continued (part 3/ end)


Roofs, columns and domestic plans, porches and windows -
some indicators on a global scale

Architectural forms showing interactions between semantic and domestic architecture can be gathered all over the world. Hundreds of books could tell us of built forms of this type (Buschan 1922, 1923; Karutz 1925, 1926; Fillipetti 1978, 1979; etc.). Evidently we have to do with a cultural substrate that has not been shown with conventional methods. Very likely semantic architecture and its spiritual or aesthetic product which we call "categorical polarity" was a common phenomenon in pre-agrarian and agrarian rural societies and as such has influenced material culture including architecture, vernacular as well as monumental and also concepts of environmental organisation, modes of thinking and so on.

However we want to limit ourselves on some examples taken from the Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World (EVAW, 1997) and from Roxana Waterson's book 'The living House' (1990), just to give a very limited introductory impression. The following set of themes and pictures may give an impression of this interaction.

Circular roof and plan
Fig. 16, 17


Fig. 16: The circular roof and the circular house - primary shelter types. If we assume that semantic architecture provided prototypes of huts and houses we can show it best in several African regions where round roofs still have a great independence above wall-subconstructions of daub or clay. The roof-cones are somehow superposed from outside without forming a synthesis between both. Often these superimposed roofs form also a shelter for food or other important materials indicating that they served primary as storage device. (Matakam farm, Cameroon highlands, EVAW 3:2068)
Fig. 17: Another indicator of a close relationship beween semantic and domestic architecture are circular plans, for instance in this example of a Yurt. The furniture has no genetic relation with the structure of the Yurt. It resembles an independent 'collection' of objects. In spite of this lack of structure there is a clear spatial order in the Yurt which is outlined by the entrance gate (G) and its opposite place characterised by an altar (A). The altar is the placemaker, the 'survival' of the semantic level. The whole inside space of the Yurt is focussed on it as a "conditio sine qua non". Close to the altar, beyond the right angle axis through the centre, honorific seats are located. Below, near the entrance, are the rather pragmatic elements of daily life. We call this the 'horizontal polarity scheme' implying that it had its origins from a 'vertical polarity scheme' (semantic architecture) being turned down into the horizontal dimension. Note that facing the altar, at the left of the entrance is the female domain, at the right the male domain. Note also that the Yurt always has preserved something from the semantic prototype in regard to its strong circular roof form and the light opening in the centre above. The wider 'cosmos' enters into the rather dark room inside as light, sunlight, a relation which does not need great knowledge of the endless extension of the universe. Evidently the distinction of polar categories either vertically related to house forms or horizontally in the plan are not borrowed from cosmic experiences or analogies with the human body, they are rather to see in the framework of a constructive tradition and its structural results. They are to be seen as a continuity between semantic and domestic architecture. (Plan of Mongol Yurt, EVAW 1:61)

Protruding elements and categorical polarity: roofs and columns
Fig. 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28

Fig. 18, 19: Finials in Africa and Europe. The roof was always some sort of a vertical axial indicator, an 'Axis Mundi', but not in the sense of Mircea Eliade. Not from 'macro-' to 'micro-cosmos' but inverse, from the local environment, from the locally developed very ancient order (cosmos) towards the large, towards the greater order of the cosmos. In a system of categorical perception this cosmic view could consist of just some few categories like 'light' contrasting with the dark rooms inside the house (like in the Yurt). (EVAW 1:507, :506)


Fig. 20: Manyfold and Unity. The lower part is clearly defined as a unit, the upper part representing manyness. A four-gabled roof protruding into the upper space, each gable with a further PRO-Portion, head and protruding horns. The form equals the categorically polar scheme. It is focussed on harmony on the elementary categorical level. Karo Batak head-house (geriten) in the village of Lingga 1986; Waterson 1990:222).
Fig. 21: Construction rite. In many cultures (as distant as they may be) the completion of the constructive part of a new house is feasted in the framework of particular traditional rites. At the occasion of these rites the completed construction is richly decorated. However 'decoration' does not simply mean a general human behaviour related to ornament. Rather this decoration is a revival of the aesthetic principles of categorical polarity developed in fibroconstructive ages. The rigid technical construction is contrasted with naturally living plants as PRO-portions. A 'Maximum Contrast Form" comes up from the depth of times into the present. (Psah Pali Tiwah, drawing of housebuilding rite of Ngaju Dayaks, central Kalimantan, Indonesia; EVAW 1:555)


Fig. 22: Dynamically rounded ends protruding over the construction in the strict sense, PRO-portion into the air. Such non-functional arrangements are a widespread phenomenon in many different cultures, a fact which can only be understood from the deeper levels of the constructive tradition. (Cellar in Shilovici, Slonim district, Ponemanye, Belarus; EVAW 2:1437)
Fig. 23: Bavarian House, Rottach, Tegernsee. Conventionally such phenomena manifested in very different cultures, were explained as casual coincidences, or due to some local inventions. If however we manage to show that architecture has produced the models for geometry and not inverse, the concept of architecture as a creator of culture might become more plausible.

Fig. 24: X-formed crossbeams (chigi) on reed roof ridge of Japanese farmhouses. On religious buildings of Shinto the signs show cosmic polar symbolisms. In some regions gender symbolism is related to these rural ridge decorations. In other regions they strongly are related to social status. In Japan the intimate evolutionary relation of semantic architecture with cultic practice and religious concepts is very clear: aesthetics and the cult are very close. (EVAW 1:509)


Fig. 25: Column within palace. The pillar inside is richly decorated and ends outside above the roof with a particular small biheaded roof. It is evident that this type of symbolism is rooted in architecture itself. At right the central part of the column with carvings. (Council house at Pematang Purba 1986; Waterson 1990:219-21)


Fig. 26: During a ceremony within the house, the ancestors pillar is 'decorated'. Decoration is an often used word for such events but there is much more to it. The column is covered with a newly produced cover which, however, using a very old technique, implies high age. This indicates that the factual history of the house is still vital at the cultic festivals. (Waterson 1990:89)
Fig. 27: Toba clan origin-house at Simanindo, Samosir Island,Sumatra 1986. In the framework of Waterson's naturalistic (and fairly regressive) interpretation of the 'house as 'living being' phenomena like the symbolic column in the central axis of the house or corresponding festivals are not of much interest, unfortunately. (Waterson 1990:133)

Fig. 28: Column of chief's house in Bawömataluo, Nias. Giving status to ancient ancestors and founderfamilies we find beautifully carved columns in Indonesian houses. It seems that they have more to tell us than simply their decoration. Are they autochthonous traditions of local power symbols, traditional 'constitutional archives'? Are they developments from 'semantic architecture' which have perennially moved into the ancestors type of ancient houses? (Waterson 1990:110)

Columns and categorical polarity
Fig. 29, 30


Fig. 29: Many vernacular traditions show columns ending in some sort of clouds at the upper end or as bundeled columns with plants protruding freely above some explicit binding of a cylindrical shaft. Evidently the column as a symbol of categorical polarity is much wider than merely a Greek 'invention'. We must assume that it is basically a primary form of 'semantic architecture' which survived into domestic architecture, mainly because of its immanent philosophy of the harmony of opposites. (Column and capital, house in Sikkim, India ; EVAW 1:503)
Fig. 30: Columns with plant capital provide status for the hall of the house (Decorated inside of a house in Pelion Thessalia; EVAW 2:1497)

Door and Window -
the dialogue between semantic and domestic architecture
Fig. 31, 32, 33, 34, 35

Fig. 31: A very simple entrance with roof protection. But see the wooden supports. Its inner lines describe, like a ghost, an empty form, through which we enter the house. Is there some sort of an ancient 'spirit' in the forms related to houses, a spirit which we should become aware before our modern world gets totally rationalised? (Entrance doorway and porch of Norwegian farmhouse, Norrland EVAW 1:411)


Fig. 32: The entrance door alludes to polarity by representing the upper part of the gate as a plant ornament, the lower part is shown as massive columns but merely with colour. Zudro, Moravia EVAW 1:420)
Fig. 33: The door in the right picture gains its importance from the arch planted above the bipartite (or tripartite if the midle part is added) but rectangular gate. (Door lintel, Oppdal Switzerland EVAW 1:517)

Fig. 34: Porches from Finland. They show different forms and styles (Renaissance and Classic), but the articulation of the elements are very similar. Dynamic categories in upper PRO position in regard to the portion of the static lower part. (Porches, Finland, Kiuruvesi and Ulvila; EVAW 1:419)

Fig. 35: Not only the gate, every window is shown here as an individual 'building in the building'. The upper part of each window is shown with a centrally protruding emblem. The door uses a painted arc. Style could be whatever. What counts is the autonomous harmonisation of each part. (Tyrolean farmhouse with painted decorations, Leutasch; EVAW 2:1253)

Church architecture
Fig. 36, 37, 38


Fig. 36: Plan and section of Norwegian stave church, Borgund type. Not only the artistically carved protruding gable figures are speaking clearly of PRO-portion, doors, windows and other elemtens clearly speak of plant ornament and other fibrous network. EVAW 1:729


Fig, 37: Christian church architecture has strongly preserved semantic characteristics with its architecture, particularly with its various types of bell-towers. In Russia this combines with a strongly conical roof and the corresponding symbolic onion type of top and cross. Octagonal belfry on a square base Chukhcherma on the Northern Dvina, near Archangel EVAW 2:1415
Fig. 38: Similarly: Typical South Karelian church with incorporated belfry. EVAW 2:1409

Categorical polarity and facade
Fig. 39

Fig. 39: Amsterdam in its centre and many other dutch towns owe their intimate character to a great extent to the rigidly standardized and narrow multi floored facades dominated by very differenciated and highly elaborated gable designs. Modern architects like Bakema and others had no sense for this deep rooted architectural or toposemantic expression and fabricated their industrialised conveyorband modernism into the same landscape where it daily frustrates peoples minds, makes them massproduced schemes. Canal houses in Amsterdam; EVAW 2:1369

Islamic architecture
Fig. 40, 41, 42, 43


Fig. 40: The art historian would coin this arched doorway as islamic style. But, formally the contrast of the arch with its black and whitestones and the static lower part sends a strong signal beyond the classification of style.(Horseshoe arch doorway, Tunis EVAW 1:555)
Fig. 41: Lower parts are functional, geometrical rectangles, whereas the upper parts are dynamically curved and these curves are further dynamised by filigran works. The fibroconstructive reminiscence of these 'decorations' is very clear. Note that this principle is not applied to individual elements like windows and doors. It appears also applied to the whole wall. Note also the ambivalent reaction of the modern industrialised observer: there is a certain nostalgy in regard to these decorations. Tourism lives of this (Courtyard facade of a Tiohama house EVAW 2:1444)


Fig. 42: We can assume that in regions where strong pre-islamic traditions are still felt, they influenced present forms either in the sense of fibroconstructive patterns or related to polar forms giving meaning and status to gates, doors and windows, particularly to those that are part of the facade. (San'a old town in 1976; EVAW 2:1459)
Fig. 43: Though city walls are mainly built for defensive reasons, they still express the principle of PRO-portion with the light structures protruding above the top of the walls. Note the dynamic formdetails on top of the walls. Note also that most window frames of the houses behind the walls are rectangular at the bottom and dynamically arched at the top. (San'a houses within the old city walls; EVAW 2:1444)



In contrast to the conventional method of the anthropologist who works ethnographically in the field surveying a traditional society, using interviews of the inhabitants of a house or a village to obtain explanations for the forms of their vernacular architecture, we have outlined a different concept which reconstructs the architectural forms and their expression as an immanent principle of the deeprooted architectural tradition itself. It is basically a physically expressed aesthetic principle which is autonomous in its origins (categorical polarity) and is traditionally preserved in many forms and expressions because of its harmonious model character. This might change the way we understand vernacular forms and their expressions.

In our first part we have critically discussed conventional interpretations of anthropology. We questioned the assumption that socio-cultural concepts were basic, that symbolisms related to the human body or gender were primary. We doubted Eliade's proposition that microcosmic interpretations were miniaturisations of macrocosmic experiences. We also doubted that such results of interviews might be taken as culturo-specific expressions and metaphors. This attitude is not aware of the cognitive processes involved. How is natural form perceived and integrated into human consciousness? The conventional anthropologist considers nature as a primarily given entity. <1>

If however we are assuming a deep rooted constructive tradition, a 'soft prehistory' which did not manifest itself in our conventional system of prehistory, things look different. All these often phantastic vernacular forms are not just 'symbolic arrangements' or particularly 'decorated' types in the conventional Western sense of art theory anymore. They are rather traditional 'survivals' in the sense of surviving formal concepts, survivals of a 'pre-monumental' architectural substrate that was materially not durable and therefore went through the meshes of our historical perception. Forms of the semantic level have been preserved into the domestic level, even though material conditions or constructive capacities in general have greatly changed. Or, a particular form of semantic architecture had gained an important meaning within a cult system (e.g. founder's cult, ancestor cult), therefore the symbolic core was kept intact while new functional parts were added.

Such survivals can also be most impressive if the texture of a durable object still preserves the primary fibroconstructive conditions as part of a building constructed with more evolved materials and building techniques. This can be seen in many parts of the world and on various technical levels. It is the case if the texture has become an indicator of the primary condition of the form and wants to communicate the value of this stage.<2>

One of the most impressive cases are the stave churches of Northern Europe which, besides their impressive PRO-portions, show rich 'decorations' of weaving work in their columns as well as in their doors and door frames. The same principle of textural survival appears also in the 'cannelura' of Greek columns. The well-known texture has preserved the structural condition of long gone times when such columns were still used as free standing symbols and reed bundles (Semper 1878, Andrae 1930, 1933). Note that the interpretation of the capital changes completely. It has nothing to do with support in the static sense. It is primary an ontological model showing the harmony of two contrasting parts, what we called categorical polarity or PRO-portion. Similarly the bundle-pillars of ancient Egypt tell us clearly that they were copied from fibroconstructive prototypes. Evidently they are not 'inventions' of designers as Spiro Kostoff maintained. Their prototypes have to be searched in predynastic village cultures. They were cyclically rebuilt fibrous columns very likely serving as topo-semantic markers in the framework of local cults in which their character as ontological model played a role (Egenter 1994a). Highly trained sculptors working for the 'eternally durable' buildings of the Egyptian pharaohs have monumentalised them and integrated them into temples.

Similarly the nicely decorated plant columns or other types of structures associated with many Indonesian house traditions are related to the territorial founder system. Some have remained fibroconstructive and outside the houses being used in the framework of cultic traditions, or have changed materiality and were moved into the house in the case of ancient founder families. It would be an important task to gather materials on this topic. Cults and rites still performed among various ethnic groups in Southeast Asia showing 'semantic architecture' in their core should urgently be studied. Anthropologists have greatly neglected these materials either because they had been devalued by christian influences (fetish, spirit hut etc.) or for reasons of time. Studying the festival calendar of a traditional society implies living with them during at least one or a couple of years (Egenter 1994a).

Thus, all these 'symbolisms' are not 'invented' as some interviews in conventional anthropology may suggest. Evidently they are part of a very deeprooted tradition, which has developed its own ontological values over long times. These values can be 'read' by studying local cyclic rituals. Sacred demarcations within or outside the house are ritually renewed. But, why are they so valuable for local peoples? Since neolithic times they became important in regard to sedentary life. Agrarian society began to accumulate wealth, developed village culture. As part of a territorial system the demarcations protect the agrarian habitat by serving as a socio-toposemantic archive of the local past and of local social power. (Egenter 1980, 1982, 1994a, b)

Consequently, all these symbolisms have their clear immanent logic providing a basic order for daily life of a family, of several families or of a larger sedentary group. The main purpose of this order is to express harmony, to provide an ideal model for harmonious relations. And - contrary to what many, indoctrinated with European cultural values might think, these symbolisms are not 'simple' or 'primitive'. There is a very clear and harmonious overall concept behind all this. It could even be considered as an important philosophical system. It supports a worldview in which "all is one, and one is all" in regard to aesthetic and ontological harmony ('Hen kai pan' in ancient Greece).

Vernacular architecture was composed to express harmony from smallest details to larger units and the whole. Vernacular settlements were composed in view of expressing harmony from the intimate environment of the house, the habitat to the larger units of a valley or a region. We become aware of a great importance of tradition in the physical sense. There is a shocking continuity in many things which we are not aware, because our analytical mind has lost the capacity to read categoricaly polar traditions. Western concepts of absolute spirituality and other rationalisms are projected on other cultures <3>. Maybe we still have this need for a harmonious continuity within ourselves. Is it not surprising how modern urban people still feel ar ease in traditional vernacular architecture? Rural tourism even searches for such conditions, whereas, on the other hand, many feel frustrated in rational modern environments. Is there a fundamental difference because modern spaces are universalistic, rationalistic, devoted to homogeneous space concepts?

Are human beings of the future prepared to live in the homogeneous space of physics, of the universe? Are we pleased with the space concepts modern architects and urbanists borrowed from astronomy and physics? Or should we try again to understand the human heritage, the categorically polar and harmonious expression of vernacular architecture? Are we happy with the uniform geometry type of skyscrapers and skylines rationalistically deformed architects project into our cities and villages? Or do we want to rediscover the traditional way of harmonising architectural forms as a model of balanced human lives? If we discover that architecture to a great extent created man and culture, there might be reasonable motives for studying vernacular architecture more seriously than this is done today.

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