Light is and has been an important influencer

Light is
and has been an important influencer for architecture and culture across
civilizations. The ancient Egyptians and Mayans all respect light, both having
designed monumental buildings in cooperation with light.

Abu-Simbel
is a temple complex built into a solid rock cliff on the second cataract of the
Nile in South Egypt, near Nubia. It was built either between 1964-1944 or 1944-1924
BCE in the Egyptian New Kingdom under the rule of Ramesses II. However, the
building was relocated in 1960 in preservation attempts. It was built to
celebrate the victory of Ramesses over the Hittites at the Battle of Kadesh in
1274 BCE, along with being dedicated to multiple Gods. ‘The Great Temple’ worships
Ra-Horakthy, Ptah, Amun and the deified Ramesses II, whereas ‘The Small Temple’
worships Hathor, Queen Nefertari and Ramesses favourite wife. Light plays a
significant role in enhancing the significance of the Great Temple. The
entrance of the temple is built so that on the 22nd of October and
22nd of February, light would shine into the building and light up
three (Ra, Ramesses, Amun) of the four statues within. Ptah was not lit up as
he was often linked to the underworld. It is believed that these two days celebrate
the birth and coronation of Ramesses II.

The Mayans,
as well as respecting light, had a strong vision of the universe, specifically
tied to astrology and therefore what was seen in the night sky above the Yucatán
Peninsula. El Castillo, the temple of Kukulkan is a building with strong
cosmological symbolism, built in the pre-hispanic city of Chichén Itzá in
Mexico around 800 AD. This step pyramid was dedicated to the Mayan snake deity
Kukulkan (“Feathered Serpent”), in addition to representing the Mayan calendar.
The pyramid consists of 365 steps (the same as the amount of days in a year);
91 steps on each of the four sides of the pyramid with the top platform being
the 365th. During the spring and autumn equinox a shadow falls onto
the (north-west side of the) pyramid so that it seems that a serpent is slithering
down the balustrade for five hours, until it eventually joins the serpent head
at the base. This shadow lasts fully from base to top for 45 minutes. It is
believed that this represents the return of Kukulkan to Earth on these days as
he blesses the community before returning to the underworld.

Another
building that uses light is Stonehenge in Salisbury, England. It was built
between 3000 and 2000 BCE and is famous for the solar phenomena that occurs
during the solstice and equinox.Religion
has been a unifying and prevalent presence in communities since the beginning
of humanity. Therefore, many different cultures have attempted to follow their
beliefs in the form of architecture. The
ancient Mesopotamians built “staged towers” called ziggurats. These towers had
a rectangular base and then rose with a series of platforms, leading to a
temple at a summit, that would supposedly allow them to communicate with the
gods. To reach this temple there were a system of axial staircases. The temple
was elevated in hopes that this would encourage the gods to come down from the
heavens and guarantee good fortune for the community. It is believed that it
could also symbolically represent the mountains, a place for divine revelation,
as well as protecting the scared site from flooding. The ziggurats were built
out of sun-dried brick, secured together with bitumen, reed matting or rope.
The buildings were then finished with kiln-fired brick to create a
weather-resistant layer, ensuring better preservation.Buddhists
had a strong belief in the concept of “void” and “solid” space when it came to
worship. Void space being the space for the intense concentration of worship,
an empty space surrounded by walls or balustrades, whereas the solid represents
the focus of worship. A stupa is a form of solid space and were considered to
be the physical embodiment and living presence of Buddha. After his death, it
is believed that Buddha’s cremated remains were split across the eight
kingdoms, a stupa being erected in each kingdom on top of the ashes. However,
people claim that in the 3rd century BCE, these were uncovered and
split into 84,000 portions to further the Buddhist world. Stupas are
hemispherical relic mounds built mostly out of burnt clay bricks. However, it
is believed that earlier stupas were built from more ephemeral materials like
wood, as all of the original monuments don’t exist anymore or have been expanded
on throughout history. Stupas were used for worship in that they provided a
place for circumambulation and pilgrimage. A “pradakshina” path could be found circling
the building.

Despite
both of these buildings being a place of worship, their forms, materiality and
uses are dissimilar. Ziggurats are tall towers (about 20 metres), with a
structured design, that bring people closer to the heavens in hopes of
communication with the gods, whereas stupas are large hemispherical mounds,
that while also reaching similar heights (Great Stupa: 16m) don’t hold as much significance
in their height. However later evolutions of the stupa reached staggering
heights of 122m (Jetavanaramaya Stupa). Ziggurats were built to last a long
time, with a lot of thought being put into their preservation, whereas earlier
stupas were built out of wood and didn’t last long at all. Their one similarity
is that although these are large buildings, there is no internal used space,
the buildings instead used to climb up or walk around. The ancient Greeks are famous for having built large, extravagant
buildings in honour of their Gods, two of which are the Parthenon in Athens,
built during the Hellenic Age (800 BCE – 323 BCE) between 447- 438 BC, and the
Temple of Apollo in Didyma (Asia Minor), built during the Hellenistic Age (323
BCE – 30 BCE) between 300BC – 200 AD. These two monuments have similarities, as
well as stark contrasts. Both buildings have unique characteristics for their time, as well as
combining two different orders, despite being typical temples for their styles.
However where the Temple of Apollo focuses more on size, being over two times
the size of the Parthenon, and its use as an oracle site, the Parthenon focuses
more on extravagance and the views from Athens as well in the cella. The Temple
of Apollo in fact as the opposite approach as where you would normally expect
an entrance into the cella, you see a large blank wall. Both buildings are
built out of marble. The location of the site is also very important for the purpose of both
buildings. The Temple of Apollo in Didyma is placed near active springs, as
this was believed to strengthen oracular activity. The Parthenon in Athens is
situated on the Athenian Acropolis, therefore visible from all over Athens. For
this reason the architects believed that is was immensely important to create a
perception of orthogonal geometry using optical refinements and
angle-contraction. The angle-contraction used is however double the amount
needed to balance out the temple. The curvature of the entasis and echinus,
means that there is barely a single straight line to be found on the building,
despite it seeming perfectly geometrical. This is a very sophisticated approach
to design and form. Another innovation in the Parthenon is the double-tiered
dividing columns surrounding the cella and the U-shaped path of colonnades
around the naos that highlights the chryselephantine cult statue of Athena
within. The cella is also designed so that the sun would shine in on the
morning of Athena’s birthday.

The Parthenon, despite being an example of High Classic Doric
Architecture, has paradoxical architectural affects due to the incorporation of
Ionic attributes. The building has slender doric columns with small
intercolumnar voids, a continuous frieze as well as four ionic columns in the
western opisthodomos. The Temple of Apollo in Didyma however has a typical
exterior for a large Ionic temple in Asia Minor, with a double colonnade and a
pronaos containing three rows of four columns each, instead it is the interior
that is unique due to the closed off nature of the cella.