Nold Egenter


Research Series

vols. 1-8



Volume 1 gives a general view of research into architectural anthropology.

* INTRODUCTION: THE MOSAIC OF ENDLESS MICRO-THEORIES AND THE FUNCTION OF MACRO-THEORIES. Some theoretical notes on the history of anthropology and on "theories" of architecture. Prevalent among anthropologists is the conviction that the past of human culture can be reconstructed by putting together any of countless micro-theories. On the other hand, it is not realised that this results in a pluralism of often contradictory theories which - if history is taken as a factual process - is scientifically inacceptable. Since until recently architecture has never been studied in its anthropological dimensions, an architectural anthropology could - as our research series tries to show - be considered as a kind of macro-theory, opening up new perspectives on various disciplines of cultural anthropology. In a theoretically fertile way it could integrate numerous micro-theories. The discussion concentrates on the history of anthropology and on problems of finding an acceptable theoretical basis for architecture. After all, the breakdown of modern architecture reflects the collapse of a badly founded micro-theory!

* THE ACTUALITY OF THE PRIMITIVE. The historical primitive and the primitive of cultural anthropology. An essay on the synthetic perspective of architectural evolution and the human past. This essay provides a general survey and an introduction to architectural anthropology. It outlines the essential phenomena and the basic arguments which support research into architectural anthropology.

* ARCHITECTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY. Introduction to a constructive concept of the human past. The text is an explanatory report, complementary to the essay above. It gives a concise, scientific characterisation of architectural anthropology.


This volume presents some fundamental aspects of research into archi-tectural anthropology, at first its recent history of research, second, its primatological base and finally its implications for prehistory and archeology as well as for the history of art and architecture.

* THE FUTURE BELONGS TO THEORY. BREAKTHROUGH TO A CULTURAL ANTHROPOLOGICAL THEORY OF ARCHITECTURE. Architecture builds interdisciplinary bridges to the arts. Report on recent research into the theory of architecture and in particular on the American movement of 'Built Form and Culture Research'.

* APE ARCHITECTS. The idea of the primitive hut and the nestbuilding behaviour of chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutangs. Deals initially with Rykwerts book 'On Adam's House in Paradise', maintains that the origins of building must be sought amongst the primates and describes in details the nestbuilding behaviour of higher apes as a relatively unknown phenomenon and basic for an anthropology of architecture.

* SOFTWARE FOR A SOFT PREHISTORY. Structural history and structural ergology applied to a type of universally distributed 'soft industry': sacred territorial demarcation signs made of non-durable materials. Reconstructs the Euro-Mediterranean-Near Eastern tradition of semantic architecture (life trees etc.) and pleads for archaeological research into ephemeral object cultures on durable materials.

* THE HISTORICISM OF QUANTIFIED PROPORTIONS. Critical objections to Wittkower's 'Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism'. Deals critically with Wittkower's famous study which contributed considerably to the legitimation of rationalism in modern architecture. But it is evident that this hellenophile rationalism is a product of the method used by Wittkower: he neglects continuity, that is to say the important sources of medieval conceptions of architecture, which survives in many irrational aspects (e.g. the dome). The study presents this medieval "theory of architecture", using, among other sources, medieval illuminations showing architectural structures.


Volume 3 is devoted to various aspects of semantic architecture, demonstrating that this type of built sign offers a concept which allows important cultural themes to be discussed in an unexpected and interesting way. Architectural anthropology leads to different disciplines (religion, art, philosophy, semiotics, etc.) and proves fertile within the broad frame provided by the term "anthropology".

* METABOLISM OF FORM IN ANCIENT ARCHITECTURE. Critical review of the art historians' interpretations of the oeuvre of Gottfried Semper and the implications of his concept for research into architectural anthropology. Unfortunately Gottfried Semper, the great German architect and architectural theoretician of the mid 19th century is still totally misunderstood by art historians! They simply interpret him as an interesting figure in the mid-19th history of ideas. In fact, his theory, influenced by the great evolutionists, is still revolutionary: Architectural ornament, he says, is not just decoration but a reminder of an organic industry which got lost because it was not durable. It is evident that this checkmates many micro-theories! This study reinvestigates Semper's works from this standpoint and recognizes his important role as a precursor of anthropological research into art and architecture.

* SEMANTIC ARCHITECTURE: THE MOTHER OF WRITING? Towards an architectural theory of the origins of writing. Conventional interpretation of the earliest sources of writing, the tablets discovered by Jordan in the lowest strata of one of the first cities (Uruk) is based on a few examples of natural (hand, head of goat etc.) or technomorphic form (boat). The great majority which remain undecipherable, are hardly discussed and are generally considered to be of 'stylised' character. Did writing originate from 'semantic architecture'? This study maintains that these 'stylised' signs were in fact constructions primitively made of organic materials by farmers living near the first cities, and set up to mark and establish their claim to their territories. These spatial signs were noted on clay tablets and the tablets were fixed to durable terracotta by the first urban powers (temples, courts) and used as a register for taxation purposes.

* THE ETERNALLY BURNING THORNBUSH. The first revelation of the An-cient Testament in the ethno-historical perspective. Though the political and territorial intentions of Moses to found a state for the Hebrews whom he led out of Egypt are evident, theology persistently regards him as the founder of a religion. This investigation bases its approach on the conditions under which the foundation of an archaic state was based on territorial cults. It shows that primitive sanctuaries played a fundamental role as a kind of land-registry, as archives of genealogical lines and territorial conditions. Moses' synthesis of a primitive cult (eternally burning thornbush, Elohim) and an emancipated cult of Egyptian style (tabernacle, Jahwe) allows us to shed some new light on the function of religion at those times.

* HEINRICH WÖLFFLIN VERSUS FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE. Two contradictory theories of art: the analytical method of 'style' and the potentially harmonious concept of 'tension' (coincidence of opposites). Heinrich Wölfflin's well-known 'Basic terms of the history of art' is confronted with a contradictory theory, with a concept of 'tension' between 'apollonian' and 'dionysian' elements, originally developed by Nietzsche to describe the archaic theatre of the Greeks and later also applied by others to the fine arts to describe contrasting expressions of different styles. In our context 'tension' will be applied to individual forms; it will thus appear in opposition to the concept of style, by drawing analogies between different styles. The comparison shows that modern architecture exorcised Dionysos from our cities. The unchallenged Apollo literally bores us to death!

* THE ORIGINS OF SCIENCE AND THE DESTRUCTION OF THE HARMONY OF ART. A philosophical scenario based on the anthropology of the human mind. This philosophical study is based on the global hypothesis - valuable in a prehistorical, historical and ethnological sense - that semantic architecture became important in sedentary agrarian village culture as a harmonious model of environmental organisation (Heraclitus in Greece, concept of 'coincidentia oppositorum' in European Middle Ages, Yin-Yang symbolism in China). From this view point the study outlines the development of analytical thought from Heraclitus to Aristotle as a secondary system which, through centuries of European impulses, gradually ousted and replaced the harmonious system. Conclusions: on many fronts (art, religion, history, ethnology etc.) the analytical system has difficulties with the harmonious system because they are basically incompatible; furthermore, the analytical system divides the modern world at all levels and, thirdly, the philosophical problem of objectivity falls out of logical discussions and be-comes a question of the anthropology of the human mind.


Volume 4 is devoted to various aspects of the cultural anthropology of Japan.

* RITUAL TRADITION AS VITAL HISTORY - Shinto festivals as a gateway to Japanese cultural history. The narrow definition of historical materials as datable 'remains' (Droysen) ignores the fact that tradition, particularly ritual tradition, can be extremely conservative and can thus be a living testimony of very ancient conditions. This study focuses on a common element of various Shinto-rites, which appear quite different at first sight; one is evidently related to medieval, another to classical times; a third may even be rooted in prehistorical agrarian village culture. In each case the common element and object of central importance, namely semantic architecture, shows definite traits related to the historical milieu of its origins. Object tradition within a cyclic time concept obviously has great continuity and can be used as a valuable source in reconstructing important conditions of cultural history. Thus the three examples present a small cultural history of shinto-cults.

* MATTER, MIND AND SPIRITS - Local institutions and the traditional philosophy of Japanese agrarian village culture. Structural ergology and the Japanese cult of the village deity (ujigami). Rites and cults of traditional societies were extensively noted for their non-ideological and pragmatic character, reasons for declaring them primitive in a derogatory sense (fetishism etc.). But could this notorious conclusion be an Eurocentric projection? The study describes an inductive method to research religion and rites of traditional societies and indicates the philosophical consequences of this approach.

* RICE CULTURE IN JAPAN. The misunderstood philosophy of the agrarian past. Western history of religions has done great injustice to agrarian rites, dubbing them superficially as 'fertility rites' etc.. This study gives an outline of Japanese agricultural rites based on the totality of the spatial and temporal conditions of the villages. In fact these rites are an expression of a respectful philosophy of life, deeply rooted in local tradition, and one which tries to balance the effects of human activities and the needs of the natural environment.

* FUJISAN - THE MASTER OF TEN THOUSAND MOUNTAINS. The ritual approach towards the research of holy mountains. The religious phenomenon of sacred mountains is very widespread in many cultures. Using the example of the famous Mount Fuji in Japan, this study outlines the development of the concept on the basis of agricultural rites.

* THE RITUAL STRUCTURE OF THE TRADITIONAL JAPANESE HOUSE. A contribution to the theory of dwelling. The spatial disposition and basic meaning of the traditional Japanese house cannot be understood by merely using the descriptive instruments of architecture. Its meaning is manifested in another domain, in what generally is called religion. On the occasion of ritual events related to the house, particular spots become sacred and are marked by means of a special semantic system. These obviously very ancient signs tell us about the philosophy which finds expression in the construction, and which gives the dwelling its meaning. It marks a harmonious esthetic relation between the open outer access area and the interior area, a quiet stable home.


Volume 5 is in continuity with volume 4. It deals similarly with various themes related to Japan.

* WHICH CAME FIRST? THE NATURAL SACRED TREE OR THE ARTIFICIALLY BUILT TREE? Contributions of architectural anthropology to the understanding of the meaning of the sacred tree. The study describes a tradition of several Japanese villages where sacred trees are built every year in the context of an annual rite dedicated to the village deity (ujigami). Detailed studies of this phenomenon suggest a rather unusual hypothesis, that natural sacred trees are a secondary type of cult-object which derived from cyclic rites related to semantic architecture. This raises some anthropological questions: Did man discover natural trees by means of models like constructed 'trees' which had analogous structural expressions, similar categorial relations within their form, which enabled man to identify the natural tree with his artificial 'tree'? Did semantic architecture thus help man to discover his environment and things like the natural tree? Is this one of the rea-sons - respect for a miraculous teacher of the past - why the signs are sacred?

* OMIHACHIMAN - THE FOUNDATION OF A TOWN. An ethnohistorical model. The annual Shinto-festival of a medieval town in central Japan pro-vides a hypothesis as to how towns were founded in ancient Japan. The central role is played by semantic architecture in the form of signs marking the territories of the various communities involved. The concept is also interesting in the sense of social psychology: the ritual tradition physically and emotionally integrates the members of several settlements in a tremendous 'happening' which illustrates the unity of the various communities.

* POLAR ASYMMETRY. The evolution of Japanese art from agrarian cult traditions. For most art historians specialising on Japan, the rise of a particular 'Japanese style', e.g. in architecture, is still a mystery. In classical times forms were imported from China and reproduced without essential change. But in medieval times a specially expressive repertoire is manifested. Where did it come from? The answer is sought in Japanese village culture. The paper shows that agrarian villages in Japan had their own esthetic culture and that this was deeply rooted in the prehistoric past. But conventionally and for obvious reasons this did not appear in the disciplinary system of the humanities.

* JAPAN, THE BIG VILLAGE. China school, national history and modern cultural anthroplogy. Notes on the history of Japanese historical con-sciousness. Three essential phases can be distinguished in the histo-riography of Japan. First, the 'China school', which not only imported writing, but also the historiographic methods and historical concepts from China. Second, the school of 'national history', which is a reaction against excessive sinisation and a return to Japanese sources proper; but these data were now interpreted in terms of evolved (e.g. spatially extended) concepts which originated in China. Consequently, the interpretations appear distorted. Finally, the modern methods of cultural anthropology produce a quite different image from that projected by written history.


Volume 6 focusses on architectural themes dealt with in the perspective of architectural anthropology.

* ARCHITECTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY. Outlines of a constructive anthropology. This paper presents the methodological framework of architectural an-thropology. On one hand the objects of research are defined, their classification described and the theoretical concepts which unite the phenomena are discussed. Several levels appear to be involved, e.g. the implications for a typology of cultures and their philosophies are discussed. The inquiry also shows the theoretical fertility of the approach.

* ARCHITECTURE, MOVEMENT, MIND. The ocean-steamer subject in modern architecture. The intensive industrialisation of the 'twenties and its social pressure on large cities led architects to develop new solutions for urban architecture. Strong inspiration was drawn from naval architecture which was admired by the elites of those times. Seen in the light of today's urban complexity, those "theories" look rather naive. In contrast, an important and extensively researched intercultural theory, focussed on man and his spatial behavior, is outlined. It is the fascinating theory published at the end of the 'forties by Dagobert Frey in his 'Foundations of a comparative sciences of art', which deals with the complementary relation of movement and rest, of path and place, of procession and monument. What would our post-war cities now look like if this anthropologically-based concept had become one of the fundamental principles of design?

* BOTTA: HISTORY IS A GOOD FRIEND OF MINE. Falsification of history as design-principle? This is a critical review of some design principles presented by Mario Botta in a published interview. The essay revolves around the central question: how does the architect justify his use of history - our history - for the arbitrary 'collages of historical forms' he sets up in public space. The paper shows critically that Botta's knowledge of the history of architecture is rather rhetorical.

* RENE MAGRITTE AS ARCHITECTUROLOGIST. The complementary structure of architectural space in the paintings of René Magritte. The great thematic importance of built environments in René Magritte's 'surrealism' has hardly been noticed. This study interprets him as an "architecturologist", as an experimenter and researcher for vanished archetypes of built space.


Volume 7 is focussed on themes related to semantic architecture. Historical as well as ethnological examples of various cultures are discussed.

* PLANT AND BLOSSOM PILLARS. Symbolic columns in architecture and cult of Ancient Egypt. Egyptology showed very little interest in the extensively documented arrangements made of flowers, leaves and stalks which appear in the context of the rites and sacrifical scenes depicted on walls of temples and innermost sanctuaries. The paper is a report of a research trip in the Nile valley. Its goal was to make an inventory of semantic architecture in the iconography of Ancient Egypt and to establish the relationship between the well-known vegetative columns of the Egyptian temple and the semantic system of Egyptian cults.

* LIFE-TREES. The problems of interpretation with the rich sources of the Ancient Near East. The phenomenon of the life-tree and its meaning in ancient Mesopotamia is a complex problem. In general the explanation of its meaning is derived from written historical sources, from sacrifical texts and from legends or myths. This study uses structural ergology as an approach.

* THE HOLY PILLAR ON THE FESTIVE CAR. The Babylonian New Year festival. An ethno-historical comparison. Many historical and recent cul-tures, particularly Asian, provide sources showing cults related to a sacred pillar. This is often set up with primitive construction methods on a massive wooden car. This mobile arrangement forms a central element of the rite and is taken along in extensive processions. The phenomenon is discussed on an interculturally comparative level.

* THE FESTIVE DRESS OF THE HOLY PILLAR: DECORATION OR ESSENCE? An ethnographical report on some holy pillars found in Hindoo-Temples of Singapore. In the precincts of several Hindoo-temples, sacred pillars made of sheet-copper or -zinc are permanently erected in front of one of the main temples of the compound. One of these temples uses a tem-porary wooden structure, which is set up in the fronthall before the main altar. All these pillars are decoratively wrapped wirban forms and rural types. This is an ethnographical report on research into semantic architecture in Thailand. Some recent studies and their interpretation of the phenomenon are critically reviewed.

* ASCENDING TO HEAVEN. The function of ritual pillars in Shamanism. One important rite of Shamanism of all types consists in the erection of a structured pillar, which serves an initated priest or a follower to be initated as a means of ascending to an often stratified heaven. The manner of this ascerban forms and rural types. This is an ethnographical report on research into semantic architecture in Thailand. Some recent studies and their interpretation of the phenomenon are critically reviewed.

* ASCENDING TO HEAVEN. The function of ritual pillars in Shamanism. One important rite of Shamanism of all types consists in the erection of a structured pillar, which serves an initated priest or a follower to be initated as a means of ascending to an often stratified heaven. The manner of this ascension is discussed from the viewpoint of structural ergology.

* STRAW-CATHEDRAL. Some examples of semantic architecture in the festive calendar of Italy. Italian folklore knows a full range of traditional festivals, generally of a fairly developed character, with many accumulations of the high cultural type. But in some cases primitive conditions have been preserved throughout the ages, as for instance at Volongo, near Cremona, where a huge organic pyramid is annually built and burnt. A rather grotesque synthesis of primitive material and developed form is seen in Osimo: a temporary model of the cathedral is annually built of straw.

* RESPLENDENT POLES AND PEST CANDLES. Semantic architecture in the region around Salzburg, Austria. A folklore-report. In some villages to the south of Salzburg, large pillars are decorated with flowers or wool, in one case with a long, spiral wax-candle. These pillars are brought to the church and set up in the church in central rows, some-times touching the heavens painted on the ceiling of the baroque church. The symbolism is evident: they touch or 'support' the heavens. Ethnographical inquiry in the field reconstructs the autonomous pre-Christian function of this type of semantic architecture within the local spatial and social conditions.

* IRMINSUL AND CHARLEMAGNE. The sacred pillar of the Saxons in the process of conversion to Christianity in northern Europe. The submission of the Saxons to Charlemagne is a key event in the history of European conversion to Christianity. At a representative level this event speaks clearly and in an exemplary way of the forceful destruction of traditional sources which were important for pre-Christian village cultures. Unfortunatly European folklore studies - and in a wider sense also ethnology - never critically realised this forceful destruction of important sources. The discussion of the iconic aspects shows how they were transformed and integrated into the Christian code.

* THE MASTER OF THE WILDERNESS, THE BEAR, LIVES IN THE UPPER PART OF OUR HOME. House and World-view of the Ainu. The ritual veneration of bears and other kinds of large hunted animals was once widespread among traditional societies of the northern hemisphere, but the interpretation of these rites, generally based on religion, remained rather doubtful. This concise report on the results of a larger study based on structural ergology offers an interpretation freed of the usual primitivisms.


Volume 8 provides a synthesis of volumes 1-7 and indicates the prospects for further research into architectural anthropology.

* SMALL TEXTBOOK OF ARCHITECTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY. An introduction into practical research. The text discusses the relation of cultural anthropology to other disciplines, its methods of object research and theoretical interpretation and goals in the scientific domain.

* ANNEX: SEMANTIC ARCHITECTURE. An architectural-anthropological Sourcebook. This documentation, collected over roughly two decades shows mainly iconic sources related to semantic architecture of prehistoric, historic and recent cultures.

* ANNEX: COLLECTION OF HYPOTHESES RELATED TO ARCHITECTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY. A macro-theory of anthropological dimensions necessarily has an enormous hypothetical potential, which cannot be studied in depth within a limited time. This paragraph outlines some hypotheses which may be of interest to readers involved in related research.

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