The Prehispanic Architects

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In The Architect: History of a Profession, by Spiro Kostof, architects are defined as those who conceive buildings, and create corresponding concrete images so that new structures can be built.

With reference to Prehispanic architects, we decided to consult the criteria of Ana Leslie del Carmen Escalante Canto, master of architecture from the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, who dedicated her master's thesis to Mayan Prehispanic architecture, emphasizing geometric and astronomical bases: fundamental parts of the architectural process.

In this research, the author states that every culture has had builders or architects. Many were not experts, but they did know essentials, and they could define spaces and materials to guarantee satisfaction. In some cases they built magnificent structures.

That activity, says Escalante Canto, continued to evolve, finally achieving such successes as the pyramids of Uxmal and Chichén Itzá in Yucatán, the pyramids of Giza in Egypt, the Parthenon of Greece, the pyramids of Teotihuacan in Mexico, and the city of Machu Picchu in Peru, among others.

In her thesis, she concludes that the Prehispanic urban planning of the Mayas was practiced by architects, just as we conceptualize buildings today: applying geometry, mathematics, and units of measure.

The fact that the Mayas employed the universal mathematical concept of golden ratio, is evidence of their profound knowledge of geometry. Their astronomical ideas necessarily implied domination of geometry, to calculate height, observation distances and window positions, niches, doors, alignment, shadows, lights, vapor trails, and underground observatories.

It is also argued that their use of "zero" confirms the depth of their knowledge of mathematics. Undoubtedly the symmetry and repetition of building elements in their structures required a unit of measure that allowed them to calculate volume, sequence, rhythm, heights, visual distance, and perspective.

Ana Leslie Escalante emphasizes the ecological conscience of the Mayas as well, which we see reflected in their architecture, and especially in the management of open spaces, which harmonize with the nature around them.

She concludes that at that time, this type of superior knowledge was monopolized by an elite group, among which was found the political-religious governing class, and the priests.

The architect or designer belonged to this group. In order to execute large projects, he probably dedicated most of his time to this work, while not neglecting his other responsibilities.

Text by: Yurina Fernandez
Email: [email protected]

 

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