OF HABITAT AND ARCHITECTURE
AND SEDENTARY CULTURE
Outlines of a Theory of
Cultural Evolution based on the
architecturally demarcated settlement
Towards a Global Anthropology of
by Nold Egenter
In this short presentation 'Anthropology of Habitat and Architecture' (AHA) can be characterised with the following 5 points.
- It is based on a strong criticism of contemporary architecture and urban planning and the corresponding methods and theories
- It suggests a new anthropological definition of architecture which allows to gather new scientific data for a reliable theory of architecture-and urban planning (3)
- The reconstructed evolution of the architecturally demarcated hominoid and hominid habitat allows a new evolutionary theory of culture (increasing territorial control and sedentarisation).
- This new theory also raises a new criticism, which questions the European disciplines as Euro-historically conditioned projections on early and non-European cultures.
- Finally, as a model for future work, a global anthropology is outlined.
The anthropologically defined architectural theory criticises Modernism and Post- modernism with regard to the following points:
- The conventional so-called architectural theories of the art historians and architects are arbitrary, they merely rest on subjective aesthetical judgments.
- The chaotic environments in our cities and suburban landscapes are a direct result of the incoherent concepts projected by heterogeneous and contradicting theories.
- No serious attempt to build up reliable scientific research has been made, neither by institutions of architecture or urbanism, nor by other disciplines. In view of the economic dimensions of the problem and in view of the consequences for the population this is scandalous.
- Conventionally the concept 'architecture' is reduced on art and aesthetics. Scientific consideration of architecture and urbanism are left to the art historian's 'gusto'.
- Architecture classified as art remained caught in the mainstream of the Renaissance 'myth of the profaned creator genius'.
- The art-artist-scheme is not adequately complex for the production of architecture and urban plans.
- Architects are overcharged in regard to the complexity of architecture and urban planning. Scientific institutions would urgently be needed (model: medical and pharmaceutical research) systematically pursuing basic research and making results available to the institutions responsible for the education of architects and urban designers.
- Space is a fundamental category for architecture and urbanism, however it was never researched systematically. Modernists have destroyed the anthropologically structured stratum of space organisation by introducing a fully inadequate type of space, the homogeneous space concepts of physics and astronomy.
- As the final product of all this we find those megalopolis-cities and landscapes criticised as inhumane by social psychology, but there is hardly any long term action. In these landscapes an increasing mobility in the widest sense is ruling. Man has become merely a physical particle transported between arbitrary points.
- The art historian or architectural critic operates with one of the fundamental tools of the history of art, the concept of style. However this touches only very superficial criteria (Gombrich: "masquerade of styles"). Architecture and art are classified, described and evalued according to irrelevant details.
- The shallow notion of style, resp. its accumulation in the 19th Century was essentially responsible for the change into the modern and its problematic aspects on the human side.
- Modernism considered its design as truly new and outside the history of styles.
- By declaring the death of modernism Jencks has reenacted the history of styles in a very superficial manner.
ANTHROPOLOGICALLY DEFINED ARCHITECTURAL THEORY
To outdate the ever changing history of styles, architecture is redefined anthropologically. It is now considered as everything built by man and his predecessors. Four classes are distinguished:
Anthropology of Habitat and Architecture (AHA) is the top term which heads new branches of research like:
- pre-human architecture (nest building of the Great Apes);
- semantic architecture (signs and symbols without interior space erected in natural landscape, conventionally dealt with in the history of religions with terms like 'fetish', 'life-tree', 'tree of cognition' etc.);
- domestic architecture (edifices offering protected interior space for the accommodation of objects, materials, animals and humans);
- sedentary architecture (horizontal order including semantic and domestic architecture) and
- urban/imperial architecture (similar like before, but with its local parameters extended horizontally and vertically).
Architectural anthropology introduces a new protocultural artifact, which, theoretically can be assumed with a temporal depth of about 22 million years ago, the routined nightly nest building of the great apes.
- Architecture-and-Habitat-Ethnology/Folklore Studies
This new temporal depth related to architecture reveals its demiurgical impacts on man and culture:
- It is an essential part of daily existence of the great apes and is classified as part of a new anthropologically defined industry in the prehistorical classification: "pre-lithic fibroconstructive industry".
- Consequence: the hand is the first tool.
Did architecture create man?
- bipedalism of Australopithecus related to increasingly dominating ground nest,
- tripling size of brain between homo habilis and homo sapiens sapiens,
- related to development of fibroconstructive culture.
In the framework of a "fibroconstructive material culture" one of the most basic aesthetic principles to which the whole premodern architecture of the world referred, becomes visible, categorical polarity.
The term 'PRO-portion' is synonymous to the term 'vertical polarity scheme'. The same structural scheme can be found horizontally as the 'horizontal polarity scheme' (or 'access-place scheme').
- This aesthetic principle is also found in the traditional rural architecture as shown by ethnology and folklore studies. On first sight it corresponds to a simple concept of 'protruding irregularly from a defined portion' (PRO-portion).
- However, it forms a higher level of complexity by combining two categorically contrasting domains to express a formal unit. This categorically polar unit can produce analogies to functionally different forms characterised by the same aesthetic principle. It is evident that this implies also a basically metaphorical cognitive system.
- In contrast to the Renaissance concept of mathematical and geometric proportion, this 'PRO-portion' is materially bound.
- Material contrasts might thus emphasise categorical oppositions.
- In fact, this concept of PRO-portion is globally widespread cross-culturally and diachronically.
- It transcends the art historian's styles. It can be considered as one of the most important 'anthropological' characteristics of architecture and art, a very primary aesthetic structure.
- If we see it present in sacred buildings of many cultures, we can assume that it was related to a very primary cross cultural event.
Polarity as intentionally harmonious per-/conception is incompatible to analytical (that is scientific) cognition.
- All premodern architecture is conceived according to these two essential schemes:
- (a) the 'vertical polarity scheme' and
- (b) the 'horizontal polarity-scheme' (or access-place-scheme).
- Cross culturally and diachronically, all premodern architecture obeyed to these two basic principles of 'categorically polar arrangements'.
Polarity as a primarily aesthetic system of cognition leads us to interesting further insights, namely to a new approach in cultural theory:
- Thus, the art historian with his scientific education has difficulties to describe art, because art is harmoniously structured.
- its structural closeness to philosophy and religion.
The systematic investigation into evolutionary processes of hominoid and hominid demarcations and their form and function within temporary and perennial settlements is very fruitful. It indicates clear lines of theoretical developments for a new fibroconstructive prehistory:
First tools as cutters for building materials triggered two architectural revolutions:
- Very likely due to their increasing body size, the earliest great apes in the Miocene period (22 mya) spent their nights horizontally lying in tree nests. This means that we can assume a high temporal depth for the protocultural hominoid behaviour of 'constructivity' (Yerkes 1929).
- Climatic changes between 16 and 11 million years ago in Central Africa let us reconstruct the hominoid transition from mainly living in tree nests- to dominatingly spending nights in ground nests, which, in the proto-cultural sense can be considered as an important step towards a terrestric architecture with living plants (rooted foundations, artificial knots providing spatio-triangular stability).
Nightcamp-nests, fibrous signs for paths, nutrition and rest considerably increased constructive capacity and territorial control over increasingly large and complex domains:
- dislocation of materials from biotop to technotope and
- mixing materials.
Increasing complexity of house-and settlement evolution produced:
- archaeological sources: tectiformes, figurines, rock art.
- sedentary village cultures and
- larger village clusters related to rivers and extended river systems (Mesolithic, Neolithic)
Early empire-and city formations in the Bronze Age can be explained as spatial extension through monumentalisation of the demarcation system
Besides script developped
- Differentiation of pre-urban 'settlement core complex'.
Written history as linear time opposed to cyclic time of the predynastic village cultures created tensions between centralistic city and state formations and rural agrarian landscapes:
- from semantic architecture into monumental in-scripts related to monumentalised architecture.
Methodologically the approach operates according to evolutionary principles.
- "Urban-Rural Dichotomy".
This is in great contrast to conventional rationalistic theories.
- Reconstruction from below implies few initial parameters.
- Evidently this theory of culture reveals very clear relationships among its components.
Evidently, the disciplines of the Humanities are a very late concept for classifying cultural phenomena. This means that we are working with a system which may considerably distort early conditions of cultures. This critical questioning is also valid in regard to non-European cultures showing very different roots.
- Forced to define their terms within a modern manifold of parameters any definition is possible which is then used by retroprojecting it, e.g. on ancient cultures
- In fact, these might be structured in entirely different ways.
- Modern pluralism illegitimately tolerates the resulting contradictions.
The title 'Implosion' rests on the German philosopher O. F. Bollnow's anthropology of space and is meant critically in the sense that modern humans have lost the scale for their activities.
Bollnow has shown that human space perception evolved with the evolution resp. the expansion of the habitat.
- Without being aware modern architecture for instance introduced concepts of universal space borrowed from physics and astronomy into our urban and rural landscapes.
The history of religion is an interesting field for such research. Even today many historians of religion tend to translate 'cosmogonic' texts without doubts with our modern universal concepts, even if it is evident that the content is related to the organisation of a village or a town.
- The universal perception of space was a very late phenomenon, in Europe from the 14th century only.
- It can not be meant in modern universal dimensions, the Biblical history of creation. It was in fact related to territorial law, indicating the sequence of legal texts describing an imperial constitution, a theocracy as usual for early civilisations in the Ancient Near East and Egypt.
In its first phase Christianism was essentially based on Neoplatonism, which postulates an "ideal realism".
- Note that there is a study (Kerschensteiner) showing that in ancient Greece the word 'kosmos' meant a harmonious local order (like 'cosmetics').
History as a method refers to 'civilisations' , that is to so called advanced and 'high-cultures' which had monumentality and script.
- In post scholastic times the Roman church has violently fought against the new universal concept of space (Copernic, Giordano Bruno, Galileo Galilei, Kepler etc.), because it questioned the biblical history of creation (the world was thought in the centre), but later accepted it, because the universal system projected the polar relationship of heaven and earth on the whole globe.
- Giordano Bruno, who had lost his life for his theory thus paradoxically became the 'globaliser' of Christian 'theocracy'.
Seen in the framework of anthropology, this reveals widely as fiction.
- History as a discipline identifies with this advanced civilizational status and its values.
However, on a closer look, most of these historical 'origins' reveal their essence as 'transitional fields' between deep rooted prehistoric agrarian village cultures and the new, socially bilevelled, theocratic organisation of early city states (Ancient Near East and Egypt, India, China, Japan).
- On one hand it favours merely the urban nuclei of the world surface, the far wider and existentially important rural agrarian spatial domain is devalued in its cultural values, measured against urban values without understanding its own characteristics.
- On the other hand it celebrates its own historic beginnings indicated by monuments or texts with splendour and glory, evaluates them as 'origins' of civilisation and higher mankind, praises monumental phenomena of architecture and art.
Science is not an absolute achievement of Greek and/or European humans.
- Similarly for philosophy. Presocratic philosophy is not simply the beginning of European philosophy, but rather a transitional field strongly related to the theocratic states in Eastern Mediterranean sea and adjacent domains.
- Plato and Aristotle are not isolated geniuses as the historical standpoint tries to maintain. They were strongly formed by impacts and influences that suggest continuity with the Ancient Near East and Egypt.
- The fact that Plato developed an extreme idealism, whereas, Aristotle, in contrast, developed an extremely contrasting empirical method and world view, is not by case.
- It can be seen as the indication of a deep conflict within the concept of polar harmony, which was no more understood in its historical depth (and empirical backgrounds, e.g. regarding 'cult' and 'belief') and thus split into contrasting extremes, which developed into the split character of the modern EuroWestern mind.
- It is a development from a more ancient basically harmonious or aesthetic cognitive system, which survives in the domains of the social, of art and in religion etc. and which we called 'categorical polarity' (similar like Chinese YinYang).
Anthropology is still essentially influenced by its own historic conditions (Mühlmann 1968).
The attempt to consider the 'social' as the basis of a 'social anthropology' remained theoretically deceiving.
- It is considered competent exclusively in areas, which were attributed to it conventionally, that is (from closely related zoology and medicine) in paleoanthropology, physical anthropology and primatology.
- The American attempt, to take cultural anthropology as the top term of culture theories could not develop reliable roots.
- Where history dominates the field with its materials and methods, cultural anthropology has remained marginal. It is forced aside accordingly into Third World areas, where society is traditional and close to 'nature'.
All these weak points, the fixation of its subdisciplines on history and the incapacity to become a top-term of human studies are preventing it from becoming scientifically efficient.
- Its lack of sources in the domain of cultural history kept it widely fixed on the misleading nature-culture dichotomy.
Anthropology can thus enter into competition with the methods of history in regard to efficiency, by critically showing the weaknesses of these approaches.
- However, it is well possible that anthropology is successful in explaining new continuities in hominoid and hominid settlement organisation, which is tangible on one hand in temporal depths of 22 million years and offers an approach with clearly defined terms, different from the conventional terms which are highly evasive and vague (e.g. culture).
- On the other end the anthropological term 'habitat' can also extend into the structure of modern urban or national conditions, for instance with the concept of 'nuclear demarcation' ('middle' or 'central' boundaries).
Very important: Habitat anthropology works with methods equal to those of the natural sciences.
- For instance the fixation of history on the vague term culture and its "endless differenciations syndrome" (instead of searching for what is similar in various cultures!).
- Or its mistaken "glorious civilisational origins syndrome" (in conditions where anthropology sees continuity or 'transitional domains' between predynastic village cultures and early civilisation with monumentality and script, e.g. Ancient Egypt).
In this way it may become successful to transgress the conventional merely historical image of cultures and arrive at a new, anthropologically founded world view of global and humane dimensions.
- It is focussed on entirely new sources (fibroconstructive industries).
- And it organises the conventional sources in new ways, not historically, but by redefining material culture anthropologically (ethno-pre-historically).
The evolution of the "toposemantic demarcation systems" of the protohuman and human habitat indicates promising approaches with fruitful new perspectives. It depends on the capacity to surpass the inertia conventionally incarnated in the apparatus of the humanistic domain, as this is shown in the 'spiritual sciences' (Geisteswissenschaften) based on Platonism and its derivates. But, maybe if some dynamic research capacities devote themselves to build up this new systematic view on sources of human body, spatial behaviour and object production, as well as parallel ideas, our world might look quite different after some time. The glorious ingeniosity with which man plagues himself, will implode (=> 'IMPLOSION') to the most important detail, some sort of cell and its relations to the environment, in short, the structural conditions of human culture.