Week Three: Origins of Dwelling
Vitruvius was to suggest that the origins of communal living were in response to the gift of fire. As he narrates in The Ten Books of Architecture: “Therefore it was the discovery of fire that originally gave rise to the coming together of men, to the deliberative assembly, and to social intercourse. And so, as they kept coming together in greater numbers into one place, finding themselves naturally gifted beyond the other animals in not being obliged to walk with faces to the ground, but upright and gazing upon the splendour of the starry firmament, they began in that first assembly to construct shelters. Some made them of green boughs, others dug caves on mountain sides, and some, in imitation of the nests of swallows and of the way they build, made places of refuge out of mud and twigs.”
This account finds resonance deep into the nineteenth century, as in Gottfried Semper’s rendition of the meaning of settlement: “Before men thought of erecting tents, fences, or huts, they gathered around the open flame, which kept them warm and dry and where they prepared their simple meals. The hearth is the germ, the embryo, of all social institutions. The first sign of gathering, of settlement and rest after long wanderings and the hardship of the chase, is still the set of the fire and the lighting of the crackling flame. From early times on, the hearth became the place of worship.”
Eighteenth-century theorist M.-A. Laugier, although clearly indebted to Vitruvius, speaks of a different primal building in which the need for comfortable repose is of great importance for the “savage” man. “He wants to make himself a dwelling that protects but does not bury him. Some fallen branches in the forest are the right material for his purpose; he chooses four of the strongest, raises them upright and arranges them in a square; across their top he lays four other branches; on these he hoists from two sides yet another row of branches which, inclining towards each other, meet at their highest point. He then covers this kind of roof with leaves so closely packed that neither sun nor rain can penetrate. Thus man is housed.”
After reading the additional passages in The Ten Books of Architecture where Vitruvius comments on the actual buildings made by these first people, discuss whether or not you think he sees these constructions as being primarily concerned with physical need.
 Vitruvius, The Ten Books of Architecture, trans. M.H. Morgan (New York: Dover, 1960), 38.
 Gottfried Semper, “The Basic Elements of Architecture,” in Gottfried Semper: In Search of Architecture, by Wolfgang Hermann (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989), 198.
 Marc-Antoine Laugier, An Essay on Architecture, trans. Wolfgang and Anni Hermann (Los Angeles: Hennessey and Ingalls, 1977), 11-12.