Those who do not know the skills of Leonardo da Vinci, an eclectic genius par excellence who put his work and ingenuity in the service of every area of human knowledge, raise your hand. In his boundless 360 productions, Leonardo obviously also dealt with architecture, designing fortifications, buildings, churches, bridges, ideal cities, and urban planning.
But it is not his being an architect that I want to talk to you about today. What I would like, instead, is to lead you to think about the ancient knowledge according to which this extraordinary character – Leonardo – treated architecture; as well as how he treated music and all the other sciences he worked with, so as to induce you to reflect on what architecture should be, but in fact is not. And music alike, after all.
It is no coincidence that the two disciplines are closely related, as some ancient works of art or ancient buildings teach us, according to a design rigor that is now completely abandoned.
"To the same laws obey the waves of sound, light and water" wrote Leonardo in his countless codes and notes, having clearly identified in a single matrix the behavior of matter, sound and light. This unique matrix is defined by the Florentine artist as "the motion that is the cause of every life", in a clear reference to the Motion of the Celestial Spheres, that is, the orbital rotation of the main planets of our solar system around their axis and around the Sun, from which the driving force of everything would derive. In ancient times, in fact, it was believed that the entire universe was regulated by a Harmony produced by the Celestial Spheres (namely planets), and that everything, including man, had to relate harmoniously with it. In other words, according to those canons contained in the Universe and automatically tuned to Harmony.
A concept no different from what is assumed by Easterners, who describe the Tao, or the Prime Principle from which the Universe originated, as the unitary composition of two opposing forces, Yin and Yang. An ancient Greek philosopher who lived between the 5th and 4th centuries BC, Heraclitus – also referred to as "the Taoist philosopher" - described the same phenomenon of the First Principle with terms closer to the modern concept of science. Heraclitus spoke of a Harmony generated by the product of two opposing forces (energies):
What is opposition is agreement, and from discordant things flows beautiful harmony, and all things arise by law of contention.
One of the many mistakes of modern society – which often acts similarly to those dogmatic systems it allegedly aims to counteract – is to consider the path of science as a path of linear growth over time. In fact, modern science is in part rebuilding some of the knowledge that was in man's head thousands of years ago, yet showing macroscopic gaps compared to what the ancients already knew and debated in terms of astronomy or knowledge of the human body biology, just to mention few examples. This is because science and academia for centuries, if not millennia, have been in the service of a cultural system that was heavily conditioning them. Think of the long-time debate between geocentrism and heliocentrism that cost Copernicus a charge of heresy, for example. By virtue of this attitude, therefore, and also to strengthen the contribution that science and academia could make to the cultural and social development of a given community, it is custom to label ancient Greek philosophers’ statements as the product of mere oral disquisitions, results of individual opinions. The reality is that the philosophers of that time were real scientists, and what they expressed and collected in their works were not only philosophical disquisitions about the meaning of life for its own sake but real empirical formulations aimed at explaining the behavior of universal nature. In such reality, man considered himself as direct offspring of Nature, as a component of a Whole Unity.
In order to be fair, then, we must take the study of ancient Greece philosophy according to the definition given by Galileo Galilei, a scientist who lived between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and universally considered (in my opinion wrongly) the father of modern science. Modern science in fact is based on the “experimental method,” also called the “Galilean method.” A method that was actually anticipated among others by Leonardo himself, when he wrote in his codes that "wisdom is experience’s child." It is no coincidence that Giorgio Vasari, universally recognized as one of the greatest biographers of the 16th century, wrote about Leonardo:
And he had many whims, like philosophising of natural things, he wanted to understand the property of herbs; and continuing and observing the motion of the sky, the course of the moon and the trajectories of the sun. For these things, he developed in his soul such a heretical concept which did not approach any religion, estimating being a philosopher a much better adventure than being a Christian.
Authorship of method aside, and confirming Leonardo's philosophical/scientific soul, Galilei argued about philosophy that:
Philosophy is written in this great book that is constantly open before our eyes (I say the universe), but it cannot be understood if we do not first learn to understand its language and to know the alphabet in which it is written. The universe is written in mathematics, and its alphabet are triangles, circles, and other geometric figures, without which it is impossible to understand its word; without these it is like wandering in a dark labyrinth.
A philosopher was therefore considered in the same way as a scientist, and Galilei’s allusion to the universal language consists of mathematical and geometric relationships with which the vibration of the whole Universe is composed. Such vibration is determined by the gravitational and orbital interactions of individual planets. Therefore, when we refer to certain philosophers of the past, we are actually talking about scientists who have introduced us to the empirical secrets that underlie the whole life and existence, narrated according to specific arithmetic and geometric parameters.
The vibration described by Galilei according to "a mathematical language and whose letters are triangles, circles and other geometric figures," is precisely the so-called Music of the Celestial Spheres, a concept far from philosophical. In fact, it is a well-defined astrophysical principle, known to man since ancient times. Thus, for example, it is described by Cicero, a Roman philosopher of the first century BC:
You hate this harmony which is formed by unequal intervals calculated according to perfect proportions, and reproduced by the movements of the spheres. The low sounds join the acute ones in ever-changing chords, because these colossal planetary revolutions would not be able to take place in silence, and nature demands that clear sounds play at one end and dark sounds respond at the other. So, the world of stars that has faster motion rotates with a precipitous Argentine trill, while the lunar course underneath it has a slow and cavernous sound. So, the spheres produce seven distinct tones, and the seventh number is the nucleus of everything that exists.
What Cicero describes so precisely is the same Harmony described by Heraclitus, initially generated by two opposing forces and then developed over time and space "according to unequal intervals calculated according to perfect proportions," and based on the individual gravitational influences exerted by astronomical bodies and their orbits. This Harmony was called Necessity and was considered "teacher and guardian of nature ... theme and inventor of nature and rule of eternal life" (this is the definition given by Leonardo da Vinci himself). This was translated by man into what we now call music. In fact, music once belonged to the four Liberal Arts, those sciences that described the rules of the Universe: Astronomy, Geometry, Mathematics and Music. Music could have retained its absolute and inescapable foundation if over the centuries it had not been used to develop partial cultural declinations, increasingly losing its “absolute” character and taking on that of convenience.
In light of all this, we can define the Universe as a closed system, regulated by precise absolute mathematical and geometric laws. Thus, it does not allow any kind of creativity, as it is absolutely perfect. A unique whole, a whole in which every single element, even the smallest, is part of that whole from which one cannot separate while maintaining the same vibrational matrix that generated it. Similarly to how every single cell in our body keeps the information of our DNA. Pythagoras, another Greek philosopher and mathematician from the 5th century BC. defined "matter as solidified music." Clearly it's not music but it's vibration. Everything in the universe is vibration. And not only is matter solidified vibration, but colors too are vibration, as forms are, feelings, emotions, astral influence, the foods we eat or the active ingredients of homeopathy. "If you want to capture the secrets of the universe, learn to reason in terms of frequency, energy and vibration", said Nikola Tesla, the inventor and physicist born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, then naturalized American and then isolated by the scientific world for the inconvenience of its assertions and patents. This vibration, as mentioned, consists of an infinite number of frequencies that, combined in various ways, just as you do with the notes on a musical score, determines the well-defined mathematical-geometric structure of everything that belongs to the natural world: the forms of animals, plants and minerals, for example ("teacher and guardian of Nature").
The most immediate evidence of this phenomenon is found in Cymatics, a science developed only in the 20th century by a Swiss scholar named Hans Jenny, in truth already known in antiquity and later developed by a German musician and physicist named Ernst Chladni in the 18th century. Initially described as a phenomenon limited to acoustic waves, this experiment shows us how vibrations determine the structure of everything. Chladni simply arranged salt on a thin sheet and hit it with a sound source (in fact a vibration); depending on the vibration with which the sheet is invested, salt gradually accumulates on the surface points where the vibration is zero, describing precise geometric shapes that replicate elementary molecular structures. The combination of material and vibration causes the shapes described to be different from time to time.
You can well understand how the shape of our body, like that of plants, rocks or shells is the result of a number of vibrations derived from that Harmony that make up the Universe in its absolute perfection, to which one can only strive, but not replace.
Therefore, the Universe is a closed system that does not allow exceptions to the only law regulating the life of everything: the natural law. This Law consists of infinite combinations that, associating matter and vibration, give shape to the different manifestations of life that make up the Universe. It is also summarized in two mathematical concepts closely connected to each other: the Fibonacci Sequence (also called the Golden Succession) and its direct consequence, the Golden Section. Leonardo Fibonacci was an Italian mathematician of the thirteenth century who, it is said, studying a pair of fertile rabbits, derived a set of numbers describing their growth. These numbers are a sequence in which the third number is the sum of the previous two, and this synthetically describes the natural dynamics of the Universe.
0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987 ...
The Golden Section is closely related to the Fibonacci sequence: we can roughly define it as the infinite irrational number derived from the fraction of two consecutive numbers of the Fibonacci sequence (3/2, 5/3, 8/5), equal to 1.6180339887. From these two mathematical principles are then derived the Golden Pentagon (also described by the orbit of Venus and the Earth around the Sun) and the Golden Spiral (which describes for example the trajectory of the peregrine falcon when hunting), also essential to understand the mathematical-geometric dynamics that underlie the Natural Law.
Well aware of all these relationships, man has always tried to imitate Nature by adopting its mathematical principles of astronomical derivation in everything that concerned his life, with the firm awareness of being part of a Whole whose law is inescapable. In doing so, man lived in complete harmony with the Universe. He was also aware that he couldn’t affect the cosmic vibrational balance, indeed he tried to vibrate in tune with it. This was applied both to the biological realm, for his own well-being, and to the urban and architectural realm.
For this reason, Art and Architecture in the Renaissance were aimed at strictly replicating those canons and laws of which Nature is made, in order to live in full harmony with it, according to necessity.
Then, for a number of reasons that underlie the decadence of today's society, man, as a thinker, decided that being a part of the whole was too reductive a role for himself and for his craving for power and conquest. Thus, in an uncontrolled “ego” momentum, and in search for ever more material wealth at the expense of a spiritual wealth, he began to contravene those rules. He put them behind a human law, mainly aimed at social and market control, and subordinated to the human law any ethical or natural principle for opportunism and speculation.
If we want to live in harmony again, we need to put man back at the center of the universe, not the universe at the service of man. We can also achieve this by developing an ethical architecture, based on those prime rules that the ancients respectfully taught us.
Creativity does not belong to man. That's the prerogative of the universe alone. For this reason it is important to go back to studying, researching and knowing. Above all, it is important for the new generations to do so, in order to take back a future that belongs to you, and for this reason you have the right to design your future it in the most correct way possible.