METHODOLOGY \PRINCIPLES \Trends \ 314archt
1: G. Buccellati, February 2009

Constructional analysis of architecture


Concepts
The stratigraphic context
The potential

Concepts

     The construction history of a given architectural unit may be considered a special branch of depositional history. The latter seeks to reconstruct the moments in the sequence by which things have come to be where they are in the ground. The former does the same with regard to a structure in which sequential construction moments can be identified.
     The constructional or developmental analysis of architecture has developed into a specific discipline of its own, for which there is a considerable literature. It applies primarily to buildings that are fully or almost fully extant, and for which there is no concomitant stratigraphic history of deposits built against and on top of the structure itself. In this case, as known particularly from more recent periods of history (such as medieval archaeology), there are primarily two sources of information, the internal analysis of the monument and the study of written documents that relate to the construction phases. The former (reconstruction of time sequencing on the basis of spatial contacts) is intrinsically related to what archaeology has always been doing. In most archaeological contexts, written texts explicitly relating to the construction are not extant, but the associated evidence gained from accumulations that cover floors or abut walls provide similar information. In this respect, archaeological analysis has consistently been concerned with the structural history of a building, much as the new branch of our discipline has been doing. But what the latter can contribute is a finer sensibility for precisely the architectural dimension.
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The stratigraphic context

     It must be stressed that a developmental analysis of standing architecture is quite different from that of buildings exposed through excavations. In the first instance, we have an architectural whole that is handed down in its integrity to a researcher who can walk into a standing structure. This is conceptually quite different from a situation where a thick matrix of deposits has come to envelop the entire structure over a period of many centuries, so that not a single stone is visible when we first approach the site. During this span of time, substantial adaptations took place in the architectural details of access and circulation, of constructional repairs and changes. In addition, the entire organization of the built environment would generally undergo changes, even when one finds the remarkable persistence of tradition that we reconstruct for ancient Urkesh.
     The most important consideration is that all of this (structural and constructional adaptations, reorganization of space, persistence of basic underlying traditions) is derived from a stratigraphic analysis that has conditioned, in the measure in which it developed, the very strategy of excavation. As excavators, we have of course a presumption of understanding. And this goes along with an effort at perceptual analysis, i.e., the aim to identify the unifying points of view that gave coherence to the whole of this particular built environment.
     A fundamental misconception may arise, i.e., to argue for a constructional history of a whole that has been articulated through excavation in its currently visible elements, as if this whole were instead avail­able for inspection independently. Were it so, its developmental history could only be argued, indeed, from the internal interaction of the structural components, identified through the analysis of the standing structure. But in the case of an excavated building, the structural components have been isolated as such as a result, and at the same time as a presupposition, of the ongoing excavation. The basic tenets of architectural developmental history were of course very much a part of the very process of excavation, but with the added benefit that the difference between specific structural elements was closely correlated with the other aspects of the depositional process that affected them.
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The potential