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Question 1: Compare the ziggurat of Ur from Mesopotamia civilization and pyramids of Teotihuacan from Mesoamerica civilization in terms of materials, and try to explain how the natural environments could influence the dominant architectural development.
The Ziggurat of Ur is the most established remaining religious structures from the Sumerian Era. Located in modern-day Iraq, it is an immense stepped pyramid, however only the first tier remains. The ziggurat was a religious structure containing a temple complex as well as other unidentified possible amenities that served the ancient city of Ur. In the 2nd century BC a new unidentified civilization ascended building several huge stepped pyramids, now known as the pyramids of Teotihuacan located in modern-day Mexico. The Pyramid of the Sun was built around 200 A.D, one of the largest building in Mesoamerica. Construction of the smaller pyramid of the Moon, was not completed until 450 A.D.
The construction of The Ziggurat of Ur consisted of various natural materials found locally, these were sourced from The Mouth of Euphrates. Similar the properties of the materials used at Teotihuacan are shared as the surrounding environment consist of a swampy basin. The core of the ziggurat is densely filled with extensive mud bricks, walls were thick to compensate for the feebleness of mud, most likely the bricks contained a mud compound with the provision of straw/reeds to strengthen. Much like this the Pyramids of Teotihuacan aren’t built of solid stone, instead they consist of mud and stone rubble infill and use the style of talud-tablero (having both sloping and upright panel sections) for structural strength, however both enhance the stability to counter extra weight, by benefitting from the sloping planes. The Pyramids gain great advantage being covered with layers of cut stone able to repel practically any form of moisture, this being sourced from the nearby mountainous region accessed through the canoe channel network. On the other hand, the ziggurat adopted a technique of using layers of brick to be separated by reeds allowing drainage throughout and leaving through weep holes; whilst the side and terraces of the structure consist of sun baked mud bricks to add a component of waterproofing. Furthermore, clay from the river bed was used as a form of mortar to compensate for the relative strength of mud and protection from wind and rain. Much like this the Pyramids adopted their main construction material as a mixture of soil and water, similar to clay, as it was readily available in this area and deem a secure component.
In my opinion both structures showed solidity through the creation of inward sloping walls, creating the impression of appearing eternal. The main functions were merely to support a relatively small place of worship however the sheer height provided an impression, religiously, culturally and commercially through spiritual nourishment; hence both structures share similar orientations to the sun.
Question 2: Describe how Chinese Scholar Garden (Wangshi Garden) and Japanese Moss Garden (Saiho ji) use different plants as significant materials of design, and explain their background social contexts (philosophies) respectively.
The Chinese Scholar have created a scenic garden style designed in order to express the harmony existing between man and nature, a miniature compacted environment built for pleasure and to impress; a so called Miniature Universe. A typical layout entails an enclosed walled area consisting of ponds, rock formations/variations, and a diverse range of plants; creating carefully composed scenery. Japanese Moss Gardens, are premeditated designs for a balance of recreation, aesthetic pleasure, contemplation and meditation. These miniature designs often were in a highly abstract and schematic manner, composed around an entwined path flowing through the garden, allowing observation of key elements. Japanese Moss Gardens were, at first, developed under the influences of the Chinese Scholar Gardens. Eventually development came through the appreciation and collaboration of their own aesthetics, in the form of Japanese materials and culture.
‘The Four Nobles’ refer to four plants: the plum, the orchid, the bamboo, and the chrysanthemum , which withhold many symbolic meanings. The plum tree is not deemed particularly striking nor that of its blossom, however its ability to exude this challenging condition, devises this stark contrast and serves as a metaphor for inner beauty and a humble presence. The Orchid represents and exemplifies simple elegance, a fragile form with no tendency towards violence, with its appearance in spring this is deemed to signify humility and nobility. The shaft of bamboo is hollow, with it immense capability to withstand huge weights and pressures through strength and flexibility, this yielded the noble qualities of the Chinese Scholar, humble, supple and yet surprisingly strong; this also came to resemble embodiment and resilience. Finally the chrysanthemum signifies composure and virtue as it defies the autumn frost and most plants wither and die; it enables a spiritual utopia for one to connect with nature through courage.
Nothing in a Japanese garden is left to chance, each element is chosen accordingly for its symbolic meaning; mosses strongly express the landform and notion of an island. These are collaborated with the understanding of their aesthetic and symbolic meaning to either hide undesirable sights, or to resemble an acquired component. Moss is often utilised to form a dynamic composition because of its adaptability and pliability; with the aim to devise a carefully controlled reality, an idealised version of the natural world, stripped to its essential. Moss creates the essence of underlying fragility and mutability, developing an impression to encourage contemplation and response. The Japanese believe it to be a symbol of eternity, versatility and resilience resembled by the coexistence of visual strength and physical fragility, able to survive and remain resilienteven in harsh conditions, including severe cold and drought.
 Hong Jiang (2011) The Plum Blossom: A Symbol of Strength , Available at: http://www.theepochtimes.com/n2/china-news/the- plum-blossom-a-symbol-of-strength-57557.html (Accessed: 19 January 2014).
Question 3: Compare and contrast two domed religious buildings, Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and Selimiye Mosque in Edirne in terms of overall form, layout, structure, and function.
Hagia Sophia was established in 537 AD. It is considered be one of the historical greats for its beauty and domineer with many symbolic references to it magnificence and spirituality; It marks the inauguration of byzantine architecture. The structure was the most praised and celebrated church in all Christendom for many years. After the corruption of Constantinople, it was adapted to a mosque with few minor additions, ever since it has been an inspiration and an exemplary design for many of the Islamic mosques. Likewise, Edirne is known for its beautiful mosques, but none quite as much as the Selimiye Mosque. Considered as one of the highest accomplishments of Islamic Architecture, the mosques was constructed in 1575 and at present dominates the skyline of Edirne. The Mosque is not a comprehensive complex, however facilitates many amenities, created through a more modest approach.
The Hagia Sofia contains a vast interior embedded in a complex structure, all assembled from brick and mortar. It contains two floors centered on a giant nave all located beneath a domed basilica; with the entire structure oriented on the northwest-southeast axis. The dome sits between two semi-domes at the centre of the church, partially supported by a gallery of forty arched windows. The weight of the dome is carried on four concave pendentives enabling its transaction onto equal arches, eventually distributing through four substantial piers. To ensure the load can be suspended the piers were reinforced with buttresses. This design allows the aisles to be significantly taller than the galleries thus its effect from below is that of a weightless dome that seems inherit the symbolism of the sky and heavens.
The elegance and rudimental elements of Hagia Sophia inspired the architecture of Selimiye Mosque, however cannot be fully isolated to the terms of byzantine architecture; the structure held a much greater cultural embellishment. Much like Hagia Sophia the structure contains; suspended arches, semi-domes, buttresses and a huge encompassing dome with an array of continuous windows. However, in place there is an octagonal support created through eight pillars, the weight of the dome bears on these carried through the arches to the buttresses instead of directly to the walls, enabling the dome to be stabilised. The domes of Selimiye are more elevated, causing it to appear much more dominant than Hagia Sophia of which has a much flatter contour, although the dome height itself is greater. The effects of the supporting elements are not visible in the interior of Selimiye, this is composed to enrich features of architectural mass and space. The structure is mainly constructed of cut stone creating a pure perspective through clean lines.