Lecture 6. The Modern: Chthonic Infusions in Modern Life

This lecture explores the unexpected appearance of rock-cut architecture in more modern context. As we have seen, the chthonic idea flourished as architecture in pre-modern times. With the onset of modernity, the longstanding separation of the native ground from the capital-A architecture became dominant, particularly with the ascent of the functionalist, materialist and tectonic contentions of architecture. As per the expectations of the European Enlightenment, the empowered individual separated themselves from their dirty, wet beginnings in the ground to a sanitized, free- standing form, or even preferably lifted above the ground, as for instance in Le Corbusier’s conception of the piloti. Theorists like Semper described the sterotomic as separate from the tectonic – the assembled frame through which architecture emerged. Yet the chthonic has persisted… in interesting ways into the modern era. Continuously occupied cites flourished as both above and below ground constructions, like in Byzantine Cappadocia. Other places began to experience such density of people, that the only available space was underground – use coming first through practical need. This lecture includes utilitarian infrastructure: tunnels, subways, underground cities. In other places, modern architects – typically in the late modern period (1950s/60s/70s) – began to question the stark division of above ground and underground space, and rediscovered chthonic sensibilities. Modern architecture of Gaudi, Juan O’Gorman and B.V. Doshi demonstrate how the chthonic persists into the present.

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