Practical Geometry: How We Designed and Laid Out Buildings Before Standard Dimensions

posted Apr 18, 2017, 1:10 PM by Bill Marzella   [ updated Apr 24, 2017, 7:50 AM ]
Lecture by Jane Griswold Radocchia

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Why did James Gibbs and William Buckland sit for their portraits holding compasses? Why did Asher Benjamin and Owen Biddle begin their pattern books with Practical Geometry? Why was Peter Nicholson’s book about practical geometry. The Carpenter’s New Guide, published in 1792, so popular that it ran through 10 editions?

A compass was the master builder’s symbol, his tool. Practical geometry governed how we designed and built: plans and elevations, framing; windows, doors, ornamentation. Measurements came after layout. Facility with a compass was a basic skill taught to apprentices by master builders. The Industrial Revolution, especially the need for interchangeable parts and therefore standard dimensions, made geometry - expressed by both Vitruvius and Palladio as an understanding that a building’s parts should correspond to the whole and to each other - seem irrelevant. And as apprenticeships disappeared so did the unwritten knowledge of practical geometry.

Jane Griswold Radocchia
, an “old house” architect, began writing about vernacular architecture for her regional newspaper in Massachusetts in 1989. The column, which ran bi-weekly for 10 years, received a MA Historic Preservation Award in 1994. Jane began to research the use of geometry in construction about 2009, writing about it in her architectural blog, In 2014 she presented at the Timber Framers Guild Annual Meeting. In 2015 and 2016, she taught hands-on sessions on Practical Geometry for the International Preservation Trades Network Workshops. She will teach again at the IPTNW in 2017. Jane Radocchia’s BA is from Oberlin College. Her M. Arch with honors is from MIT. She has received numerous historic preservation awards for her work with old houses.

The First Congregational United Church of Christ
945 G Street NW, Washington, DC 20001 
6:30 pm – reception, 7:00 pm – lecture

Reservations are not required. $10.00 for Latrobe Chapter members, student members (full time) free with ID, $15.00 for non-members (reduced admission for non-members!).

Bill Marzella,
Apr 18, 2017, 1:10 PM