Lecture 13. Architecture and Timekeeping

Architecture has long acted as a form of timekeeping, though what constituted time and how it was defined across history and cultures varies greatly. Contrary to our contemporary relationship with time as precisely measureable and something that individuals can control; historic communities had a more reverential attitude to time. This is seen in the sacred rituals practiced within and around architecture that also told of the movement of stars and the passing of seasons. The control of time was an important feature in imperial expansion and communicating its importance from the center to the periphery of empire was crucial task to organizing subject populations from ancient Rome to the British colonial project. Global religions such as Islam and Christianity too sought to control time (both quotidian time as well as exceptional time) and make it a function of religious order. Finally the rise of capitalist economies saw the emergence of various forms of architecture that disciplined human bodies and made them more efficient workers. This lecture explores that role through six examples (Stonehenge & Newgrange; Tower of Winds; Pantheon; Minaret of the Grand Mosque of Damascus, Ghanta Ghar (clocktower); and Grand Central Station) that cover a wide swath of time and space. These examples are considered through three central themes: Ritual: Architecture as an intermediary of a religious, pious, or cultural ceremony and their associated acts as dictated by time. Here we see most clearly how architecture plays a role in enhancing the dramatic effects of time for example through light and shadow or through iconographic references to mythological characters. While this architecture played an important role in “taming” time—i.e. offering a predictability to what was otherwise inscrutable it also amplified the mystical qualities of time. Guidance: Architecture as an intermediary in navigating and resolving the challenges posed by time, such as seasons, harvests, and weather. Here we see architecture working as a scientific instrument of time keeping and an increasing desire to match ideals architectural forms with more precise methods of time keeping. Efficiency: Architecture as a streamliner of time, as an extension of capitalist logic, and as a system of human productivity. Here we see architecture performing the work of disciplining human bodies and subjecting them to more efficient means of labor extraction. This form of architecture can be seen as ordering individuals and communities according to a world-view of production and efficiency.   This lecture spanning from 3000 BCE to the present is a mere glimpse at the way in which societies have used architecture to tell time and record its passing. While some examples are more global than others, in that they show the influence of time-keeping from a distant culture; others are more regional or even local phenomena. Yet we can say that using architecture to document and communicate the importance of time has been a global preoccupation for several centuries.

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