Every single corner of the world claims to have its own architecture. It doesn’t matter whether that’s true. Considering a very limited region without even peeking at the surrounding ones is sort of boring, since there’re no possible liaisons among them. Surely, they didn’t develop separately. Despite this, I’ve observed that most of the books about architecture take one of the following starting points. Either they focus their main efforts on describing the international styles, assuring that the regional ones are little more than varieties, or they depict the architecture of a single region, forgetting largely about the surrounding area. As a matter of fact, books which show the architecture of several regions just talk about them as they were isolated islands. Instead of this insight, I propose the study of the architectural continuum concept.
What am I talking about? Well, architecture is said to reflect a society. The idea is useful as long as we know how to seize it. I think we don’t by simply showcasing a number of regional styles in order to teach them as a regular museum does. Conversely, considering architectural continuums we can make fair comparisons among the societies of certain regions, both in their past as in their present. By means of doing so, we may infer a certain range of social features, including economic ones.
Yeah, I know. One example is needed to clear up what I am saying. Imagine you are spending your holidays travelling through Northern Spain. You need to move from Galicia to Navarre, going across Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country. It may be that not do you only note one architectural continuum, but two.
It is objective. Each region has got a mannerism. That’s usual along the globe, isn’t it? The popular architecture varies from one region to the next one. Of course, there’re differences within a region, though there’re some features which are shared. Also, a particular style of a region is closer to a particular style of the next, whereas it diverges more from the regional style of two regions away. Besides, a handful of styles which differ from the regional historical standard also obey these rules by and large. This continuum is based on historical reasons. We can connect it with geographical and historical facts. What is the same, by studying the past of a region we can know why the main regional styles are the way they are.
This is subtler and somehow more interesting. It deals with concepts such as preservation. Regional styles are equally beautiful, though everybody is free to have a particular taste for some of them. Regardless, the means a town is preserved or some houses in row rehabilitated talks about a current social and economic situation. Northern Spain shows a continuum whose lowest rate in a regional average is in Galicia, while the level grows up in beeline towards Navarre. Curiously, it matches the per capita income rate. Interesting, isn’t it?
This short consideration raises lots of questions. That’s precisely my intention, because I think this way of thinking about architecture as a continuum may be useful for the better of both our social and architectonical development. Therefore, architecture works as a real social meter again. That’s something it had lost when the entire world began to build skyscrapers in the western way.
Pierre Menard is a French writer who tackles the writing of Don Quixote well over the beginning of the 20th century. He could have simply adapted the work to his ongoing reality, but he did differently. His work copies exactly a number of pages of the original book. That is absolutely amazing, since the Cervantes’s Quixote was written around 1600, while the Menard’s one was written in modern times. The meaning of his words is, thus, another.
This fiction was made up by Jorge Luis Borges, and it illustrates how a particular invention can take different applications along the history. Sometimes the humans have forsaken inventions because the society had found disadvantages or incoherencies on them. There are a lot of examples, namely the banning of firearms in Medieval Japan, although they had attained an important development within the archipelago. However, when Japan readopted the fire weapons later they still served as a way to kill people, and there was not another issue involved in their running.
Let’s go back to Pierre Menard’s Quixote. Have there ever been inventions which have been retrieved for completely different applications? The answer is yes, and the best example I can find is the wheel. I figure out that both the ancient Mesopotamian craftsmen who made pottery and their warrior colleagues who used to fight with chariots wouldn’t have imagined the current usages of the wheel. Neither the clocks mechanism nor the wheelchairs were original uses of the wheel, let alone the weights we insert into the barbells. Similarly, some eggheads were overwhelmed by the naked architecture of Le Corbusier and they blamed him for forgetting the teachings of the Ancient Times. They couldn’t compare the Greek’s Parthenon with his buildings, although the temple has served as a model to them. The architectural elements have been reinvented. Hence, the whole meaning was another.
Along the centuries, the academic architecture has copied the same models among a not too wide range of styles. However, societies have created a lot of different elements and devices which were useful to solve common problems. For instance, mud bricks were useful where there was a lack of stone blocks. Nowadays we can order stone almost wherever we want to due to the globalization, so the initial drawback doesn’t exist anymore.
Incidentally, we are talking about thinking up the wheel again and writing Don Quixote one more time. Regarding mud bricks, certainly they aren’t needed to build houses in the first world, but now we know they own an astonishing quirk as for keeping thermal comfort. This fact could have not been primordial centuries ago, since there were more important problems to deal with. Lots of traditional solutions are awaiting their rediscovery. Probably, we can’t even imagine how valuable most of them could be in the current world.