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ALL ARCHITECTURE, EVEN the most sophisticated, is a product of the Earth in one form or another. We might call this the ˜soil' of architecture. People travel the world to visit beautiful cities: Siena, Venice, Rome, KrakÃ³w, Prague. We fall in love with the Italian hill towns and the beauty and simplicity of African mud buildings, but we fail to explain to ourselves why our ˜advanced' society cannot create such buildings, towns and cities for itself. If the failure of these buildings and cities is that they lack soul, how can we add soul to the soil of architecture?
Animals were creating homes for themselves millions of years before Homo sapiens started to engage with this activity, and not only are these animal homes wholly ecological but their formal solutions are inherently beautiful. Now, since humanity is part of the unity of the natural world, it could reasonably be argued that the rules that guide us when we create form derive from the same source as the rest of Nature. Psychologists have recently been able to identify rules of perception that explain how we identify and respond to form. Interestingly, their work has demonstrated that human and animal perceptual systems share many of the same characteristics. The theories most influential in this field remain the early-20th-century theories of the Gestalt school.
The Gestalt school identified several principles of use to artists and architects, but the most important is that of balance “ that is, the constantly shifting balance that balances all opposites within the constantly shifting matrix of reality. Interestingly the principles of form found in the natural world are not dissimilar to the Gestalt principles that also operate in the unselfconscious human building traditions I referred to at the beginning of this article. Vernacular building traditions have evolved slowly over long periods of time and thus possess some of the coherent organic order found also in Nature. As in animal architecture, vernacular architecture possesses an inherent beauty: the beauty of integrity and unity. Such beauty emerges from the totally balanced integration of a system, its function and use into the broader realms of Nature.
By: Humane Architecture
Department of Landscape
University of Sheffield