Architecture Reviewing Theory: Sir Henry Wotton's Dialectical Articulation of Vitruvian Theory

University of Sydney
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Journal article
Stewart Susan 2003, 'Architecture Reviewing Theory: Sir Henry Wotton's Dialectical Articulation of Vitruvian Theory', University of Sydney, vol. 8, no. 2, pp. 186-200.
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In the introduction to his text of 1624, The Elements of Architecture, Sir Henry Wotton briefly, and critically, reviews the texts of the Vitruvian theoretical tradition to date. He concludes that none of hispredecessors have adequately articulated theprecepts of ancient architecture. Their texts, he variously suggests, are muddled, overly concerned with rhetorical style, or limited by their attention to purely local (non-English) conditions. He proposes his Elements of Architecture as a remedy for this lamentable state of affairs. It would be an error to dismiss this introduction as mere rhetorical flourish, for its critical focus upon the style of Wotton's predecessors draws attention to the deliberate construction of his own text. It reveals the parallel between the architecture of Wotton 'sprose and that of an exemplary Vitruvian edifice; both building and text are ruled by order, clarity, symmetry, economy and decorum. Wotton's text might be read as an eloquent argument for the proximity of theory to architecture. The analogous relation of these two realms ofpractice is a familiar theme within classical discourse. However, this paper argues that Wotton, for all his apparent simplicity, is making a sophisticated claim. He emphasises not only the intelligibility of theoretical discourse, but also its resistance to closure. TheAristotelian dialectic of his 'method' acknowledges the limits of authorship. In Wotton's text the proximity of theory and architecture allows a reversal of the usual relationship; architecture reviews theory as much as theory reviews architecture. Thispaper reflects on Wotton's dialectical method, and observes the potential for architecture to review theory.
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