The Problem of the Mammoth Bon Town | The Plan
  1. Home
  2. Magazine 2012
  3. The Plan 057
  4. The Problem of the Mammoth Bon Town

The Problem of the Mammoth Bon Town

Italo Rota

The Problem of the Mammoth Bon Town
By Italo Rota -

“To be what it is, architecture must become nature, in other words become what it is not. Often in fact, we see it adopt the appearance of living nature and become itself nature”.
Louis Frank

“Architecture is the expression of a society just as human physiognomy is the expression of the individual”.
Georges Bataille

Although architecture may well be nature, for the time being it only exists in that it relates to nature. If in the future nature continues to exist in architecture, that will be when architecture becomes nature and ruins will cease to delude us about the relationship between architecture and nature. Being aware that at some point all things come to an end, can no longer be repaired or restored, changes architecture into nature. As Georges Bataille pointed out, the mathematical order imposed on stone is simply the completion of the cycle incumbent upon all earthly forms. Like passage from the monkey to the human form, it is part of the biological order of things, imprinted in all the elements that make up architecture. In this morphological becoming, man would seem to be merely an intermediary step in the passage from the monkey to large buildings. Architectural forms have become increasingly static and dominant. Likewise the human order mirrors architecture in its development. Stone and mammoth bone is not what makes the difference.
The beginning of this story can be traced back to the human settlements of the Würm glacial era: an organized series of mammoth bone dwellings grouped into nothing less than what we know today as a city. Looking at these mounds, the interior and exterior are surfaces, one contained within the other. Differences appear only on the interior while the apparent differences on the exteriors are just a mirror image of what is on the inside.
I visited the remains of the mammoth bone dwellings at Kostenki, a village half way along the west bank of the river Don in Russia’s Oblast’ di Voronež. They are an accumulation of mammoth bones, skulls, shoulder blades, tusks and other parts of the mammoth skeleton. In Saint Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum I admired the eight Venuses carved out of mammoth bone found in the huge rubble of huts and banquet leftovers. Even as ruins they are of the same materials and shapes as architecture. The huts strived to survive beyond their useful lives for millennia and in doing so, created ruins. For many years we too believed this to be the expression of the dignity of ancient things; today it is just nature.
Underneath these mounds lie the interiors, the contrary of everything on the outside. Under the surface lies complexity, lights, shadows, moonlight, the smoke of smouldering hearths, firelight - all in one space, or rather one room.
The space in the Kostenki huts is clearly not empty space nor space that contrasts interior and exterior. It is simply reality: space as the sum of things that existed before the shell containing them ever came into existence. At Kostenki, the skulls, husks, ashes, tools, holes and human remains form a cluster of things, and the thing that contains them are a forceful concrete reality.
These mounds of architecture produce space, a substantive entity producing the elements that express architecture in such a way as to be both the appearance and content of all the things, creating both the form and the concept of architecture.
In conclusion, the space and things at Kostenki are part of nature or should seek to become nature, part of the tangible things that should be, here and now. We berate architecture whose monumental productions are the real masters of the earth today but at the same time pay servile homage to it, requiring admiration and awe, order and constriction. This way we are really criticising man.

“To be what it is, architecture must become nature, in other words become what it is not. Often in fact, we see it adopt the appearance of living nature and become itself nature”. L. F.
Today we must renew architecture. Like cigarettes, cars and gasoline, architecture can no longer continue as it is today. We have to start from scratch and understand what its function and true nature are. Perhaps we have to return to the preconscious stage of architecture in order to get on board the new Noah’s Ark and rewrite the contract with nature.

Matter
Many years ago I was commissioned to develop the National Museum’s prehistoric section at Les-Eyzies-de-Tayac, the famous site where the first example of Cro-Magnon man was found. On the first evening I was invited to dinner by the museum’s director. Once at table, the director brought in a terracotta pot with in it, a dead hare. It looked asleep lying there. I remember being surprised but also saddened at the thought that only a short time before the poor animal had run freely in the woods surrounding the house. Amused, the director invited me to serve myself and rip off a leg. I tried but obviously couldn’t. He then handed me a very sharp piece of flint fashioned by humans who had lived hundreds of thousands of years ago. It cut through the hare like a surgical scalpel, a tool produced by man’s ingenious use of matter.
The very first tools looked much like asteroids, which are just enormous stones like the one that partly destroyed life on earth during the era of the dinosaurs.
Tools assist man in his tasks, coordinating and reinforcing all his manual activities. Rivers stones are easily turned into tools. On picking up a stone, the first man had the whit to transform this simple object into something that would change all our lives. Known as a chopper, it was made by the first hominids between the end of the Tertiary and the beginning of the Quaternary. One side of a stone was hacked away and flakes removed by hitting it with another stone at a perpendicular angle. The result was a sharp-edged tool, one of the first products of man’s industry. Further refinements would make them even more efficient.
Homo habilis made the first tools to help him ensure a supply of food, which was prevalently meat. The giant rhinoceros was a favour dish. But even if he managed to kill the animal, cutting the meat off a recently slaughtered ancestor of our modern day rhinoceros was not easy. The sharp chopper made everything simpler.
Yet man’s incredible dexterity in manipulating matter has had terrible consequences for all other animals on the planet.
If homo habilis solved the problem of his dinner, it would be homo sapiens millions of years later during the early Palaeolithic who would perfect the technology of using pressure to slice and shape stone, producing artefacts of great beauty and refinement. The use of blades, some very small and fine, then led to the production of objects in bone and ivory.
From childhood we are taught to eat meat. At the same time, however, many children’s cuddly toys are made to look like the animals we eat: rabbits, cows and pigs. Our thinking has become somewhat muddled. For while the rhinoceros killed by homo habilis arouses little sympathy, we nonetheless find it normal to eat the protein-rich equivalent of much loved toys. We cut them up with surgical precision, the mechanised food industry supplying meat to celebrity chefs who in turn use electric knives.
It all started in the wild when ten thousand years ago at the end of Prehistory, man’s technological skills were to turn him into a demigod. It’s a complex story not just in terms of technology but also from the psychological point of view. As well as its consequential impact, i.e. the effect produced, man’s evolution has marked our perceptive and aesthetic sensitivities.
And all because, you might say, man needed to slice meat. In satisfying this primordial need, homo sapiens sapiens has reached the point of threatening his own long-term survival.

“I must thank you”, said Sherlock Holmes, “for calling my attention to a case which certainly presents some features of interest”.
Arthur Conan Doyle, “The Hound of the Baskervilles”

Architects
“[…] let us guide our students over the road of discipline from materials, through function, to creative work. Let us lead them into the healthy world of primitive building methods, where there was meaning in every stroke of an axe, expression in every bite of chisel...”
“... our job is to create according to the nature of our task with the methods of our time because “architecture is the will of the epoch translated into space”.

To recall the thoughts of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe
Inauguration speech, Armour Institute of Technology 1938

“Primitive man has brought his chariot to a stop, he decides that here shall be his native soil. He chooses a glade, he cuts down the trees which are too close, he levels the earth around; he opens up the road which will carry him to the river or to those of his tribe whom he has just left... The road is as straight as he can manage it with his implements, his arms and his time. The pegs of his tent describe a square, a hexagon or an octagon. The palisade forms a rectangle... The door of his hut is on the axis of the enclosure-and the door of the enclosure faces exactly the door of the hut”.
“You may see, in some archaeological work, the representation of this hut, the representation of this sanctuary: it is the plan of a house, or the plan of a temple. It is the same spirit that one finds again in the Pompeian house. It is the spirit indeed of the Temple of Luxor... There is no such thing as primitive man, there are primitive resources. The idea is constant, in full sway since the beginning”. “They have forgotten that great architecture is rooted in the very beginnings of humanity and that it is a direct function of human instinct”.

To recall the thoughts of Le Corbusier, “Towards a New Architecture”

Going back in time, human kind was very different: peasants lived in caves and nomadic tribes were hunter-gatherers… the vagabond swinging freely from branch to branch of his leafy abode with the aid of his curling tail, and the more cautious lover of the wall, preferring to remain hidden and safe in some cave or hole in the ground: the monkey? ...The cave dweller became a rock dweller. He started to build cities…. His God was a malevolent murderer… He transformed his God into a mysterious law. When able, he made his God of gold. He still does.
But his brother, more agile and mobile, thought up a more adaptable, less rigid habitation - the folding tent …he was the Adventurer. His God was a spirit: destroyer or benefactor, like himself.
…human natures conflicted, conquered or were conquered; they married or were married off and generated other natures; in some there was fusion, in others, once again, violent confusion.
So a human type appeared capable of rapidly changing his environment to his own needs; a man amply capable of countering the huge city of tomorrow, a throw back to the large, ancient ‘wall’. This ability to change reveals a new type of citizen. We call him democratic man.

To recall the thoughts of Frank Lloyd Wright, “The Living City”

The Hut
FOX WAS THE ONLY LIVING MAN.
THERE WAS NO EARTH
THE WATER WAS EVERYWHERE
WhaT SHALL I DO
FOX ASKED HIMSELF
HE BEGAN TO SING IN ORDER TO FIND OUT
I WOULD LIKE TO MEET SOMEONE
FOX SAID
WHERE ARE YOU GOING
COYOTE ASKED
I’VE BEEN WANDERING ALL OVER TRYING TO FIND SOMEONE
I WAS WORRIED THERE FOR A WHILE
WELL IT’S BETTER FOR TWO PEOPLE TO GO TOGETHER…
THAT’S WHAT THEY ALWAYS SAY
O.K. BUT WHAT WILL WE DO?
I DON’T KNOW
I GOT IT!
LET’S TRY TO MAKE THE WORLD
AND HOW ARE WE GOING TO DO THAT?
COYOTE ASKED
"SING" SAID FOX

Digital

Digital

5.49 €
Printed

Printed

15.00 €
Subscription

Subscription

From 42.00 €
Choose subscription
Keep up with the latest trends in the architecture and design world

© Maggioli SpA • THE PLAN • Via del Pratello 8 • 40122 Bologna, Italy • T +39 051 227634 • P. IVA 02066400405 • ISSN 2499-6602 • E-ISSN 2385-2054
ITC Avant Garde Gothic® is a trademark of Monotype ITC Inc. registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office and which may be registered in certain other jurisdictions.