Grounded Visionaries: Writing Practice, Special Collections

Designers communicate their ideas not only through drawings and built works but also through writing. Books and essays have translated the ideals and understanding of the built environment worldwide throughout the centuries. From the systematic exposition of principles and elements of architecture in the sixteenth century to visionary speculations for the design of the twenty-first century city, texts have grounded the design disciplines. They have also defined the theoretical landscape in relation to the discourse and practice of design today. While considering contemporary design demands, designers continue to build on the thinking behind these texts.

Four out of five fine examples of the sixteenth and seventeenth century book production presented in this exhibition feature vellum as a cover material. Vellum is prepared from animal skin by stretching it to dry. It is aesthetically pleasing as well as extremely durable. In the manuscript era, vellum (also known as parchment) was used as a writing substrate and was later adopted for creating book covers. The most typical of the sixteenth century’s less expensive binding structures is the limp vellum case that is laced on sewing supports. I quattro libri dell’architettura by Andrea Palladio is a beautiful example of an Italian sixteenth-century limp vellum binding. These unassuming covers can be found in many libraries and archives throughout the world due to the durability of the materials and the ingenuity of their non-adhesive design, which relies solely on sewing and lacing. The copy of De architectura libri decem by Vitruvius, printed in Amsterdam in 1649, has a contemporary binding covered in calf leather, with lovely golden decorations. Both front and back covers are tooled with a family coat of arms. Attempts to determine the original ownership of the binding were futile, but the crown with nine visible “pearls” suggests that it belonged to a count, possibly French.

Curatorial Team
Mohsen Mostafavi, Dean and Alexander and Victoria Wiley Professor of Design
K. Michael Hays, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Eliot Noyes Professor of Architectural Theory
Peter Sealy, March II ‘08, PhD Candidate
Irene Chin, MDes ‘15
Dan Borelli, MDes ‘12, Director of Exhibitions
Benjamin Prosky, Assistant Dean for Communications
Ines Zalduendo, Special Collections Archivist & Reference Librarian

All items included in this exhibition are from the holdings of Special Collections, Frances Loeb Library.