the charming c has been visiting me in brighton this weekend and, amongst other things, we talked about the tiling i am doing in the kitchen. being square, tiles tesselate perfectly. i pondered whether any other shapes would do the same, quickly identifying hexagons. “yes they would” agreed c. “in two dimensions”. triangles and squares tesselate in three dimensions but the tesselation of triangles involves inverted tetrahedrons, a challenging assignment for modern engineers; i can’t imagine neolithic man taking them on.
spiro kostof’s ‘history of architecture‘, a recent acquisition of mine, shows a settlement in sittard (in the modern netherlands) of about 5,000BC. it is the first (earliest) settlement in the book that displays evidence of rectangular structures. the buildings were wooden and have thus disappeared but what remains are the trenches and postholes that would have held the foundations in place. the aerial view shows that they are rectangular much like modern sheds. where did they get this idea? we are fully accustomed to the notion of right angled buildings, these people were true pioneers.
kostof’s coverage of the prehistoric period is not comprehensive and he openly admits to an almost exclusively occidental focus so perhaps there are other earlier examples of right-angled buildings but, nevertheless, the presence of other pioneering prehistoric building projects does not detract from the fact that the settlers at sittard initiated a culture of construction that exists to the present day and which forms the basic paradigm of almost all building and spacial organisation: that of the cube.
what on earth were they thinking? the truth is often boring, perhaps right-angled buildings were just the simplest shape to erect and tesselate.