Concept for ‘A key to civil architecture’ by Thomas Skaife
What is the most important feature of the book to me is its obvious aim to explain architecture as a whole, including all of its ‘branches’, such as carpentry, but also of the pricing of different materials and basic mathematics and algebra. It seems as if this books has the goal to propagate the Vitruvian architect, though the concept is not explicitly mentioned. What is special about it is that it does not limit itself to being a guide of measurements (second part) but also gives historical context on the history of building and the history of the tools used. The author also describes the orders and the correct way of measuring in the first part. The second (and bigger) part is more practically oriented. Thomas Skaife describes all of the parts of a building in different Lectures. These are structured in rules and examples: First, the rule is described abstractly, then an example is shown. (Though there are no illustrations as one would expect in a modern book.) This structure strenghthens the assumption that the book is written for an audience of practical workers rather than theoretical analysts or upperclass scholars. Skaife also includes lists of prices in his book. As a sidenote, this raises the question if the prices were strongly regulated at the time in England (as they were in Switzerland). Otherwise, (in todays economy) printing lists of prices in a book would make little sense. In its practical descriptions, the book is very comprehensive, especially if compared to the non-practical sections. It describes in detail different forms of handrails (Lecture XXXVIII: Of handrails to Stairs, Lecture XXXIX: A definition of Gluing-up Hand Rails without lines). The book makes the impression of being like a schoolbook for a practical apprentice, meant to follow the apprentice through all of his working life after his education. It includes knowledge from every branch of architecture, some of which will not be used every day in the working life of the architect or builder, but still useful in certain situations. It may be argued that the practical worker would be less interested in matters of proportion and orders but the intention of the author is possibly also to educate these practical workers on the concepts of ‘good architecture’, proportion etc. It seems as if the author wanted to nudge the experts of practical building into more of a theoretical approach by including the first part of the book and thereby wanted to get closer to the idea of the Vitruvian architect.