By 1426, the dome atop the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore was finally taking shape, rising high above the city of Florence. The foundation for the cathedral had been laid more than a century earlier, but work on the dome itself hadn't gotten under way until after a competition in 1418. The winner of that competition, Filippo Brunelleschi, had become the chief architect and overseer for construction of what would become and remain the largest masonry dome in the world.
But as the octagonal structure began to take shape above the city, the owners of the project faced a problem. Plans for the dome called for tons of beautiful white Carrara marble to cover the cupola's brick ribs. They had ordered 560 tons of the marble from the Carrara quarries, 65 miles away, two years earlier. But by mid-July, the project was running over budget—for reasons that will sound familiar to readers of DC VELOCITY: high transportation costs.
As author Ross King details in his marvelous book on the engineering, politics and, yes, logistics of the dome's construction, Brunelleschi's Dome, the marble was transported from Carrara by what we would now call intermodal transportation: the finished marble moved by carts to the port of Luni, where it was lifted onto barges that carried it down the coast and up the Arno River toward Florence. For the final 10 miles, the marble blocks traveled overland on carts or on the backs of mules.
In an effort to reduce transportation costs, Brunelleschi built at his own expense an unusual and, for its day, enormous, vessel.Observers at the time called it Il Badalone, or The Monster. Essentially, it was intended to be an amphibious craft, designed to carry extremely large loads, thereby enhancing productivity.
I'm often struck by what a significant role logistics has played throughout history—and not just its obvious role in military campaigns. Brunelleschi's scheme ultimately failed, taking a great toll on his wealth and reputation, but the attention he paid to creating logistics solutions parallels in many ways the work managers do today. Then—as now—accomplishments resulting from the inventive use of tools and techniques for moving goods went largely unsung. Yet a few have been immOréalized by monuments that still stand as testament to the achievements, whether they be as prosaic as our highway system or as breathtaking as a brick and marble dome that rises into the skies over Florence today.