BOOK REVIEW | "BRUNELLESCHI'S DOME: HOW A RENAISSANCE GENIUS REINVENTED ARCHITECTURE" BY ROSS KING
photo & text by nacrowe
in the modern age we are spoiled with examples of both awe-inspiring, mind-bending and deeply challenging ARCHITECTURE. the rate of INNOVATION with regards to techniques and materials is something we take for granted, much like the parallel track that we see with computing technology. unlike digital technology, prominent architecture is not an ephemeral entity, instead it is a tangible representation of our current culture for future generations to appreciate, inhabit and incorporate into their owned lived experience.
what makes ROSS KING's book BRUNELLESCHI'S DOME: HOW A RENAISSANCE GENIUS REINVENTED ARCHITECTURE (BLOOMSBURY, 2013) so compelling is that it relates how the first modern skyscraper, the dome of the CATTEDRALE DI SANTA MARIA DEL FIORE (i.e. the FLORENCE CATHEDRAL), was built effectively for the first time since antiquity during the middle ages. in the 15th century when the dome was built over an 18-year span, FILIPPO BRUNELLESCHI had to bitterly compete against successful rivals (notably LORENZO GHIBERTI) and repeatedly convince the powerful wool guild (who were funding the operation) of unproven techniques such as a 360-degree oxen-driven pulley system, cross-fitted herringbone patterns of bricks with embedded (and hidden) iron rings and a dual layer dome with lighter materials used the further up it went. according to KING, the success of the raising of the dome of SANTA MARIA DEL FIORE sparked an era of innovation that caught the imagination of later artists, sculptors, architects and technical-minded local standouts like MICHELANGELO, DONATELLO and LEONARDO.
for me the most interesting aspect of this book is how BRUNELLESCHI was alone among his peers in taking the time to study the works of antiquity, especially the ruins of ROMA, for REFERENCE and INSPIRATION. during this period the common view was that their was nothing to be gained INTELLECTUALLY, TECHNICALLY or ARTISTICALLY from their PAGAN antecedents, as the regional powers of what later became ITALY were superior in their CHRISTIAN worldview. in fact, marble from old buildings was often repurposed into churches and headstones among other trivial entities. it is hard to believe that BRUNELLESCHI was alone in his efforts to unlock the secrets of creating not only a dome, but one with a hexagonal pattern. he found such an analogue in spa from one of NERO's palaces, and spent years devising a plan to make such work on a larger scale.
it would seem that convincing a massive paying entity to entrust that you're unproven techniques will be successful decades down the line in the most public of forums is quite the achievement. feels like the modern-day analogue to the lunar landing or the construction of the PANAMA CANAL. i couldnt help when reading about BRUNELLESCHI's curt, caustic temperament and sense of innate superiority the contemporary WILLY WONKA / TONY STARK figure of ELON MUSK. makes you wonder how he will be remembered generations down the line.
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