On Architecture

Vitruvius Pollio

Vitruvius Pollio, creator; Morgan, M. H. (Morris Hicky), 1859-1910, translator

1. THERE is nothing to which an architect should devote more thought than to the exact proportions of his building with reference to a certain part selected as the standard. After the standard of symmetry has been determined, and the proportionate dimensions adjusted by calculations, it is next the part of wisdom to consider the nature of the site, or questions of use or beauty, and modify the plan by diminutions or additions in such a manner that these diminutions or additions in the symmetrical relations may be seen to be made on correct principles, and without detracting at all from the effect.

2. The look of a building when seen close at hand is one thing, on a height it is another, not the same in an enclosed place, still

different in the open, and in all these cases it takes much judgment to decide what is to be done. The fact is that the eye does not always give a true impression, but very often leads the mind to form a false judgment. In painted scenery, for example, columns may appear to jut out, mutules to project, and statues to be standing in the foreground, although the picture is of course perfectly flat. Similarly with ships, the oars when under the water are straight, though to the eye they appear to be broken. To the point where they touch the surface of the sea they look straight, as indeed they are, but when dipped under the water they emit from their bodies undulating images which come swimming up through the naturally transparent medium to the surface of the water, and, being there thrown into commotion, make the oars look broken.

3. Now whether this appearance is due to the impact of the images, or to the effusion of the rays from the eye, as the physicists hold, in either case it is obvious that the vision may lead us to false impressions.

4. Since, therefore, the reality may have a false appearance, and since things are sometimes represented by the eyes as other than they are, I think it certain that diminutions or additions should be made to suit the nature or needs of the site, but in such fashion that the buildings lose nothing thereby. These results, however, are also attainable by flashes of genius, and not only by mere science.

5. Hence, the first thing to settle is the standard of symmetry, from which we need not hesitate to vary. Then, lay out the ground lines of the length and breadth of the work proposed, and when once we have determined its size, let the construction follow this with due regard to beauty of proportion, so that the beholder may feel no doubt of the eurythmy of its effect. I must now tell how this may be brought about, and first I will speak of the proper construction of a cavaedium.