ARCHITECTURAL THEORY BASED ON ARCHAEOLOGY
Walter Andrae's theory is very important. Andrae was a German archaeologist who was active in Mesopotamia and Egypt in the 1930ies. Very likely influenced by ethnological impacts on Egyptology of that time he developed the theory of 'monumentalisation'. It says essentially that most built forms in Eastern Mediterranean antiquity had developed from fibroconstructive industries, using reeds and other plants to construct hut- and column like objects with the function to demarcate sacred places. In his most important book 'The Ionian column, built form or symbol?' he set up the very plausible hypothesis that the columns of Greek temples were derived from prototypes in Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt and that the primary types were in fact fibrous bundles (Ishtar sign; Djed pillar). Thus, in regard of the problem of the column, we obtain a new indication for its meaning and essence which is quite different than with Vitruvius. It pays off to pierce the level of history and go one step deeper into archaeology and prehistory.
If we accept W. Andrae's monumentalisation theory, there is a tremendous wealth of sources in many cultures, practically all over the world.
- Life-trees, stelae and related symbols in the Ancient Near EastWe made a collection of such fibroconstructive types of symbols cross-disciplinary and cross culturally. This collection could be extended with materials from ethnology (fetish, spirit huts etc.) and folklore (maypoles and the like). These materials have been dealt with in various contexts, but have never been seen in the wider and unifying context of architecture.
- We find fibroconstructive indicators as 'Omphalos' in Ancient Greece,
- There are fibrous prototypes of temples on Roman coins,
- Mediaeval symbols like the Irminsul of the Saxons destroyed by Charlemagne in his campaign belongs to this column type
- There are similar objects in various forms in palaeolithic art.
- There are also many Asian sources and
- even the Chinese idographic etymology shows its origins from fibroconstructive signs, similar like the earliest signs in Sumer (Uruk).
But what was the real significance of these divine symbols so badly treated by Western science? A first answer might be gained from a mysterious picture painted towards the end of the 15th century by Carpaggio, the ascension of the Saint Ursula to heaven. There is a strange green bundle pillar in the centre of its axial system!
CARPAGGIO'S EVOLUTION THEORY: A NEW WAY TO SEE
THE HISTORY OF ART AND ARCHITECTURE
Carpaggio used an ingenious arrangement to describe the ascension of St. Ursula. He composes three (or four) orders into the same picture.
- the categorical polarity of a fetish, a bundle of palm leaves, evidently as a 'primitive' or traditional popular order of sanctity. Note that the fetish stands in the centre of a sacred vertical axial system and that the saint stands on its top where there is, in fact, no static support. The saint is hoovering in its middle position between heaven and earth.Carpaggio's composition is ingenious. He indicates an evolutionary scheme (the saint ascending from the 'primitive' to the evolved) and he shows that the objects constituting the orders can be of a very different nature (fetish, classical architecture, anthropomorphous system of religion), but forming an analogy in view of the unifying principle of harmony, that is polarity or complementarity of opposites.
- the second element is classical architecture. It also provides a categorically polar order of the upper dynamic part of the arch, open towards the skies, and pilaster-types of columns in the lower part, defining human space, the earth.
- The third element is composed into this architectural order, the Christian social or - in regard to religion - anthropomorphous order. The polarity of the architectural order is used to express the polarity of the religious order. God is only shown with his head, breast and arms hoovering in the field of the arch above the saint. And below in the rectangular part we find the human population taking part in the scenery.
There is also a wealth of forms and interpretations representing polarity in mediaeval and Renaissance book illuminations. The Christian iconology has projected its own teachings into this preexistent structure of polar forms, of dynamic upper parts and static lower parts, of heaven and earth. Realistically presented evangelists are legitimated by celestial symbols placed into the upper arc-field.
One of the most important symbols for this type of harmonious worldview is the imperial church of Constantine's imperial city, the Hagia Sophia, originally in Byzantine style dominating over todays Istanbul. It was described twice by Prokop at the time when it was erected and a second time after it was reconstructed after some breakdowns. The texts still exists.
Prokop describes very clearly the analogy between the natural harmony of heaven and earth which reflects in the human artifact of the imperial church, the dome representing heaven and the lower part built like rocks representing the immobility of the earth. I have written an article about this showing Prokop's interpretation in the sense of polarity and the unbelievable misinterpretations by some art historians (Adolf Max Vogt following Panofsky). Vogt even distorted Prokop's text to make his own rather penible interpretation of a 'suspension motive' fit! (See Internet).
Thus, the history of styles is very secondary. In fact it is the polarity
of upper and lower part, resp. the heaven and earth topic which is primary
throughout the history of art, not only in European art, but also in Islam,
or in Asian cultures like Indian, Chinese, or Japanese art and architecture,
to name just a few. Architecture and art are basically the survival of
a very ancient cognitive system which tried to harmonise the human environment
perceptively and conceptively and to reduce the formal manifold of the
world to a cognitive unity.
In the anthropological framework, the art historian is a very late expression of the human relation to art. His view is based on the modern analytical system of cognition. It superseded and rejected categorical polarity which was strong in Middle Ages dominated by religion which is based on polarity. Heaven dominates the polar relation of heaven and earth, a very ancient traditional concept. Black AND white forms a unity. With science this becomes black OR white. It is not by case that art historians developed their tools in Renaissance (Pietro di Aretino -> See: Udo Kultermann, The History of the History of Art) and since then rationalises art, which means away from its basic essence (see pro-Portion and proportion: in the Internet). Thus, if we use anthropology as a basis of architectural studies, the art historian's perspective becomes a type of approach, which is apriori condemmned to misinterpret art more than to elucidate it. In fact art is the worst place to use science, because art is antithetic to science. It is based on polarity or complementarity. I have written several articles to show how the art historian misinterprets art and architecture (Wittkower, Woelfflin, Panofsky, Adolf Max Vogt).
ARCHITECTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY AND TRADITION:
ETHNOLOGY AND FOLKLORE -
HOUSE AND LANDSCAPE AS DEMARCATED VITAL ENVIRONMENT
We showed a new way to see the history of art and architecture in the framework of the heaven and earth topic, or as polarity or complementarity. Carpaggio's idea that semantic and symbolic buildings (semantic architecture) had something to do with dwellings and settlements is most impressive in ethnology and folklore, mainly because the factual human traditions are still alive. In many places where Christianisation has not yet eradicated local cult traditions, particularly in India, but also in Japan and very likely in rural China, we find cyclic cult traditions related to the demarcation of sacred places with fibrous constructions. They may be huts or of the column-type. In Japan which had very little Christian influences such traditions of semantic architecture can still be found widespread (see. Egenter 1980, 1982, 1995) and it is very clear that what is 'typically Japanese' in their art (in contrast to historical influences from China in the 8th century) developed from rural domains, from the vernacular environments of Japanese village cultures (see Internet).
In other cultures, where missionaries in the history of proselytism met such demarcation cults, they devalued them and destroyed the corresponding traditions. They were educated in the framework of a narrow minded theology and ousted anything they considered as 'primitive beliefs' mainly because they were focussed on material objects. They called these cult objects 'fetish', spirit-hut', etc., the evaluations remained on the level of belief. No serious research was done. No one imagined that early types of religion could be functionally related to territorial demarcation. For our scientific work that is for the construction of an architectural anthropology working with the class 'semantic architecture' we can profit from the circumstance that there is considerable literature about this type of cultic behaviour all over the world.
ARCHITECTURAL ANTHROPOLOGY AND TRADITION:
ETHNOLOGY AND FOLKLORE -
THE CASE OF THE PEST CANDLE FESTIVALS AROUND SALZBURG
In the 1980ies we did a study in some villages near Salzburg in Austria. It is a region where every year huge maypoles are cut in the woods, then brought to the villages, where they are peeled and decorated, then set up in some particular place of the village path system, often close to the village church. In some villages these basically pre-christian maypoles underwent some changes in relation with a local pest epidemy some hundred years ago bringing them closer to the church and its internal spaces and thus making their polar meaning more evident. They are specially formed and colourfully decorated with flowers or wool-layers. They are produced by individual farming families in their homes or barns and are then brought to the church where they are set up along the pathway to the altar or other specific places. At the festival climax they are taken into a procession which visits important places of the local territory where chapels have been set up partly along the main rivers or along the borders. Our study shows very clearly that these poles originally were part of a territorial demarcation rite.
The pictures of this festival show that these beautiful mobile flower-colums are models of a polar world view. They show their 'heaven and earth' structure when carried along in the procession as well as under the vividly painted Baroque ceiling of the church. Note the 'Holy Spirit' which is descended through a central hole in the church's ceiling indicating clearly the symbolic meanings involved.
As an example this village shows us clearly that what we call traditional or vernacular culture has a systematic character. There is a hidden model behind all forms and activities, which we might start to understand again today: the attempt to express harmony, to balance contradictions in a world which cannot be dominated by man, but in which he can implant himself trying to create his own environment to which he is adapted, where he manages to some extent to keep things under control. This stands in contrast to an outer world, towards which he has respect and which he tries to bring into harmony with his own domains.
In this sense the vernacular world including vernacular architecture becomes an important historical source from which we can learn. It is a world of phenomena which we have to fiercely keep alive in order to counterbalance the parasitic urban world which tries to integrate the whole globe into its dangerous schemes.
In view of this village: what does it help us to travel to Egypt, Athens or Rome, if we find things which are much more ancient and valid in our own environments? We just should recognise that the onesidedness of the historical method and the neglect and devaluation of human tradition by the urban humanities projects extremely distorted images. We can balance this onesided view by making it a high value to study the conditions of traditional or vernacular culture. Not as a kind of funny carnival or 'look how poor they were' type of attitude, but, on the contrary, with the same intensity as we study Aristotle or Plato, or other world views like the one of Goethe.
AND VERNACULAR FESTIVALS -
WHAT DOES VERNACULAR ARCHITECTURE TEACH US?
The previous 'pest candle' example might have shown that 'vernacular architecture' is more than just rural housing'. It is a traditional way of rural existence, of village culture which stands deeply in opposition to the one we call urban. The schemes (9a) and (9b) try to show this. Space, time, and worldview are entirely different.
The scheme shows two things: First, that the urban condition is the latecomer. The city is a historical event par excellence. It implanted itself on top of the rural condition wherever it appeared. It can be compared to a parasitic relation in biology. Spatially condensed it always controlled the rural domains for its own profits physically with goods, taxes and military superiority. And spiritually by devaluation of the rural parameters, whether in regard to lifestyle, worldview, art, architecture, philosophy, religion. To understand the rural we must do away with this unscientific conventional pattern of devaluation.
In a second sense something important is shown: rural continuity! If we consider the urban as a late implantation or superseding process, we can see a continuity of the prehistorical rural and the historical rural until now. In contrast to linear history which changes its values in short phases, the rural adheres to highly conservative customary behaviours. Thus methodologically we can use the continuity factor of rural traditions to clarify historical and prehistorical conditions.
The study of vernacular architecture in the conventional sense of traditional housing has made great advances recently. Ethnology who is responsible for this field of study had greatly neglected the house of traditional societies. This hole of ethnology was filled by architects that got interested in traditional architecture all over the world in the last two, three decennies. The Encyclopaedia of Vernacular Architecture edited by Paul Oliver presenting these collected materials is a milestone in the framework of architectural ethnology. But, it is not without weak points. It offers very little information about cultic demarcations related to the traditional house, environment and settlement. These cultic aspects, what the eminent Indian anthropologist Lalita Prasad Vidyarthi calls the 'sacred geography' of a settlement, represented the highest values of the local ontology expressed in demarcated places. This local arrangement teaches us the local history. It is the local archive of a society which has a cyclic relation to time. Thus, the EVAW projects some sort of British 'Arts and Crafts' concept over its global materials, reducing its theoretical value for the serious anthropologist. In view of this I hope that someone will make a similar Encyclopaedia about 'Semantic and Symbolic Architecture of the World' as long as - in Asia for instance - it is still ethnographically accessible. As we tried to show in the case of Japan, and partly also in India, semantic and symbolic architecture is the experimental field of architectural form and meaning and as such essentially structures the worldview of any ethnic group not yet affected by historic religion.
In this critical sense I can not just define vernacular architecture from the conventional architectural standpoint proper. Vernacular architecture of a region, of a settlement, will only tell us its essence as culture, if we include its local festivals, its house cults, its maypoles, its processions, its syncretic relations with superseding religions, hence its sanctuaries, temples, chapels, and corresponding rites, also its local social structure and how local power works. We will get to know a type of culture which is strongly related to territorial conditions and the empirical aspects it offers. Is it not strange that maypoles still exist in many rural domains in spite of most intense urban spiritual indoctrinations over centuries? There must be a great tenacity of the population in regard to keeping such traditions alive.
In short, this wider type of vernacular architecture will tell us a successful story of living in modest and respectful frameworks, but with an overwhelming reward in terms of aesthetics of the environment, in terms of social intensity and continuity from neolithic times. It was not poverty and sickness which plagued this world, it was the increasingly spreading urban parasitism in all possible forms which subdued, exploited the rural domains over centuries, devaluating their existential structure.
It would lead too far to go into details. The most important teachings of the vernacular are its polar characteristics between outside and inside, its vertical polarity schemes, its emphasis of doors, gates, entrances as important transitional points in a world that traditionally is supporting and protecting itself to a great extent. Some people might think that I am too skeptical, but in contrast to most architectural researchers defending their ideas and theories today, I am probably one of a very few who really have been working in the fields, that is to say in the sense of ethnology or ethnography: I have done stationary fieldwork in Japan and among the Ainu (ca. 10 years) and also in India for at least one year in the whole. It means: I have seen (and felt) what I write about.