Developments in this lesson
In previous lessons we defined architecture in two ways: as “Art” and as “Living”.
We decided what its units and systems of measurement were.
We then defined Living as:
- Living is building a shelter on the earth, beneath the sky;
- Living is putting down roots;
- Living is asserting your presence in the world;
- Living is finding your place in the universe, i.e. orienting yourself, being aware of the direction in which the orient lies and knowing the direction the primary source of life comes from, the sun’s light.
The body of the house
In this lesson we will no longer be considering Architecture as the result of human action on the earth but simply as a material body.
The subject of this lesson therefore is the body of the house.
We will see that:
- Houses are sometimes a nest;
- Houses are sometimes a den or lair;
- Houses are surrounded by a fence;
- Building a fence sometimes results in huge, cruel barriers;
- Building a house creates bodies of earth;
- Building a house creates bodies of stone;
- The body of a house has a skin;
- The body of a house has orifices;
- The body of a house has eyes;
- The body of a house, a city or landscape is always anthropomorphic.
Stages on the agogic pathway (touched on in this lesson)
(Preparation) – Nomadic research – Serendipity – Accumulation – (Attempts at design) – Analogies – (Distraction, rest – Epiphany – Evaluation)
Non-verbal language (used or mentioned in this lesson)
gesture, cosmetics, tattoos, clothing, appropriation of land
interior design, architecture, landscape, cosmologies
Houses are sometimes a nest.
- The Meteora monasteries of the Greek hermit monks are like eagles’ nests clinging to the rocky pinnacles
They are sometimes built from interwoven threads, like baskets resting on the ground.
- The communal housing for the large extended families of agricultural workers in the Fu Kken area of China are huge circular crowns made from wood. On the ground floor are the kitchens and communal areas and on the top floor the bedrooms. The ancestors’ temple is in the middle. The furniture (chairs, tables and cradles) are all smaller baskets, woven out of plant materials.
Hermits' nests, XI-XVI century, Meteora (Greece). Source: UNESCO
Communal housing Ha Kka, XII-XIX century, Fu Kken (China) (courtesy of Architect Junko Hashizume)
Houses are sometimes a den.
- The underground Buddhist temples in Ellora and Ajanta in India, carved out of the basalt rock, are like huge wombs inside the body of mother earth filled with peace and silence.
- An entire city of dens is Petra in Jordan where all the “buildings” are artificial caves and their “facades” are actually high relief sculptures carved out of the mountainsides.
Buddhist temples carved out of the basalt rock VII-XI century, Ellora (India). Photo Donatella Mazzoleni, (UNESCO)
Nabatea, VII century, Petra (Jordan). Photo Donatella Mazzoleni (UNESCO )
The house is surrounded by a barrier.
- The monastery complex of St. Catherine at the foot of Mount Oreb, in the Sinai desert, is contained within a surrounding fortified wall.
- Medieval towns or “bourgs” in central Italy are surrounded by walls which mark the boundary between town and countryside, the break between culture and nature.
St. Catherine's monastery, VI century, at the foot of Mount Oreb, Sinai (Egypt). From: UNESCO
Medieval town of Montalcino, Tuscany (Italy). Source: UNESCO
Sometimes the enclosures are huge and cruel.
- The Great Wall of China does not mark the boundaries of a place but of a whole land that extends well beyond our perception of space.
- The wall built by Israel around the Palestinian area of the West Bank is 12m high and 700km long and is an insurmountable barrier of racial division.
The Great Wall, from 220, XIV-XVII century, Ming Dynasty (China). Source: UNESCO
“Israeli West Bank Barrier” – “Jidār al-faṣl al-ʿunṣūrī” (racial separation barrier), 700 km, Palestine, 2003 onwards. Source: BlogSpot
Houses have a body, which needs to be stable, solid and strong.
- The body of a house is sometimes made from earth. The Ibadite settlements in the M’Zab valley, in Algeria, the castles along the trans-Saharan routes in Mali and large fortified cities in Yemen are all built directly out of the underlying earth.
- The body of a house is sometimes made of stone. In fortifications the stone is bare, displaying all its beauty and power.
Ibadite settlements, X century to present day, M'Zab valley (Algeria). Francis Tack © Source: UNESCO
Bastion at Bocche di Cattaro (Montenegro). Photo Donatella Mazzoleni
A house, like the human body, has a skin,
which can be permeable to light to varying degrees, moisture-wicking to varying degrees and decorated to a varying extent.
- The skin of the Pope’s room in the castle at Avignon is an internal “mucous membrane” full of light, colour and touch receptors.
- The skin on Norman Foster’s buildings is sensitive to light and so produces energy in a similar process to that of photosynthesis through chlorophyll in plant leaves.
Pope's room, XIV century, Avignon (France). Source: UNESCO
Norman Foster, 30 St Mary Headquarters, 2004, London (UK)
Like the human body, the house has a mouth (the door) which comes in different shapes and forms.
- The East door of the Baptistery in Florence by Lorenzo Ghiberti, known as the “Gates of Paradise”, is rich and sophisticated.
- Doors leading to private gardens in traditional Chinese architecture are sweet and smiling.
- Art Nouveau doors are showily decorated and elegant.
Like the human body the house has an anus (sewage pipes, waste pipes) which in contemporary industrialised societies are kept out of sight and away from the building.
The secret entrance to the funeral chamber, in the side of the Cheope pyramid, around 2,400 B.C., Giza (Egypt) Photo by Corinna Rossi.
Like the human body a house has eyes (windows)
which are capable of seeing in different ways.
- The windows in the Monastery at Skelling Michael in Ireland look out at the distant horizon with a cold, disinterested stare.
- The windows in Palazzo Farnese, in Rome, by Michelangelo, look us straight in the eye with a firm, direct gaze.
- Windows in Arabian and far-eastern architecture seem to peep out from behind, with a modest, reserved look.
A few conceptual definitions of a house
“This is the true nature of home: it is the place of peace; the shelter, not only from injury, but from all terror, doubt”.
John Ruskin (1819-1900)
“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful”
William Morris (1834-1896)
“A house is a machine for living in”
Le Corbusier (1887-1965)
“This and nothing else is, in its deepest motivation, the home: a projection of the self; and furnishings are simply an indirect form of the cult of the self“.
Mario Praz (1896-1982)
“Our children should be able to live in our homes like adventurous and happy strangers”
Piero Citati (1930)