Shelter is one of the oldest and most important tools invented by humans. It wasn’t strictly invented by humans, obviously, but a lot can be said for the development of the castle, the fortress, the hut and the house over where we used to live. Most of us would rather stay in heated homes than caves and under fallen trees, after all. Mountainside caverns don’t exactly have commercial hvac services or hvac contractors, at any rate. But, although we live in perfectly controlled homes in the modern world, it didn’t always used to be this way. Throughout all different lands and all different histories, peoples have adapted their homes to suit their specific geography. A castle isn’t going to stand on the beaches of ancient Polynesia just as a grass hut isn’t exactly going to cut it in northern Scotland. So what, exactly, did affect the development of all of these homes? What was it like to live in medieval China in a palace with no poolpak servicing or hvac companies? What follows is a short list of examples involving various places and how the location of these places affected the type of buildings therein.
- The Australian outback
Let’s start somewhere a little more interesting and complicated, shall we? For literal thousands of years, the Australian aborigines have lived in the dry and desiccated lands in the center of the Australian outback. This is the first example of what we’re going to call a hot climate civilization and we’re starting with it for good reason. Aboriginal culture is one of the oldest and most venerated on Earth, having cultured and maintained many of the same myths and legends for thousands of years. As such, it’s interesting to look at them through an architectural lens and see how our early ancestors adapted their buildings to fit various geographies. Now, the Aborigines survived, and still survive, off what they can glean from surrounding civilizations and the land itself. They very connected to the land and tend to live in villages made of natural materials such as stone, vegetation and earth. Suffice it to say, these buildings aren’t maintained by much, no hvac contractors or electricians. But they still stand, at least as long as the people live in them before moving away to another place. So what makes these dwellings so special?
Living in the hot climate
Like many desert dwelling peoples, the Australian aborigines have developed houses that ventilate heat and maintain a maximum amount of shade. They prioritize staying cool above all else, whether it’s from modern day technology or more traditional methods. Desert houses like theirs are often wide and flat, with large roofs that disperse the heat away from a centralized core. There’s no AC, no place for hvac contractors to come in, no Freon or chemicals. There can be, occasionally, but it’s interesting nonetheless. In these hot climate civilizations, the priority of architecture is on dispersing heat in any possible. It’s open and wide and sprawling, with few windows and a lack of doors. Across the world, in the ancient and vanished Anasazi civilization, the houses were built into and connected by the walls of cliffs. Remains of their homes can be seen dotting the canyon sides of deserts all over the southwest United States like huge open caverns. By building out and in, these peoples kept cool and stayed away from the worst heat of the day.
What about the other side of civilization? How did the ancient Scandinavians, the Russians, the Inuits, keep warm in the face of bitter cold? Structures in these places tended to also be built into the ground but sealed up and thick to keep out the cold. The architecture for much of the northern world retains this sense of design today and you can see it if you look it up. If there had been hvac contractors in these societies, they would have to worry about keeping people warm, not cool. Maintaining fires and body warmth was an absolute must for all northern peoples and it still is. No one much likes frosted fingers and toes, after all.