Architectural Civilisations

Have a thoughtful discussion of contemporary architecture, art and design.

The history of civilisation is the story of the development of mankind’s mind and soul and the art of architecture has developed in response to these developments. When man crawled out of his cave to establish himself on the surface of this earth, his chief anxiety was to make himself safe by constructing rudimentary shelters of whatever material that was available close at hand. In rocky places he used stone, in forest areas he built with wood and where neither was available, he used mud. All these primitive dwellings, like beehives, were alike in shape—they were all round. In this barbaric age, buildings required only strength.

The earliest civilisation is attributed to Egypt and it was in this land that rectangular architecture had its origin. They fashioned lumps of clay into bricks to build a wall. However, it is only when the Egyptians used their structures for effect, that the history of architecture properly begins. From their faith that material form was necessary to perpetuate existence arose the necessity of tombs. This was the next stage, where not only strength but also permanence was sought for. The great pyramid at Gizeh has been described as the greatest and most accurate structure ever built. Each of its four sides is almost a perfect equilateral triangle, with its apex 481 feet above the base. This monument which is more like a mountain of stone would not have been possible, if the Egyptians were not well up in their knowledge of mensuration and geometry to execute such a huge and accurate structure confidently. Its magnitude and the ingenuity shown in fitting the stones together impress every beholder. Architectural requirements were less exacting, on account of limited social development, in the Egyptian era and methods of construction alone imposed themselves as the basis of design. In Egyptian architecture, we find the exposition of the post and lintel principle, with a large margin of safety.

In the architecture of ancient Greece, we find again the same post and lintel principle as that of the Egyptians but on account of their higher cultural standards and technical knowledge, we find refinement in the proportion of every member which was further enriched by sculptural decorations. Since life was lived out of doors, the Greeks designed for external rather than internal effect of their structures. They employed the beam as a dominating clement in construction. Here was beauty recognised as an adjunct of building called for in every structure.

The achievement of Romans consisted in covering large spans. Inspired by the demands for huge spaces where crowds could assemble, they evolved the arch and the vault. From the engineering standpoint the Romans made a wonderful discovery in concrete and their concrete which was derived from volcanic products was exceptionally strong. This enabled them to build cheaply and rapidly on a vast scale. As Ruskin has said “The Romans went in for a cheap and easy way of doing that, whose difficulty was its chief honour”. Thus social requirements and technological developments to answer them have progressed together. Without technological] development, the architectural requirements of Romans might have remained unachieved. It should be noted that the real beauty of Roman architecture lies not merely in their decorated buildings, but, also and mainly, in the technological and engineering applications they involve, for the achievement of their aims. The Roman structural system dominated the architectural conceptions of the period, during which the Roman empire exerted its world-wide influence.