Drawing Classical Archways from Rome through the Renaissance

The design of archways is complex, requiring a great attention to detail and understanding of geometric form to create a stable and elegant structure. In classical architecture, the difficulty of construction is heightened—as is the end product—by the combination of the arch itself with the canonical orders to create a perfectly-balanced composition. On Saturday, October 21, the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art held the course Advanced Classical Elements: Arches, which provided an overview of key elements of classical arch design: their construction, aesthetic composition, usage, and drafting.

Instructor Mason Roberts began the course with a lecture on the history of the classical arch. After an overview of the basic elements of the arch and how they interact with each other—such as the keystone, voussoirs, and the necessity of infill for weight bearing arches—Mr. Roberts discussed how the arch has developed over time. He began with an explanation of how it was the Romans who created the arch as it is used today in classical architecture by combining the canonical orders with the purely utilitarian archways used by the ancient Greeks. Throughout his history of classical arches, Mr. Roberts discussed different kinds of arches and how their uses changed over time. Segmental arches, for example, were used by the Romans only as a utilitarian structure, but have been used decoratively since the middle ages. The history also examined the properties of arches and their basic geometry, such as the catenary arch, a complex form that is able to stand freely.

After a short break, the lecture continued with a general review of the canonical orders and their proportions. Examples of Roman, Renaissance, and modern architecture incorporating classical arches were reviewed. Finally, following a discussion of the advances in classical archways by 16th century architect Andrea Palladio, students participated in a guided sketch of a Palladian arch and a Roman arch. Mr. Roberts guided students through each step of both exercises, and assistant Martin Brandwein gave students individual help. At the end of the class, students had a much greater understanding of the history of classical arches, their design considerations, and their proportions.

IMG_2496 A finished study of a Roman archway (using the Corinthian order) by student Salvatore Cicerelli

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