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Representational Function of Architecture

Architecture has different functions. The first and most important function is the practical, or experiential, one (O’Toole, 85). It is designed for a specific purpose and the building represents that purpose (Harries, 99). The decorations and way of architecture make this function stronger. It has to be very clear for the viewer what the function of a building is. O’Toole gives two more functions of architecture (87) which are the ‘interpersonal function’, the way viewers interpret and read certain architecture, and the ‘textual function’, the way buildings fit in their surroundings.

Architecture is always time/period related. The way people develop and design certain buildings is strongly related to the time in which they live. This makes the understanding of a building a puzzle that needs research far beyond just understanding the purpose. The buildings of the past ‘speak’ to us in a different language (Bussagli, 107). Pyramids of Giza The Pyramid of Cheops (also known as Khufu) is the biggest of the Pyramids of Giza and is the only of the ‘seven wonders of the world’ that is still intact today.

Until the completion of the Cathedral of Lincoln (1311), it was the highest building of the world. The pyramid of Cheops is part of six pyramids, three big and three smaller. The bigger ones are attributed to the kings Khufu, Cheffren and Menkaure. Scientists think that the pyramids are build between 2552 and 2472 BC. Thanks to their stable construction they were preserved very well. The outer layer of white limestone has disappeared because the stones were used for other purposes during the Middle Ages (Filer, 22).

Scientists suspect that it was Pharaoh Khufu who ordered the building of ‘his’ pyramid. It was supposed to be a grave and represented the hill where the sun god Ra was standing when he created the other gods and goddesses. It was build over a period of 20 years and the believed architect was Khufu’s vizier, Hemon (Filer, 23). Pyramids are burial chambers where the bodies of dead pharaohs would be placed. One characteristic of a pyramid is that the burial chamber is inside the building and not underground (Bussagli, 204).

The body would be placed in the middle of the pyramid. This method of building brings of course a lot of careful calculation and a good brain for architecture. Pyramids don’t just express the ability of architecture, but have a theological function as well. The geometric plan, the used images and the precise calculations in relation to the stars, indicate that the pyramid also has a function of a temple (Bussagli, 108). Hagia Sophia in Istanbul The Hagia Sophia is a former cathedral and mosque in the Turkish city of Istanbul. Nowadays it is a museum.

The building was first made as cathedral in the former Constantinople in the Byzantine Empire. The first church, fourth century, was destroyed by fire. It was reconstructed by emperor Justinian around 536. On May seventh 538, the dome collapsed after the building was struck by an earthquake the year before, and reconstructed again soon after (Eastmond, 27). The construction was of great importance for the Orthodox Church and the Byzantine Empire for it was for centuries, the largest cathedral of the world. After the capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire, the cathedral became of mosque.

The cross in the central dome was replaced by a crescent moon and plaques with the names of Allah, Mohamed and the four caliphs were placed inside. The Byzantine murals were covered in white plaster. In 1934, it became a secular building and a museum whereby the old mosaics were rediscovered. In 1985, UNESCO put the Hagia Sophia on the ‘world heritage list’ (Meri, 82). In Islamic art, representations and images cannot be found. This is because the Qur’an forbids any images, out of the belief that there cannot be an image of Allah and that the use of ‘idols’, or pictures of any living beings is forbidden (Bussagli, 122).

Therefore, the architects had to use different things and decorations, to emphasize specific meanings of a building. They do this through the use of domes, minarets, arches and typical ceiling and wall decorations (Bussagli, 122). It is therefore not strange that in the time that the Hagia Sophia became a mosque, the murals were covered up. Constantinople was the center of the religious world when it was build. The architects made sure that everyone would recognize this by making the building extremely big.

When the Hagia Sophia was turned into a mosque, the same thing happened and it is not surprising that it is famous for its big dome. This way, the architects could show the world their ability to build something modest (no images, not too much decoration), but yet so immense. One element that make the architecture of the Hagia Sophia very special for its time are that it is raised one meter off the ground on a podium. The function of the space, left by the podium, is space for tomb monuments (Eastmond, 34). References Bussagli, M. (2005) Understanding Architecture.

Styles and Structures from the Pyramids to Post Modernism. New York, NY: I B Tauris & Co Ltd. Eastmond, A. (2004) Art and Identity in thirteenth-century Byzantium. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing. Filer, J. (2005) Pyramids. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, Inc. Harries, K. (1993) The Ethical Function of Architecture. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Meri, J. W. (2005) Medieval Islamic Civilization. An Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Routledge O’Toole, M. (1994) The Language of Displayed Art. London, England: Leicester University Press.

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