Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Fallacy of Vincent Scully's "Sacred Mountain"

  1. explain theory
  2. cite issues
  3. provide alternative
In  Architecture : The Natural and the Manmade , Vincent Scully argues that pre-Greek cultures sought to "echo the shapes of the landscape". He continues on to expound on his theory of ancient cultures and their quest to build  sacred mountains. The Ziggurat of Ur, or the Great Pyramids of Giza being prime examples. According to Scully, the Greeks were the first to conceptualize the idea of contrasting the built environment with nature.

While this may be a beautiful prosaic metaphor, that is all there is to it. "The Sacred Mountain" is a literary device and nothing more. There is little to no legitimate evidence to support this willowing thought. The Egyptians didn't build the pyramids because they were trying to imitate nature. They built the pyramids because, to be honest, stacking stones in a pure geometric form was cutting edge technology at the time. The Egyptians have more in common with Miehs van der Rohe than they do with sacred mountains.  Sculley's metaphor is really an indirect way to glorify the Greeks and their temple architecture. The Greeks would not have had the technology to build their temples out of stone were it not for the technological advancements of the Egyptians.

I would argue that all man-made structures contrast with nature. They are synthetic. There certainly is something to "being inspired" by the natural world, but to think that there was a concerted effort of these early cultures to actively seek to imitate or mimic mountains is absurd.

The "sacred mountain" is prosaic metaphor and nothing more.

a/ There is no evidence that the Egyptians or Mesopotamians were actively seeking to “blend in” with the natural surrounding. In word, hieroglyph, nor, artifact. The "sacred mountain theory" is all 20th century conjecture.
b/  Nature does not occur in geometrically perfect forms. There is no confusing the pyramids with an actual mountain. The pyramids have more to do with reduced geometric forms than they do with organic masses of earth.
c/ Under this same argumentation, the Pyramids of Giza are as much a "sacred mountain" as the Parthenon is a "mystical forest." 

Rather, I argue that all of man’s constructed environment contrasts with the natural world. It is evidence of a developed rational mind.  The more we become aware of the natural world and our place within it, the more our mind develops. The more the rational mind develops, the more the built environment will contrast with the surrounding world; in concept and technique at the very least.

The Kerlaos Menhir (c.3500 BCE) contrasts with the natural world. Stones do not naturally occur in orthogonal directions. If there was a time that the “built environment” was to mimic or imitate nature, it was before the development of the rational mind. If there needs to be a specific moment when the transition occurred, think "2001: A Space Odyssey" at the moment when the ape picks up the bone and conceptualizes the idea of a “tool”. “To think” was realized. Technology was born. For the first time, man separated himself and contrasted with nature.

The Egyptians were as modern as any architectural movement in time, pre or post Greek temple.

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