Marc-Antoine Laugier, Allegory of Architecture, Cover of the Essai sur l’architecture, Paris, 1753. Image of the new principle of architectural rationalism of the eighteenth century, founded on an old myth, that of the primitive hut as a natural model of architecture.
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.
The primitive hut had been standard in architectural theory since Vitruvius. Marc-Antoine (Abbe) Laugier brought the idea to life with an image of the hut as the frontispiece for the second edition of Laugier’s Essay on Architecture (1755). - Wikipedia
From the simplest hole in the ground to the most elaborate trailer with running water, these ever present and oft forgotten instruments of our environment contain a dangerous myth. Their structures sit so clear. Their iconic plastic imbue a sense of complete, self contained, processes. But where does it go?
Trucks come, from time to time, picking up these miniature dwellings for dodo and dodo-ing. The Primitive Hut is no match for its more important father, the Primitive Potty. With its leash cut, these potties linger free from the chains of fixed infrastructures of pipes, sewers, and fresh water.
This is not merely a shitty story, it is the story of hidden truths. Of the questions never asked here nor at the dinner table. Where does our shit go? (And why don’t we know?) Their presence a reminder of these hidden processes and our own unwavering disinterest in the fundamental architect: the infra-tectures.
Architects often are the worst at discussing the realities of infrastructure. Yet one would think they would be the most prepared to discuss such practicalities. Recently I attended a brief conference at Mexico City’s largest university where a prominent Mexican architect discussed his plan to provide housing for all of Mexico City: Simply build another story above all buildings. He claimed that the infrastructure was all there to support the additional population increase. Yet when asked detailed questions about how the sometimes incredibly old and derelict sewer system – not to mention an outmoded electric grid – could handle the large increase in population density – and therefore usage – the architect had no answer, circling back on an answer already given. It was clear he actually had no interest in this issue. What happens to our waste is often ignored. But it’s presence and makeup provide us with an apt cross-section of our lives and actions. Maybe more sewer backups would be good for promoting consumption consciousness.
The portapotty remains perhaps the simplest architectural innovation ever produced. A seemingly self contained closed ecosystem of shelter and pooping. As my grandfather once said “The only two things in life you must do are shit and die.” The portapotty can easily provide for both. Combined with the new norm of food trucks, we have all the parts necessary to live a basic human existence.
Its arrival on construction sites insinuates the arrival of people, food, and preliminary inhabitation by construction crews – the people who build the buildings we eventually end up excreting in ourselves.
This serves as the beginning of an archive of portapotties and all their seemingly self contained infrastructural kin.
When was the last time you tried a portapotty? They’re quite a lot of fun once you get used to the stench. Indoor air, quality? I doubt it.