Without doubt the world’s greatest designer was and remains Leonardo Da Vinci. There is nobody of his stature who has been able to combine the left brain with the right brain and take it to such heights. He was born in 1452 and was a rare genius who was supremely talented in multiple areas. His ability as a painter, sculptor, architect, engineer, mathematician, inventor, geologist, biologist and writer was astonishing, and remains so to this day.
Leonardo was one of the leading lights of the Italian Renaissance, well known for his creative abilities. He was a hugely influential artist and sculptor, which what most people remember him but he was immensely talented as a scientist, engineer and inventor. Although he did not receive any traditional scientific training, his talent for observation and detail with a deep level of understanding took him to a higher plane of scientific knowledge. Leonardo’s real genius was the fact that he was able to straddle both art and science, or as I would like to say a genius designer.
What overshadows Da Vinci’s work as a designer is his surviving artwork. Only around fifteen of his paintings have survived to this day due to his experimentation with different techniques and switching from one topic to another rapidly. However paintings such as The Last Supper, Virgin of The Rocks, The Mona Lisa, not to mention drawings such as Vitruvian Man meant Leonardo was destined to go down in history as a great artist. He studied anatomy to enable his drawings of the body to be more accurate, and we still marvel at them today.
From a design perspective we marvel at his inventions. He was employed as an engineer in Venice and devised a series of movable barriers to protect the city from being attacked, in addition to working with Maciavelli on a large scale scheme to divert the Arno river. In the early 1500’s Leonardo designed a unique single span bridge which was approximately 720 feet long to span the mouth of the Bosporus river. It was not constructed because the sponsor did not have enough faith in the design, but single span bridges have since proven viable.
Leonardo was very interested in related scientific subjects of gravity, optics, anatomy and particularly flight. In 1505 he wrote his Codex on the Flight of birds, which was a notebook of 36 pages containing great detail on how birds fly with notes and sketches. He covered principles of aerodynamics such as the way air behaves as a fluid when it moves over a bird’s wing surface which are fundamental to flight even today. Over time he produced over 500 sketches of flying machines, the nature of air and bird flight.
He even discussed what type on man-made machines would be capable of flight, similar to birds. More than that he designed them as well, he produced drawings of a flapping ornithopter , a machine with a helical rotor (helicopter), parachute, bicycle, giant crossbow, bicycle and airplane all more than 500 years ahead of the time they were actually ‘invented’.
Leonardo da Vinci’s Codex on the Flight of Birds