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Vitruvius: Writing the Body of Architecture Paperback – 15 Oct 2004

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Product details

  • Paperback: 503 pages
  • Publisher: MIT Press; New edition edition (15 Oct. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 026263306X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0262633062
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 2.5 x 22.9 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 5,042,942 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Indra McEwen's book is an elegant and imaginative exploration of Vitruvius's intellectual horizons that allows us to look at De architectura with new respect. In her hands it transcends the dimensions of a technical handbook and becomes a window onto the Romans' conceptual construction of their world." - Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, Director, The British School at Rome, and Professor of Classics, Reading University

About the Author

Indra Kagis McEwen is a postdoctoral fellow at the Canadian Centre for Architecture and lecturer at the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal. She is the author of Socrates' Ancestor: An Essay on Architectural Beginnings (MIT Press, 1993).

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Amazon.com: 1 review
6 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Guaranteed to bore the heck... 2 Oct. 2003
By Saul Boulschett - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
out of any reader who thinks s/he loves architecture, confusing architecture's greasy, grimy engine of manifestation as a 'built thing' with the SPECTACLE of architecture. The book deals with the ten books by V. It has a lot of Latin, with references to contemporary intellectual influences, namely Stoicism and Pythagoreanism. As much as I respect the author's labor, I must admit, she does get a little dry at times being so sincere (read pedantic) to her calling as a scholar. There is a bit more information than any thinking practitioner of architecture would really need. But then, any thinking architect will know what to cull from this rich feast/tour of the post Civil War Augustan Roman imperium.
So as to not repeat the content of the existing review, I shall speak more of how this book is relevant now by reminding the reader that the structure of the American Imperium is not all that different from the Roman. Just as it was true of Rome, it is still true today that all 'avante-gardes,' despite their rhetoric, work to actually further the Work of Empire. In fact, their very podium on which they utter their battle cries is built into the very structure of Empire.
The current fascination with the idea of 'body' can be, it turns out, traced back to V himself, who was among the very first to use the term 'corpus' to refer to his writing, as well as to architecture. By corpus, he meant 'whole' as opposed to fragments, and there were many commentaries at the time lying about on many a topic, but all in fragments. So V sets out to put it all together into a co-ordinated whole. According to the author, ORDINATIO is a word that crops up often in V's 10 Books but not as often as RATIO. The book makes it clear why these terms do not carry the meaning when translated into Order and Reason, respectively. This is where the author's surgical description of the Roman conception of the world comes in handy as well as fascinating.
The author, unlike the reviewer, finds her own conclusion "unsettling": namely that architecture as V defines it for the rest of the Western world henceforth (V distinguished it from 'building') is, by fate, inextricably tied to IMPERIUM. That is, Architecture IS the shadow of IMPERIUM.
As the archetype of Empire's Architect, V speaks for all architects who serve Empire, all Empires everywhere. While this book makes the modest claim to be looking only at the 10 Book's Roman context, the content, if read carefully, will reveal how V's "prophecy" about architecture is coming to fulfillment more today than ever before now that architecture can move so much faster and shift shape with digital ease, having long ago jettisoned the baggage of the 'perfect proportion/body.'
V was the first to write about the central role of machines (especially machines of war (killing) and spectacle (laughter and forgetting)) in architecture. Le Corbusier was perhaps the last "classical" architect to bring the circle of fate to its point of origination with his saying that, "A house is a Machine for Living in."
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