Writers' Workshop for ARCH 531 / McGill University / School of Architecture / Fall 2012


Week Thirteen: Paper Abstract

Due to the upcoming studio and class deadlines, there will be no blog commentary required this week.  Instead I ask that you post a 250 word abstract of your paper along with the current title.  Keep in mind that the abstract is not an excerpt from your writing, but a statement summarizing the essential points of your text.

Week Twelve: Natural Magic











Giambattista della Porta’s Magia Naturalis stems from a long tradition of associated “Books of Secrets” that date to the middle ages.  These medieval works in turn learn much from their predecessor, Pliny’s Naturalis Historiæ, which work was clearly grounded in Aristotelian thinking.  The following are the chapters within the 1558 work:

Book 1:                 Of the Causes of Wonderful things
Book 2:                 Of the Generation of Animals
Book 3:                 Of the Production of new Plants
Book 4:                 Of increasing Household-Stuff
Book 5:                 Of changing Metals
Book 6:                 Of counterfeiting Gold
Book 7:                 Of the Wonders of the Load-stone
Book 8:                 Of strange Cures
Book 9:                 Of Beautifying Women
Book 10:               Of Distillation
Book 11:               Of Perfuming
Book 12:               Of Artificial Fires
Book 13:               Of Tempering Steel
Book 14:               Of Cookery
Book 15:               Of Fishing, Fowling, Hunting, etc.
Book 16:               Of Invisible Writing
Book 17:               Of Strange Glasses
Book 18:               Of Statick Experiments
Book 19:               Of Pneumatick Experiments
Book 20:               Of the Chaos

Choose one account that you find of significance to the world of architecture and expound the connection between the description and architecture.  Do you see the observations as speaking to an emerging rational science or partaking in an Aristotelian reality?  As usual, please choose a passage not previously written about.

Week Eleven: The Sonnets of Michelangelo










The marble not yet carved can hold the form
Of every thought the greatest artist has,
And no conception can yet come to pass
Unless the hand obeys the intellect.


That cause to the effect yields and gives place,
Nature by art is overcome at last.
I know too well who work with sculptor’s grace
That time and death resign me to the past.


With glorious art – that gift received from heaven –
That conquers nature and in every way
Clings to all human longing and desire;


More precious am I to myself than ever
I used to be, since you possessed my heart,
Just as the stone that’s chiselled by the carver
Has far more value than in its rough state.

Please take one sonnet of Michelangelo’s either from the excerpts above or of your own choosing.  Present the work to us and then reflect upon it.  In particular,  discuss how the writing might give us insights into his architectural workings.  Kindly choose verse not mentioned by a previous blogger.

Week Ten: Palladio and the Poetic Image









Andrea Palladio, Villa Barbaro, 1549-58.


The concept of the villa, as seen, for instance, in Palladio’s Villa Barbaro above, typifies a widespread attitude toward nature during the sixteenth century.  In a work such as this the move to life in the country was not seen as an existence complimentary to that in the city, but simply as a better version of it.  Simplified and unchallenged by social expectations and situations, the envisioned emancipated state of living in the countryside attempted to create what the city had done, yet to do so in what was deemed to be an ideal manner.

After choosing a villa by Palladio that is presented in his The Four Books on Architecture, please read his account of it as well as those by other scholars and discuss on what significant levels the building speaks to its natural environment.  Kindly choose a villa that has not been mentioned by a previous blogger.

Week Nine: Paper Draft

Due to the upcoming paper draft, there will be no blog commentary required this week.  Instead I encourage you to take a look at the ARCH 531 project section’s work: http://f12arch531project.wordpress.com/.

Week Eight: Art, Architecture, and Forms of Cognition






Still from Roberto Rossellini’s The Age of Cosimo de Medici (1973)


In the fifteenth century, two sides of the artistic world were coming together: craft-related artistry and scholastic mathematics.  The joining of these two remains of crucial importance to understanding writers on art from the period.

Leon Battista Alberti, in his work On Painting (Della Pittura) from 1435 tells us that he wishes to borrow from the mathematician yet to be considered a painter: “I will take first from the mathematicians those things with which my subject is concerned.”[1]  He opposes sensate wisdom to pure mathematics when he states that “mathematicians measure with their minds alone the forms of things separated from all matter.”[2]  What matters for Alberti appears to be the appropriate application of material to the task at hand.

Additionally, a division between “real” and apparent properties becomes significant to the theoretician.  The painter should only be involved with apparent properties we are told: “the painter is concerned solely with representing what can be seen.”[3]  This position has its own logic however and is not arbitrary.  It allows us in particular to have something like a science of appearances.

Looking further into his writing please take a stance on his separation between form and matter.  What are the consequences of this division?  Can art become a form of knowledge?

[1] Leon Battista Alberti, On Painting, trans. John R. Spencer (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966), 43.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

Individual Discussions of Paper Outlines

I would like to talk with you about your paper outlines next Tuesday, October 23rd, between 9:30am and 12:30pm.

Please leave a comment with the time you wish to meet.  Available times are: 9:30, 9:45, 10:00, 10:15, 10:30, 10:45, 11:00, 11:15, 11:30, 11:45, 12:00, and 12:15.  The sign-up is first-come first-served so please look at the previous entries.  We will meet in room 215F.

Until Tuesday.

Week Seven: Hypnerotomachia Poliphili










Dr. Tracey Eve Winton gave a lecture at McGill this April on the Hypnerotomachia. During her talk she spoke of the importance of understanding the activities in this erotic novel through the relation between the human temperaments and the four elements: sanguine>air; phlegmatic>water; melancholic>earth; choleric>fire.  Choosing any passage from the book, please explain how this concept might provide a greater comprehension of the reading.

Paper Outline Announcement

This is a reminder that your paper outline is due as a printed document in class next week, Thursday, 18 October, 2012.

While the paper topic is of your choosing it should be generally aligned with the architectural ideas or treatises discussed in class.  Topics may also relate to the material covered in future weeks.

For this outline you should briefly define your question/s and outline your approach in several paragraphs.  You must identify a preliminary bibliography of primary sources, preferably of works available to you in Montréal, and of secondary sources.  Please use a standard format.

At the end of this document please list the time and days of the week that you will be in class during Week 8 (22-26 October) so that I can schedule office hours when everyone is available for individual discussions of these outlines.

Week Six: Luca Pacioli








Jacopo de’ Barbari’s symbolically charged painting Portrait of Fra Luca Pacioli (1495) remains a powerful lens through which to understand the significance of Pacioli’s thinking and writing.  Taking only one symbolic element within the painting, please elaborate on what the component means in relation to the thinking of Luca Pacioli.  Kindly do not choose an element that has been discussed by a previous blogger.