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Technology History - Architecture

From archaeology we know that caves were early human shelters. Some prehistoric dwellings were partly underground, such as neolithic European dolmen or Native American pit houses, as seen in photographs of archaeological sites. The Puebloan or Anasazi kiva, another underground structure, has a distinctive circular chamber. Other early dwellings were thatched shelters and other huts.

Some precolumbian New World civilizations built multistoried masonry walls. Photographs of Inca sites in the South American Andes Mountains show trapezoidal doorways and huge building-blocks for strongholds that still stand today. Historical pictures of Aztec Mexico reveal pyramids and canals. The Ancestral Puebloans, or Anasazi, built fine masonry structures as cliff-dwellings such as Mesa Verde in Colorado, as well as enclosed towns such as those at Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. Other precolumbian structures in North America include those of the Salado and the Hohokam people in Arizona, and the Mogollon/Mimbres culture also in the Southwest. Prehistoric Moundbuilders created their own distinctive architecture, notably platform mounds and pyramidal mounds that signify important cultural and economic centers in central, southeastern, and eastern North America.

Where timber was lacking, stone was often used. European stonework seen in historical pictures includes castles, cottages, and stone walls, as well as prehistoric stone obelisks. Medieval walled towns were enclosed in stone perimeters for defense. Like stonework, brick masonry is strong but unlike stone requires a kiln to create. The strength and ease of construction of brick made it a desirable material later, for commercial buildings and factories, as seen in historical pictures.

Soil, another natural and readily available material, led to earthen construction used by Native Americans such as the Moundbuilders and in earth lodges of the Mandan and other tribes on the Great Plains, as shown in historical images. Traditional Navajo hogans, made of earth with wood supports, were always built with a single doorway facing east, indicating how home design incorporates important cultural values as well as shelter. The Pueblo Indians made soil into mud bricks known as adobe, later incorporated into Spanish colonial buildings in the Southwest. As seen in vintage pictures, similar mud-brick construction was used in other arid climates such as the Mideast and North Africa. In the US, prairie settlers used earth for sod homes or dugouts as initial homestead dwellings on the Great Plains. In the Arctic, where even soil is not always available, the snow-block igloo sheltered families from the cold and wind.

As seen in historical pictures, wood homes are found in regions with a timber supply, including North American log cabins and colonial wooden houses. Native Americans used trees for bark lodges and for roof timbers and structural supports. A Native American innovation was the tepee using buffalo hide wrapped around wooden poles, which could be taken down and dragged to a new site. The poles formed a travois, a platform that could be loaded with household goods, as seen in historical images. Other nomadic people also favored moveable homes, for example, yurts and tents. A quickly built shelter for groups on the move was the Native American wickiup.

Historically another important structure was a fortress or fort, usually a military outpost built for defense on a frontier. The perimeter might be built up as a wooden stockade or as a barrier of heavy logs or stone. Some were surrounded by a moat. As forts incorporated artillery, cannons were positioned to face outward, as seen in vintage pictures. Some forts were constructed with towers or a blockhouse. Fort design changed with increasing experience in warding off attack from enemy arm. ies or hostile natives, and designs were adapted to differences in terrain or available building materials. Many forts became objects of siege warfare. Forts on the American frontier served as military bases and as supply depots, such as Fort Union along the Santa Fe Trail or Fort Laramie on the Oregon Trail, and they often included a trading post, as historical pictures show.

By the end of the 19th century, steel framing allowed buildings to be built higher than earlier materials could support, giving rise to skyscrapers, as shown in vintage images. Steel also made longer bridges possible. Early suspension bridges were roped walkways across chasms or rivers; a great modern achievement was the Brooklyn Bridge suspended over the East River, which linked Manhattan with Long Island in 1883, as seen in historical images. The arch, invented in Roman times, was another way to link a heavy structure across a space, historically used in many Roman buildings and aquaducts, as well as in medieval cathedrals and castles in many variations, including a distinctively shaped Arab arch seen in photos of the Alhambra built by the Moors in Spain. The dome is another Roman architectural design still in use today.

As seen in historical pictures, ancient Greek buildings are recognized by the rows of columns used for structural support throughout the classical world, an artistic triumph particularly admired in the Parthenon of ancient Athens. The beautiful style was revived in 19th-century neoclassical architecture characterizing many government buildings, colleges, and private homes, as seen in vintage pictures.


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