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The Classical Orders of Architecture By Robert Chitham. Architectural Press, 2005. 228pp. £29.99

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Whether you want to write poetry, read a book or simply to tell a joke, the experience will usually be more successful if you are literate in your chosen language, writes Hugh Petter.

Like or loathe it, at some stage in their career almost every architect will be asked to extend, to build next to, or possibly even to create, a new Classical building. Yet there are now only a handful of people in Britain who are literate in Classical design.

Until recently, if you wanted to learn about the Orders, there was no option but to refer to a Renaissance or 18th-century treatise, where the obscure language, intricate plates and unconventional measurement systems could be off-putting. Help is now at hand, however, with the publication of a new edition of Robert Chitham's excellent introduction to the basic principles of Classical architecture.

The first edition provided students with a metric form of the Orders based upon those of James Gibbs. Clear diagrams and supporting text provided an accessible introduction to the subject. The comparative plates, showing that there is no one 'correct' form of each Order - a common misconception - were particularly useful.

This material has been updated in the current edition and is supplemented by a new imperial version, so increasing the book's application on both sides of the Atlantic. It should help anyone with an interest in this subject to distinguish their astragal from their ovolo.

Hugh Petter is an architect and a director of Robert Adam Architects

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