Humans have spent decades trying to perfect the interiors or what they call “homes”. While we could be tempted to think of architecture as closely related to the built and only it, the other side of this story comes rushing back. Is architecture separated from human existence? Would we (most of us) still exist without the “exteriors” this clean, devoid of constant imminent danger, or the innovation of the water bottle and the ability to wander away from sources of water?
But in some sense “architecture is human” – it is not a characteristic of nature that merely exists without any interventions. Take the earliest notions of human life for example, if we did not have the “need” to be secure and safe – would we really need “shelter”? If we had shells or now the modern semi-equivalent to mobile homes attached to our skins, would we need a discipline called so? The answer might still be yes. The notion of “home” itself is an external locus of the self.
Take our friendly molluscs, for example, they essentially carry their homes on their backs and still designate some part of the Earth/Ocean Bed as theirs’. The earliest homes and houses were caves, covered foliage and burrows – which is the same for all animals. Unsurprisingly, we have traditionally spent brief periods underground, from prehistoric catacombs to contemporary subways and shallow burrow homes. To shelter themselves from both weather and warfare, ancient humans created the well-known underground towns of Cappadocia in what is now Turkey. But the shape and narrative of architecture have evolved as we lived on. And although the material presence of the built environment justifies the parallelism of human history and architectural needs, it plays a crucial role to signal societal development and growth in similar terms as well.
Since its inception, human life and architecture have had a symbiotic or reciprocal relationship. Although the original purpose of architecture was to protect humans from natural forces, architecture has also served as a storyteller of various events and eras around the world.
Architecture’s physical manifestation identifies the rise and fall throughout the centuries human existence has persisted – but its metaphysical self translates meaning and importance as perceived by the multiple civilizations throughout history that was. Describing the changes in patterns of human lifestyle is one part of the task, the other is “tickling” the human curiosity – because our brains cannot be satisfied by the mere purpose of the immediate. Like every human act, Architecture exists to go beyond the immediate and strives for immaterial “aspirations”. So why must the built be seen as a container of human life? And what does it have to do with actions and agency?
The Earth itself is a container of life inside one of “nothingness” – although massive enough to be incomprehensible it is still the infamous “pale blue dot”. While we live in these miniature spaces, we still live in a vast outer space wherein at what point does architecture start or stop? Through the mere notion of “captivity” all spaces fail – nothing has a confined interior or exterior and everything is an “illusion”.
This means that we live in a fiercely compounded interior, and it feels impossible to escape the spaces that are perpetually trapped in other spaces. In this sense, every work of architecture is an example of the mise en abyme illusion, which means that every space we occupy is an interior with no exterior, or rather its exterior is always another interior that contains one set of people in space viewing another set of people in another space.
Control and the Lessons of Now
Architecture is the object and the foreground – it is the environment – the container in and of it. As architects, it’s always the underlying will to tame and master these forces, where the logic lies in working against the powers as we “build to protect and engulf”. But this is rapidly changing.
We have learned different ways to be in nature, where biomimetics tries to “mimic”, and biomorphism strives to take direct inspiration, we still need an architecture that exists “as nature”. Why must architecture continually bring “violence” to aim for hegemony over the forces? One must ask, are we seeking shelter and dominion, or are we asking for control and power? And we have learned again and again that the pursuit of control leads to ruin – and we face larger challenges in turn. Take the global climate crisis, for example, there is nothing that remains in the domain of natural disasters anymore – it is all connected to anthropogenic action. We have released massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere since the industrial revolution, and the climate change issue is now a global crisis. And while one looks at the built and the benefits of building more, the ever-present “foreground” becomes even more important to preserve – What will architecture stand on if there is no nature?
There is the need for collective action but there is a larger urge for collective consensus – humans cannot live without their habitats – and these habitats are in architecture and even more so in nature. 40% of the global population is to lose its’ home due to rising sea levels alone. As the world is confronted with what we cannot control, the only chance to survive is through the choice to surrender any sense of an “objective truth”. That is the most difficult lesson to learn from the humanistic notion.
Hunt Will. 2019. Underground : A Human History of the Worlds beneath Our Feet (version First edition) First ed. New York: Spiegel & Grau. https://www.overdrive.com/search?q=4EFE8C25-39B5-4514-BE19-637D44E0647B
Jacobs et al. 2019. Timing of archaic hominin occupation of Denisova Cave in southern Siberia. Nature 565, 594–599 .
Scotese, C.R. 2016. Some Thoughts on Global Climate Change: The Transition for Icehouse to Hothouse Conditions. PALEOMAP Project.
Tschumi, B. 1996. Architecture and Disjunction. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Wallace, Claire Nicole. 2007. Storytelling Through Architecture. Chancellor’s Honors Program Projects. https://trace.tennessee.edu/utk_chanhonoproj/1129