padBrunelleschis Dome How a Renaissance Genius  Reinvented Architecture

by Ross King

Anyone alive in Florence on August 19, 1418, would have understood the significance of the competition announced that day concerning the city's magnificent new cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore. "Whoever desires to make any model or design for the vaulting of the main Dome . . . shall do so before the end of the month of September." The proposed dome was regarded as all but impossible to build: not only would it be enormous, but its original and sacrosanct design shunned the flying buttresses that supported cathedrals all over Europe. Of the many plans submitted, one stood out-a daring and unorthodox solution to vaulting what is still the largest dome (143 feet in diameter) in the world. It was offered not by a master mason or carpenter, but by a goldsmith and clock maker Filippo Brunelleschi.

Brunelleschi's Dome is the story of how a Renaissance genius bent men, materials, and the very forces of nature to build an architectural wonder we continue to marvel at today. Brunelleschi engineered the perfect placement of brick and stone, built ingenious hoists and cranes to carry an estimated 70 million pounds hundreds of feet into the air, and designed the worker's platforms and routines so carefully that only one man died during the decades of construction-all the while defying those who said the dome would surely collapse and his own personal obstacles that at times threatened to overwhelm him. This drama was played out amid plagues, wars, political feuds, and the intellectual ferments of Renaissance Florence-events Ross King weaves into the story to great effect. Even today, in an age of soaring skyscrapers, the cathedral dome of Santa Maria del Fiore retains a rare power to astonish.

-from Walker & Company

Even by today's standards of soaring skyscrapers and lengthy multispan bridges, the dome of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence, Italy, stands as one of the most daring engineering feats ever. Brunelleschi's Dome reveals the marvelous tale of Filippo Brunelleschi, a clockmaker and goldsmith who overcame one of the greatest engineering obstacles in history: how to build a large dome without temporary wooden supports or permanent stone flying buttresses. Not only did Filippo manage that, but his 143-feet-diameter dome, completed in 1436, stands today as the largest in the world. Filippo's inventions for the project safely moved workers and 70 million tons of brick, stone, and other materials to the heights of the dome. Only one life was lost during construction. King provides a compelling narrative of these events and of a man considered both a madman and genius during his lifetime.

--from Science News

Walker & Co, 2000, 194 p., b&w; photos/illus., 6 1/4" X 8 3/4", hardcover

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