Architectural Anthropology

Prof. Nod Egenter, architect ETH, ethnologist and anthropologist, is Director of the Documentation Office for Fundamental Studies in Building Theory, Switzerland. He is manly concerned with interdisciplinary research in architectural anthropology.
The presentation outlines and contrasts two professional outlooks on architecture, the view and social role of the modern architect (post-medieval myth of creation) and the outlook of the architectural anthropologist (four classes of architecture): subhuman [nest-building of higher apes], semantic [fetishes and life trees], domestic [vernacular dwelling], sedentary [evolution of human settlement]. The modern architect uses the homogeneous continuum provided by modern physics. Based on research done on hitherto unknown type of buildings widespread in pre-historical and traditional societies, so called “Semantic architecture” the anthropologist reconstructs an entirely different concept of space, which is not empty, but closely related to substance and uniform. This “complementary space”, or “harmonious space” unites categorically opposed substantial domains with contrasting units (coincidentia oppositorum). It is then indicated that the destruction of this pre-modern type space by modernism is at the basis of the modern urban loss of orientation. Evidently, this space concept was, and still is, the basic part of a cognitive system which is contradictive to analytical science, but lives as a full-fledged cognition, or ontology, at its side (in art, in social relations, pre/non-rational philosophy). This “complementary” cognitive system allows us to understand not only art and social relations in new ways, but shows us the “insular” character of analytical science. It defends itself by terms like ‘irrational’, ‘pre-logic’, ‘mystical’, etc. against this other system, which it cannot integrate, because it is basically and, by definition, absolutely antithetic (1=2). If we realize these two cognitive systems as equivalents, we not only contribute to a better understanding of the role of architecture (and art) for man, we might also contribute to a human balance between the analytical science and art.

Garuda in Thai Art

Dr. Neeru Misra, art historian, is Programme Director with Indian Council for Cultural Relations and currently on deputation to United Nations Development Programme. Having specialized in Medieval Indian History, she has made significant contributions in the areas of history and social process.

In Hindu mythology, Garuda, the divine king of birds is the vehicle of Lord Vishnu and is identified also with the Sun god. Like several other symbols, it has drawn the attention of the artists all over the region. Conceived as half human and half bird, it is associated with its devouring snake-like demons, the Nagas. The similitude and parallelism in forms and concepts is almost global. From Egypt to Thailand and Indonesia it has adorned the temples, the entrances, the homes and even the Royal insignia.

The earliest reference to Garuda is found in the Vedic literature. Rig Veda mentions it by epithet of Suprana. Atharva Veda speaks of Suparna Garutman with reference to the antidotes of poison. Puranic literature finds profuse mention of it and the Garuda Purana is replete with the details of the deity.

Iconographic developments at a later stage depict Vishnu riding on it and sometimes the Garuda is represented with an eagle’s head, wings, talons, beak and a giant man’s body and limbs. Characterized as a celestial bird, it has distinguishing eyes, wings, hands, headdress, legs and postures. In some place, the attributes of Vishnu such as conch, club, lotus, nectar, etc. and the Buddhist attributes like flower, horse head, noose, three eyes and three heads are also found.

The icon migrated from India to the neighbouring regions during the 11-12th centuries. The Phra Krut, as it is known in Thailand, became the symbol of the royal Chakri dynasty in the middle of the eighteenth century. A large number of expressions in plastic art, bronze, stucco, wood, stone, murals, coins and seals spread over seven centuries have witnessed the changing manifestations of the vehicle of the preserver of the Universe, Lord Vishnu.

Thai art developed between the eighth and eighteenth centuries and is a confluence of various schools lie Dwaravati n the South, Khmer in East, Burmese and Lopburi, Ayuthia and Sakhothai in North. Garuda found rich and variegated expressions in the Bangkok period in particular. Most of the icons of Garuda in Thai art are preserved in the National Museum, Bangkok.

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