Architecture in the Age of Printing
Orality, Writing, Typography, and Printed Images in the History of Architectural Theory
- Co-winner of the 2003 Spiro Kostof Award presented by the Society of Architectural Historians
254 pp., 7 x 9 in, 27 illus.
- Published: February 10, 2017
- Published: June 27, 2001
A history of the influence of communication technologies on Western architectural theory.
The discipline of architecture depends on the transmission in space and time of accumulated experiences, concepts, rules, and models. From the invention of the alphabet to the development of ASCII code for electronic communication, the process of recording and transmitting this body of knowledge has reflected the dominant information technologies of each period. In this book Mario Carpo discusses the communications media used by Western architects, from classical antiquity to modern classicism, showing how each medium related to specific forms of architectural thinking.
Carpo highlights the significance of the invention of movable type and mechanically reproduced images. He argues that Renaissance architectural theory, particularly the system of the five architectural orders, was consciously developed in response to the formats and potential of the new printed media. Carpo contrasts architecture in the age of printing with what preceded it: Vitruvian theory and the manuscript format, oral transmission in the Middle Ages, and the fifteenth-century transition from script to print. He also suggests that the basic principles of "typographic" architecture thrived in the Western world as long as print remained our main information technology. The shift from printed to digital representations, he points out, will again alter the course of architecture.
Mario Carpo's book combines erudition and wit in his path-breaking interpretation of the printed image's impact on architectural design. A renewed intellectual landscape of Renaissance architecture emerges, through an investigation of the way publishing technologies and strategies shape discourse and practical construction. We owe Carpo a well-deserved thanks for his fascinating account of the earliest, and not the least inspiring, encounter between architectural theory and the media.
Jean-Louis Cohen, Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, and Director, Institut Français d'architecture, Paris
Mario Carpo's rich text is filled with stimulating propositions and observations about the relation of early modern architecture to the printed image. Starting with an overview of the exclusively verbal transmission of technical knowledge in the middle ages—before it was possible to provide identical images in different copies of any text (a problem that continued through the fifteenth century), he shows how the development of a technology that permitted books to be illustrated with woodcut and engraved plates expanded architects' knowledge of their heritage beyond what any individual could have achieved by personal experience, and made it possible to offer models (such as Sebastiano Serlio's establishment of a canon of five orders) for a new architecture. The impact of the images far exceeded that of the text. Carpo's grounding in contemporary representation theory gives his study psychological and philosophical support and his wide-ranging knowledge and engaging style make this book a pleasure to read.
James S. Ackerman, Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Fine Arts Emeritus, Harvard University
The connection between print and architecture is profound. Print makes possible the exact reproduction of visual statement. Before the age of print, no one in the world had ever seen exact copies of a fairly complicated design, and certainly not thousands of exact copies of such a design. In his Architecture in the Age of Printing, the learned historian of architecture and its contexts, Mario Carpo, provides a historically wide-ranging, detailed, and thoroughly learned study of architecture as it evolved before print and then in connection with print. There has been nothing this complete or penetrating before.
Walter J. Ong, S. J., University Professor Emeritus, St. Louis University