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Western Civilizations and thier architectural theories.....
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