The Quest for Order in the Man-made
- Nature and the Idea of a Man-Made World, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995), p. 28 - 46
"The old relationship between man and the world—a relationship once heavy with myth and intimate with meaning—has been replaced by our new, precise, objective, dispassionate observation of the world with the result that our understanding of our experience of the world has been curiously mutilated. The world is still there—more there than ever—bright and sharp and analyzed and explicable. But we ourselves, facing the world, are not there. Our knowledge, that is to say, seems to exist . . . independently of us, or indeed any knower—scientific knowledge stated in its universal scientific laws, its formulas and equations true for all men everywhere and always, not for a single man alone."
— Archibald MacLeish, as quoted in Nature …, p. 23
"Without a hogan you cannot plan. You can’t just go out and plan other things for your future; you have to build a hogan first. Within that, you sit down and begin to plan."
— Frank Mitchell, Navajo Blessingway singer, as quoted in Nature …, p. 34
- Some have made the argument that Christianity disenchanted nature. For modern man the idea of the sacredness of nature has yielded to positivism, which has become customary, implicit—a normative assumption.
- What is one person’s religion may be, for another, superstition. Forces that tend to establish a way of thinking about some particular thing are for the most part too complex and multifarious to trace with absolute certainty.
- Scientists believe that our physiology is identical to that of our pre-Neolithic ancestors. Therefore, our basic environmentally-determined biology, including the human brain, evolved as adaptation to life as hunter-gathers—and not in relation to settlement living.
- It is interesting to speculate on how the first “permanent” settlement came about. Did agriculture come first? That is the dominant theory, but there are others. Jane Jacobs, for instance (in The Nature of Economies) advances the idea that trade may have provided the first means to building settlements, and such a settlement made possible a close observation of nature that in turn lead to agriculture. Additionally, there are systems of semi-permanent settlements that exist up to our own time that accommodate people living in geographical settings rich enough to allow for a hunting and gathering life in an area small enough to be reached from a fixed settlement for either most of the year or for all of it. For instance, coastal tribes of the Pacific northwest of North America combine fishing with hunting and gathering in nearby abundant forests and are able to remain in place throughout the cycle of seasons.
- Homo sapiens extended evolution beyond biology by means of human culture—made possible by a brain with far greater cognitive powers than that of any other creature—ultimately making possible such achievements as the creation of warm clothing for survival in climatic zones that would otherwise be deadly, and eventually the construction of protective domiciles and fixed settlements. Unique accomplishments include the use of fire, the domestication of animals, the management and storage of crops, and the invention of writing.
- The domicile and the settlement could now become, metaphorically, a new nature, one that is determined and shaped by the hand of man.
- Why are human artifacts created according to their own order? For instance, pre-historic domiciles often reflect a rectilinear geometry, sub-divided into rectilinear rooms and courtyards. Even when the domicile is round, such as a Navajo hogan or a Mongolian yurt, it is ordered by an orthogonal geometry, with a hearth at the center, and certain priorities for interior elements in relation to the entry, such as seat of honor, the placement of ritual artifacts, and so on. (Nature …, p. 30-31)
Plank House of the tribes of the Pacific Northwest in North America
The Haida plank house is not untypical. It was positioned on the beach (the domain of man), and faced the sea (domain of the sea spirit embodied in the otter), and behind it was the forest (domain of the forest spirit embodied in the raven). Its construction featured four prominent corner posts (representing the 4 quadrants of creation), and at its center is the hearth, with the smoke hole above, symbolic of the axis mundi. The shaman on special ritual occasions climbed through the smoke hole symbolizing his access to knowledge of the spirit world, while during an ordinary day, light from the sky through the smoke hole symbolized enlightenment from the spirit world of the sky. Virtually everything bore symbolic relationship to the natural world—an enchanted cosmos.
Typical Navajo Hogan (Nature..., p. 37)
The Navajo hogan is positioned on an east-west axis with the entrance facing the sunrise on the equinoxes. The place of honor is at the back of the hogan, facing the door from behind the hearth, which is at the center. An important ritual is for the patriarch of the family to arise at sunrise, proceed out through the east-facing doorway toward the sun, and cast a pinch of pollen to the winds while saying a morning prayer at the moment of sunrise.
House, Santa Clara Pueblo, c. 1935
"We Pueblo people hold healing ceremonies for our homes just as we do for members of the community. Our structures are extensions of our world order and are viewed as living beings with life and death cycles. Shelter is not just a place to live but an extension of the natural world or of the sacred realm. The house reflects the relationship of earth and sky, mother and father. Houses are also symbols of the larger ordering of the universe in which mountains, hills and valleys define spaces where humans can dwell. Building and creating shelter is to bring the human and cosmic forms together. The roof or ceiling of the structure may be seen as the sky or the father which protects and nourishes the people who live inside. The floor is the Mother Earth, which embraces us when we die."
— Tessie Naranjo, Santa Clara Pueblo, New Mexico
Primacy of the House
Dwelling: Heidegger noted that the Old English and High German word for house, baun, meant “to dwell.” In English we define “house” as “a private dwelling.” (Nature …, p. 39)
The house is the center of one’s universe. The Latin word for hearth is focus. Before the invention of the enclosed fireplace, the hearth stood at the center of the house, beneath a smoke-hole through the center of the roof.
Evolution of the Courtyard
The Hellenistic Greek city with its agoras enclosed by stoas. In the hierarchy of spaces the agora served the public the way the peristyle court served the family. (Nature …, p. 43)
Gaston Bachelard reflected on the house as one’s first experience of man-made form and space in our childhood: “for our house is the corner of the world. As has often been said, it is our first universe, a real cosmos in every sense of the word.” (Nature …, p. 41)
Mircea Iliade described “the house” as “the universe that man constructs for himself by imitating the paradigmatic creation of the gods, the cosmogony.” He shows how elements of the house are symbolic to us, whether we are conscious of it or not. (Nature …, p. 41 – 42)
Evolution of the House
We will talk about the evolution of architecture, building practices, and urbanism later, but here we will consider the evolution of the house as central to the formation of culture.
The Mediterranean courtyard or peristyle house may be seen as having evolved from the more primitive megaron, a free-standing element that turned inside out, so to speak, became a peristyle house. In the peristyle form, it could be packed together with others like it along a street to begin to make a city.
In ancient Greece, the public gathering space of the agora is like the peristyle house enlarged from the domain of a family to that of the whole community: the polis. (Nature …, p. 42-44)
Mediterranean peristyle house as it may have evolved from the archaic megaron, top, to peristyle city house, and....integrated in the Hellenistic Greek city with its agoras enclosed by stoas. In the hierarchy of spaces the agora served the public the way the peristyle court served the family. Nature..., p. 43
Another example is the Roman insula, or apartment house. By the time of the Italian Renaissance it had evolved into the palazzo, a residence for an extended family of the affluent merchant class. (Nature …, p. 46)
|Roman insula||Renassaince palazzo|
- Why is it important that we not lose sight of the relationship between even relatively minor artifacts that comprise our environment and nature, for instance, between your car and the environment? Cite an example of your own.
- Discuss some examples of the evolution of domestic architecture in later more complex building types.