Architecture and geometry in the age of Baroque, George L. Hersey
Architecture and geometry in the age of Baroque, George L. Hersey
1.- example of my work – an algorithm project – Voronoi diagram Art Palace Prague
I have choosen this book because of my doctoral thesis – „Algorithm art-architecture“, which is focus on a digital free form architecture and compare it with a work of contemporary artists and people, who are interested in fine art as conceptual, video media or design artists.
My doctoral thesis deals with some rules, which are on the start of the work of modern architects. These rules – called algorithms – are the main structure of computer programmes, which are able to generate first virtual and secondary real buildings. If an architect want to write some this programme – called script, he will have to know some relationship between points in virtual space. Usually is this connection characterized by some geometrical relation like fractal geometry, voronoi diagram... So if I would like to manage to write computer scripts, I will have to understand geometry as a science. And it is for me very interesting to compare the contemporary geometry usages with the attitude of history former geometry applications.
This book deals mainly with European architecture in the seventeen and eighteen centuries, but is not interested in style, iconography, patronage or urbanism. It looks at something more fundamental: on geometry. The book consists of separate parts which are not exactly a continual story but more particular episodes of some fairy tale of architecture. The episodes are grouped into chapters based on their themes – for example, the idea that architecture is musical, or that it involves principles derived from optical instruments. I also need to explain the author‘s idea of geometry itself. Partly is for him geometry the science as we study today, but also it comes out of a wider, less „scientific“ geometry that was known in the seventeeth and eighteenth centuries. Geometry was widely connected with magic, astrology, numerology, alchemy…An important aspect of this geometry is that some shapes and numbers are were considered better than others. The shapes and numbers or geometric and architecture forms were organised hierarchically. The book also looks at phenomenon of geometry as an invisible architecture of the heavens and serves as a model for buildings on planet Earth.
Baroque architecture and baroque geometry were nearly connected and often buildings were considered to be studies in practical mathematics. Today once again the mathematics of architecture is beginning to fascinate people. And maybe it is the author‘s reason to focus inside the geometrical principles. For example one of the first chapters is called „Frozen music“ and is predicated on the ways in which heaven–derived musical sounds, and music itself, can be translated into visual form. The chapter concentrates on the geometry of the heavens and on the idea that this geometry can be read musically. As a corollary, the chapter shows how the geometries of architectural structures, such as Benini‘s baldacchino in St. Peter‘s, may be musically understood.
In the age of the Baroque all geometrical principles and practices were gathered into a set of transcendent beliefs about the architecture of the cosmos. Human geometric activity, whether in building design or anything else, and whether dealing with effable shapes, effable sequences, the golden section, or the fibonacci sequence, was included and presided over by a gigantic vision of similar shapes and ratios-those of the universe itself. In contrast to our current vision of space as a vast emptiness, people in the seventeenth century assumed that Earth and its fellow planets were embedded in translucent spheres and framed by other geometric presences, shapes that were invisible and impalpable but nonetheless real. In most of these visions, in fact, the cosmos consists of a self-similar sequence of concentric of coaxial spheres progressing from small to large. These structures will sail like a vision over the pages of this book - as „frozen music“, as sources of projected cosmic light, and as ideal shapes that churches and palaces should embody.
Chapter 3, „The Light of Unseen Worlds“, fastens on optics, the science of light. Here again, heaven, the main source of earthly light, is the key. Light-projection, conic section, and projective geometry were studied as heavenly emanations. These studies determined the shapes of the lenses and reflectors used in optics. It is showed how, in architecture, domed structures also used these forms – how in a way they were telescopes for imaging their painted vaults – and how the instruments designed to exploit light (the camera obscura, the magic lantern, the microscope, and the telescope) had architectural as well as scientific influence.
Chapter 4, „Cubices Rationes“, deals with Baroque mystique of the cube. The cube was considered the patern – literally – of all other forms. More curiously still, theorists like Kepler and Athanasius Kircher interpreted the reproduction of geometric forms, notably the Platonic solids, sexually. Like lusting gods and goddesses these shapes (which were particularly effable) kiss, have intercourse, and above all give birth - though some of them are gay. These geometrical joinings and unions lead onward to Kepler‘s ideas about tilling. Tilling is the interlocking and interpenetration of exactly fitting plane and solid shapes. It is an important Baroque architectural phenomenon.
The book also finds intensive development of what at the time was turning into the modern science of symmetry. Architectural examples of reflective, translatory, and glide symmetries are investigated, by themselves and in architectural settings. Spiral symmetry, especially, was the key importance in the design of buildings. And it spoke out with special strenght in that characteristic piece of Baroque decor, the Solomonic or twisted column. All this constitutes the Chapter 5, „Symmetries“.
Chapter 6, „Streched Circles and Squeezed Spheres“, investigates the beauties of distortion. For all its reverence for effable shapes, Baroque architecture loved to pull, push, squeeze, and streched those shapes.
The book looks at some of the results in the work of Borromini, Bernini, and Blondel. And then, returning to the subject of tiling, looks at the ways in which these „distorted“ shapes, usually unstable in themselves, could be packed or tiled into stable lattices to form buildings or parts of them.
Chapter 7, „Projection“, deals with one of the great mathematical achievements or invented by Girard Desargues but has a lot to do with earlier concepts such as Descartes´s picture of physical reality as a geometrical and algebraic lattice; and, indeed, with Renaissance perspective, which is a form of projective geometry. The book deals with this latter subject, emphasizing the so-called costruzione legittima; with Desargues´s treatises on perspective and geometry; and in a wider context with Desargues´s architecture, showing how spiral staircases are projective.
In chapter 8, „Epicycles“, we turn to a type of planetary movement that was ultimately rejected by Baroque astronomers but that continued to have plenty of fallout in earthly geometry. We as the readers look at simple epicycles, epicycloids, eccentric epicycles, elliptical epicycles, an related forms of broken symmetry. These serve to analyze and explain several further aspects of Baroque architecture.
The last chapter, „Unforgotten Lore“, considers how all this plays into the earlier twentieth-century architectural „modernism“. This happens, first, when the Baroque ideas survive, unsuspectedly, into later periods. The author instances two giants, Frank Lloyd Wright and Le Corbusier. These men were geometers-neo-Baroque geometers, he will claim – in an architectural world that was decidedly antigeometric.
In this book we have seen some of the geometric discoveries and techniques embodied by Baroque architecture. It was indeed an age of wonders. Its musical analogies, conic sections, projective distortions, and other optical and acoustical flowers blossomed brilliantly. But I hope in this book is not implied that all such knowledge first appeared only at this time and in these places. Ellipses, hyperbolas, and parabolas, and their three-dimensional equivalents, appear in many unrelated geographical and historical contexts. There are African indigenous buildings with hyperbolic arches and Roman amphitheaters with elliptical plans. Archimedean and equiangular spirals are everywhere in pre-Baroque and in non-European architecture. But this book also says that it was only in the age of the Baroque that people could accurately plot hyperbolas, compute the areas of ellipses, and understand a spiral as a logarithm.
This anylsis of geometrically constructed plans and elevations can reveal connections between architectures that, from a strictly stylistic viewpoint, seem unrelated. In other words geometry brings together things that up to now have been considered too separately. Geometry - both the traditional kind and its modern extensions - shows affinities between musical chords and architectural moldings, and between the epicycles of the cosmos and those of gears and chapels. It can, as noted, express unsuspected kinships between Borromini and Wright, between Robert Fludd and Le Corbusier.