Sunday, October 27, 2019

Portraits of Master Builders with Their Compasses, Part 2

My previous post had portraits of men who designed and built - Master Builders - with their compasses. 
Here are a few more.
Before 1800, in the States especially, the word 'architect' referred to master carpenters and masons, not a specialized group of people who had not trained in actual hands-on construction.
For more clarification look up the word 'architect' in the OED - the Oxford English Dictionary - which gives origins, sources, and historic uses of words. Its first definition of 'architect' is 'master builder'.

Men who drew and designed buildings, machines, and equipment used compasses. They often had other jobs too - painters, builders, tool makers, teachers, surveyors, erstwhile inventors.They are well-rounded, experienced craftsmen.

Here is James Watt, a famous Scottish inventor with his compass. He vastly improved the efficiency of the steam engine, working on the refinements from about 1765 to 1790. While he refined the parts of the steam engine, he made mathematical instruments and was a land surveyor. 
The Britannica has an excellent biography on him. 

This sculpture is in the  National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
For more pictures and information about James Watt  see my blog post:

By the mid-1800's men who drew buildings were beginning to call themselves 'Architects', no longer 'Master Builders'.
Asher Benjamin and others designers are said to have joined together as 'architects' teaching in Boston in the 1840's.*
New York architects created the American Institute of Architects in 1857.
MIT, founded in 1868, was the first school to train architects. The department was, and is, called  Course IV. William Ware, mentioned below, was its first Director.
The street directories in Lawrence Massachusetts,  1845-1880, show men who first advertise themselves as carpenters, later listing themselves as builders, and then as architects.

John Haviland called himself an architect. He apprenticed to an architect in England, then sought to become an engineer in Russia, before migrating to the States in 1816. Here he is, with his compass.

For information about the portrait see the blog post listed above for James Watt.

Edward Shaw published his pattern book in 1854. He referred to himself as an architect.

His book discusses design and relationships between parts. It also includes detailed information for carpenters, masons, plasterers.  
I wrote about this illustration and the tools shown here in this blog post:

Le Pere Soubise is the legendary founder and saint of the Campagnons Passants Charpentiers de Devoir.

There is more about le Pere Soubise and his compass here:  

An engraving of Giacoma Barozzi da Vignola (1507-1573) with his compass.
Vignola trained under Serlio, then worked in France for Francis I at the same time Serlio was there. He wrote Canon of the Five Orders of Architecture in 1562. It was widely available, reprinted, and translated into many languages. This image is from the edition translated by John Leeke into English in 1669, now available through Dover Publications.  

And why did they need compasses? The compass was a tool of layout - for design, for setting proportions. A ruler could then be used to measure those proportions. 
*I had the citation about 10 years ago, but cannot find it now. Perhaps it could not be substantiated.
I apologize for the type size changes. If I understood what causes them I would fix them.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Portraits of Master Builders with Compasses, Part I

This past year I have given 8 presentations on Practical Geometry, the last 3 at the International Preservation Trades Workshop (IPTW) in Stirling, Scotland. My workshop begins with a power point introduction about how geometry was used in construction. Then we practice using compasses, straightedges, pencils, and twine (chalk lines, anyone?) to layout and design frames and buildings. 
The portraits here of master builders holding a compass, the symbol of their profession,  are part of those presentations.

Sebastiano Serlio, 1475-1554, master builder and author of    'On Architectura'
 posthumous portrait by Bastolomeo Passerotti c. 1575, 
now in the Martin von Wagner Museum,  University of Wurtzburg.

I wrote an introduction to Serlio here:

 Andrea Palladio,  1508-1580
architect and author of The 4 Books of Architecture, 1570

The engraving and the painting it came from may have been made 100 years after Palladio died.

James Gibbs, born in Scotland, died in England: 1682 - 1754. Architect of St. Martin's in the Field church, 1722. author of the Book of Architecture. 1728. This book of engravings of his buildings is known to have been in the Colonies. It influenced a great many designs.

Portrait in the Scottish National Portrait Gallery

William Buckland - 1734-1774
indentured to  George Mason of Gunston Hall, 1755 

Master Builder in Virginia and Maryland

Note his compass on the table below his hand 

I write about him here:

Peter Nicholson  - 1765 -1844  
Author of texts for master builders, architects and engineers, and mathematicians beginning in 1793 , extending through the 1840's. His books were in print many years after he died and went through many editions both in London and in the States. Asher Benjamin and Owen Biddle credit him in their pattern books. Minard Lefever says (here I paraphrase):  "Refer to Nicholson . He's the master!"

For more on Peter Nicholson see:

Much of what I taught this year is not yet on this blog.  It should be, so this is a beginning.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Compass in Construction

Compasses are regularly portrayed in construction images, and are also regularly ignored.

In October, 2018, the Preservation Trades Network (PTN) met at the National Park Service Historic Preservation Training Center in Frederick, Maryland, for its annual workshops.

I gave 2 presentations on the use of compasses in historic layout and design. More than 30 participants practiced their geometry - with enthusiasm. They asked good questions.

PTN workshops were held in the shops, the yard and storage bays, and an office of the Training Center. Around us were the HPTC logos.
They all included a trowel, a plane, and a compass.

As posted here: 
top: on a brochure
middle: real tools mounted on a board hung on a wall
bottom: an image posted on a bulletin board

I asked the staff who came to my presentation what they knew about using a compass. They told me: not very much.

The image of  a compass is there, along with a trowel for plaster, masonry, and stone work and plane for wood working. The compass as an equally important tool for layout and design. The understanding of how and why to use one has been lost.

 In September, 2019,  PTN joined with Historic Environment Scotland to hold the International Preservation Trades Workshops (IPTW) at the Engine Shed, Stirling Scotland. I gave 3 presentations with slides and hands-on practice drawing layouts and elevations without numbers,  using only a compass, a straight edge, and a pencil.

Our final evening we dined in the Banquet Hall of Stirling Castle, historic home of Scottish kings, including Mary, Queen of Scots, and James VI who became James I of the United Kingdom.  (No, the roof trusses were not this pink! just what my camera saw!)

 Before dinner we toured the castle which is set high above the land and the river.

It is beautifully cared for; the rooms used by the royal family furnished with fascinating furniture and tapestries depicting the time when Mary Queen of Scots and James VI lived there. The signage is excellent: clear, colorful,  with historically accurate graphics and information.

 Even jokes were in period dress: These plaques were beside the  restroom doors; a medieval beast which might be a griffin was watching from the newel post.

This poster was in the courtyard. I liked the images:  the tools in use, the appropriate clothing, and surroundings. visually interesting and easy to understand.

The text explains the work. Except for that compass the master mason holds under his arm.  It is perhaps 24 inches long, with brass fittings and an armature to set the span. This is a serious instrument.
No explanation is given for its use.

I think people simply don't understand how a compass was used. No one  asks how the project was organized, how it was planned and set down so that all the craftsmen  could reference what was to be built.

How did they share their understanding of the scope and detail? The master craftsman laid out the design of the work.
He used his compass to accurately draw and explain his plan to  the other workmen.
 I looked on the internet for the proper name of the 'armature' on a compass used in construction. 'Hinge' is sometimes used but that refers to the part where the legs join.  In the 1920's the 'arm' had become a bar with an adjusting screw; the compass called a 'spring bow".  
Because there is so little written about compasses used in construction I may need to revise this post as I learn more. 

Bow compasses

Page 614, Audels Carpenters and Builders Guide #2, Theo. Audel & Co., Publishers, NY, NY, 1923