Lecture 5. The Americas: Pueblo, Aztec and Inca Chthonic

The main theme is the concept of the ‘chthonic-ecology’, where the body of the earth is understood as a living system - soil, earthquakes, snow, water, sun, air interdependencies - that can be characterized as ecology in the modern sense of the word. This is chthonic architecture not as the ‘rock-cut’, as in Afro-Eurasia, but the chthonic as a complete understanding of landscape and the environment: a chthonic ecology. The lecture begins with the chthonic forms of the Pueblo culture in the American southwest. The sacred kiva space operates as an earth-bound space, connected to the origin story and reserved for rites of passage. Similarly, the Mayan culture of Mesoamerica utilized the rock-cut Temple of Malinalco as the initiation site for warriors – a ritual rooted in the natural site and beings. This lecture then shifts south to the pre-Incan and Incan inhabitation of the mountains and valleys of South America. The body of the land is entirely determined by the Andean topography, where the mountainous landscape denies any strong conception of the plains, or tabula rasa base for architectural form. The sites of Caral, Chavin de Huantar and Chan Chan display an chthonic architecture rooted in the site. This architecture is about the shaping of the [surface of] the earth, of terracing, of going up the side of the mountains, and descending down into valleys, and pools – a complete chthonic ecology. Through the Incan cities of Cusco, Ollantaytambo and Machu Pichu, the mountains are a living body, whose life is given in particular by the movement of water, the life-blood. Thus, the flow of water - or gravity -  as a key ‘shaper’ of the chthonic body of the earth. The importance of the relationship between water channeling and terracing as not just ‘technology’ for irrigation, but as a key reading of the process by which the chthonic body of the earth lives and reproduces.

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