2 minute read

Building Design/Architecture

Prehistory

The architecture of prehistory is largely one of tombs and temples, though mudbrick Neolithic settlements have been discovered. Houses in these settlements were one story, rectangular structures with a hole in the roof that served as both chimney and entry. The doorway, with its horizontal lintel and vertical posts, was developed somewhat later and constitutes the first significant leap forward in architecture, making all future styles possible. The architectural term for post-and-lintel construction is trabeation. Trabeated passages, some involving enormous stones, were built into huge mounds of earth to form burial tombs called barrows.

The thought of the ancient Egyptians immediately brings the image of the pyramids to mind, but architecturally speaking the advances they made with materials and design were far more important. The Egyptians built structures as we know them, with walls, trabeated doorways and small window openings. They eventually developed the freestanding column, which allowed them to build enormous halls with trabeated roofs, structures that essentially consisted of parallel rows of post-and-lintel constructions.

The emphasis of ancient Egyptian architecture was on mass rather than space, typified by the Hypostyle hall where some of the columns are 11 or 12 ft (3.5-4 m) in diameter. The structural strength of the lintel in a trabeated roof limits the expanse of open space that can be spanned by this method. When the lintel is too long, the load carried by the stone is greater than its strength, and it fails. Thus, the open space in Egyptian halls was very limited, though the ceilings soared to heights of almost 70 ft (21 m) and the actual halls were hundreds of feet wide.

The Egyptians were the first structural designers with an identifiable visual style. Their temples and tombs had such a strong identity and coherence that architects still echo their designs in modern structures. They drew some of their inspiration from nature, carving columns to look like palms, or plants crowned with papyrus or lotus blossoms. Structures were also designed to elicit emotions in the viewers, such as the temples interiors that progressed from the bright, relatively open spaces allowed to the public, to the dim, confined spaces of the inner sanctum, accessible only to the priests and rulers. Both the use of nature in architectural decoration and the use of design to control emotion were themes that would be repeated over and over in coming centuries.

The architecture of the Near-Eastern civilizations that coexisted with the Egyptians evolved distinct identities. The Sumerians, for example, had little access to stone. Their available building material was mudbrick, a structurally weak material that could not produce the lintels required for trabeated roofing. To solve the problem of roofing, the Sumerians are believed to have developed the curved arch and tunnel vault to enclose narrow interior spaces. The ancient Persians had access to a variety of building materials, and they were influenced by the architecture of the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the other civilizations that inhabited their enormous empire. With such rich source material, they were able to develop a unique, fanciful architectural style, and structurally refine the approach of the ancient Egyptians. In the royal audience hall in Persopolis, the ancient capital, the pillars were half the diameter of the Egyptian columns, with a significantly wider spacing than the Egyptian version. The ceiling was still trabeated, but the effect is of a much lighter, much more open space.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Boolean algebra to Calcium PropionateBuilding Design/Architecture - Prehistory, Medieval Architecture—romanesque And Gothic, The Renaissance And The Baroque, The Industrial Revolution—new Materials - Classical architecture