Symbolism and Architecture from AD 30,000 BP to AD 2100
By Sumset Jumsai
In the second Inter-Government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report, sea rise due to global warming is projected at the high end at around a meter for AD 2100 or in three generations’ time. Of this, 70 cm is due to the ice caps and glaciers melting, and 30 cm to thermal expansion of sea water. The projection has since been overtaken by the acceleration of ice melting and sea rise.
The above in any case is insignificant compared to the temperature fluctuation betweenglacial and interglacial periods. Data for the start of the present interglacial period, or30,000 to 10,000 years ago, point to the fact that sea rise, due to ice melting, was asmuch as 187 meters. At that pointin time, the rising sea quickly submerged much ofthe Southeast Asian Continent, a part of which is now the Sunda Shelf seabed. This land mass, the size of present-day China, was a major mild zone for humans, animalsand the food chain to survive during the cold spell. The flood also broke up thecontinent into disparate units and created tens of thousands of islands in the Philippines and Indonesian archipelagos
Meanwhile, the rapidly encroachingwater meant that communities had to retreat constantly before the shorelines and inorder to survive, had to build houses on stiltsor floating. Moreover, in order to keep intouch with fellow humans marooned on islands which seemed to be getting furtheraway, people had to build rafts and boats.
Thus began a water-based way of life as reflected in the folklores, rituals, amphibioushabitats, nautical technology, navigational skill and the particular symbolism used as codal transmission of aquatic experience. The split gate in this respect can beseen as a poignant codal message of Bali being severed from the Southeast Asianmainland some 20,000 years ago. Quite possibly also, the distant memory of oceansundulating with shifting landmasses is replicated in the Hindu-Buddhist cosmologicalmodel which in turn shapes architectural plans and profiles of a great many religiousstructures in the region.
In the European West, human contact with the water element was confrontational and calamitous in the Biblical sense as shown by Noah’s Ark. Venice, however, simply shunned the waters by adopting a land-based architecture which then resulted in the yearly flood and damages to the buildings. In the Dutch case the whole country confronts the floods and the sea head on with polders and sea barriers. With half of its land below high tide, the Netherlands can be seen as a hydraulic machine constantly pumping and siphoning water in order to keep its feet dry. It is interesting to compare this water machine with the hydraulic complex at Angkor, and indeed the gigantic hydraulic works in ancient China which are unsurpassed in any culture. However, in the latter examples, the machines also perform other functions than engineering. They are part of philosophy, art, and culture.
On the philosophical note, it is interesting to note that recently a group of young architects in the Netherlands have built a floating new village in a flooded polder for which they intentionally breached the enclosing dike. The message was tha thumans can live with the forces of Nature and not against it. This resonates well with the region’s amphibious or aquatic houses. Here examples might include Panyi in south Thailand, the Japanese shrine complex of It sukushima, Kampong Ayer in Brunei, the floating city of Bangkok in the nineteenth century, Kenzo Tange’s structures on stilt sand R. Buckminster Fuller’s Triton City, both designed in 1960 for Tokyo Bay.
Can any of the above examples be put to use? Or must humans, indeed architects and investors, continue to fight against Nature and make end-users or innocent bystanderspay for the consequences ?
This material was presented by Sumset Jumsai at 15thArcasia Congress 2012, Nusa dua, Bali, Indonesia
pictures are taken from