ON OUR OFFICE
DOCUMENTATION OFFICE FOR
FUNDAMENTAL STUDIES IN BUILDING THEORY
This office was formed for the following reasons:
On the basis of the principles outlined, this documentation office undertakes to systematically enlarge the existing basic materials of architecture, by drawing upon data from
The basis of its work is the conviction that building is a cultural phenomenon of universal significance. Seen in the light of cultural anthropology it becomes evident that present-day understanding of the phenomenon of building is mainly related to the requirements of the modern practice. If seen historically, building is represented essentially in terms of the history of art. This means that its objects are subject to selection according to aesthetic criteria. But this does not do justice to the wider range of phenomena related to the field of building. The perspective is too narrow. On the other hand, in the various fields of cultural anthropology (ethnology, science of religions etc.), building has not received sufficient consideration, because in each case it forms only part of a wider spectrum. In other words, seen in its widest sense as a cultural achievement with specific characteristics, building is not dealt with as a specific scientific discipline with coherent criteria.
- The foregoing statement has serious implications, if seen from the standpoint that clarification of the cultural history of building would be valuable not only for the theory of architecture but also for cultural anthropology in general. Previous research supports the assumption that buildings, seen in the wider frame of a theoretically reconstructed development, could, through their specific characteristics, such as material fabric, connection to the ground, statics, structure, spatio-formal characteristics, semiotic functions, etc., have been essentially formative within the general history of culture.
- A further directive springs from the insight into the interdependence of facts, theory and practice. Knowledge of facts forms the basis of theoretical concepts, and theory essentially influences practical decisions. If the factual basis of an existing system is essentially aItered, not only must the theory be changed, there must also be consequences in the practical field. In other words, at a time when the achievements of modern architecture are widely questioned, a reconsideration of its basic assumptions may not only be of scientific value but also of practical significance.
- ethnology (vernacular architecture)
- phenomenology of religions (sacred architecture and building-symbolisms)
- linguistics (etymologies related to building)
- literature (building in the literature of the peoples)
- history of art (signs and symbols like trees of life and the like and 'non domestic building'),
- primatology ('subhuman constructive behavior': nest building of the great apes)
By this kind of collecting, screening and encyclopaedic arranging of facts (which today are scattered in various disciplines), we are attempting to provide a wider frame to human building behavior than exists today. This wider frame will not only pose the question 'what is building as art?' which has been emphasised so far, but also the anthropological questioning "what does building mean for human existence?"
Practically, such a documentation initially leads to a critical appraisal of the existing situation.
Thus a documentation built up in this sense can supply important guidelines, not only for investigation and theory in the field of building research. Inasmuch as the building viewpoint introduces a particular objective approach to the consideration of cultural objects, such a documentation could also have a stimulating influence on other branches of cultural research. It could even become a nucleus of interdisciplinary working contacts. Architecture would be offered the chance to escape from its fixation on practice and recent tradition and to pursue research in a wider cultural-historical framework. Within the group of disciplines endeavouring to advance cultural understanding, it could, as an independent branch of science, make competent contributions of its own.
- The documentary work provokes consideration of what in fact forms the field of phenomena related to building. The term "building" will have to be redefined.
- Consideration of studies from other disciplines will make it evident that basic problems essential to the understanding of the cultural history of building have not yet been clarified. For example the theories held with regard to the history of building materials - a theme treated only superficially within the frame of the history of architecture - can be basically questioned from the totally different contents of the term "material culture (in archaeology and ethnology. Further the nest building behavior of the great apes - clearly a constructive behavior - has not really entered cultural anthropological discussion!
- Documentation also reveals the lack of knowledge concerning the diversity of constructive systems. In the same way, little is actually known about the motives which developed these systems. Ethnographic studies rarely describe the constructional aspects of buildings or their parts (e.g. the roof). Interpretations of form or limited developmental theories thus essentially depend on analogies of external form. In this context documentation can point to lack of knowledge which calls for extensive field research.
- Similarly, collection of material on types of dwellings, sacred buildings and settlements of non-literate peoples can demonstrate how little well-founded research has so far been done in this domain. More field research would also have to be undertaken in this direction.
- Further, documentation work related to building could show how relatively little is known about space concepts of non-literate peoples - that is to say, their ways of arranging parts of buildings to form a whole or their arrangement of buildings within a settlement.
- In a second step, an extensive documentation would serve as the basis for reconstructions of development theory dealing with aspects such as material, structure, form, space etc. Only comparative insights thus gained into the complex relations between these various aspects of buildings can convey a coherent idea of the significance of building for man.
- Only under such attempts to view the totality of phenomena related to building will building theory be able to formulate inter subjectively defensible criteria as a basis for the practical design-decisions of a scientifically founded modern architecture.
- For the science of prehistory such development-theoretical reconstructions could be of value insofar as they might be used as working hypotheses for historical research . Valuable stimuli could be expected from this close inter-disciplinary cooperation between ethnology and cultural history within the limited sector of research into building. Correlations between material conditions, structure, form, aesthetics and symbolism could thus become visible in the evolution of buildings.
- Formal characteristics of building, such as semiotic functions, which have so far been neglected, might prove important for cultural history. Insights into relations between forms of buildings and concepts of spatial organisation could become useful for the clarification of the evolution of space perception.
- This might even show its fundamental cultural-historic significance. Especially the reconstruction of archaic space concepts could have particular significance for the archaeological method. For instance, if we could guess what role spatial thinking has played in the interpretation of landscape formations, archaeology could then develop a new and probably fruitful method of locating ancient settlements .
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