Friday, March 20, 2009

Foundations Unit Abstraction: The Theatre of Everyday Life

How is a civilization's daily life reflected through their architecture? From studying structures, furniture and other artifacts we can trace the origins of past civilization's interactions and ideals. 

The Egyptians incorporated nature into all of thier building, as the nile river was one of the main sources for their limestone material for building all structures. Pyramids were made of the local stone materials creating a contrastingly large structure which blended with the sand of the desert. Egyptians furniture turned to animals in linkage to nature. The legs of furniture would often have animal like feet turned forward to show the natural position of the animal. Hieroglyphics often featured animistic figures to represent letters, words and meanings. Because cats were so greatly revered, they were seen as protectors of the people. They were domesticated by the Egyptians in 200 B.C. and were utilized in hunting parties to catch fish among other small game. The sphinx- another cat form is the symbolic protector of the land made by Pharaoh Kafre (4th dynasty).    
Although they eventually created chairs with slanted backs we see that early furniture as well as heiroglyphics of ancient Egypt dictate that straight posture was a large part of their ideal human form. Furniture such as chairs often had very straight backs, head rests placed on beds were like cradles for the head which would maintain straight posture even in sleep. The emphasis on straight posture may be related to cats as they were highly revered for their aristocratic manner conveyed through their prancy straight gait. 
Nature is also part of the very symbolic culture of the ancient Egyptians in that the sun, cats, the nile river among other things had vast importance to religion and the theatre of everyday life. Large ammassments of slaves were gathered in order to take on the pharoah's many building projects. They created pyramids to build up to and point to the sun. They were a physical manefestation of their pathway to afterlife. The nile river was another physical manifestation of the division of life and afterlife. The east side of the nile is life while death or the afterlife resides on the west side. In Someone's tomb all of their belongings such as furniture, slaves as well as pets are buried with them so that they may use them in the afterlife.

Natural designs were reflected in Greek columns: The volutes of the ionic columns were related to ram or goat horns, Corinthian columns were based on acanthus leaves. Their furniture was also animistic in that the feet were modeled after animal paws. They differed from Egyptian design in that the paws were turned outward rather than in the direction the animal faces. Wealthy people showed hierarchy through the feet of chairs in that the feet were often on top of carved "reeds" to symbolize that the ruler's feet never touch the ground. 
Architecture was based on the symbolism of the the Greek gods as each city was modeled after and based on a the story of a god. Outside of the Erectheion in Athens, Athena was said to have beaten Poseidon in a fight in which Athena won therefore naming Athens after herself. The temple of Athena sits on the acropolis amongst the Erectheion and the Parthenon.  
The People of Greece sought to achieve "arete" meaning "quality and excellence attained from fine testing and refinement" (Roth 215-246) so that they would be immortalized through their accomplishments. This is evident in various facets from their orthogonal planning to their fine lined columns and temple cornices. A focus of democracy began through this: demos meaning the people and cracy meaning governed by the people. Although this truly meant only land owning free white men could vote there was still a great focus on civic interaction through the creation and use of agoras, theaters, and coliseums. 
Stone was the primary material of the Greeks. Forts were created in the defense against the surrounding "barbarians." Stone is also permanent relating to the immortality of arete.

Structures such as theaters were built into hillsides so as to create a natural backdrop to the stage. Natural designs were also in their furniture continuing the tradition of animal forms. 
The Roman person was based on militarism and duty to the state. They refined past people's designs as well as the greeks through their engineering in aqueducts, roads, and arches. The Romans adapted their religion to be like the Greek religion of the Olympian Gods. Like the Greek the Romans had a large emphasis on civic life and like the Greek agora they had forums- spaces outlined by the basilica and other buildings. The emperors of Rome dictated much of the Roman culture through free entertainment and the architecture of theaters, baths, and stadiums. Bathhouses built on top of natural springs or fed from aqueducts cycled into the Roman's daily life. The typical roman would work from sunrise till noon, visit the bathhouse for the rest of the day then return home for a relaxing dinner. 
The Romans continued the use of stone as well as concrete and created new forms of columns such as composite columns- combinations of ionic, corinthian as well as influences from other designs.  

Springer, Ilene (2001,4,1). The Cat In Ancient Egypt. Retrieved February 28, 2009, from Web site:
Roth, Leland (2007). Understanding Architecture. Westview Press.

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