Leonardo Da Vinci gets a lot of credit for much of what went on in the renaissance. He is, after all, the most famous of the genre of individuals called Renaissance Men. But much of the heavy lifting happened before he came on the scene. You met Brunelleschi in Burke’s book and perhaps it makes more sense to credit him with the widespread implementation of perspective in architecture as well as painting. And he did something that Da Vinci didn’t do very well. He actually invented stuff.
Yes, Da Vinci drew lots of pictures of inventions like tanks and planes and spectacular war machines. But that’s all they were – pictures. Brunelleschi was a craftsman. He encountered a problem, such as the building of the Dome in Florence, considered the science and math he had contemplated over the years, and built technological solutions that solved these problems. Some of them were clever uses of gears and pulleys, things we’ll be talking about later. And others had to do with the application of mathematics to real problems of brick and mortar. In short, Brunelleschi didn’t just come up with a great way to get bricks way up in the air, no small contribution to building. He came up with ways to keep them there. In a sense, Brunelleschi invented architecture, or at least architectural design.
And here is where terms we have thrown start to become important – terms like humanism, form, function and the humanities. It's a gross generalization, to be sure, but let's run with it. For a very long time, people considered technology to be a very specific human endeavor that was altogether separate from art, philosophy, architecture or any other trim/work saving innovation. There are exceptions, of course. All these things involved technologies. But technology wasn't expected to influence or change what it means to be human. Burke talks a lot about Humanism which includes some of this transition from technology as a workhorse and technology as an expression of aesthetic beauty.
This has often been characterized as a battle between form and function. da Vinci toyed with this a lot. He was an artist but he also played a lot with mechanics. Today, we apply the word "beauty" to a lot of things, but we are still not sure what to do with the ground that both beauty and functionality share. Brunelleschi built a cathedral – undeniably beautiful. But it also works. A dome is not necessary for a building to be a church. A giant box would serve just as well. But a dome was, in those days, anyway, necessary for the people who worshiped there. So the beauty (form) had to make possible (functional). And that debate continues today.
Here's a modern day example. Motorcycles. Some find them beautiful and others don't much care. But even among those who don't care, motorcycles have clearly impacted our culture by becoming a symbol for concepts like freedom. And they have to take on a shape to do this. And that shape has to both express a feeling as well as include all the mechanical bits that make it run. These bits, in turn, contribute shape, sounds and movements that add to the feeling one gets and to the expression that the motorcycle has become. It's a very delicate balance. Or perhaps better to think of it as a cooperation of parts. In any case, doing this intentionally may have started in the renaissance but is still a very important part of design today.