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Historical Integrity

By Roger Bartels

Only architects—not engineers or builders—are qualified to design for beauty, not mere utility.

The Roman historian Vitruvius defined architecture as “a building art that provides Commodity, Utility, and Delight.” My mentor, the late Columbia professor Alexander Kouzmanoff, added, “Unfortunately, architecture is everything that man builds.” He warned me that whether what I designed was a fence or a skyscraper, it would be judged as to how it satisfied the Vitruvian conditions—especially Delight.

Picturesque house on the water in Rowayton, Connecticut.

Engineers can provide Utility, and builders will furnish Commodity, but only an architect has been specifically educated and trained to instill Delight.

 

Delight is achieved by applying to the planning and building process all these esoteric qualities: light and shadow, void and solid, presence and mystery, historic reference, familiarity, context, community, flow, human scale, etc. It also requires respect for the past, acknowledgment of the present, and directions for the future.

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