Machu Picchu: Incan Architecture

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Not only does Machu Picchu reveal landscape and agricultural ingenuity, it underscores the engineering marvel that is Incan architecture: Plagued with earthquakes from time immemorial, those living along the Andean fault line learn to live with the rumbles, their stonework buildings still tall and mighty from Cusco to Machu Picchu, even centuries later, while more “modern” structures fissure and crack.

Working with nature’s force instead of against it, these ancient people create building systems that absorb and diffuse the earth’s quakes, sending the energy to dissipate into open spaces and leaving just enough wiggle room between their stones to let the cobbles shake and quiver but hold form.

In Cusco, we learn that the Incas stack stones, selecting the perfect boulder to pair with the foundational layer, pieces stacking together seamlessly–all of this, without cement. So, with nothing to crack and crumble, the stones jostle and jingle but stay stacked.

What we initially think of as an odd square on the wall–a windowless window, perhaps for a religious reliquary?–flanked by open windows on either side is really an anti-crumbling mechanism. Like the window, this opening serves to release the shock waves emanating from the ground into the air, giving direction other than through the home, dissipating its destructive tendencies through air molecules instead of tightly-packed solids.

Pulling it all together is the predominance of the a-frame, a trapezoidal shape that bears inwardly just enough so that the top layer hunkers down and in on the lower layer, exerting enough force to keep the structure contained but not collapsible. Flashing back to Bangkok, I recall the typical Thai house and furniture, the a-frame also the dominant aesthetic for similar structural prowess.

Then, to circle back to how treacherously misdirected our conquistador friends are in their starry-eyed trans-Atlantic journeys, we notice that these row upon row of Incan domiciles hold together without a nail. Metalwork is notoriously absent from the entire site–yes, remnants likely stolen like at all sites across the globe–because the Incas fastened roofs to walls and created top floors using what they had in abundance: Plant fiber ropes pass through interspersed holes in the stonework, beams sit on stone ledges.

Riveting, and as always happens when I experience ancient brilliance, I lament our bias towards all things nouveau tech and Eurocentric.

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This entry was published on March 30, 2013 at 15:00. It’s filed under Peru and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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