The Story: Egyptian Architecture
Egyptian Architecture
One of the most important (if not challenging) aspect of architecture is the relationship between Patron-Architect-Builder. This is an over simplification of roles which will continue to raise architectural debates. Complexity is introduced when a role represents more than one individual view. The patron as the sponsor can lead to conflicts with the patron as the user. The role of the architect has been re-defined many times over and is still undergoing change.
The fundamental triangle of patron-architect-builder remained a constant and important feature of architectural history. The importance of the patron, customer or client cannot be under-estimated. Much architecture would have remained in the realm of theory and would never have been constructed without the noble patrons. It was often customary for patrons to take credit for the work rather than the architect.
The first recorded instance of the patron and architect relationship was in Egyptian architecture. The Pharaonic system was established around 3200 B.C. when Menes united the lower and upper kingdoms of Egypt into one kingdom. The successive dynasties that followed is known as the Old Kingdom, the first of three great Egyptian periods. Around 2800 B.C. the first known large stone construction was built in the third dynasty. His chief minister Imhotep organized King Djoser’s stepped pyramid at Sakkara. [Risebero, 1997, p.11]
Imhotep was the first known architect and is also regarded as the "father of medicine". Historians believed that Imhotep was a legend because of the many achievements that were attributed to him. He held the highest office in Egypt, i.e. administrator, vizier, priest, healer, and interpreter of dreams, scribe and teacher. [Matthews, 2002]
Archeologist Ron Wyatt provides information on Imhotep and writes that "Manetho wrote that 'during his [Djoser of the 3rd Dynasty] reign lived Imouthes [i.e. Imhotep], who because of his medical skill has the reputation of Asclepius [the Greek god of medicine] among the Egyptians and who was the inventor of the art of building with hewn stone.' It was this statement that caused the specialists to doubt the existence of a real man named Imhotep. But in 1926, the question was settled once and for all- Imhotep was a real man. When excavations were carried out at the Step Pyramid at Sakkara, fragments of a statue of pharaoh Djoser were found. The base was inscribed with the names of Djoser and of 'Imhotep, Chancellor of the King of Lower Egypt, Chief under the King, Administrator of the Great Palace, Hereditary Lord, High Priest of Heliopolis, Imhotep the Builder, the Sculptor, the Maker of Stone Vases...'” [Wyatt, 2002]
Some believe Imhotep to be the biblical character Joseph. Reference is also made to him in many of the early writings. His influence in Egypt can be seen from the fact that he was later deified as the god Nefertum, son of Ptah. Ptah was the creator god - unifier of all other gods and god of the masons. His wife Sekhmet was the lioness god. The famous pyramids of Memphis were built for the three gods, Ptah (Father), Sekhmet (Wife) and Nefertum (Son). This bears testament to the high regard Egypt held for the achievements of Imhotep, who was not of royal birth.
There is marked improvement in Egyptian architecture after the third dynasty of the Old Kingdom. A number of attributes of Egyptian architecture are of interest; i.e. the role of beliefs and religion. The role of belief systems and culture in architectural theory is evident in Egypt. Unlike the early step pyramid of Sakkara, extensive use of hieroglyphics is made, especially in religious form. The visual language developed is sophisticated and complex. It was not a primitive form of communication as many assume it to be simply because it was of an earlier period.
Egyptian architecture also illustrates how construction plays a significant role and often helps to re-define the theory and design. The materials used provided a major advance in architecture with the use of lime stones. The movement of these large units of construction required advanced engineering. The methods of prefabrication of large “stone” components, transportation and leveraging are remarkable. They required an understanding of astronomy, physical laws and mathematics. In fact, the most remarkable aspect of Egyptian architecture is its precision in construction. The base of the pyramid is absolutely level and each side is perfectly positioned to face north, south, east and west. The positions of the pyramids in relation to each other are precisely aligned.
It is estimated that about 100 000 men participated in the construction at Memphis, grouped by the hundreds. The epic proportions of such a construction are a feat of organization. Although undoubtedly authoritarian, there were many skilled craftsmen. Considering that the laborers consisted of agricultural workers diverted from their traditional work, the production of food must have required careful administration and management. [Risebero, 1997]
The Egyptians mastered the use of stone, but the Greeks advanced in their use of metals and tools. Despite the ascent of the military world powers of Babylon, Assyria and Persia, the Greeks would gain both military victories and cultural influence and inherit many of the architectural advances made by the Egyptians.