Research Paper: Architecture H-Project Dome of Florence Cathedral

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Architecture

H-Project

Dome of Florence Cathedral (1420 -- 1436)

The Dome of Florence Cathedral (a.D. 1420-36) has been described as a "miracle" of design which is in essence a blend of Renaissance and Gothic architectural building aspects. The dome itself covers an octagonal apartment which is 138 ft. 6 ins, in diameter, and is raised on a drum, with circular windows to light the interior. (Italian Renaissance -- Florence)

It is pointed in form and consists of an inner and outer shell.

The original designer of the building was Arnolfi di Cambio. However, the architect who became renowned for the construction of the dome of the cathedral was Filippo Brunelleschi. His importance is also ascribed to the fact that he was the "... first to establish the new standards in architecture." (Filippo Brunelleschi. Cathedral Dome, Florence) Brunelleschi received the commission to plan and build the dome after winning a design competition. He competed against other Florentine artists and architects, including Lorenzo Ghiberti. Work on the dome began in 1420 and was completed in 1436.

The significance of the building of the dome of the cathedral also refers to the changed and more professional status of the architect in society. This in turn can also be related to the newly discovered scientific aspects of architecture. The dome that Brunelleschi's created is acknowledged as "…the most ambitious architectural and engineering projects of its time." (Florence Duomo History - History of Florence's Cathedral)

However, it should also be noted that the construction of the cathedral's dome had been halted before Brunelleschi submitted his architectural design. The reason for this was that the construction of a dome of this size was deemed to be impossible without the use of flying buttresses. (Florence Duomo History - History of Florence's Cathedral) However, this problem was eventually overcome by "Brunelleschi's understanding of some of the key concepts of physics and geometry." (Florence Duomo History - History of Florence's Cathedral)

As noted, central to the plan for the dome were the inner and outer shells, joined with a ring and rib system. Brunelleschi's design also employed a "...herringbone pattern to keep the bricks of the dome from falling to the ground." (Florence Duomo History - History of Florence's Cathedral). Importantly, these construction techniques were seen as unique and even architecturally revolutionary during Brunelleschi's time.

Furthermore, what was also unique about the construction of the dome was that Brunelleschi was not trained as a carpenter or mason but was in fact a goldsmith and clock maker. Even more amazing, states Gartner, was how he proposed to build the dome: "...the incredible feature of his proposed solution was that he intended to build the dome senza armadura, without scaffolding" (Gartner 86). The technique for doing this was almost inconceivable at the time. Others had proposed wooden scaffolding or stone towers to support the work. Nor could Brunelleschi prove by pointing to previous experience that he could accomplish this feat. Construction began on Brunelleschi's dome on 7 August 1420. It was consecrated on 30 August 1436.

1.2. Design

It was largely Brunelleschi's knowledge of Roman construction principle that permitted him to solve the unique engineering and architectural problem that the dome presented. (Gardner 440) the design was required to deal with the various seemingly overwhelming problem of construction of a dome. In the first instance there was the problem of the space that had to be spanned; which was too wide to permit traditional wood centering as part of the construction. Buttressed walls were not possible to support the dome. ( Gardner 440) Brunelleschi overcame these problems in a unique way. As Gardner states, he "…not only discarded traditional building methods and devised new ones but also invented much of the machinery for the job." (Gardner 440) He designed the dome around a pointed arch or ogival, which is more stable in that it reduced any outward thrust that the dome might present at its base. (Gardner 440) the weight of the dome was also minimized by the design of the thin double shell around a skeleton of 24 ribs. (Gardner 440) it should be noted that this was the first time in architectural and construction history that a design of this nature had been achieved. He also "…anchored the structure at the top with a heavy lantern, built after his death but from his design." (Gardner 440)

What makes this structure so important therefore in terms of design is its octagonal vault form that stands without buttresses and transverse chains. It is a combination of Gothic and Renaissance styles, combining innovation and tradition. As Gartner states, by contrast with earlier domes "...the heavy Roman cupolas, set into massive masonry supports, have nothing in common with the lofty, gently curving dome in Florence" ( Gartner 78). What Brunelleschi achieved in essence was to free the cupola supports from the wall structure and make them into a separate framework, which prepared the way for the twenty-four-ribbed structure of the cathedral dome. Thus, the system of struts supporting the cupola is transformed into a self-supporting skeleton of ribs. This style of dome definitively ended the medieval period of architecture and "...with it the 'monumental' form of modern architecture was born. . . ." (Gartner 77). Thus Brunelleschi's edifice has to be seen as the 'modern' building which marked the end of the medieval period" (Gartner 77). It influenced architecture inestimably, and was taken up at St. Peter's and in many American capitol buildings.

When the dome was complete the Pope consecrated the finished Cathedral on Easter Sunday, 1436. "The dome towered majestically over the city of Florence, a triumph for the Florentine people and the city's most powerful family." (Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance . Renaissance. Brunelleschi | PBS)

1.3. Construction

The task of construction is highlighted by the fact that the dome weighs an impressive 37,000 tons and more than four million bricks were used in the building of the dome. It has been said that "Brunelleschi's dome was the greatest architectural feat in the Western world." (an Engineer's Aspect: Filippo Brunelleschi's Dome)

Something of the complexity and the ingenuity of the construction of the dome can be seen in the following analysis. Both the inner and our layers of the dome are supported by "...24 stone half arches, or ribs, of circular form, 2.1 metres (seven feet) thick at the base and tapering to 1.5 metres (five feet), which meet at an open stone compression ring at the top." (Duomo, Florence) in order to prevent or reduce the outward thrust of the construction tie rings of stone held together with metal cramps were situated between the ribs. This also was supported by tie rings of oak timbers joined by metal connectors. Furthermore, "The entire structure was built without formwork, the circular profiles of the ribs and rings being maintained by a system of measuring wires fixed at the centres of curvature." (Duomo, Florence) This means that Brunelleschi understood the intricacies and complexities of structural construction in that he realised that if the dome was built in horizontal layers, it would always be stable and not require timber centring. His ingenuity and daring in the construction of this architectural masterpiece can also be seen by the fact that he designed unique wooden machines to move the required building materials both vertically and horizontally. (Duomo, Florence)

The construction of the complete dome took most of Brueslleschi's life. During this period there were many construction problems that had to be overcome. In this regard the architect drew inspiration from the dome of the Pantheon in Rome. He initially wanted this construction to be built from sandstone and marble, but he realized that would have to build the dome from bricks, due to the lighter weight that they offered as a material. The following description outlines the uniqueness of the dome from an engineering and construction perspective.

Brunelleschi knew that there was not enough timber in Tuscany to build a scaffold inside the Cathedral, and the recipe for concrete had been lost since the fall of Rome. Brunelleschi instead came up with an ingenious and completely original theory. His plans showed an inner hemispherical dome within Florence cathedral's octagonal drum. A second, ovoid brick dome was to be placed on top, and nine sandstone rings would then hold the structure together, like a barrel. To raise the bricks and sandstone beams several hundred feet in the air, Brunelleschi invented a fast and efficient hoist with the world's first reverse gear, allowing an ox to raise or lower a load at the flick of a switch.

(an Engineer's Aspect: Filippo Brunelleschi's Dome)

An extremely important aspect is the new division of labor that Brunelleschi and other Renaissance architects created. This was to conflict with the autocratic tradition of the master builders who were in control of all aspects of the design and construction. As Heller states in Labor, Science and technology in France, 1500 -- 1620;

The development of architectural theory from the time of Brunelleschi…… [END OF PREVIEW]

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