Sugar Cubes and Cathedrals

Ever wonder how domes were constructed  before the modern age?  How is it that the Pantheon still stands, in its glory, practically pristine in its condition, after almost 1,900 years?   That is exactly what Filippo Brunelleschi, Renaissance architect extraordinaire, set out to discover when he traversed to Rome in the early 15th century.  Not long after his journey, he returned to Florence to build one of the most awe-inspiring structures in the Western world, which put him on the map as the first architect that was regarded as something other than a menial laborer.  Ask any 11th grade student, and they will be able to tell you of many of the trials and tribulations faced by Brunelleschi during the building of this phenomenal structure.  You will likely hear words such as “double-shell” and “hoop stress”, “herringbone pattern” and “ox hoist”.   Fascinating as these are, the real excitement sets in when you realize that this dome was to be built  to the exact stipulations that the designers had set forth 100 years prior and with absolutely no centering.  This caused Filippo to lose more than just a few hours of sleep.

To get just a small taste of the challenges and problems that surrounded the building of such a dome in such a way, 11th grade Art History students made an attempt at building domes of their own using sugar cubes.


Interested in knowing more about Brunelleschi’s Dome?  Read the book of that name by Ross King and check out this short video: Building Brunelleschi’s Dome: (copy and paste the link).

-Jocelyn Collins

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