On Architecture

Vitruvius Pollio

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

17. Afterwards, however, when Demetrius of Phalerum was master of Athens, Philo set up columns in front before the temple, and made it prostyle. Thus, by adding an entrance hall, he gave the initiates more room, and imparted the greatest dignity to the building. Finally, in Athens, the temple of the Olympion with its dimensions on a generous scale, and built in the Corinthian style and proportions, is said to have been constructed, as written above, by Cossutius, no commentary by whom has been found. But Cossutius is not the only man by whom we should like to have writings on our subject. Another is Gaius Mucius, who, having great knowledge on which to rely, completed the cella, columns, and entablature of the Marian temple of Honour and Valour, in symmetrical proportions according to the accepted rules of the art. If this building had been of marble, so that besides the refinement of its art it possessed the dignity coming from

magnificence and great outlay, it would be reckoned among the first and greatest of works.

18. Since it appears, then, that our architects in the old days, and a good many even in our own times, have been as great as those of the Greeks, and nevertheless only a few of them have published treatises, I resolved not to be silent, but to treat the different topics methodically in different books. Hence, since I have given an account of private houses in the sixth book, in this, which is the seventh in order, I shall treat of polished finishings and the methods of giving them both beauty and durability.


1. FIRST I shall begin with the concrete flooring, which is the most important of the polished finishings, observing that great pains and the utmost precaution must be taken to ensure its durability. If this concrete flooring is to be laid level with the ground, let the soil be tested to see whether it is everywhere solid, and if it is, level it off and upon it lay the broken stone with its bedding. But if the floor is either wholly or partly filling, it should be rammed down hard with great care. In case a wooden framework is used, however, we must see that no wall which does not reach up to the top of the house is constructed under the floor. Any wall which is there should preferably fall short, so as to leave the wooden planking above it an unsupported span. If a wall comes up solid, the unyielding nature of its solid structure must, when the joists begin to dry, or to sag and settle, lead to cracks in the floor on the right and left along the line of wall.

2. We must also be careful that no common oak gets in with the winter oak boards, for as soon as common oak boards get damp, they warp and cause cracks in floors. But if there is no winter oak, and necessity drives, for lack of this it seems advisable to use common oak boards cut pretty thin; for the less thick they are, the more easily they can be held in place by being nailed on. Then, at the ends of every joist, nail on two boards so that they shall not be able to warp and stick up at the edges. As for Turkey oak or beech or ash, none of them can last to a great age. When the wooden planking is finished, cover it with fern, if there is any, otherwise with straw, to protect the wood from being hurt by the lime.

3. Then, upon this lay the bedding, composed of stones not smaller than can fill the hand. After the bedding is laid, mix the

broken stone in the proportions, if it is new, of three parts to one of lime; if it is old material used again, five parts may answer to two in the mixture. Next, lay the mixture of broken stone, bring on your gangs, and beat it again and again with wooden beetles into a solid mass, and let it be not less than three quarters of a foot in thickness when the beating is finished. On this lay the nucleus, consisting of pounded tile mixed with lime in the proportions of three parts to one, and forming a layer not less than six digits thick. On top of the nucleus, the floor, whether made of cut slips or of cubes, should be well and truly laid by rule and level.

4. After it is laid and set at the proper inclination, let it be rubbed down so that, if it consists of cut slips, the lozenges, or triangles, or squares, or hexagons may not stick up at different levels, but be all jointed together on the same plane with one another; if it is laid in cubes, so that all the edges may be level; for the rubbing down will not be properly finished unless all the edges are on the same level plane. The herring-bone pattern, made of Tibur burnt brick, must also be carefully finished, so as to be without gaps or ridges sticking up, but all flat and rubbed down to rule. When the rubbing down is completely finished by means of the smoothing and polishing processes, sift powdered marble on top, and lay on a coating of lime and sand.

5. In the open air, specially adapted kinds of floors must be made, because their framework, swelling with dampness, or shrinking from dryness, or sagging and settling, injures the floors by these changes; besides, the frost and rime will not let them go unhurt. Hence, if necessity drives, we must proceed as follows in order to make them as free from defects as possible. After finishing the plank flooring, lay a second plank flooring over it at right angles, and nail it down so as to give double protection to the framework. Then, mix with new broken stone one third the quantity of pounded tile, and let lime be added to the mixture in the mortar trough in the proportion of two parts to five.

6. Having made the bedding, lay on this mixture of broken

stone, and let it be not less than a foot thick when the beating is finished. Then, after laying the nucleus, as above described, construct the floor of large cubes cut about two digits each way, and let it have an inclination of two digits for every ten feet. If it is well put together and properly rubbed down, it will be free from all flaws. In order that the mortar in the joints may not suffer from frosts, drench it with oil-dregs every year before winter begins. Thus treated, it will not let the hoarfrost enter it.

7. If, however, it seems needful to use still greater care, lay, two-foot tiles, jointed together in a bed of mortar, over the broken stone, with little channels of one finger's breadth cut in the faces of all the joints. Connect these channels and fill them with a mixture of lime and oil; then, rub the joints hard and make compact. Thus, the lime sticking in the channels will harden and solidify into a mass, and so prevent water or anything else from penetrating through the joints. After this layer is finished, spread the nucleus upon it, and work it down by beating it with rods. Upon this lay the floor, at the inclination above described, either of large cubes or burnt brick in herring-bone pattern, and floors thus constructed will not soon be spoiled.

1. LEAVING the subject of floors, we must next treat of stucco work. This will be all right if the best lime, taken in lumps, is slaked a good while before it is to be used, so that if any lump has not been burned long enough in the kiln, it will be forced to throw off its heat during the long course of slaking in the water, and will thus be thoroughly burned to the same consistency. When it is taken not thoroughly slaked but fresh, it has little crude bits concealed in it, and so, when applied, it blisters. When such bits complete their slaking after they are on the building, they break up and spoil the smooth polish of the stucco.


2. But when the proper attention has been paid to the slaking, and greater pains have thus been employed in the preparation for the work, take a hoe, and apply it to the slaked lime in the mortar bed just as you hew wood. If it sticks to the hoe in bits, the lime is not yet tempered; and when the iron is drawn out dry and clean, it will show that the lime is weak and thirsty; but when the lime is rich and properly slaked, it will stick to the tool like glue, proving that it is completely tempered. Then get the scaffolding ready, and proceed to construct the vaultings in the rooms, unless they are to be decorated with flat coffered ceilings.