May 23, 2024
A Brief History of Wooden Architecture

Because of natural human inquisitiveness, we have always sought to demand the most from our environment. Our architecture tends to reflect this in many ways. If one were to look at any culture they would notice a common theme: that humans in every culture tries its hardest to create strong living spaces that are weather resistant and keep to stable temperatures. Trees are a decent material for this, but not every culture hasand been able to use wood in architecture due to ecological necessities. For example, in Egypt and the Middle East, civilization began and trees are scarce, people have traditionally resorted to building structures out of mud-bricks, a combination of straw (as a binding material) and clay from riverbanks.


Japanese architecture is probably the exact opposite. Because of a relative lack of materials that aren’t trees, the Japanese have historically made extensive use of wood in architecture. Today, over 85% of their archipelago is covered with forest, but wood has ceased to be used as a major architectural tool because imports have allowed other material like metal and brick to be used. Nevertheless, Japan has historically made use of wood to build massive temple complexes such as those seen in Kyoto. One of the most famous of these is Kyumizu-Dera, which means “clear water” due to the waterfall that runs through the complex. This massive temple was built in the 17th century on a mountain overlooking Kyoto by Tokugawa Iemitsu, the shogun at the time. It was built without using a single nail. That is, the structure is made entirely of wood.

The Kizhi Churches of Karelia are similarly constructed buildings made by a different people in a different part of the world in a different architectural style. They are a set of Russian Orthodox churches near the Finnish border, but like Kiyumizu-Dera and other Japanese structures, they were built entirely out of wood without a single nail. These structures are quintessentially Russian, and they copiously feature the domes that are so quintessentially Eastern. These churches are renowned across Russia for their beauty specifically because they are made of wood. The substance may be more perishable then other materials, but it goes to show that there will always be a place for wood in architecture.


Despite the fact that large civilizations are best known for their edifices, many hunter-gathering societies are also known for their use of wood in architecture. One of the examples best known to residents of the United States are the Iroquois, who lived in Northern New York and Southern Canada. These people built large communal structures commonly known as long houses in English. These massive structures were characteristic of many of the Native American groups that lived in what would become the United States. The structures generally served to house massive family groups. The Iroquois recognized the importance of such structures by naming themselves after them. Their name for themselves was “Haudenosaunee” or “people of the long house”.

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