Architectural Context Part 1: Order
Excerpt from: Architectural Context in the Age of Big Data
Order is an essential condition for anything the human mind is to comprehend.¹ The orderliness of a given system or occurring phenomenon is primarily apprehended by the sensory organs of the observer. Furthermore, perceived order is often a reflection of the internal order governed by the underlying structure of the observed phenomenon.² We speak of orderly arrangements of objects when every object is in a place which is determined by its correlation to all other objects observed. Thus, orderly formations occur when particular configurations of parts reveal their relationships to each other and to the structure of the whole. Similarly, we speak of an orderly sequence, of events when each observed event occurs in a particular sequence, in a particular place, and in a particular manner.³
Perception of order is by no means a process of passive observation. Human mind actively organizes perceived patterns synthesizing knowledge about the surrounding world.⁴ Throughout the history of mankind human beings constructed an immense variety of perceptual tools and analytical models to facilitate the unrelenting need for conception of order. The concept of measurement, being one of these tools, is of particular interest. The notion of measurement originated in ancient Egypt where it was employed to regulate the processes of agriculture, construction, trade, and taxation. Frequent seasonal flooding of the Nile and subsequent land erosion often made boundaries of the agricultural fields unrecognizable.⁵ Thus, Egyptians created a variety of directives and instruments for measuring the fields and reestablishing plot boundaries.⁶ These measurement systems were intellectual constructs directed at ordering of the environment and acquiring knowledge about the surrounding world. Eventually, Egyptian principles of reestablishing plot boundaries were adopted by Greeks and laid the foundation of Geometry (from Ancient Greek; geo- “earth”, -metron “measurement”).
The importance of employing geometry to acquire knowledge about the outside world was highly recognized by ancient Greek philosophers. Hence, the writing over the entrance of Plato’s Academy “Let no one unversed in geometry enter here”.⁷
This experience-based knowledge of Egyptians eventually molded into a structured knowledge in the form of geometric principles and axioms summarized by Euclid of Alexandra.⁸ Euclid extracted the underlying patterns present in Egyptian land surveying techniques and defined consecutive steps needed for the construction of different geometric bodies. The complexity of these geometric principles continued to rise over time forming a more sophisticated theory of geometry. However, these intellectual constructs alone were not enough to be used as precise perceptual instruments. It is their blend with body-based measurement systems that allowed these abstract principles to be contextualized and transferred into physical reality.⁹
Ancient Egyptians, for instance, constructed a measurements system that was based on the proportional correlations present within the human body. The smallest measure was considered to be the finger (digit) that was followed by the palm that contained four fingers. This proportional correlation was sustained until Schoenus (river-measure) establishing a continuous proportional correlation between the human body and the outside world.
This measurement system illustrates that in Ancient Egypt the human body was used as an active agent through which the living environment could be measured and ordered. Introduction of measurement units in combination with abstract Euclidean geometric rule set allowed the formulation of more intricate and precise statements about the perceived world. In other words, the human body was acting as a medium through which abstract intellectual constructs could be contextualized and embedded into the physical reality. A well-saturated example of abstract geometric principles used in combination with bodily proportion systems to structure the physical reality can be found in the writings of Marcus Vitruvius Pollio. In his seminal work “Ten Books on Architecture” Vitruvius describes the human figure as being the principal source of proportion among the classical orders.¹⁰
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: Rudolf Arnheim, Entropy and Art: An Essay on Disorder and Order (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), 3–5.
: Rudolf Arnheim, Entropy and Art: An Essay on Disorder and Order (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1971), 3.
: Kurt Koffka, Principles of Gestalt Psychology (New York: Routledge, 1967), 16.
: Kurt Koffka, Principles of Gestalt Psychology (New York: Routledge, 1967), 106–110.
: E. M. Bruins, Codex Constantinopolitanus Palatii veteris (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1964), 80.
: James Gow, A Short History of Greek Mathematics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 129.
: David Eugene Smith, History of Mathematics (New York: Dover Publications, 1958), Volume 1, 88.
: James Gow, A Short History of Greek Mathematics (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 135.
: Toni Kotnik, “There Is Geometry in Architecture,” in Form — Rule | Rule — Form, ed. Günther H. Filz and Rupert W. Maleczek, (Innsbruck: Innsbruck University Press, 2014), 38.
: Marcus Vitruvius Pollio, The Ten Books on Architecture, (New York: Dover Publications, 1960), 96.