The Italian Renaissance artist, Leonardo Da Vinci is remembered for his impeccable talent of being a jack of everything. His genius in painting and sculptures often outshines the marvels of his architectural knowledge. His engineering and architectural artistry can be fathomed by a look at his detailed and visionary drawings. Though almost none of his drawings ever got executed, he is still referred by architectural researchers and theoreticians for his in-depth study of construction techniques, acoustics, urban design, and sacred geometry.
Here is a list of architectural drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci and an account of the genius behind them.
1. Drawing of Centrally Planned Church
Da Vinci is credited with inventing a new technique of representing architectural drawings. He combined the bird’s eye view of the building and its floor plan in a single system to provide maximum information about the building, external and internal, in a single drawing.
The plans of his drawings were more of a geometrical engraving of an intricate design on the ground than a functional space.
He placed a great emphasis on balance and symmetry. In the notes scribbled at the bottom left corner of the drawing he explains that the bell tower would have to be installed separately so as not to disturb the symmetricity of the design.
2. Drawing of a longitudinal domed church
Vinci experimented with the designs of centrally planned churches. They followed a recurring theme, an octagonal central area surrounded by 8 side chapels crowned by a large central dome and many small domes which were mostly pointed, ribbed, and crowned with a lantern.
The plan of his buildings followed a geometric postulate. The polygonal plans were inscribed in a circle which retained its circular format even in the three-dimensional form.
There exists a geometrical relationship between the plan and elevation of his buildings. His elevations were meticulously guided by the scale and proportions of the elements in the plan.
3. Drawings of a domed Square church with Minaret
A variation of the domed central church is a Greek-cross plan church with an octagonal central area, surrounded by eight side chapels of different forms, crowned on the flat roof structure with alternate bell towers and small domes, entered with a stairway on the outside to a second level.
In his peculiar sectional perspectives, he uses bird-eye views in some, while in the others he places the observer in front of the structure, giving a sense that the spaces were shaped and thought to keep the viewer’s view of line and thoughts in priority.
To emphasize the central planning of his designs, Leonardo avoided differentiating between the facades. There is no ‘main’ facade to give a sense of direction. He subtly distinguishes one facade from the others, by placing the entrance there. He does not elaborate the doorway much as its only function is to connect the inside with the outside, keeping the focus on the facade.
4. Drawings of a Mountain Fortress
Using his expertise in art, science, and technology, Leonardo Da Vinci developed designs of forts that could withstand strong military and natural forces. The innovations were in terms of the increased ratio between measures in plan and elevation. He introduced thick curtain walls that could absorb the shots of firearms. He added a double periphery of concentric walls in the quadrangular fortress to guard the central tower.
While his innovations and visionary ideas were not given much regard in his own time, they formed the bedrock of the fort designs of the 16th century.
5. Drawings of ‘The Ideal City’
The Bubonic plague killed around 50,000 people- one-third of Milan’s population. Inspired by it, the Italian Renaissance artist and engineer designed an ‘ideal city’ which was centuries ahead of its time. The signature features of this city were- a network of canals to support commerce and sanitation, and separating the pedestrian streets from other forms of traffic by the vertical division of the city. He envisioned a city with three tiers, each for a different purpose; a subterranean tier for a network of canals, a lower level for commercial activities, and an upper level, which was an open and well-ventilated space for the people to reside.
His urban planning concepts were applied in the 19th and 20th centuries while renovating the layouts of French cities like Paris.
The polymath designer used simple geometry in his plans—a square set in a circle, set in a Greek cross, or a circle set in intersecting squares forming an octagon. His drawings are proof of his obsession with — the pattern of one basic form into a series of more diverse forms.
Though elaborate studies on the geometry and proportions seen in his drawing are yet to be carried out, just a thorough observation of them is adequate to know the genius and far-sightedness in them!
- Di Teodoro, F., 2015. Leonardo da Vinci: The Proportions of the Drawings of Sacred Buildings in Ms. B, Institut de France. Architectural Histories, 3(1), p.Art. 1. DOI: http://doi.org/10.5334/ah.cf
- Xavier, J. P., 2008. Leonardo’s Representational Technique for, Porto, PORTUGAL: s.n.
- Maré, E.A., 2012. Leonardo da Vinci’s architectural designs as thought experiments: the sources and influence of his ideas. South African Journal of Art History, 27(1), pp.53-82.