At the heart of it, architecture is an inter-disciplinary profession. Ranging from structural engineers to quantity surveyors, a design project thrives from the collaboration of individuals from various fields of work. An often-overlooked connection is the link between the fields of architecture and archaeology, which in more ways than one have a lot in common. In a time of increased awareness on issues of sustainability and heritage, the expertise present in the field of archaeology plays a vital part in the preservation of architectural landmarks of historical significance. This expertise can also play a significant part in creating sensitive architectural interventions suitable for their context, contemporary in their design while responding to historical precedents.
Archaeology is the study of the material remains of generations past. Ranging from the discovery of stone tools made by early humans to the discovery of palaces and cathedrals, archaeological investigations have played a central role in shaping our understanding of how we see the world. Linking to the architectural field, archaeology also examines the construction techniques of buildings, however, the link to architecture is not only limited to that. Archaeology, like architecture, examines the ways in which past societies were organised, and how they transformed the topography and landscape.
Similar to architecture, archaeology is also inherently an interdisciplinary field. Zoologists, soil scientists, and botanists, for example – may all be brought in to a specific archaeological project. It also exists in a grey area much like architecture, which is commonly referred to as a bridge between art and engineering. In archaeology, there is this synergy between fields too. Archaeologists exist as craftspeople – specialising in a craft like excavation, and simultaneously they also exist as historians, using the information gleaned from excavations to portray an accurate account of a historical society.
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Recently, there have been proposed architectural interventions to UNESCO World Heritage Sites – all of which would have most likely required consultations with archaeologists. The expected renovation of the Colosseum – with the addition of a retractable floor platform, will feature replicas of lifts and trapdoors used in Roman times. The insertion of these replicas would require the expertise of archaeologists – in order to ensure the accurate appearance of the replicated architectural elements. The recent international design competition to reconstruct and rehabilitate the Al Nouri complex in Mosul would also draw on the work of archaeologists to produce a good design. Known for being one of the oldest cities in the world, the city of Mosul is in the process of recovery – after being heavily affected by destruction due to conflict in 2014. The winning team of this competition, ADD Architects from Egypt, would have to create an integrated design, the newly designed buildings on the site having to be inspired from the traditional architecture of Mosul’s Old City and retain the authenticity of the design of Mosul's old complex.
Our understanding of significant architectural landmarks is heightened by the work of archaeologists. The analysis of the architecture of the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt for example – relied on the research of archaeologists – in order to obtain an idea of why these structures were built – and to speculate on construction techniques used at the time. Archaeology also relies very strongly on context, examining the relationships that different artefacts have to their surroundings and each other. An artefact found on an archaeological site has a defined location – and this location has to be recorded by an archaeologist before its removal from that location. This context allows archaeologists to understand the links between archaeological sites and artifacts, and to give an accurate account of how people in the past lived their lives. In architecture, Carlo Scarpa’s renovation of the Museo Castelvecchio would have seen careful collaboration between architecture and archaeology, as its design features a careful layering of the new over the old, with the original elements of the Castelvecchio, left intact.
The link between architecture and archaeology is a strong one. As we enter a period in which the distinctions between various fields are increasingly blurred, examining the relationship between architecture and archaeology and advocating for even closer collaboration between these two fields would make for richer architectural design – learning from the past in order to inform the present.
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