Ancient Architecture: Essential Lessons to Learn for Modern Architects

Ancient Architecture

Problems with Modern Buildings

Cities with glass facades and skyscrapers have trouble dealing with climate change and increasing heat. Buildings provide enough shade from the sunlight and an adequate amount of ventilation. These buildings are more sustainable and environmentally–friendly. As a result of global warming and greenhouse gases, cities are threatened by extreme temperatures. The gulf countries are expected to experience temperatures above 50 degrees in the upcoming years. 

Most people and buildings are dependent on mechanical ventilation. Also, materials used in ancient architecture like concrete asphalt and glass aren’t adaptive to high temperatures. Glass reflects heat in the atmosphere. While asphalt absorbs heat and raises the temperature of the environment, the carbon emissions during concrete production contribute to global warming. HVAC systems of buildings along with the emissions of cars and other vehicles create heat islands. 

Architecture in the Earlier Days

In the earlier days, people relied on natural forms of living harmoniously with nature. Most of the people at that time were dependent on primary activities for a living. Glass was rarely used as a material for construction.  The buildings were made with naturally available materials. These materials were sustainable. The structures were compliant with the way of life of people then. Houses were designed according to functions and environment. 

Ancient Architecture
Photo by Unesco

In warm climates, houses were built with thick walls with the help of other natural and environmentally friendly materials like mud, limestone, and local plants. These houses provided the residents with natural thermal insulation. The color and texture of the walls allowed limited heat absorption and radiation. They absorbed humidity during the nighttime and, as a result, provided a cooling effect during the day. An example of this is the Red Palace in Al-Jahra, Kuwait. Nomads resided in tents, also known as ‘Houses of hair’ in Arabic, as they were made out of goat hair and sheep’s wool. 

mud house
Photo by Art Essere

Mud huts made out of thatch and clay are sustainable and provide effective cooling. Instead of asphalt, the streets were paved with stones that do not store heat. In Petra, Jordan, the Nabatean people created an entirely planned city by carving out mountains. These dwellings provided regulated temperatures instead of the modern buildings with fluctuating ones. 

Ancient Architecture Design

Narrow lanes minimized the heat absorption since they received shadows from surrounding buildings, the exposed area to direct sunlight was reduced. Internal courtyards were a very common feature in the older houses. They were surrounded by rooms that provided shade, making the courtyard a center for household activities. 

water body
Photo by Kuna

At times, the courtyard included an in-built water body and/or vegetation. This also provided a cooling effect during the daytime as the hot air dispersed away through this area. Skylight on the ceilings was also a very common element in the architectural design of such houses. This aided in ventilation and sunlight while maintaining the privacy of the space. Elements like the dome were used to create an effective method of air circulation irrespective of the wind speed. 

Photo by Dwell from Pinterest

Benefits of Traditional Architecture

Incorporating traditional architecture might help combat climate issues in the modern world. Incorporating water bodies like fountains in the center of courtyards with trees around along with building structures is a great way of cooling. Any up gradation in the materials, design and planning will lead to low carbon emissions and fossil fuel use. Thermal comfort can be obtained by adding insulating materials to the walls. Planting more trees helps in regulating the environment. Mimicking urban planning from the old cities might make public transportation better. 

There are a lot of lessons to be learned from ancient architecture from all around the world. This will help in better planning proposals and more efficient and sustainable development with the help of local materials. These techniques are extremely important to obtain eco-friendly, sustainable, and carbon zero cities. The ideas and principles used in ancient architecture should be studied, noted, examined, and translated into the design by modern architects to develop critical thinking skills. Knowing historical processes comes in handy with one’s architectural practice. 

Importance of Historical Architecture

Different periods denote different styles of architecture based on the people and culture. Every era had a different architectural language. The overlapping architectural language of all the buildings from these different styles can be taken in as architectural principles that give rise to a good design. Traces of old architectural monuments are often found in modern buildings in the form of design. 

Benefit for Modern Architects

A thorough study of the history of architecture will help architects for a more innovative approach to their architectural design. Architectural innovations are a result of improving technologies. A study of changing technologies might help in analyzing the direction of emerging technologies in the upcoming future. Evaluating the pros and cons of the designs of the ancient era will also help recognize the failures and not just the successful building designs. 

This analysis will provide insights for architects to develop further in terms of architectural design, building materials, technologies, services, landscaping, etc. They might also help or evolve an architect’s approach to designing for a better future. And build on the experiences of their predecessors. As opposed to the common belief that sustainability is an upcoming modern concept, it has been implemented in vernacular architecture for the longest time. 

Revisiting the historical trends might help understand the way sustainability had impacted architectural practices through the ages. Comparing them with aspects of architecture in the modern world might help attainment of sustainability in building design in a better way. The designs of the older times were a result of the trial-and-error method. Structures like forts and castles were planned to combat disasters. Disaster management concerning building designs evolved from time to time according to people, their culture, geographical locations, regional context, topography, land use, etc. 

Photo by The Economist

People had their way of planning for disaster management ahead of time. The history of calamities was exposed to the building structures of those times. While the principles stay the same, the architectural design elements have changed from time to time to meet society’s demands. It is important to address the community’s needs and incorporate them into your designs. The financial aspect and changing market have a direct impact on architecture. Learning the history of architecture and analyzing the information help in acknowledging the risks. 

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