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The Project Manager
By Pierre Fuentes

Thanks to ever-spreading recruitment companies and the dictatorship of English over the Web, anyone who’s in charge of some job can call herself/himself a ‘project manager’ these days. After all, if you’re working for a translation company and your job is to manage the translation projects, you are indeed a ‘project manager’.

But what’s a project?

Take a look at the Douglas Harper’s online etymology dictionary. As a noun, the word entered English language around 1400, to designate “a plan, draft, scheme”. It came from the Latin projectum, “something thrown forth”. The actual English meaning “scheme, proposal, mental plan” appeared around 1600 and evolved in “building projects” in the 20th century.

So a project is “something thrown forth”. But from where? And from when? To throw forth something – for instance stones, burning oil, dead bodies, bomb shells, missiles, atomic bombs, or any kind of projectile you have at hand – you need coordinates in 4 dimensions: x, y and z and… Time!

And apart from projectiles, what else was there to project at the time of the Romans? Since the time of Egyptians, you could also project buildings. Some tools had been developed to project constructions in the future – nowadays, we would refer to them as ‘future constructions’, but in those days, they were effectively ‘projected in the future’.

Unlike now though, time was not an issue since deadlines were measured in years, or even hundred of years. To project in time, you could rely on the sun, the stars, the seasons and even clepsydras1. Space, on the other hand, was far more difficult to grasp. The Romans had no means to project in 3 dimensions.

They could draw plans, elevations, sections… They could calculate weight, size, density, even temperatures… But, apart from timber models, they had no mean to project a building in 3 spatial dimensions. They could not represent, i.e. make present again, what a building would actually look like in the reality of the future. Nowadays, we would say ‘when people will see the finished product’.

The modern project manager

3D tools arrived with the Renaissance. Until then, graphic representation often served a different purpose than that of scale. Paintings, for instance, sized people according to their importance – God was big but the mortals were small. The 12th and 13th centuries’ painters started to question this logic and tried to give a sense of depth to their work. Intuitive perspective was born.

Those painters were most active in Italy and in Flanders because these were particular wealthy places. Italy was full of rich bankers and Flanders had invented the stock exchange – capitalism was invented before Europeans started to massacre the indigenous American populations. So more money meant more paper, more pens and more sketches – this is a simplistic picture but that’s the idea.

Those times brought back rational thinking in many fields of human activities, and systemized them. Rational thinking helped bankers to make more money, businesses to grow and sciences to evolve.

And so, painters and architects rationalized the initial intuitive perspective. They needed something more accurate to project space. They invented the geometrical perspective, a mean to draw in 3D using the accurate rules of descriptive geometry. Without descriptive geometry and the perspective, AutoCAD would look very different today.

Geometrical perspective allowed them to establish better rules for proportions and to enforce them. But it also allowed them to purposely break these rules. Michel-Angelo’s work is probably the best example of broken rules. He purposely over-twisted bodies to create a sense of movement. He purposely oversized constructive elements to create architectural effects.

Michel-Angelo knew what he was doing when he was in charge. In a way, he could be described as the first modern project manager.

1 A clepsydras is a water clock.

Pierre Fuentes is qualified architect and a specialized translator. He offers French translations in the fields of architecture, design, real estate, and technical engineering. You can read more from Pierre on his blog.

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