Why are we still living in structures that cut us off from nature?

| 21st February 2013
The beautiful rooftop glass structure of the Sage concert hall in Newcastle Upon Tyne.
According to Tony Culver about 99% of all domestic houses are redesigns of prehistoric cave dwellings. Here he explains the rationale behind this claim and argues that it is time to emerge from our caves....

When considering this claim we have to start by asking what, in essence, was a cave dwelling - it was a space surrounded by walls of natural stone, with a small entrance.  This equates to 99% of domestic housing – i.e. a space (large or small and subdivided into smaller spaces) surrounded by walls (often natural stone or brick) with small entrances (unless cars are kept in the lounge). 

What architects and builders have done is stacked the ‘cave update designs’ on top of each other (multiple storey houses and apartment blocks), stuck them close together (terraces), expanded them (palaces and mansions), and punched holes in the walls (windows) to let daylight in.  

They have also divided up the space into smaller spaces for specific activities (sleeping, washing, relaxing etc), and in larger cave updates, included swimming pools, tennis courts, gyms, large car storage etc - small ‘caves’ within the larger ‘cave’.

However, what they haven’t done is get rid of the cave walls surrounding the basic spaces, or, indeed, the interior walls round smaller ‘caves inside the cave’.  Even Frank Lloyd Wright dispensed with stone/brick on only certain walls of some of his houses.  We go home to our ‘caves’, and then enter the little ‘caves’ within the ‘cave’ – probably just like our ancestors. 

Domestic architecture might differ in style all over the world, but in essence it remains the same - though, in the tropics, bamboo walls probably let in more light and air.  Some Inuit families will still stay temporarily in ‘caves of rounded ice’ with no windows and very small entrances. Monarchs and billionaires live in long, flat-stacked cave updates with lots of windows and entrances. In some parts of France actual caves are still occupied, and not just by wine barrels cooling.

Some limited exceptions to this rule include tree houses (cave updates on trunks and branches with visually impenetrable walls of wood, not stone), the Tuareg tent (portable ’caves’ of light material, visually impenetrable ‘cave updates’), and yurts, the walled portable ‘caves’ of Mongolia.  


So what, you might ask, is the alternative? Surely there are none, else someone would have thought of it by now.  

Well, not necessarily – there could be glass walls surrounding a space with small entrances, the spaces open to nature all around, not largely closed off.  Inside, this could be sub-divided into smaller spaces, also surrounded by glass (opaque, coloured, or frosted for privacy).  The exterior glass walls could feature similar options, additionally with curtains/blinds ready for use. 

Once the ancient stone walls were eliminated and the space opened to nature, the occupants would benefit from a 360 degree visual relationship with their environment, whilst simultaneously being protected against the elements.  These have a habit of being uncomfortable, especially in rain, winter, and high summer – things which birds, animals, and insects have accommodated to without building updated caves.

So, with houses entirely surrounded by glass walls, rather than being cut off most of the time from nature, the occupants would be in contact with mother earth. Houses by such architects as Frank Lloyd Wright sometimes opened the occupants to nature, e.g. the Grant House; they have some glass walls, which are probably regarded as picture windows. He was moving in the direction of freedom from the enclosed cave living space.

If one house could be built in such a way, could thousands, or even millions? Could Homo Sapiens have hamlets, villages, towns, and cities built mainly of glass?  Hypothetically, yes, as glass is made mainly from silica sand and a few other ingredients, e.g. soda ash, limestone, salt cake.  

The deserts of North Africa and the Middle East have enormous supplies of silica sand, and virtually every country in the world has some reserves.  Thus there are sufficient quantities of one of the basic raw materials for such a huge project to exist and, in theory all dwelling places, residential, commercial and could be converted into ‘glass houses’ - even parliament buildings!

Some 40,000 years after we moved out of the forests into caves, we’re still in ‘caves’ most of our lives. People in agriculture, horticulture, and forestry do get out into the paradise of nature a lot of the time, but they too, return to their ‘caves’ every day.

The rest of us can walk in forests and woods, out across moors, go into our gardens large or small, visit nature reserves, maybe even go on treks to game reserves in Africa.  

But all the time we are ‘banishing ourselves’ back to our ‘caves’ - 40,000 years of being banished from Nature.  Then we lived in the natural world, at one with it, like the North and South American Indians did before Europeans invaded and imposed their ‘cave-update society’ on them. 

Other aspects of this, admittedly mammoth, project will be examined in the near future.  For example, who is likely to want a glass dwelling space - millionaires who can afford to commission such a ‘revolutionary’ building or set of buildings? They could be the ‘sharp edge’ of a wedge that could, in theory, revolutionise the world.


Image courtesy of www.shutterstock.com


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