Think of any city in the world, and chances are you immediately call to mind an iconic skyline or building--the pyramids of Egypt, Gaudi's Sagrada Família in Barcelona, the Taj Mahal in India, the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in Peru. This cultural uniqueness is called “genius loci,” which means the “spirit of a place.”
While some elements of culture are purely aesthetic, architecture is often both a work of art as well as a practical, utilitarian affair, offering not just beauty but durability and function.
And while some types of cultural manifestations exist as stand-alone products to be admired on their own merits, architecture is in most cases seen in the context of its environment -the Sydney Opera House, the Parthenon in Athens, and the Golden Temple of Kyoto are structures that are informed and enhanced by their surroundings.
Vernacular architecture, like a Mongolian yurt, an Inuit igloo or a southern African rondavel, are indigenous to a certain time and place, use local materials and reflect the area's climate and resident's lifestyle--whether communal, nomadic, agrarian or island. Not surprisingly, where we live, work and consider "home" bears the imprint of our cultural identity.
Archaeology is the study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artifacts and other physical remains. Despite its focus on the past, archaeology beings to life themes as relevant today as they were several millennia ago: identity, sense of place, community, ritual, power, awe, and connection.
Read on for perspective on challenges and opportunities facing leading contemporary architects, and to learn some of the enduring truths and eternal mysteries revealed by some of the world’s most fascinating archaeological sites!