Feb 14 – Birth of a Renaissance Architect

Feb 14th – Valentines Day is also the birth date of a notable architect. Not just an architect, but a famous author, artist, poet, linguist, philosopher, astronomer, cartographer, cryptographer and musician. If that was not enough to impress you he was also an extraordinary athlete and was known to, with his feet together—stand and jump over a man’s head. Leon Battista Alberti , the “Renaissance Man”.



He literally “wrote the book” on architecture. His De Re Aedificatoria (Ten Books of Architecture) was the first architectural treatise of the Renaissance. It covered a wide range of subjects, from history to town planning, and engineering, to the philosophy of beauty. So when you think of architects the names of Alberti, Leonardo DaVinci, Buckminster Fuller, William Le Baron Jenney, Mies van der Rohe, Cristopher Wren and Frank Lloyd Wright may come to mind. Similarly there are famous architects of the software world. Namely …..

Well yes you are right, there doesn’t seem to be a list that comes to mind. Zachman, no not really it’s really a blueprint, not an architecture. Perhaps the closest parallel to Alberti’s treatise of architectural engineering would be the “Gang of Four” (GOF) Design Patterns book (ISBN 0-201-63361-2) which has sold over 700,000 copies in 38 printings in 13 different languages around the world.


Do you remember the authors’ names?

Well they are Erich Gamma, Richard Helm, Ralph Johnson and John Vlissides . John passed away in 2005 at 44 years of age and I wonder how many people in IT who make their living from his work took note. Perhaps they (now Gang of 3) need to practice jumping over people’s heads to be remembered?

I think the bigger issue is that we as software development and architect community need to act more like our counterparts in the bricks, steel and mortar building business. When something is brilliantly and creatively architected, it should be reviewed and shamelessly copied by the less creative. Perhaps we need a Pritzker prize http://pritzkerprize.com/  equivalent for Enterprise or Software Architecture? The materials are no longer bricks but software, hardware and networks. The attributes are function, scale, resilience, availability, maintainability, economics, operations and agility. The beauty is how our users see it and interact with it, are excited by it and ultimately enabled by it.

Actually I think perhaps Sir Henry Watton has said it better and more succinctly than I:

“In architecture as in all other operative arts, the end must direct the operation. The end is to build well. Well building has three conditions: Commodity, Firmness and Delight.”

We are disadvantaged by the fact that our Enterprise and Software Architecture endeavours are not visible to the public eye, but every time that you go to an ATM that works, check out at a department store, send an email, have a video conference, watch IPTV or pay a bill on-line among the thousands of other software powered activities, solid examples of EA/SA are there to experience. Let’ try to surface some of the best examples and then set a goal to see  if we can recognize our own generation of “Renaissance”  architects. They are out there…. perhaps you could be one of them.

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