Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space (1974) brought the plastic power of space to the theoretical foreground, and anticipated a flurry of theorization in architecture in the ensuing decades, eager to provoke an architectural mainstream which is deeply conservative. This architectural conservatism is protected by institutions, and at the heart of these institutions is a body of architectural knowledge – sustained by a grand illusion – that has a long history. During the Italian Renaissance, two treatises, conceived about 100 years apart, probably already indicated the shape of architectural knowledge to come in the following centuries. They were written respectively by Alberti and Palladio. They both took Vitruvius’s Ten Books of Architecture as a model, but developed their treatises in very different ways. Alberti, in On the Art of Building in Ten Books (published 1486), followed Vitruvius’s idea that architecture is about...

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