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Review 6.2: Ancient Architectures and the Significance of Space

Ancient Architectures and the Significance of Space

By Bob Abor


Bookworm, Sanlitun

Most times when we approach an ancient architecture, we rush to pronounce that it is so big and beautiful because it is attractive and nice looking. However according to Italian Prof. Paolo Vincenzo Genovese, there are more significant meanings embedded in ancient architectures apart from beauty. “Just like art and literature, all ancient architecture has meanings,” he said. The question is which meanings? One of the meanings he says is metaphysics. Metaphysics is something much more abstract, complex, and superior to common philosophy. So why should we even discuss this difficult topic? It is because all ancient architectures and books were just running into metaphysics. Prof. Paolo showed picture with a special history attached; an ancient architecture photographed by his grandfather when he visited China in 1927.  The logic of discussion for the event was to make participants understand the common elements between the Western and Asian architectures. He says one way to compare the two very different process, art and architecture is a system of thought known as metaphysics. To him, metaphysics is about universal or supreme principles. The contemporary world is exactly the opposite of the ancient world. So the people at that time think radically different from us. He then introduced a very famous architecture (a temple) in Rome, Italy. He did not describe all the meanings in the temple because it is quite complex. He discussed in-depth one most important element in the temple-the central plan (circle). The Rome temple, he says, represents the prototype of the most classic kind of temples in the western history.  With regards to metaphysics, two elements are important. First, it represents the centre of the world/universe. He says that from a metaphysics point of view every time you are in front of an ancient architecture with that same type of plan with a circle represents the centre of the universe, sky and heaven. Secondly, the vertical element in the circle is a representation of the axis which connects earth to heaven. He said we also find the same principle of the heaven and circle in ancient Chinese architecture. In the centre of the court yard (Hu Jun Tulu), there is a temple which has a religious element. The temple is the connection in between the material world and the supreme world.  The surrounding (square) is the representation of the world where human beings live. And everyone looks towards the centre (temple) as an ideal point where every human has to look to heaven. The square is the representation of the material world while the circle is a representation of the heaven. This is the one most important element in these kinds of architecture; the temple of Rome and Hu Jun Tulu. We find the same element in ancient western and Chinese architectures and, in many other parts of the world. He then introduced the statute of an ancient god called Yanus which comes from month of the year, January. January comes from the word Yao. It is a very important god in the ancient calendar. The statute which is usually at the door represents god and has three faces. It is therefore known as the god of the door. One face looks inside while the other face looks outside. One face looking inside is the future (New Year) and other face that looks outside is the past (last year). The question is which one is the real face? The real face is in the middle, one that is invisible. The trick is the real face of god is in between the two faces and it is usually invisible and untouchable. It is not something we can really frame because time runs but also the space is really untouchable. It is something like if you want to touch the present it is really hard because it is just like you are unable to touch the lining between in and out. This explains why for example in the Asian and Chinese architecture in the main door they all leave a step and you have to cross the step in order to respect the lining between in and out because that lining belongs to a god. This element is also found in an ancient temple in Cambodia.

During the Q&A session, a participant asked why Prof. Paolo Vincenzo did not talk about a famed Chinese architecture Hu Wei during his presentation. He said that Wei was a modern architecture whose work does not follow the notion of metaphysics. Besides, he mainly worked in the US which is based on individualism.

Mr. Peter Geoff, the Programme Director of the 4th EU-China International Literary Festival said this was the last event of this year’s festival. He thanked the authors as well as participants for sparing their precious time to participate in the events that have been running for the past three weeks.