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The Staff of The New York Times, introduction by John Leonard
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The New York Times GUIDE TO ESSENTIAL KNOWLEDGEA DESK REFERENCE FOR THE CURIOUS MIND
ST. MARTIN'S PRESSCopyright © 2004 The New York Times
All right reserved.
A Brief History of Architecture
A noted architectural historian stated: "Architecture, in the end, is nothing more, and nothing less than the gift of making places for some human purpose" (Kostoff, 1985, 1995). This almost deceptively simple definition captures the essence of what we call architecture. The definition is broad enough to include the Paleolithic caves inhabited by early humans, the great Gothic cathedrals, and modern Levittowns of hundreds of nearly identical suburban houses.
The characteristics of individual works of architecture reflect this definition and derive from the interplay of three elements that are inseparable from one another: purpose, the reason for the building to exist; design, the shape that a building takes in response to its perceived purpose; and structure, the way the building is put together out of its constituent parts.
The earliest known humans who left evidence of their dwelling places were hunters who followed migratory game herds and did not establish permanent living places. They did, however, stay in some locations long enough to seek shelter in caves and build huts to which they regularly returned. These primitive dwellings were the earliest beginnings of architecture.
Caves Beginning around 40,000 years ago in Europe, the modern humans who displaced the earlier Neanderthals began to create domestic and ceremonial spaces in caves that were often elaborately decorated with wall paintings. A typical example is the cave at Lascaux in southwestern France, which was inhabited between 10,000 and 20,000 years ago. Not only does it contain evidence of daily life, but its walls are painted with pictures of animals and humans of exquisite sensitivity; these paintings are assumed to have had religious or magical significance.
Structures The earliest known structures built by archaic humans (Homo erectus) are at Terra Amata in southern France, dating to about 380,000 years ago. The site consists of some 20 huts built of branches held in place by large stones arrayed in oval rings. Small groups of people occupied the encampment regularly each late spring, leaving it abandoned until the following spring.
Ice-age huts built of mammoth bones that would have been covered by hides have been found in many sites in eastern Europe, including a famous example at Mezhirich (Ukraine), dating to about 15,000 years ago.
A warming climate about 12,000-10,000 years ago brought about the end of the last ice age. Improved techniques of managing game herds and harvesting wild plants led to an increase in population, which in turn required more intensive development of food sources. As people began growing crops and domesticating animals they began to form permanent, settled communities.
Dwellings Neolithic people in many parts of the world built small houses of woven tree limbs, pitched roofs, roof beams held up by supporting posts, and walls filled in with mud. In some places the houses were large enough to accommodate numbers of families, and in other places groups of houses were ringed by stones with paths between them defined by rows of stones.
Monuments In parts of western Europe from the Neolithic period through the Bronze Age and into the Iron Age, people built circular or linear arrays of stone (megaliths) of surprising size and complexity. Many of these ceremonial monuments still exist, the most famous of which is Stonehenge, in southwest England. There, from about 2750 to 1500 B.C., successive builders erected enormous stones in circular formations. There are many theories to explain the purpose of Stonehenge. The inner circles open toward a stone over which the sun rises on the summer solstice. The prodigious effort of construction and the elaborate layout of the stones suggest that Stonehenge must have been a ceremonial place central to the builders' culture.
Western Asian Architecture
In the area of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in western Asia, Neolithic settlements became larger, wealthier, and socially more complex. With the rise of civilization beginning about 7500 B.C., people gathered together in cities and produced a profusion of impressive architecture.
Western Asian builders invented construction methods that were as important as their architectural terms. An absence of large stones for building-especially for long beams between columns-forced builders to find other ways of covering wide enclosed spaces. These included the round arch built of voussoirs (wedge-shaped stones or bricks) and the dome. In later times arches and domes would become central to some of the great works of architecture.
Towns and Cities The earliest surviving evidence of a town is Jericho on the Jordan River, where settlement began around 7500 B.C. Built largely of mud bricks in successive waves of construction, the settlement already showed traits that would characterize later cities: a population much larger than prehistoric villages, a perimeter wall to defend against enemies, and public buildings set among private dwellings.
Temples and Ziggurats With the growth of cities, organized, state-sponsored religions appeared, and temples became a key element in the urban fabric. From small shrines in prehistoric villages, temples evolved into one of the most striking terms in architecture, the ziggurat. In its classic form, the ziggurat was a stepped pyramid set on a platform with stairs leading to the summit-a place nearest to heaven-where the supreme god was worshipped. The ziggurat of Ur-Nammu in Ur, built around 2000 B.C., is a well-known example.
In the first millennium B.C., temples of the Assyrian Empire (in present-day Iraq) were elaborately decorated with free-standing stone sculpture and narrative sculptural reliefs. One of the finest monuments of late Mesopotamian architecture, the Ishtar Gate of the Babylonian Empire (ca. 575 B.C., now at the Staatliche Museum, Berlin) is made of blue-glazed brick and decorated with relief of bulls and other sacred animals.
Palaces As the social order became more complex, the ruler became dominant and palaces began to overshadow ziggurats. Huge palaces were built by the Assyrian kings. Rock-cut tombs and cities of the eastern Mediterranean, such as the city of Petra (in present-day Jordan) show Greek influence, as do the buildings of the Persian Empire, rivals of the Greeks. The palaces of Persepolis (in what is now west-central Iran) are an example of the sophistication and imagination achieved by the Persian architects. Built by Darius (ca.550-486 B.C.) and his son Xerxes (519-465 B.C.), the complex includes both Greek-influenced hypostyle (having roofs supported by columns) temples and palaces and Mesopotamian-style narrative sculptural reliefs.
At the same time that literate city-states were forming in western Asia, people along the Nile River in northern Africa were also developing an advanced civilization. In contrast to western Asia, there was an abundance of sandstone, limestone, and granite with which to build. This civilization produced architecture of great beauty and power.
Tombs and Pyramids Early Egyptian kings were considered gods, and their tombs reflect the importance of perpetuating their life after death. One of the first architects of record was Imhotep, wine designed the pyramid complex at Saqqara in 2680 B.C. as King Zoser's tomb. Equally famous are the three pyramids at Gizeh, built about 2570-2500 B.C. The largest and oldest of these, the pyramid of Cheops, was originally 482 feet high and 760 feet square, and occupies about 13 acres. The manipulation of the huge stones used to build these structures required both the large-scale mobilization of labor and the invention of ingenious engineering techniques.
Temples Later pharaohs were buried in more modest tombs, furnished with sculptures and painted pictorial reliefs. For example, the tombs of Mentuhotep, about 2050 B.C., and Queen Hatshepsut, about 1500 B.C., at Deir el-Bahri, are considerably smaller than the pyramids at Gizech. The temple replaced the tomb as Egypt's dominant architectural work. The temple of Karnak-dedicated to the sun god Amon-was built in stages over a period from about 1525 B.C. to about 1350 B.C.; Karnak's hypostyle hall is one of the great works of ancient architecture.
The architectural building types and orders developed in Greece began a long evolution in European, and eventually American, architecture that continued well into the 20th century. Early Greek building was influenced by the monumentality of Egyptian buildings and the use of columns to achieve a powerful visual effect. But Greek architects brought the hypostyle building to all unprecedented level of beauty and refinement. An abundance of fine-grained native marble provided them with an excellent building material.
Temples The most important and influential Greek building was the temple. Greeks believed in a pantheon of gods, and temples were dedicated to individual gods. The temple form began evolving in the 11th and 12th centuries B.C., took its characteristic form during the period beginning in 700 B.C., and reached a high point of refinement after 400 B.C. Temples in their final form were set on a stylobate, a rectangular platform of three steps. A peristyle, a row of columns, was placed at the periphery. The columns supported a horizontal entablature. At the short ends a triangular pediment closed the ends of the pitched roof. Within the peristyle was a cella, or naos, a structure that housed a statue of the dedicated god or goddess and associated treasures.
Architectural Orders Greek architects also developed architectural orders called Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian. Each is easily distinguished by its fluted columns.
The Doric order was the first developed, and its column has a simple capital between the shaft and the entablature. The proportion of the width to height is less than in later orders; the effect of a Doric temple is of superbly proportioned solidity. The best known Doric temple is the Parthenon on the Acropolis in Athens (447-432 B.C.), dedicated to the goddess Athena and designed by the architects Callicrates and Iktinos.
The Ionic order denotes a style of columns that have a capital with scroll-like volutes that spread the load where the column meets the entablature. The column is more slender than the Doric, giving Ionic temples a graceful appearance. The Erechtheion (421-405 B.C.) on the Acropolis in Athens, is an example that also includes a porch with carayatids, draped female figures, taking the place of columns that support a roof structure.
The Corinthian order, though not often employed by the Greeks, is distinguished by column capitals with acanthus leaves. The columns are tall and graceful like the Ionic and support Doric or Ionic entablatures interchangeably. One of the few examples is the Olympieion in Athens designed by the Greeks but built by the Romans.
Other Building Types Though the Greek temple became a seminal icon for future architects, the Greeks developed other building types that provided models for Western architecture. The open-air theater, usually carved from a hillside, consisted of an orchestra, stage, and auditorium. The stadion, an athletic arena, was long and narrow, straight at one end and circular at the other, with tiered rows of seats on three sides. Greek democracy was reflected in the agora, an open-air forum where citizens gathered to bear speeches, discuss issues, shop, and socialize. And sometimes adjoining the agora was the stoa, a simple structure, usually long and narrow, with a flat or pitched roof that housed court sessions, shops, banquets, and public gatherings in general.
The Romans were great empire builders and equally great architectural builders. As they conquered societies from western Asia to the Atlantic Ocean, they created daring new structures as they shaped their architecture in the service of an imperial society. Roman ideas about architecture re known from the writings of the architect and theorist Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (46-30 B.C.), whose Ten Books on Architecture remains one of the most important works ever written on the subject.
Roman architects copied the true arch, using voussior stones, from Etruscan buildings in the north. The arch and its expanded variants were crucial to the prodigious achievements of Roman architects. Extend an arch in a single direction and the result is a barrel vault; a barrel vault intersected by another barrel vault is a groin vault; an arch rotated through 180° becomes a dome. These structural elements are ubiquitous in Roman buildings.
The Italian peninsula provided a variety of building materials, including travertine, tufa, peperino, lava, and marble, as well as sand and gravel. The latter were basic to the Roman invention of concrete, which allowed them to create unprecedented new building forms. Sand mixed with lime and water became very hard and, when shaped by wooden forms, liberated Roman architecture from the limitations of post-and-lintel structures.
Forums The evolution of Roman forums reflects the changes in Roman governance. When Rome became a republic in about 500 B.C., nominally governed by elected representatives, Roman architects adapted the Greek agora for their forums. The Roman Forum in the heart of the city of Rome is the most important of its kind, and its ruins today give a sense of its scope.
As the empire grew through conquest and political power passed from the people to the emperor, later forums were constructed more to impress the populace with the majesty of the emperor than as democratic meeting places. Adjacent to the Roman Forum are the more impressive imperial forums of the Emperors Vespian, Augustus, and Trajan.
Temples Roman temples began by imitating the Greek peristyle, but with columns that engaged the cella instead of standing free. Roman architects freely used the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders, even mixing them on the same building. To the three Greek orders, Roman architects added the Tuscan and Composite orders. Tuscan columns had a plain capital similar to Doric, but were not fluted. Composite capitals blended Ionic volutes with Corinthian acanthus leaves.
The Romans were not bound by past examples, however, and created new architectural forms for worship. The Pantheon in Rome is a round structure with a portico and crowned by a magnificent dome that is just over 142 feet across and 142 feet high. The rotunda was constructed in A.D.
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