ancient egyptian architecture // DESIGN HISTORY

This architecture…is not only largely understandable to the modern mind but also highly informative about design ideas applicable to any era.  – from A World History of Architecture

Where else to start but at the beginning – with the architecture and design of the Ancient Egyptians.  Not technically the beginning, of course, but the beginning of architecture and design as we know it today.  It is true that Ancient Mesopotamia (the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Persians) and other pre-historic civilizations such as those who built Stonehenge and the structures on Easter Island certainly possessed complex building skills.  But it was the Ancient Egyptians, who date from 5000 BC who were the first to embrace design and architecture as a key part of its cultural identity.  Its importance in architectural history and ongoing relevance to current design is rivaled only by the Greeks.

THE OBELISK

The Luxor Temple Obelisk + The Tower Infinity

The obelisk is one of the more enduring designs from Ancient Egyptian culture.  A large square structure with four sides tapering into a pyramid top.  In Egypt these monoliths rose above all surrounding structures.  The Tower Infinity, a design intended to be built in Seoul, South Korea, is a multi-sided pillar with a pyramid top rising above any surrounding structures.  Its exterior is covered in LED screens which will appear invisible from certain viewing points.

THE CAMPANIFORM COLUMN

The Temple Karnak Campaniform Column + Gare do Oriente

Ancient Egyptian builders perfected the column, using them as both support and decoration.  A column is made up of three parts, the base, shaft and capital.  Egyptian columns had simple bases, smooth shafts, often decorated with hieroglyphics, and ornate capitals in the form of a lotus flower, papyrus or a campaniform, or bell.  The columns from Santiago Calatrava’s Gare do Oriente station in Lisbon (built in 1998) feature bell-shaped top and an overlapping design that is reminiscent of the lotus flower design common on Ancient Egyptian columns.

FOLDING STOOL

Stool from Tutankhamen’s Tomb + Director’s Chair

The first known folding stool was designed by the Ancient Egyptians.  This example is a recreation of what was found in King Tut’s tomb.  Made from wood, it had several “animal-centered” decorations, including the ivory and gold inlay, imitating animal skin, the animal heads on the legs and the tail that hangs from the saddle.  This contemporary chair (Director’s Chair by Sabin, 2015) features a sledge base with round pieces at the foot of the chair that extrude slightly from the front and back pieces which are marked in an “X” design.  If the original stool was turned on its side, the two pieces would be almost identical in their construction.

GOLD GILTING

Golden Shrine from Tutankhamen’s Tomb + Anthropologie Night Stand

Gold gilting was stunning and opulent and acted as a nice complement to the ebony wood common to Egypt.  This side table from Anthropologie shares several decorative elements with the Golden Shrine such as gold paint (“gold gilding”), black or very dark wood interior (“ebony”) and the appearance of hand carving.

CURVED HEAD REST

Head Rest of Shu + Casa Amatlán

Some inspirations aren’t as straight-forward as others and I think this one fits into that category.  Egyptian platform beds included a u-shaped piece on one end where a person would place his or her head.  The Head Rest of Shu, made of ivory and found in King Tut’s tomb, shows Shu, the God of Air flanked by two lions, which symbolized the start and end of the day through the eastern and western horizon.  This piece was meant to support Tut’s head through the afterlife.  Of course, the headrest is one of the aspects of Egyptian furniture design that didn’t survive the ages (thankfully we have pillows!), but that doesn’t mean it can’t inspire current design.  While this isn’t a direct object-to-object find, the location, rounded form and placement of this curved sculpture on a flat shelf supported by two vertical columns behind this bed is reminiscent of the Ancient Egyptian Head Rest of Shu.

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