Learning from the past

The archaeologically proven existence of early houses was in the Neolithic Age or New Stone Age, approximately between 8000 and 5000 BC. 

Charming: Building designs should be pragmatic and reflect local culture

An architect friend had a curious observation about this weekly column, pointing out how it looks at past practices, picks up ideas and re-discovers their benefits for today. The present essay, sixtieth in the series, could be a milestone to understand how important this re-look and rediscovery is to our times.

In the long history of human beings, most of the early part was spent in nomadic fashion. Anthropologists and scientists write that the idea was not to settle, but continue hunting and gathering food. There could be different theories about where and when the settled life started as a benchmark to claim the earliest villages and house constructions. However, researchers suggest that the idea of settling in one place might have happened more than 10,000 years ago, during the middle Stone Age or Mesolithic period. This could be temporary or a fairly long time camping of extended family groups, using local tree branches, mud and reeds for the shelter.

There could be historic inaccuracies in this theory and the shelters could be very primitive, but to imagine this stage as the beginning of our modern houses is exciting.

The archaeologically proven existence of early houses was in the Neolithic Age or New Stone Age, approximately between 8000 and 5000 BC, especially in Asia Minor and Africa regions. Shaped in cones and round forms, houses got formally built around this time. Our ancestors appear to have learnt how to cut trees as construction timber, shape leaves to roof the room or form mud into walls. Farming begins, animals get domesticated, pottery appears and societal systems slowly emerge during this period. The Neolithic Age, in many ways, was the beginning of human society and settlements, hence also the beginning of house building.

During the Chacolithic Age or copper age, approximately between 5000 and 3000 BC, besides houses, even non-residential buildings also got built to accommodate varying social needs. We may assume, during the Bronze Age, 3000 BC onwards, building construction was a well-established skill.

Idea of a house

We may list four basic needs which lead to house construction — shelter, security, space and storage. They still form the four corners of the idea of building. Buildings had to be simple enough for any user to get one built, while they had to be comfortable for all to live in. Subsequently, beauty, functionality and durability might have got added.

As settlements grew, houses got repeated, details got developed, skill levels got improved and architecture evolved. Buildings of a region got improvised by trial and error, with designs evolving by pragmatic considerations. Gradually, our shelters became the expressions of our culture, climate and context.

This column keeps re-looking at the past because the basic idea of building has not changed. The question ahead of us is — will our buildings continue to be so?

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Posted on June 18, 2011, in designs and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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