by Christina Lanzl
All architectural archetypes contain the DNA of memory and are based on basic shapes or derivatives of circle, square, rectangle, triangle with their sheer limitless geometric potential. Vitruvius conceived the evolution of form beginning with the primitive hut in his multi-volume work, De architectura, an understanding shared the Enlightenment and published by Marc Antoine Laugier in his Essays sur l’Architecture in 1753. Providing basic shelter, the primitive hut contains the rectangle and the triangle in its ground plane and section.
The lineage of typologies continues to be explored by architectural historians. Siegfried Gideon, for instance, considered the evolution of the circle: “The circular structure […] moved from the primitive round hut through several intermediary stages to the cylindrical rotunda of the tholos: a form that had an unusual vitality and acquired many different meanings. The shape originally was related to chthonic forces. In the Roman era, it became linked with the cosmos through the development of the radiating form of the cupola dome.” (Gideon, p. 79) Considered more globally, the round building appears among the earliest structures in many cultures: as Neolithic mounds in various regions around the world, in the African kraal or boma villages, the Native American hogan and the teepee, the Aboriginal humpy and the igloo of the Eskimos, the structures of the Hakka or of the Ashoka dynasty found at Sanchi and elsewhere in Asia.
Architects, commissioning agencies, clients or builders determine form, function and program of architecture. Based on (historic) context and/or aesthetic decisions, architecture contains vernacular or monumental, sacred or secular, traditional or avantgarde design principles. Over millennia, architects and builders have continuously drawn inspiration from the past to inform the the present and future. To do so, memory has been a consistent building block in developing form. Memory connects us humans to our individual and collective pasts, whether they are of a pleasant nature or conjure up sadness and loss.
In examining the concept of cultural memory, renowned literary theory scholar, Aleida Assmann, recognizes two basic configurations: metaphors of space and metaphors of time, concluding that “the media of writing, photography, and electronic forms of storage provide consecutive metaphors and models for the internal mechanisms and dynamics of memory.” (Assmann, p. 137) Indeed, the physical manifestations of our collective memory largely consist of art and architecture starting with the Paleolithic, 400,000 years ago. Some of these harbingers of the past are still standing while others have disappeared. Similarly, Marc Streib notes that “buildings and their remains suggest stories of human fate, both real and imaginary.” (Streib, p. 21) The vast archive of our cultural memory continues to be extant because residues of our past have been (re)discovered, recorded, analyzed, (re)visited and documented through the ages.
Buildings are storage houses and museums of time and silence. Architectural structures have the capacity of transforming, speeding up, slowing down, and halting time.
Marc Streib. Spatial Recall: Memory in Architecture and Landscape, p. 18
Architecture History Project: Typology, Memory & Place
A project of Dr. Christina Lanzl and her Architecture History 01 seminar students in the Department of Architecture at Wentworth Institute of Technology, fall 2019.
Course coordinator: Prof. Anne-Catrin Schultz.
Architecture History and Theory 01 students: Zahra Ali, Spencer Asselin, Lenny Bamberg, Jordan Bembe, Sofia Bertine, Mary Bowman, Braeden Chan, Skylar Chardon, Carvens Charles, Coleman Conner, Reece Cortez, Emily Current, Dante Egizi, Ryan Estremera, Patrick Gould, Maegan Herd, Christopher Hudson, Calvin Johnson, Isabelle Morris, Royce Pease, Emilia Polanco, Ben Procter, Emily Quach, Casey Remillard, Paul Rudolph, Jona Sulaj, Gillian Valanzola, Amber Vuong, Anna Wason and Lexi Winston
Project focus was to investigate the dialogue on memory of place. Recognizing and analyzing architectural typologies, i.e. classifications according to general type, was an important aspect of the learning outcomes. Working on this objective, students selected a historic building for analysis. A corresponding, modern or contemporary building was chosen by each student that shares a typology or organizational scheme with the historic antecedent.
Students explored the layer of memory in sites ranging from antiquity to contemporary architecture. The task was to briefly lay out relationships concerning space, program, design or activity. Inquiries focused on various topics, including materiality, construction, scale, organization and hierarchy.
Assmann, Aleida. Cultural Memory and Western Civilization: Functions, Media, Archives. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Gideon, Siegfried. Architecture and the Phenomenon of Transition: The Three Space Conceptions in Architecture. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971.
Streib, Marc (ed.). Spatial Recall: Memory in Architecture and Landscape. New York: Routledge, 2009.
Urban Culture Institute
The Urban Culture Institute