29th June 2021

Featured Review

The Art of Building at the Dawn of Human Civilization

The Ontogenesis of Architecture

Reviewed by Celina B. Barrios de Senisterra

Through an exceptional new approach, The Art of Building at the Dawn of Human Civilization: The Ontogenesis of Architecture by Dr Marta Tobolczyk surveys the origins and evolution of architecture, and the organic processes leading to the founding of the first permanent human settlements.

The recent progress in archaeological discoveries has significantly expanded our knowledge about prehistoric cultures. With this newly added information, Dr Tobolczyk studies and compares an outstanding number of excavated structures in different regions of the world. The purpose of her research is to identify convergently-developed universal features and similar spatial conceptions, stressing the essence of architecture as an anthropological activity that is common to different societies as a result of the biological and environmental conditions of human existence.

Dr Tobolczyk—an Architect and Professor of Architecture and Urban Studies—makes an excellent contribution to contemporary architectural practice, with eloquent references for the creation of genuine organic forms. The 21st century housing reality is marked by congestion, pollution, uncontrolled-sprawling, and disconnection with the environment. House designers today strive to regain the original intuition and sense of relationship with the natural setting that our ancestors had in prehistorical times, when architecture not only fulfilled human needs, but also served as a bridge between the worlds of culture and nature. This present research offers numerous examples of ancient constructions that illustrate the organic process of building practice, and highlights the imperative of preserving this discipline’s role as a cultural heritage.

The original topographical shelters—such as caves—had an impact on the further development of civilization, and on its ability to perceive and shape space. When building their first prehistoric dwellings, human beings used their experience in dealing with the environment to imitate the surrounding landscape, and, thus, they reproduced its archetypal forms and geological structures that respond to natural laws. Their houses recreated organic designs that followed the spatial principles of nature. The unity and harmony between what was built and what was natural was continued when conscious and purposeful planning started to be based on preconceived concepts of utility and aesthetics. This moment marked the birth of architecture.

Dr Tobolczyk’s excellent book offers an invaluable theoretical inspiration for contemporary architects in their endeavour to preserve the cultural legacy and the original objective of house building as a balanced and honest continuation of the landscape. The study clarifies the interpretation of the true essence of “organicity” as the logic of nature, and differentiates it from the confusing “intentionally anti-structure organic designs” that we may find today. Architectural students would immensely benefit by including this book in their introductory courses on Theory and History of Architecture. At the same time, its approachable language and illustrations are accessible and interesting to all audiences who want to explore the origins, and environmental needs and challenges of human beings.

Celina B. Barrios de Senisterra holds a Master of Arts in Art History from the University of Toronto, Canada, and a PhD in Cultural Art History from Warnborough College, UK, having previously worked as an Architect in Argentina. Her lectures and articles explore the cultural identities of societies expressed through art and architecture.

Celina is the author of Mesoamerican Open Spaces and Mural Paintings as Statements of Cultural Identity, published by CSP in September, 2019. Please click here to view.

The Art of Building at the Dawn of Human Civilization: The Ontogenesis of Architecture is available now in Paperback at a 25% discount. Enter PROMO25 at the checkout to redeem.