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  The notion of the architect (Greek, ‘master-builder’), essential to the understanding of the built environment, is relatively modern. The architect is usually understood to be both the designer of a building and the supervisor of its construction.

Writing about the architect in his treatise De Architectura in the 1st century  BCE, the Roman theorist Vitruvius represented him as a polymathic ideal, one learned in all the arts, a scholar of history, philosophy, music and medicine, each field contributing to the architect\'s ability to design well. In the 4th century, Pappus of Alexandria provided a less rhetorical account, stressing the necessity of a theoretical background in up-to-date mathematical and mechanical science.

In medieval Europe it was traditionally the skilled master mason who was the most significant figure in the construction of a great building. In the later 15th and early 16th centuries, when most cultural life was characterized by the rediscovery of classical texts, the rediscovery of Vitruvius\'s treatise led to a reinforcement of the highest ideals of what contributed to the education and skill of an architect. Architects began to be appointed for their fame as artists (Giotto, for example, was appointed architect of Florence Cathedral), and while they might still come from the families of master masons, they often combined architecture with painting and sculpture. Leonardo da Vinci developed the theory of the ‘ideal nature of art’, by which he tried to prove that painting and architecture belonged to the liberal arts and not to the trades.

Formalized training in the classical principles characterized European education until the 19th century, when debate arose concerning ‘architecture: art or profession?’. Its professional character was underlined by the introduction of qualifying exams, and by the gradual streamlining of the various tasks of other related professionals, requiring the skills of a structural engineer or a town planner. JM

See also craftsmanship; town planning.Further reading A. Saint, The Image of an Architect; , H.M. Colvin, A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840, chapter 2, ‘The Architectural Profession’.



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