Inca Architecture - an environmentally integrated building culture
added April 2017
At the time of the Incan empire, its peak about 600 years ago, an impressive medieval architecture and civil engineering was established.
An intelligent way of building
The culture developed cities and settlements that have been smartly integrated into its natural environment.
Inca settlements have often been within mountains. People integrated their houses and buildings well into the surroundings by using terraces to adapt to the sloping site. The terraces have been mainly used to function agriculturally.
Walls have been build in a way that was and stayed unique for the culture. In a "vertical jigsaw" stones were interlocking and the wall was able to stablize without the use of mortar.
Also in other parts of their buildings, incan builders showcased skill and creativity. For example, openings were often formed as trapezoid: this helped to reduce the length of lintels and minimised the structural weakening of the opening.
Sketch showing a terrace, gradually approaching a mountain, Inca period
Illustration, kpg, solararchitekt, 2017
Basically, these structures have stood the test of time. On the other hand one of the most frequently used material has been adobe. The majority of adobe structures have vanished over time, returned into the natural cycle. An interesting point about the integration of this building culture into its natural environment. Chan chan, the city of adobe, is an ancient city in Peru and some of the structures still exist today. It is still possible to see the way adobe has been used to make buildings but also to attach ornaments. Chan chan is also characterised by the fact that had a water infrastructure and was based on architectural symmetry. Bolivia`s Gate of the Sun led to another adobe city. This however has completely vanished over time into the natural cycle. One of the most famous places of the Inca civilization is Machu Picchu in the Peruvian Andes which has some notable features of an advanced architecture: the use of local material (f.i. stone-rubble), an integrated agriculture, water from natural springs, masonry terraces with gardends.
Adobe structure, framing courtyard in Chan Chan, Peru, a natural and local material that lasted for centuries
Image cc license Tyler Bell
Despite we live in a technological and digital age today, there are some aspects in this ancient culture that can provide answers to pressing questions about how human race can live with its natural surroundings rather than just make use of it. There is a potential to use natural material rather than developing or using artifical material that may not be part of the natural cycle anymore. Skill and efficiency mean that material and labour is minimised and simplified. The functional meets the ornament.(kersten schmitz)
Source: Jonathan Glancey, 2010, Architecture, Visual Reference Guides p.77