“We are an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.” These immortal words by Prof. Stephen Hawking regard our existence as a mere unwitting coincidence, a minor blip in the cosmos. If we compressed 4.6 billion years of planet Earth’s history into 24 hours, human ancestors would walk the planet around 11.59 pm. Numerous life forms have prevailed long before we set foot on our planet. Grasping the essence of spatial perception has facilitated the growth of these organisms. Understanding, creating, and utilising spaces extends throughout the natural world. The animal kingdom has witnessed wonders. From the simplicity of a burrow to the complexities of an anthill, the use of a cave as a shelter for young cubs, to the built maze of a weaver bird’s nest to protect their offspring, nature never fails to amaze. The question arises, what makes us different as a species?
Spatiality in Ant Colonies
Deborah Gordon’s research focuses on the behaviour of native harvester ants. She studied the behaviour of each as an individual entity and the collective behaviour of the colony. The queen is responsible for giving birth. The worker ants protect her even at the cost of their own lives. This ensures the success and growth of the colony. She is safely transported to the underground vestibule shelter during an attack.
The system does not stop there. The ants also segregate their midden and dead away from each other but are isolated from the main colony. This system has evolved to ensure its survival, protect its own, and preserve the greater interest of the collective over the individual. Safeguarding the tribe and ensuring the progeny’s success has always been life’s dictum. The survival of the collective is equal to its strength.
Growth of Civilization
Much like many animals do in nature, prehistoric humans too used naturally formed shelters for protection. But that would prove inadequate if the human race aspired for growth beyond survival. Consequently, they started making huts to protect themselves from the elements, animals, and other humans. A Paleolithic village was successfully excavated in Mezhirich in Ukraine, dating back to approximately 15,000 BCE. The town revealed a cluster of huts made of woolly mammoth bones that provided an intricate structure framework. These huts ranged in diameter from 13 to 33 feet. Some had ashes and charred bones, suggesting the presence of a hearth inside.
The switch from hunter-gatherer to agrarian life resulted in the idea of permanence. People started settling down, building more ambitious structures, and forming more significant numbers. Human societies started emerging when dwellings began to develop into more prominent clusters. People soon established co-dependent relationships. They gradually began to realise they needed help to do everything. Trading would allow both parties to benefit from the other’s hard work. This would eventually result in the formation of market spaces. The central market space would be a constant in the design of spaces for aeons to come.
With trade becoming the new method of survival, people could depend on others. Once their basic needs were met, they could move beyond a simplistic existence. The urban fabric started developing in a nascent form with the early townships. They would go on to form the first River Valley Civilizations of the world.
Uruk, in Mesopotamia, reached a population of 50,000 around 2000 BC. The concentration of people in these newly formed cities would start creating favourable conditions for growth. A standard method of communication would be necessary, creating the first languages. Civil engineering would emerge since water supply and drainage would be required everywhere. To further trade routes, road making and shipbuilding would gain traction. This would result in a single body needing to oversee and supervise this development, creating the first ruling governments. Soon, other advancements, such as religion, art, and writing, would follow. Without a city, these notions would not be possible.
With governments established, and religion dominating, people would need to gather for religious ceremonies and public meetings. The need for public squares was afoot. Urban planning began to be centred around large public squares, from the Greek Agora to the Roman Forum. With people congregating regularly, markets would have more reason to be situated in central squares. Having spaces where people assemble periodically would result in daily interactions and exchanging ideas. This would act as a precursor for democracy. The growth of humanity would be an inevitable result.
Architecture has always been synonymous with our growth and expansion as a civilisation. The Bible has rightly said, ‘man does not live by bread alone.’ We need more than survival to give our lives meaning. Our thought process has evolved dramatically over the years. The evolution of humanity is itself the history of architecture. Our urban fabric is a reflection of our society and its culture. In ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ Victor Hugo writes, ‘Architecture is the great book of humanity, the principal expression of man in his different stages of development either as a force or an intelligence.’
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