Architects base their practice on many standards. But there is one shared by most that have been unshakable for millennia. During the height of the Ancient Roman civilization, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, otherwise known as Vitruvius, wrote his thoughts on architecture. This notable work is commonly known as ‘Vitruvius architecture’, which he had penned down in his Ten Books.
Modern architects gathered many important insights from Vitruvius ten books on architecture. And the one that has perhaps best stood the test of time is his three criteria for a piece of architecture. This is otherwise known as the Vitruvian Triad: Venustas, Utilitas, and Firmitas. Here, we’ll explore all three.
Vitruvius Architecture’s Firmitas
Firmitas (solidity/strength) is a building’s ability to remain durable after extended use and exposure to the natural elements. Over time, architects have been able to calculate with greater levels of exactitude the expected life spans of their buildings.
Certain materials have greater durability – as well as the illusion of durabilities – such as marble, concrete, and brick. One can also gauge the extent of Firmitas by examining the age of a building. If a building has lasted several decades without major renovations, it has proven itself to be a reliable and credible structure.
Builders, nowadays, build several larger projects that can last up to 500+ years. This further attests the importance of one of the three major claims of Vitruvius architecture.
Vitruvius Architecture’s Utilitas
Utilitas (usefulness) is a building’s ability to appropriately predict and respond to the needs of its intended inhabitants. Of course, you can gauge the importance of usefulness by witnessing all the program types buildings can acquire – hospital, school, house, office. Each of these programs requires a unique relationship to the site, as well as specifically sized rooms and conditions.
In 1896, Louis Sullivan interpreted the concept of usefulness in architecture with his famous statement, “Form follows function.” He wrote this while considering the near future of skyscrapers. He determined that tall buildings would have to pay special attention to daily use and function if they were going to be critical elements of the urban city.
Vitruvius Architecture’s Venustas
Venustas (beauty) is a building’s relationship to its context’s standard of aesthetics. This element can be made apparent in the use of an attractive building or flooring materials. Other aspects you can consider are — the level of craftsmanship and the attention to detail (how a wall meets a floor, for example, has been a serious concern for architects concerned with beauty).
Venustas used to be a requirement for the majority of newly constructed buildings prior to the 20th century. However, it became less of a focus on building design after that point. Some say this is due to the increase in mass production – which requires easy-to-reproduce building elements.
Others suggest that the general population grew too disinterested in architecture’s potential for beauty. This is because they were introduced to supplementary architectural elements such as elevators and air conditioners. Fortunately, some architects today still put Vitruvius Architecture’s Venustas at the center of their goals throughout the entire design process.