “A row of columns is nothing other than a wall that has been pierced in several places by openings.” Columns main purpose is to support the roof.1.11 Roofs = purpose is to protect entire building as well as inhabitants from sun and rain.1.12 Openings: two types: windows (for light and ventilation) and doors (for access)1.13 Stairways

Book 2: Materials

2.1 Side notes on preparatory work for building: drawing, sketches, models.2.2 Construction limitations: human, natural, material, economic, practical.2.3 Reflection: consideration, advice, appropriateness, observation.2.4 Timber: when to fell certain types of trees.2.5 Timber: recipes for preparation of certain types of wood.2.6 Timber: types and suitability for construction.2.7 Timber: longevity and inherent strength.2.8 Stone: properties and types.2.9 Stone: types and suitability for construction.2.10 Bricks: advantages, properties, ingredients, construction patterns.2.11 Lime2.12 Sand2.13 Building construction and the seasons, carpentry superstitions, attitude.

Book 3: Construction

3.1 Construction = the ordered and skillful composition of various materials to form a solid and integral and unified structure. Foundations are NOT part of the structure, just a base for it.3.2 Foundations: solid baase + more on geometry.3.3 Foundations: types, suitability and placement re: site.3.4 More on stone + mortar: preparation for construction3.5 Footings = “the section bringing the foundations up to the level of the area.”3.6 Wall construction: placed on footings; must have vents for vapors; three types: ordinary, reticulated and irregular.3.7 How to fit stones together3.8 “Panelling” = the structural skins, or composition, of the wall. [nothing to do with decorative or “finish” paneling]3.9 Courses and bonds for brick and stone3.10 Lime and sand in construction; how to handle breaks in the construction schedule re: material. “The business of the experienced workman is not to demand the best possible materials, but rather to make sensible and appropriate use of those available.” 3.11 Other types of masonry3.12 Roofs: types (exposed to sky or not, straight, curved, combo, timber, stone) beam placement, construction of timber beams. “Where bones should be, there is a beam.” 3.13 Curved roofs: Alberti’s speculative etymology of the arch3.14 Vaults: three types (barrel, camerated, spherical); centering [I think this is like a mound or form around which to build]; the strength of the spherical vault.3.15 Roof coverings3.16 Pavements

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