Architects constantly ask themselves, of our profession, questions of who we are in the history of where we have been and where we are going with our thoughts, that will move architecture forward into the future ... and in continuing this questioning we ask; how will the architecture of today represent our highest consciousness, of mankind’s place in that future?
There are many avenues of pursuit in this questioning, all of which, grounded in our current epoch of cultural development, form the consciousness of any person today being able to say, “I AM and individual with purpose”.
As individuals we each have the ability to create, out of my own standing upright consciousness, an architecture, that at its best, is a microcosmic expression of a macrocosmic consciousness shared among us.
As we look around we see many examples of 'Individual Expressions', of ego consciousness, represented in architecture today. Sorting through them to find the foundational thought, that carries architecture forward, is at the core of what current architecture needs to explore, in what it is to become.
As we look to the future, and design in the present, we see from experience that the history of architecture is a representation of cultural epochs. Expressed through architecture in an evolution of 'Thought Forms' developed out of the consciousness that humans live into what they think, feel and will into being at different times of history.
The History of Architecture viewed through 5 cultural epochs
Beginning around 9,000 years ago, with the first written documentation of civilization, we see ancient India as the first representation of an architectural epoch expressed in a written consciousness of architecture.
The architecture of the area we know as ancient India can be understood in the shared existence of human consciousness with nature coexisting as a unity. Looking at ancient India’s most ancient texts and drawings, it is interesting to note that distinctions between humans, animals and nature were not seen divided but rather a unified totality. Ancient texts speak of the architecture of sky as roof, ground as floor, the local environment as sheltering surrounds within their concept of a spacial architecture. All life forms were seen a unity within one architecture. One can sense in this the living intimacy humans had with the macrocosm of life. Nature was not experienced as something seperated out of their lives, as an uncomfortable living experience, rather its opposite. What today we would experience as needing to be protected from, they experienced in a sought for nourishment and companionship. One could say of a cave, seen in this understanding, that it is a living thing, nourishing life, in its protecting and sheltering of life, not a cold and unhealthy living experience, as we understand and experience it today.
After the ancient Indian Epoch, around 7,000 years ago, a shift in architecture and human consciousness took place in forms we see in the ancient area we call Persia. The unity of coexistence with nature began to change as civilization began to see itself separating from it. In this consciousness one can note an articulation of inside and outside, us and them, expressed for the first time in the written concept of the 'wall'.
It is also interesting that at this time, the taming of animals, along with the separation of livestock began.
Ancient Egypt and Chaldea
Then approximately 5000 years ago the highest form of human consciousness shifted to the area of ancient Egypt and Chaldea. Architecture took on forms directly influenced by the consciousness that humans were not only separating themselves from a coexistence of the natural environmentn and animal kingdoms, but also the macrocosmic existence of the universe. To this the forms of architecture made direct links to the cosmos, in a holding onto of memories of a universal existence, not just a human physical experience.
Ancient Greek and Roman
Approximately 3000 years ago ancient Greek culture began, ending with the last remnants of a Roman influence about 1000 years ago. The Greeks saw in Egyptian architecture the remnants of a consciousness that was formed as a way to maintain a connection between Earth and the Cosmos. To the Greeks, Egyptian insights were somewhat forgotten memories. The Greeks began to awaken in themselves a concept of the individual, as separate beings, not only from nature, but also from the cosmos. In a sense a Greek was waking up into a consciousness of noticing themselves. An expression of highest beauty for a Greek was the human being itself. Greek gods were gods of human form. Greek architecture was a representation of the proportions of human form exemplified in nature and the cosmos but not a living part of it. As consciousness evolved the Romans evolved the Greek awakening into a social ideal of social organizing, of which we are still benefiting from, and are also still hindered by today.
An interesting example of Roman thinking compared to Greek thinking, related to architecture, is the idea of the arch. The Greeks never really used the arch in their architecture because, as they would say; “An arch never sleeps, (because of its inherent structural tension to support itself), so it is very uncomfortable to live around”. The Roman’s saw themselves somewhat as adolescents of a new generation, and in contrast to their artistic Greek grandparents and Egyptian ancestors, they proceeded wholeheartedly with what they were told to avoid, and used the arch prolifically and uniquely in their architecture, as a direct way of awaking themselves, and the peoples of their conquests, to their advancing consciousness.
5th cultural epoch of architectural history
Beginning around 1000 years ago a new sense of human self experience within the environment and cosmos began to emerge. With the Renaissance a new expression of consciousness in individuals can be seen. Each human saw themselves an individual, standing up in the words “I Am”. Today, life and architecture is articulated through unique individuals exemplifying the current consciousness of the “I am”.
We live in an epoch where humans are at somewhat at an extreme edge in their individual separation away from an intimate experience of the natural environment, the cosmos, and others. We find ourselves living in a; self-centered, physically focused existence, where consciousness is experienced from within, extending out in an ‘I AM’ consciousness of a 'myself before others existence'.
In questioning this, we can look behind this, and see that a balance to our current, and especially our future reality will in some form have to happen. A conscious balancing of the ‘I Am an individual self focused on my own individual thoughts", will evolved into a coexisting of individuals in community of shared thoughts raised up into a cosmic experience of life that will nourish and sustain life. Future life would not be sustainable if this was not so, ending in a battle of all against all it could be supposed.
It is interesting side light to note, that the expression of the "I am" consciousness we know today, can be seen in the transaction of the first framed piece of art offered for sale by one individual to another.
The future of Architecture
Throughout our documented history we see that every 2000 years a new cultural epoch emerges, with a new consciousness of our place in the cosmos, expressed in architectural forms.
From this we can see that for the next 1000 years there will be a continuation of the current epoch.
What future humans will look back on as our current epoch will be expressed in those buildings representing the human spirit of this time. Since we are at somewhat the midpoint of this 5th epoch, architecture has the potential to change into forms of individual expression yet to be realized.
As architects we ask ourselves, what should we be thinking about in doing architecture that will express a truth about us consciously, that will someday be perceived in our architecture.
Where does one begin to look for these foundational ideas to create architecture consciously that supports and nourishes our current state of existence, active in our current place in history.
What we do know of the past that continues into the future.
We do know, that though out history, on the most basic level of perception, architecture affects immediately one’s nervous system in its experience.
In the same sense architectural experiences and environments can change one’s personality, and ultimately, over time the form of a physical body.
Design can bring one to a sense of a higher ‘Self’ - or at worst, egoistically create within one's self-centeredness one's own wellbeing at the manipulate expense of another. In this we know that a future divided between extremes can destroy us, or if balanced, sustain us.
Modern Architects of a 5th architectural cultural epoch
In studying modern architecture, a few notable architects, exemplifing the individuality of architecture of the past 100 years, that still are seen affecting the future are listed here:
-Frank Lloyd Wright (1867–1959)
-Le Corbusier (1887 -1965)
-Antonio Gaudi (1852-1925)
-Walter Gropius (1883-1969)
-Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969)
-Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)
It is interesting that During the years of 1915 to 1925, all these individuals lived as contemporaries creating architecture, for the then new century.
As an architectural student in the 70’s these architects played a significant role in the teaching of architecture, with the exclusion of Rudolf Steiner. Steiner was not studied because of an academic inability to be specifically identified as only an Architect. Because of this, he has become more of an interest to me, especially in discovering that each of his contemporaries listed here was aware of him and influenced by his work.
Steiner designed out of a conscious focus of an ‘evolution of consciousness’ in a metamorphose of organic form; architecture was not seen as a machine for living and working within, but very much a direct extension of an unmeasurable human quality of a spiritual being living a physical existence.
Steiner’s work explored a depth of thought that speaks to a future, created in a collaboration of humankind and an unmeasurable universe of existence. Where design is seen in terms of a protest against the materialism that dominates and directs man’s consciousness away from a place in the cosmos and its shared environment. It is a direct counterbalance to a hardened and limited view of selfish physical Earth bound existence.
Out of this questioning, a responsibility to explore, up to and beyond the edge of our own understanding as it is expressed in architecture, as a microcosm of the macrocosm of universal existence, is expected by artists an architects.
Experiencing the Architectural work of Rudolf Steiner.
With this responsibility in mind, I have made a couple of trips to Dornach Switzerland, to see the work of Rudolf Steiner. The first time at the age of 28, where I experienced an architectural style that was visually disconnected from any architectural style I was taught in college. I saw the work of Rudolf Steiner very much in the stream of Art Nouveau, and Expressionism, which was in vogue during his life time. During the 1980's, a college study of his work would have been seen a novelty, not a modern influence to emulate.
A second trip to Dornach, when I was 42, was made to participate in an international architectural conference titled “Transformative Architecture” (of which this essay is based). Many architects there justified their work on how closely it resembled the work of Steiner; yet there were also many that spoke and presented their work addressing new views of non-materialistic, non-measurable influences in architecture based on a thoughtful reasoning into the insights of Steiner.
As part of the conference, modern architectural projects from around the area of Dornach, were toured and studied. Works included: Frank Gehry’s Vitra museum at Weil am Rheim, and Vitra Offices in Basel, Zaha Habid’s fire station, and Tadao Ando conference center at Weil am Rhein, Le Corbusier’s Ronchamp chapel, Santiagl Calatrava’s Zurich Station, and Jean Nouvel’s Cultural Center at Luzern.
It was interested to discover that each of these architects were aware of the work of Rudolf Steiner, and on many different and varied levels influenced by his work.
Every building is significant
In the continuing study of architecture, every building is seen significant in its representation of the consciousness of our thinking, feeling and willing life of our current epoch. Every design shapes physical and non-physical expressions of our selves and our environment, nourishing and inspiring in daily living experiences in representations of the macrocosm in microcosm forms of existence.