Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture

You may recall from my summer travels that Florence ranked as my favorite destination.  While the city is loaded with great architecture, there is one building that dominates the skyline.  That building, of course, is Santa Maria del Fiore and it’s tiled dome.  That dome, designed by Filippo Brunelleschi, is the subject of Ross King’s Brunelleschi’s Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture.

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If you’re a nuts and bolts type of person, than this book is for you.  What I love about architecture is how things are constructed – brick by brick.  How the building interacts with it’s structure.  How things go to together.  And that’s what this book is.  But it’s not strictly about the construction of the dome.  It weaves in the heated rivalry between Brunelleschi and Lorenzo Ghiberti.  It’s a rivalry that stretched Brunelleschi’s entire life from the contest for the Baptistery doors to the design of the Cathedral’s dome to the design of the various contraptions used to construct the dome.  The book also tells of the various political and social factors that played a role during the 28 years of construction of the dome.

In the end, Brunelleschi’s dome changed architecture.  His design for the 143 foot wide dome included the perfect arrangement of brick and stone brought into place by hoists and cranes never seen before.  And it’s in the descriptions of these machines where things can get technical.  But its not technical just for the sake of being technical.  The in depth description of these machines and the construction of the dome is necessary to understand, fully, the magnitude of it’s erection and how this wasn’t just another building.

Even though we know how the story ends, in great triumph of course, it’s a marvel to read the history of this magnificent feat of architecture and engineering.  While reading you come to learn about the goldsmith and clockmaker turned Renaissance genius, Filippo Brunelleschi, and his every day life in Florence.  You learn about politics, wealth, and war in 15th century Italy.  And you find out how, despite multiple setbacks and innumerable chances at failure, Brunelleschi was able to design and construct one of the single greatest feats in all of mankind.


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