The Primitive Hut: Looking Beyond Western Civilization
Marc-Antoine Laugier’s Essay on Architecture (1755) had a profound impact on all architectural theories from the moment of publication. Within its pages Laugier called for the simplification of architecture. To remove all the ornate Baroque and Rococo elements and create architecture that everyone can understand and read the structure with ease. He turned to the Classical architecture of the Greek and Roman world; here he saw a perfect reference to the ideal of the primitive hut. The primitive hut in Laugier’s mind stood on columns of tree trunks with a simple gable (pediment) roof. Columns were a key factor to his idea of architectural perfection; they had to be vertical, free standing, and they had to be round, for as he states “as nature forms nothing square.” Laugier fails to look beyond Europe when he speaks of an ideal architecture, and he surveys no further then the forest for the ‘natural’; one of nature’s simplest compound NaCl, or salt, as well as other crystalline rocks, grow square.
For one of my other classes I am currently enrolled in, Ideas and Design, I have read an article by Paul Ricoeur, “Universal Civilization and National Cultures”. Ricoeur’s article relates in a profound manner to Laugier and his theory of architectural perfection- “The fact that universal civilization has for a long time originated from the European center has maintained the illusion that European culture was, in fact and by right, a universal culture.” The dominance of the European/western as the end-all-be-all in architecture is evident for Laugier, despite the knowledge of true primitive huts, as made by the natives in the Americas. He might have dismissed the native for many reasons- perhaps calling their structures temporary. However, architecture is a global/universal occurrence. The relationship of Laugier’s ideal of the primitive hut in a more universal sense warrants further inquiry. Taking this ideal architecture and applying to it the architectural achievements of the world- not stopping with western classic architecture, is a relevant at this point in history where the idea of a global culture is quickly becoming a reality.
Had Japan’s gates been opened to the west 100 years earlier I would like to think that Laugier would have found another prime, if not better, example of the primitive hut. Traditional Japanese architecture is more devoid of decoration then Greek or Roman, a Zen philosophy takes over in the craft and assembly of the architectural members. These joints and connections are emphasized making the building very easy to understand; and thus beautiful to and desirable in the Japanese tradition. The traditional architecture of Japan is a post and lintel construction, not unlike Laugier’s ideal hut. While these posts do not always conform the Laugier’s ideal columns, which are round and consist of a base and top (preferably of the Corinthian order), they allow for the freedom of the Shoji screen. This element of a free-floating wall allows the vertical supports to always be freestanding and encloses the space to protect a person from the elements. Thus these post/columns are never really truly engaged to the wall, as soon as the weather allows a space can be opened and a closed off home now becomes more like a gazebo or pavilion.
Laugier’s ideas although based largely on the study of one ancient culture, are valid enough to carry though and apply (with a small amount of flexibility) to architecture of other cultures. I focused briefly on architectural traditions of Japan to because of the culture’s history of isolation from the world; especially that of the influence of Greek/Roman ideas. The culture of the East meeting the culture of the West, is founding the base of our modern thought. As our modern world becomes more of a global economy and culture, the primitive hut ideal becomes a possible way to unify and tie cultures together. By getting down to the basics of architecture though the post and beam construction; as well as a readable design though tectonics- Laugier’s primitive hut is something that all people can relate to no matter their education, or ethnicity.
 Marc-Antoine Laugier. An Essay on Architecture, P. 15 London 1755; as found online http://www.archive.org/stream/essayonarchitect00laugrich#page/15/mode/1up
 Paul Ricoeur, “Universal Civilization and National Cultures” (1965) in Architectural Regionalism: Collected Writings on Place, Identity, Modernity, and Tradition by Vincent B.Canizaro, (ed) P. 48
How are you today?
I have nearly 20 fine folks following me now;so I’d like to ask ya what you like/dislike or what you’d like to see more of. Do you want juicy pictures or would you delight in a technical section drawing? Want to argue about some theories put forth? Want your box to explode with my posts, or is the 1-3 posts on an average day groovy?
I’m havin fun finding stuff for you folks but maybe you got some fresh modern ideas you’d like to see more of. By the way did you know submiting stuff is the bees knees? Come on and do it already.
Anyways I hope that you’ll contuine to enjoy my posts for one reason or another :)
Is there anything else that I’ve forgotten?
Since the wealthy well-to-do Americans first left the reaches of the economic centers of business in the turn of the 20th century. This shift in location and the rise of the middle class has greatly affected American society. With the purchase of these single family homes the rise of consumerism as a lifestyle coupled with the increase of energy use has now strained this bourgeoisie utopia to the tipping point. The creation as a secluded domestic environment has only added to some of the problems the first generation of suburban settlers were trying to solve by avoidance.
The pollution of industrialization has finally been quelled with environmental laws, yet air quality is constantly effected by the drive (if one can call more time idling in a traffic jam then operating the car a drive) on the many highway systems as people leave their ‘bedroom communities’ and head to the city’s center for work. The alienating qualities that many saw in the city were merely transplanted into the suburbs, which by definition are made up of single family homes. They tend not have space for general public gatherings aside from parks/open spaces- which are at the mercy of weather and snowy seasons. However, despite obvious changes politically, economically and socially since this type of residential housing reached its pinnacle, we still mindlessly fallow their design tradition, building large residential blocks of single units separated by miles and miles from any type business.
This fundamental separation of business from the home in suburbia is increasing becoming an invalid mind set. In this digital age more and more people are opting to work from home, only going into the office for an occasional meeting and even these can be conducted over the internet. While this helps reduce some of the pollution problems. Working from home highlights an issue of the traditional suburb, restlessness and isolation. Once in the city environment a person can feel social even if only through a sort of voyeurism as they go about their working day. Just as the city can offer over stimulation with its masses of people and neon business signs, the suburbs foster restlessness for stimulation- with identical ranch homes lining the streets where can you go if you don’t have a car and live to far from the city to receive adequate availability of public transportation? The feeling of personal/physical isolation is a problem that can be address in the planning and zoning of the suburbs. Integration of business into these old suburbs and future ones will be necessary as people work from home. The types of business at first might be those that serve those who work from home such as coffee shops that offer wireless connections or computer supply/repair facilities; over time a variety of business will be attracted to the once strictly residential zone.
This integration of the diversity in use has already been noted, although many planners have yet to combine it with the growing desire to use less energy. This stress on energy reduction coupled with a growing work from home environment means several things for the suburb. The first thing is the death of the unconnected suburb, housing to far from established cities will fail, this is apparent today with the growing amount of modern ghost town in the middle of the country. Suburbs closer to the city will increase public transportation, which simply extends the perimeter of the city until the suburb is integrated into the fabric of the city. If the suburbs further from the cities are to survive it shall have to change through the integration of businesses in closer proximity to houses. It is a question now of weather the tradition of building density will continue- for some of the older suburbs, like those communities that had and lost their industry to economic changes (either the move of factories to the southern states or overseas) this would mean rebuilding the downtown areas. If density is non-existent as it is for many suburbs in the western United States, it could mean adapting a garden cities strategy. This idea that was envisioned at the same time as the suburbs is one of town like communities each offering an aspect found in a single city. Thus one suburb might build a college, the other host a large commercial district, and still another might change heavily to support farming. These small communities connected both by highway and adequate public transportation assumes the role of the traditional city. Either way a new approach is required to make the suburbs work in today’s world.
 Robert Fishman notices this integration city like functions and calls these suburbs ‘technoburbs’. P. 17 of Bourgeois Utopias: The rise and fall of Suburbia. New York, 1987
I follow now but I am disguised! (this is a secondary blog)
Woo-hoo crazy fan-blog may you spread the word of Foamy so that the modern world might improve its self!