History of Architecture: Part 4
Early Indian cultures originated in a region that is now modern day Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Northern India. They too, along with Arab nations, were great mathematical cultures furthered heightened by the Eastern expansion of Islam. But before Islam, the societies on the Indian subcontinent followed the religious teachings of Hindu, Buddhism, and Jainism and this commitment was expressed in its architecture. Early buildings were constructed by carving out spaces into nearby cliffs and mountains. These were more for ceremonial and burial purposes than anything else. The architecture of Indian temples and palaces soon developed into free-standing buildings that mimicked nature or mounds of Earth. Their most significant architectural invention was the Stupa. An Indian version of the Egyptian Mastaba or the Mesopotamian Ziggurat, the Stupa is a rounded shrine building directly tied to Buddhist teachings. The first Stupas were simple piles of rubble stacked over the remains of the cremated, essentially a burial ground or tomb. Buddha himself was said to have been buried under a primitive stupa and marks the beginning of the structure’s use as a shrine. These early shrines served as the genesis for a new architecture centered around the teachings of Buddha. Stupas are still essential components of the Buddhist tradition, procession, and belief but have become more elaborate and have spread over the entire Asian continent alongside the teachings of Buddhism
Meso-American/Native American Civilizations
Meso American civilizations transitioned from a hunter-gather culture to permanent agricultural villages around 7000 BC. The farming of cacao, corn, tomato, squash and the domestication of turkeys and dogs, enabled these civilizations to flourish and prosper. Chief among these meso-american cultures were the Olmec, Mayan, Aztec, and Incan Empires. These cultures were just as sophisticated as their counterparts in Europe and the Middle East. They developed complex mythological and religious systems based on the celestial bodies and stars, an intricate hieroglyphic writing system, detailed timekeeping systems, developed the concept of zero in mathematics, were fervent astronomers, and were also master builders. All of these cultural developments influenced the design, location and layout of their cities and the creation of their architecture.
The architecture of these early indigenous american tribes was guided in every way by mythology and astrology. Beginning as simple mounds of earth, they built pyramids similar to those of Egypt and Mesopotamia and would place temples at the top instead of within. More important was the placement of buildings within the cities. Pyramids, temples, and palaces of Mayan and Aztec cultures were located on land based on certain calendar events which would provide wonderful effects of light and shadow on the architecture. In fact most Mayan buildings of worship face 15 degrees East of North so as to align with the sunset on August 13, the beginning of the Mayan Calendar. No doubt this coincided with some sort of ritual. Moreover what this shows is an intimate relationship between humans, their cultural interpretations, and architecture. Thankfully, a great deal of these ancient structures are still standing and retain the same relationships to the sun and moon as they did before. The most notable of these are the Mayan temple El Castillo, Aztex Capital Tenochtitlan (Mexico City), and the Mayan city of Tikal.
Indigenous peoples also populated the present day United States and Canada before European intrusion. Some of the oldest tribes like Inuit, Navajo, Apache, and the Ottawa were spread across the North American continent. Although very low-tech compared to other developing civilizations in the world, the culture of these natives was just as complex and rich. These tribes were tremendous weavers and makers of pottery which satisfied a variety of daily life needs. They were also great agriculturalists becoming the first civilizations to domesticate corn, squash, and beans. They used the cultivation of food to form their own village societies. Their religious belief system, like so many ancient cultures, was based on a reverence for agricultural harvests and exploring human relationships with nature. Ceremonies included public prayers, dancing, drumming, and singing often accompanied by a colorful prayer stick(or rain stick) that made a very calming sound.
The most notable tribes of architectural significance would have to be the Mississippian and Puebloan natives. Mississippian tribes were located around the Mississippi River and its many tributaries. They were known for their mound building construction of ceremonial temples, which can be found distributed all over the American Midwest and southeast. These mounds of earth are similar to the ziggurats and mastabas of Mesopotamia and Egypt. But like the Mayans and Aztecs, these mounds were used as platforms for temples and houses rather than chambers themselves. In some cases the mounds were designed to mimic certain animals. The villages that had the most mounds were considered to be larger, more powerful communities and had influence over smaller villages around them. Prominent examples of Mississippian earth mounds are the Cahokia Mounds located outside of St.Louis, Mo and the Serpent Mound located in Adams County Ohio.
Puebloan people also built with earth, or rather, carved into it. Pueblo tribes are native to the Northern Mexico and Southern U.S. regions, areas that have very arid climates. Responding to this local condition, the Pueblo tribes constructed villages comprised of thick-walled adobe mud brick apartment buildings stacked right next to and on top of each other There were no streets in these dense communities, only an open plaza in the middle - an urban courtyard so to speak. Houses were accessed by rooftops through a system of ladders. This dense collection of thick walled structures helped to keep the inside of buildings cool during the hot day and warm during the cool night. It also served as a wall fortification because it deterred intruders and enemies from breaking into the community. For further protection, the Pueblo located their villages on mesas or flat-table like landforms, showing yet another example of architecture responding to cultural necessity and local environment. One of the most amazing examples of Puebloan architecture is the Pueblo Acoma in New Mexico. It is one of the oldest civilizations in North America, having been continuously occupied by its native people for over 800 years.
Although it was late to the world agricultural game, Chinese culture had developed continuously and largely uninterrupted by western influence for over 4000 years. The first religions in China were carry overs from Indian Buddhism and Hindi. By the 5th century BC the teachings of Confucius and Daoism by the oracle Laotzu were infused into Chinese philosophy. Confucianism taught an ideology that focused on respect for authority and elders as defined by the state and the subjection of common folk to the wisdom of rulers and leaders. This philosophy has dominated the development of Chinese politics throughout its history and has had a direct influence on Chinese architecture and urban planning. By contrast, Daoism, is a mystical philosophy that teaches humans to seek harmony and balance by embracing nature. It's a completely non-rational and non-authoritative train of thought. These philosophies are polar opposites but each has had a pro-found effect on the built environment.
The Stupa, and Indian invention, influenced the Chinese Pagoda building type, and by proxy the Japanese. The pagoda is essentially the skyscraper version of a stupa. It is distinguished by its vertical tiers of cornices and curved roof and eave lines. Like stupas, pagodas were used as temples and houses for relics but were also used as folly objects in Daoist inspired garden designs. Be-fittingly, Confucian philosophy comes to light more in city planning and imperial architecture. Chinese cities were laid out on grids within a large square surrounded by a fortification wall. The imperial area of the city was placed at the center and could only be reached by passing through successive massive walled gates which would certainly have a very imposing impression on visitors. Alignment with the cardinal directions (N-S,E-W) was paramount. The largest and most important buildings were aligned on the North-South axis and were framed by the openings of the massive gate entrances so that the majesty of these imperial buildings would be the first thing one would see. This method of urban and architectural planning inforced the Confucian ideals of strong hierarchy, submission and subjection. The most famous example of this design style is the Forbidden City in Beijing, the Chinese capital city.
Traditional Japanese civilization began independently, but its culture and architecture is a mix of Japanese, Chinese and Korean ideas. One major distinction is in the religious origins. Japan’s native religion is Shinto, a set of principles that hold in high regard the natural forces that agriculture is dependant on like rain, sun and the moon. It is similar to Daosim and Hindi in this way. Over the centuries this ideology was colored with the teachings in Chinese Buddhism and eventually would alter Japanese architecture. For instance, the Japanese also utilize the pagoda building type and rely heavily on the internal courtyard for residential buildings and imperial palaces. Their are some uniquely Japanese traits tho. The roofs of Japanese pagodas tend to be more exaggerated and elongated making the towers seem more horizontal than vertical. Japanese city planning has a more unbalanced and asymmetrical organization than Chinese cities (although symmetry was still a dominant theme) and tends to be smaller in scale. Shinto religious shrines, are more reminiscent of the gable roofed temples of European culture than the Stupas of India. Japanese Shinto shrines and residential buildings show more expressive and elaborate detail in their wood structures than their Chinese counterparts. Peculiar to the Japanese house is its flexible spatial organization which made possible an internal openness of space. This free and flexible method of organizing space is one of the precedents for the modernist design philosophy of the 20th century and particularly a heavy influence on the American architect, Frank Lloyd Wright. Japanese free-plan residential buildings is also predecesor to HGTV’s over usage of the term “open concept” and thus responsible for mistakenly demolished walls across America. Pay back for Hiroshima?
-BLOG STUDI NOTES-
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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)
- Eric Bowne, "MOUND SITES OF THE ANCIENT SOUTH: A GUIDE TO THE MISSISSIPPIAN CHIEFDOMS", 2013.
- Lao-zi, "TAO TE CHING", 2nd Century B.C.