Monday, 20 September 2010

Great Buildings 3 - Skara Brae

The subject of this entry in my "Great Buildings" blogstrand is actually a series of buildings and is, arguably, of more interest from an Archaeological point of view than as Architecture: Skara Brae, the neolithic village in Orkney.

Skara Brae dates to c. 3,000BC but was buried under sand dunes until a storm uncovered it in 1850. Since then, work has been done to preserve it and it has become one of Orkney's many tourist attractions along with many others such as the nearby Ring of Brodgar and Maes Howe.

The individual houses are formed from low stones walls and the roofs would have been made from turf (the final picture below is of a modern reconstruction of a typical dwelling). The interiors of the dwellings are centred round a hearth with stone beds and shelving units for storage of (presumably) equipment and provisions against the walls. Outside the walls, the houses were surrounded by a midden (or rubbish tip) which would have provided defence and insulation. They are linked with stone passageways and there is a communal building which may have been a workshop of some kind.

Much of architecture is about how people use buildings and how those buildings interact, particularly in the development of communities. The inhabitants of Skara Brae did not have had Architects and Town Planners, their building design was driven by practicalities and limited by the materials available and technical abilities, but altogether it is fantastically preserved evidence of how our predecessors lived and formed their own community.

While I wouldn't advocate that buildings in the 21st century should be purely utilitarian, at times one feels that there are lessons to be re-learned about making buildings fit for purpose as well as atheistically pleasing or architecturally adventurous!   

Of course, pictures and descriptions can only portray a fraction of how fascinating Skara Brae is but unless you have or until you do see it in real life, here are some pictures:

Skara Brae from above - Note the level of the modern walkways compared with the dwellings

Map of the site


Detail of the walls and walkways

Reconstructed Hut

Much more can be found here. For previous posts in this blogstrand, see here.


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