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Ch. 1 pp.35–46

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  • It’s a good time to re-cap. Yamamoto’s not saying anything complex. After being pointed in the direction by Arendt, he’s just reminding us of an attribute that urban and architectural space once had, and he’s doing this because he believes our lives would be better if we restored this attribute to our urban and architectural spaces. We now come up against the limitations not of language but of the limited meanings we ascribe to words. We in the Western world think of Greece as the birthplace of democracy but, so far at least, Yamamoto hasn’t used this word once. Instead he uses the word freedom to mean the freedom to participate in the decision making of the public realm and equality to mean the equality of all those who could do this. He doesn’t use the word disenfranchised to describe the Ancient Greek women, children and servants with neither this freedom nor this equality. Even the words freedom and equality ring differently in different people’s ears, as do the words public realm and private realm.
  • This week’s installment seems to be arranging the furniture for what’s to come, and describes the first part of an extended survey of vernacular settlements.
  • At the end of this post is a new feature – if it came be called that. For some time now, WordPress has been appending links to three posts some algorithm decided had something in common with the one onscreen – probably by using some keywords or combination of them. I don’t know. I haven’t been monitoring them. Instead, I’ve been appending three of my own that have some thematic link to the post. After all, I’m the one who should know. But still, it looked like duplication. In future posts I’ll be embedding links to posts I think are relevant thematically. However, I also revisit posts for various reasons. Usually, it’s because something or somebody made me think of it but often it’s because I became sidetracked while looking for something else. At the end of each post there’ll be a list of three such posts. You can make of them what you will. This week, I must have been missing exercising my mind with the minutiae of layouts and window positions. I haven’t read too far ahead in this book but, from his built work, I know Yamamoto thinks a lot about layouts and window positions but he extends it further into the social and political dimensions than I’d ever been able to imagine.

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1.3 Settlements Survey I – The appearance of the outside

Settlements were part of the topography

I participated in a survey of settlements conducted from 1973 by Hiroshi Hara’s studio in the Institute of Industrial Science at Tokyo University. This survey was continuous field work to survey settlements and their housing in various locations around the world such as around the Mediterranean, Central and South America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, India, Nepal, and in Africa. The surveys were continued by Akira Fujii’s studio and, in all, over 500 settlements were surveyed in fifty countries over forty years. There has probably never been another survey like it in the world.

The content of the survey was limited to what could be accomplished by two four-wheel drive vehicles full of people, and involved searching out and noting the characteristics of as many as possible of the settlements typical of the region. Even though I say we found them while driving around, topography turned out to be a deciding factor, particularly around seasides, riversides, lakes and cliffs. We saw settlements along with their landforms. The most beautiful both stood out and at the same time were at one with their landscapes.

The forms of individual dwellings or settlements as collections of dwellings both had extremely strong relationships with their natural environments and I believe this perception is something shared by many people. How the town or village was configured is to an extent determined by whether natural environment is tropical rainforest, savanna, arid, or warm-temperate and so on but, even within the same natural conditions, there were many cases where the forms of the villages and dwellings were completely different. There was no way that the influence of natural conditions could be directly and specifically linked to the forms of settlements, and their dwellings.

There were no large environmental differences on global scales such as whether a hot region be tropical rainforest or savannah, or whether a region be hot or cold. Instead, there was a strong relationship with local environments such as forests and farmland and rivers and valleys and what building materials could be acquired from areas nearby.

Landscape is designed

Settlements are built along with the landform when the landform is prominent.

  • The M’zab Valley is a huge valley carved by the river that flows through the Sahara Desert. The river is intermittent but periodic. In the base of the valley are seven hills and high-density clusters of housing are built around minarets on each of those hills. Each hill becomes a city and the form of that city can be seen whether it is from above looking down at the desert, or from the desert looking up. Thes, along with the oases in which date palms flourish, appear as if they were designed along with the landform. (Fig. 8)
Fig. 8: Ghardaïa (Algeria) (photo” Hiroshi Hara Studio, Institute of Industrial Science, Tokyo University)
The horizontal line is the Sahara Desert. In the middle of the river valley is a hill that becomes the city.
  • Around Al-Chibayish in Iraq is an enormous wetland at the confluence of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Islands are created in this wetland and houses then built wherever there are large clumps of reeds growing. The reeds are first formed into long, column-like cylinders that are then used to create walls and then vaults. There is one family per island. (Fig. 9) These family-islands are regularly spaced across the wetland at distances where a shout can still be heard.
Fig. 9: Upper: Al-Chibayish (Iraq) (photo” Hiroshi Hara Studio, Institute of Industrial Science, Tokyo University)
Lower: Plan of Al-Chibayish (source: “Town and Village Survey II”, Hiroshi Hara Studio, Institute of Industrial Science, Tokyo University, p.145) The artificial island has a set place for boat docking. In front of it is the madeef [TN: a special place for receiving guests] (with the diagonally hatched portion being the “threshold”).
1: mahdef, 2: sleeping area, 3: kitchen, 4: sleeping area for son’s family, 5: storage, 6: space for buffalo, 7: boat dock, a: bread oven, b:storage, c: hearth, d: box, e: sleeping, f: mat
  • A church is a romantic ruin positioned halfway up a hill and the town lies straight down the road leading up to it so that, even now, the derelict church remains a symbol of the town and its houses are attractively and radially ordered around it. Windows of every house are decorated with flowers and the town is surrounded by orange orchards that are its main industry. (Fig. 10)
Fig. 10: Petrus (Spain) (photo” Hiroshi Hara Studio, Institute of Industrial Science, Tokyo University) Symbolic position of church.
  • The town of Santorini is about a hundred meters above the port and people and goods arriving at the port must make the 100-meter climb. Donkeys are the most effective transportation infrastructure. The town is built above the cliff face and, when seen from the sea, the unique landform is emphasized by the clusters of white houses. The white edge formed by these white clusters sends the message that people are living there. Seen from the town above, the Aegean Sea has a dreamlike beauty. Even though this is a harsh place where one must climb a hundred meters up from the port, the scenery is so beautiful that one would think it was the only reason people wanted to live there.
Fig. 11: Santorini (Greece) (photo” Hiroshi Hara Studio, Institute of Industrial Science, Tokyo University) It is only 100 metres from the port to the town above but, though close, is a steady climb.
  • On the north-west slope of the Kathmandu Basin are houses in rows along the contours. The houses are made of wood, with sun-dried brick and stuccoed walls. Entrances face road on the long sides of the house [平入: a Japanese traditional type of building where the main entrance on the side which runs parallel to the roof ridge] making an attractive scene. The middle of the village has a stone well into which fresh water flows. A mandir (Hindu temple) rests surrounded by several large trees on a small hill on the south side. The entire settlement has been designed with attention to forming something like a single environmental system. The village and its environment are beautiful. (Fig. 12)
Fig. 12: Upper: Nakagaonnakusa [translit. from Japanese] (Nepal) (photo” Hiroshi Hara Studio, Institute of Industrial Science, Tokyo University) A community unit of approximately 200 dwellings. All dwelling construction materials are sourced nearby.
Lower: Map of Nakagaonnakusa (source: Dwelling Survey II, p. 135. Houses follow the street pattern centering on the water hole and the mandir [temple]
  • This next is high-rise, high-density housing made of sun-dried brick. Each five or six storey tower is a single house. The lost level is the house entrance while the intermediate floors are both the male area and the place for meeting guests. The floors above are the women’s area and the uppermost level is the kitchen. This means that everyday the women have to carry water drawn from the valley, up to the highest level in the house. This form can’t be said to be functional but it evolved to protect the entire collective from outside threats. However, the appearance of this settlement is magnificent to the extent of overpowering an onlooker.
Fig. 13: Upper: Shibham (Yemen) (photo” Hiroshi Hara Studio, Institute of Industrial Science, Tokyo University) The uppermost level is the kitchen. Section through a Shibham dwelling.
  • Many persons of the agricultural caste live in the central part of villages in the north of India and so the many types of jati [caste] that serve those farmers live in the areas around them. The village chief (patel) has a larger ouse in the centre of the village, and that is surrounded by rows of courtyard houses. Both the roads and the inside of the houses are made of compacted earth that are kept pure by sweeping.

Many settlements are large enough to be called cities but what can be said of all of them is that their forms – that is, their appearance is prominent in that they make their landscapes prominent. Both village and landform are prominent. What was it that urged their creators to make such powerful and beautiful forms?

It was the will of the people living there. Those powerful forms are the expression of the extremely strong will of the people who have continued living in those places. It is the will that makes people continue to live along with the continuation of past memories. It is a shared will. Settlements are more than the individual lives of their people but things that have continued to exist singe a long time ago. The certainty of a settlement that has continued for longer than any person is what binds its people together. Settlements are able to assume the role of transmitting this collective memory. Their strong forms function as memory devices that can convey this collective memory from the past and into the future.

Settlements are a world

Arendt has the following to layout of the Ancient Greece polis. “Physically, the polis is organized so it is protected by a wall and it appearance is guaranteed by law and, for as long as later generations do not change it, it will be a form of organized memory.” (The Human Condition, p.31.] The appearance is extremely important in transmitting that memory and so must continue for longer than the lives of the people of the polis. Moreover, the people living in the polis believe this. Arendt says this polis has the existence of “a world. It is a world as an artificial thing constructed by human hands.

For as long as it has durability and a relative longevity, it is possible for [the lives of] people to pass through it. To put it another way, the world existed prior to the existence of people and remains after they have left.

The Human Condition, p.152

The Parthenon and the Erechtheion were built on the hill of the Acropolis that, when seen from the streets of Athens was a very high place. The city-state (polis) that was Athens was between the city walls that surrounded it on all sides, and the Acropolis above. The original meaning of polis was “a wheel-shaped wall”. (ibid. p.126, Note) The majesty of the hill of The Acropolis and the city walls impressed all who visited Athens. People from other polis, Phoenecians, Persians or people from even more distant places would tell of how majestic these walls were. The appearance of the city was made even stronger by the the appearance of each of the houses within it. This sent a very strong message that the people who lived in Athens were very much different from the people who lived in other places. Mr. Akira Ito was one of the original members of Hiroshi Hara’s studio that conducted the Settlements Survey and even now is continuing it. He writes, “People within a shared community have their homogeneity emphasized, along with their awareness of being different from those outside”. (Settlement Drawings Prepared by Ito, p. 93.) The “appearance” is both the expression of difference with respect to those outside, and the expression of similarity with those inside. The appearance of the communities we surveyed, were expressions of single worlds.

  • The landscape of the seven hills of the M’zab Valley.
  • The scenery of the family islands dotting the rich wetlands.
  • The beautiful village made up of the mandir, well, the row houses and their unified form.
  • The grouping of houses arranged around the abandoned church.
  • The high-rise, high-density housing made of mud brick.
  • The rows of houses, each having their own courtyard garden, surrounding the large house of the village chief (patel). As well, there are the cleanly swept city streets.

All these scenes constitute the (outward) appearance. The beauty of these settlements and their forms that overwhelm others are expressions of how their world is different from those outside. These settlements were designed as individual worlds. and the polis is one such world.

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2024/04/28 Ch. 1, pp.35-46 [this post]
2024/04/21 Ch. 1, pp.23-35
2024/04/07 Ch. 1, pp.18-23
2024/03/31 Ch. 1, pp.14-18
2024/03/24 The Space of Power vs. The Power of Space: Preface pp. 7-11

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Revisited

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