[ 3 ] A Tree Like a Building

The primitive hut and its powerful undercurrent of biophilia is an idea that has existed in the collective consciousness since at least 15 BC when Marco Vituvius Pollio wrote “De Architectura.”1

In 1755, Abbé Marc-Antoine Laugier’s “Essay on Architecture” used an engraving by Charles Eisen (fig 1), which linked the concept of the prehistoric dwelling to classical form.  Eisen’s post-rationalized image of the “primitive hut” depicts the muse of architecture guiding a putto’s gaze towards a grove of trees.  The putto, representing both eros and creative inspiration sees in the grove, the trees arranged as columns.  A mass of truncated branches at the top of each tree alludes to the Corinthian order.  Other branches form beams and rafters with a pediment-like frontispiece while the leaves of the still-living trees provide roof-like shelter.

An early proponent of classical biophilia, Laugier “argued for the reduction of mass in buildings and and for the expression of a skeleton structure,” thereby linking the idea or the structural logic of architecture to the image of architecture and establishing the example of “nature” as a guiding principle, foretelling aesthetic truths maintained to this day.2


1Vitruvius, Pollio, and M. H. Morgan. Vitruvius: The Ten Books on Architecture. New York: Dover Publications, 1960. 38. Print.

2Colquhoun, Alan. Modern Architecture. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2002. 37. Print.

Photo Credits:

Fig. 1: Primitive Hut, Charles Eisen


Fig. 2: Hearst Tower, NYC, Foster and Partners


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