Tuesday, October 5, 2010

iar 222. point : foundations.

In the foundations unit, we discussed foundational architecture throughout antiquity, as well as the cultures that produced this architecture. We began with the mysterious Stonehenge in England - a peculiar arrangement of monoliths forming circles (a larger one enclosing a smaller one) on the earth's surface. This structure, part of which is now missing, once formed a surprisingly accurate sundial. Exactly how or for what purpose Stonehenge was constructed remains a mystery. In the nearby village of Durington Walls, there is what appears to be a wooden prototype for Stonehenge.

In addition to the concepts of forming circles and lines on the earth's surface and establishing an axis, an important concept in the foundations unit was that of stacking. Just as the makers of Stonehenge stacked their monoliths, the Sumerians stacked bricks to construct buildings such as the ziggurat of Ur-Nammu. This stacking can be seen to represent an aspiration towards heaven.

Ancient Egyptians stacked giant blocks of stone to make such buildings as the step pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara. The pyramid consists of six mastabas stacked atop one another. The iconic pyramids at Giza are more developed examples and are particularly rich in meaning. Originally each pyramid was coated with limestone and its top capped with gold. When the sun struck the golden tip, its light was metaphorically carried down the four edges of the pyramid to the "four corners" of the earth. The pyramid's massive scale represented the power and superiority of the pharaoh. Its verticality represented the pharaoh's upward journey to the gods in the afterlife. The stacked shape of the pyramids can also be seen to represent the stratified society of ancient Egypt.

Unlike the earlier Minoans, whose architecture represents no fear of invasion, the Mycenaeans built fortifying walls around the city of Mycenae. The entrance into the city is the Lion Gate, representing another manifestation of stacking. Atop the gate is a triangular block of stone with a carving of two lions facing a central column, but the meaning of these symbols is unknown.

The ancient Greeks focused not on the hope of an afterlife, as the Egyptians did, but on achieving perfection on Earth. Their pursuit of perfection is seen in the way they proportioned each building according to the proportions of its parts. Like the Egyptians, the Greeks constructed massive columns by stacking cylindrical layers of stone. The great Acropolis of Athens is the site of the remarkable Parthenon, temple to the goddess Athena. In building the Parthenon, the Athenians intentionally included subtle imperfections to ensure that the temple would appear perfect to the human eye. A less unified composition is that of the Erechtheion, also located in the Acropolis. In its Porch of the Maidens, caryatids - carved figures of women enslaved by the Greeks - act as columns to hold up the roof.

The ancient Romans were influenced extensively by Greek culture, even borrowing its gods but giving them different names. Roman architecture used Greek orders and precise proportioning. With the use of concrete and vaulting, however, the Romans exceeded Greek building scale and shaped space in a way the Greeks never could. The Pantheon demonstrates just how much space the Romans were able to capture within a single dome. The Romans introduced many new building types. The Colosseum in Rome is another good example of stacking. Borrowing again from the Greeks, each arcade layer has engaged columns that represent a different architectural order. The first layer is Doric; the second is Ionic; and the third is Corinthian. The fourth has Corinthian pilasters. The Roman baths, theatres, amphitheatres, and stadiums were a way to distract and occupy a large population.

Particularly interesting to study is the city of Pompeii, preserved by ash from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79. One can, in a sense, see the city as it existed in a moment of time, untarnished by subsequent centuries of change and deterioration.

Studying the foundations of architecture is extremely important for us as designers and amateur philosophers, for in these foundations we see part of the process of human history - mistakes, failures, successes, and the pursuit of significance. Architecture would not be what it is today if early developments had not been made. Classical influence, in particular, is inescapable even in our modern society.

This image (as unoriginal as it may be) represents the foundations unit well, as Stonehenge was where our foundational study began. The image also incorporates the idea of stacking. The sunrise (as I assume it is) is fitting as well.


  1. Wow!, what a great job in making these great connections between all of the societies that were a great part of the foundations unit. Great word count! The image is very appropriate and really relates to what you based your writing on. Great Job!

  2. Nicely worded. I enjoyed how your assessment took on this theme of perfection and how simple things such as shapes and stacking were used to bring man closer to the Gods i.e. “perfection”. Good job!

  3. Kara I appreciate your analysis of pretty much every structure you covered and how you interpreted it in your own way. Even though we've talked openly in class about the meanings of most of these sites I still appreciate opinions because everyone's is generally different and that makes for a good conversation. And I think you made for a good conversation throughout this entire entry, very nice!

  4. Your essay reads very well and accurately explains the concepts we covered in the foundations unit. You did a great job of describing the reasoning behind the architecture.

  5. Kara, you have a plethora of information that you seem to compact and explain so well. i enjoyed reading your connections. You demonstated the evolutions of each of the societies very well and how the developed with in themselves then spread out as inspirations to others. Your image is appropriate and well reasoned in connection with your essay nice job.

  6. Kara,
    Your wording was wonderful! Your explanations and interpretations were exeplary. You made great connections among the civilizations and how they each were founders in their own way. Even if you think your picture is unoriginal, it was a very nice choice especially due to the lighting effect based on the sun. The only criticism I have is for better transitional sentences between each paragraphs.