The Four Elements of Architecture

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The Four Elements of Architecture
Author Gottfried Semper
Original title Die vier Elemente der Baukunst
Translator Harry F. Mallgrave
Wolfgang Herrmann
Language German
Publication date
Published in English
ISBN 9780521180863

The Four Elements of Architecture is a book by the German architect Gottfried Semper. Published in 1851, it is an attempt to explain the origins of architecture through the lens of anthropology. The book divides architecture into four distinct elements: the hearth, the roof, the enclosure and the mound.[1] The origins of each element can be found in the traditional crafts of ancient "barbarians":

  • hearth – fire, ceramics
  • roof – carpentry
  • enclosure – weaving
  • mound – stonemasonry

Semper, stating that the hearth was the first element created: "around the hearth the first groups assembled; around it the first alliances formed; around it the first rude religious concepts were put into the customs of a cult."[2]

Enclosures (walls) were said to have their origins in weaving. Just as fences and pens were woven sticks, the most basic form of a spatial divider still seen in use in parts of the world today is the fabric screen. Only when additional functional requirements are placed on the enclosure (such as structural weight-bearing needs) does the materiality of the wall change to something beyond fabric.


  1. ^ "Oxford Dictionary of Architecture & Landscaping:Gottfried Semper". Retrieved 21 March 2013. 
  2. ^ Johnson, Deborah; Ogawa, David (2005). Seeing and beyond. Peter Lang Publishing. p. 167. ISBN 9780820470849. Retrieved 21 March 2013. 
  • Semper, Gottfried. The Four Elements of Architecture and Other Writings. Trans. Harry F. Mallgrave and Wolfgang Herrmann (Cambridge, 1989). ISBN 0-521-35475-7

Further reading[edit]

  • Semper, Gottfried. Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts; or, Practical Aesthetics. Trans. Harry F. Mallgrave (Santa Monica, 2004). ISBN 0-89236-597-8
  • Hvattum, Mari. Gottfried Semper and the Problem of Historicism (Cambridge, 2004). ISBN 0-521-82163-0
  • Mallgrave, Harry Francis. Gottfried Semper - Architect of the Nineteenth Century (New Haven/London, 1996). ISBN 0-300-06624-4