continued (part 3/ end)
SOME ILLUSTRATED EXAMPLES
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.
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.