History of Architecture: Part 2
Agriculture single handedly transformed the way humans lived. Communities began to form on every continent, and were completely centered around the harvest: from food, to religion, to currency. These early civilizations eventually grew into cities, then into nations and then into empires. Now that humans were able to exist in a stationary state, they could devote more of their time and energy to matters of the mind rather than struggling to satisfy basic human needs like food and shelter. We naturally became curious of our existence and began ask investigative questions about our surroundings. Humans became more ‘woke’ and would stay that way. Together with a new social way of living, this mental state of being would fuel a cultural explosion over the centuries birthing religion, philosophy, science, politics & government, and art. And just as it always has, these cultural expressions and technological advancements would need an architecture to represent them. As human society began to develop and flourish, its most and rized possessions would be its buildings and structures serving as billboards for cities, trend that continues to this day. This connection between buildings and culture would produce various architectural styles and interpretations over time. Architecture was and still is the most influential tangible representation of a civilization. Architecture is history.
Ancient Mesoptamia/Egyptian Civilizations
Ancient Mesopotamian civilizations, like the Sumerians, Babylonians, Chaldeans, and Egyptians were some of the first to harness the true potential of agriculture to build an economy and wealth. Located in fertile lands along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers (present day Iraq) and the Nile River Valley, they constructed great cities with complex cultures to support them. The first religions came from these cultures. They were polytheistic belief systems that reflected a dependence on the harvest and a reverence for celestial astronomy. Mesopotamian mythology, now extinct, is considered by most researchers considered to be the oldest recorded religion and the predecessor to ancient Greek Mythology.
These cultural ideas were expressed in the architecture. The Ziggurat is Mesopotamia's most significant contribution to architectural development.They were large pyramid like structures used as temples dedicated to the deities of their day. Like many structures of the time, the primary building material was sun-dried bricks made from mud and bitchumen. Their basic form mimics a stepped pattern that retreats as you move upward. This form naturally evolved into something more refined and processional.The most notable of these buildings was the ZIggurat of Ur (2030 BC), built by King Ur and dedicated to the moon god Sin (Nanna), patron deity of the city of Ur. Ziggurats were the centerpieces to walled temple complexes and fortified cities dominating all other buildings surrounding them. The crown jewel of the city-states, ziggurats were symbols of power, bravado, and wealth to neighboring communities.
Along the Nile, Egyptians developed their own culture and a similar polytheistic religion built on concepts like the ‘afterlife’, burial, astronomy, divine right rulership, and early sciences such as mathematicians and engineering. Both developments played a key role in Egyptian architecture. In the early dynasties, Egyptians also built ziggurat-like structures called Mastabas. Mastabas were simple mud brick mounds that were first used as burial tombs for Pharaohs but quickly developed into vast temple complexes dedicated to both kings and gods. Their locations were often tied to the paths of the moon and sun and were crafted with careful geometry. The Egyptians refined the Mastaba form over time and through many failures, eventually producing its most notable architectural achievement: the pyramid - A four sided temple and burial tomb for Egyptian Pharaohs that converges at its peak. By the time the Pyramid arrived the jump had been made from perishable mud bricks to much more durable stone. This would have been a much worthier material for a structure honoring pharaoh-deities and gods of the harvest and sky. Commissioned by pharoahs, envisioned by Egyptian architects and built by both skilled craftsmen and slaves, these structures were massive and required great sophistication to build.The Great Pyramid of Giza, designed by architect (or polymath) Imhotep. is a fantastic example of the pyramid form at its peak. In comparing this structure to earlier mastabas and the ziggurat, one can easily see the progression of the pyramid idea. The obelisk is also an Egyptian architectural creation that was used at the entrance of temples and palaces. It was a physical symbol of the Egyptian sun god Ra, and by no mistake, it was also used as a time keeping device. Obelisks have been adopted by many other civilizations like the Greeks, Romans, and Americans. The Washington Monument in the District of Columbia is a direct replica of an ancient Egyptian obelisk.
The obelisk is also an Egyptian architectural creation that was used at the entrance of temples and palaces. It was a physical symbol of the Egyptian sun god Ra, and by no mistake, it was also used as a time keeping device. Obelisks have been adopted by many other civilizations like the Greeks, Romans, and Americans. The Washington Monument in the District of Columbia is a direct replica of an ancient Egyptian obelisk.
The Grecian and Hellenic civilizations developed a society that combined mythology with reason and politics. Their ethics were based on these new ideas of citizenship and the rule of the people.They believed all citizens had the right to contribute to civic life and polity. To support these ideas, the Greeks created new forms in architecture and urban planning. The idea of public space is rooted in Grecian planning. The Agora, was a large public open area usually located in the center of town. Surrounding this were large shed-like colonnaded public buildings called Stoas. This organization of building and space for public use is the predecessor to the marketplaces and plazas seen in many cultures today. The agora was essential to Greek life because it supported the free exchange of ideas, commerce, and information which they considered a key trait of free,democratic and republican societies. In addition to laying the foundation for modern urban planning, the Greeks also developed what we classify as Classical Architecture. These ideals were displayed mostly in temples.
The Romans adopted and advanced Greek principles of government, mythology, and architecture. But as Rome morphed into an empire, Roman ideals identified more with power and conquering than republican governance and religious traditions. The Roman Empire was known for its great conquests and at its height was the largest empire the world had ever known. These conquests were possible because of Rome’s vast army and unprecedented engineering ability. Romans refined many Greek inventions: the Greek hillside Amphitheatre became the Roman Colosseum; The Greek Agora became the Roman Forum; The Stoa became the Basilica. Temples were positioned more symmetrical in relation to the spaces adjacent to them .The Romans incorporated these essential components into a military colonization and community model called the Castrum. Each time a territory was conquered, Romans would found a colony using the Castrum urban design model. These Castrums were the foundations for some of the world's greatest cities: Barcelona, London, Como, Florence, Madrid, etc. Today, Roman Castrums are the basis for good urban design and neighborhood making because there dimensions allow for daily needs to be reached within a ½ mile walking distance from the center. (Click for Diagrams on Roman Castrums)
In addition to urban planning, Romans contributed to architecture immensely. Romans invented modern concrete, a building technology at the core of their engineering power. They also perfected the arch, an invention of ancient Mesopotamia. The arched allowed the Romans to create such forms as the barrel vault and the self-support dome. These new architectural ideas were structurally more efficient because they could carry large loads using less material. Arches, domes and vaults are everywhere Roman Architecture. Arches can be seen most notably in Aqueducts, essentially bridges that carried water from hilltop areas into the cities to supply sewer systems, public baths and drinking water. One of the most famous domed buildings in the world, the Pantheon, is a proud achievement of Roman dome technology.Today, it is still the world's largest unreinforced concrete domed and has been used as the paradigm for hundreds of subsequent buildings. The world had not seen structures such as the ones built by the Romans. Their engineering might struck fear into their adversaries and intimidated their enemies. Their architecture was an imposing physical force representative of a conquering culture rather than one of mythology and religion.
Pre-Islamic Persia (Present Day Iran) grew to be a great empire at various times roughly from 700 BC- 700 AD. There success as one of the first great empires is attributed to vanguard religion and ideas of tolerance and inclusion. Ancient Persian religion is one of the world’s oldest and the first to introduce the concepts right and wrong dualism, monotheism, and divine trinity concepts present in today's religions. This belief system was developed by continually merging the beliefs of conquered peoples and was the best way to calm tensions from these newly integrated cultures. Architecture in the early Persian era was focused on creating massive palaces, temples, and mausoleums inside fortified cities. A key trait of these buildings were massively sized columns that were very ornate with carved animal reliefs and narratives of the Persian “ultimate god”. The best example we have of early Persian architecture are the ruins of the cities of Persepolis and Susa.
Islam was founded as a religion in Mecca on the Arabian Peninsula in present day Saudi Arabia. This monotheistic religion was first worshiped by small nomadic tribes but quickly grew, spreading across the known world. The Islamic Golden Age coincides with the Dark or Middle Ages - a period when Europe experienced a complete deterioration of historical records, culture, technology, knowledge and science after the fall of Rome. During the European Medieval Period, Islamic empires - like the Moors in Africa and Ottomans in Turkey - thrived, rising to tremendous power and experienced an important phase of scientific and cultural enlightenment.
The Islamic Empire of the Moors expanded to control all of Northern Africa, Portugal, Spain, and parts of the southern Italian islands. The Moors birthed to the world the first modern surgeons, the practice of modern paper-making, and the ideas of public schools & libraries. The most notable cultural development during the Islamic Golden Age was the rapid advancements in mathematics, first begun by the Greeks. The Moors created modern algebra and trigonometry which fueled the creation of complex geometric forms. These new complex geometries are omnipresent in the architecture of the Islamic World. The knowledge of advanced mathematics was the foundation for it all. The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, the Great Mosque-Cathedral in Cordoba Spain, and the Alhambra in Granada, Spain are three structures that accurately show of the complexity of Islamic Architecture. It is my personal opinion that Islamic Architecture best represents the marriage between cultural development and architectural expression. Had it not been for these advancements in mathematics and geometry, the beautiful buildings and spaces of the Islamic world would not have been possible.
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These are all books that I own. Each of them will add tremendous value to your continued education on the subject just as they have for me. Enjoy!
- Francis Ching and homies, "A GLOBAL HISTORY OF ARCHITECTURE", 2010.
- Marian Moffett and homies, "BUILDING ACROSS TIME: AN INTRODUCTION TO WORLD ARCHITECTURE", Vol. 2, 2003. (the version I own)
- Marian Moffett and homies, "BUILDING ACROSS TIME: AN INTRODUCTION TO WORLD ARCHITECTURE", Vol. 4, 2012. (newest version)
- A.W. Lawrence, "GREEK ARCHITECTURE", 5th edition, 1996.
- J.B. Ward-Perkins, "ROMAN IMPERIAL ARCHITECTURE", 1992.
- Axel Boethius " ETRUSCAN AND EARLY ROMAN ARCHITECTURE", 1992.
- David Watkin, "A HISTORY OF WESTERN ARCHITECTURE", 1994.