To Phenomenology of Urban Culture

Issue #2 • 1811

“… Nothing made more harm to the history of great architectures than approach to it as to the history of construction technologies but not as to the history of ideas…”
O. Spengler.

The study of city as a phenomenon developing within broad ideological and socio-cultural context has high importance for the formation of future philosophy of national city planning. In this regard all history of Central Asian city, or rather all art history of the region, could be divided into three long historical stages:
1. The ancient polytheistic, or pre-Islamic, period when proto-urban and early urban culture survived their formation and when the urban social infrastructure formed. This time was marked by the first clash and interaction between West (Greco-Hellenic world) and East (Bactria, India, China, Iran and the steppe east).

2. Urbanism of the Muslim Middle Ages that covered the VIII-XIX cc. and was marked by the formation and development of new art style, which found its reflection both in the art as well as in architecture and city planning. Cities became basic generators of new art styles, and the urban culture of this period obtains a role of system forming factor. It was a period of self-identification of urban mentality and formation of new aesthetic of Muslim Urbanism. Grunebaum wrote: “From its birth Islam, by its spirit and main centers, had urban character”.

3. Urban Culture of the Modern Time – the end of the XIX – beginning of the XXI cc. In its own turn this period could be divided into three stages:
a) Colonial architecture of the end of the XIX – beginning of the XX cc.;
b) Architecture and city planning of the period of Soviet totalitarianism;
c) Urbanism of the period of Independence.

The history of urbanization of our region gives evidence for the theory of so called “post-collision evolution”, i.e. changing and development of new basic principles of architecture and city planning start after global and radical historical collapses.

The earliest stage of urbanization was connected with switching of the nomads to the settled lifeway and cultivation of fertile flood lands in the 2nd millennia B.C. as well as with political and military events in the 1st millennia B.C. when the Achaemenid and Greco-Hellenic military and cultural invasion happened. In different regions of Central Asia, up to the Period of Antiquity, with different extent of intensity (in the southern regions – quicker, in north-eastern and south-western – a little slower), formed the systems of urban attributes including social and cult-religious, architectural, city planning and fortification ones. In the southern regions a special role belonged to the Hellenic component, which, however, in spite of its importance, much more influenced the art processes, including architecture (for example, columns and order system), but not the evolution of city planning (though fortification system and some methods of planning had convergent character).

The early medieval urbanization, a final stage of fine arts (painting, sculpture and applied arts with rich art themes), tolerant in religious and cultural aspects, had completed a period of inconscient and irrational development of Central Asian urban culture. Considering a broad spectrum of religious and cult ideas, which mostly formed aesthetic mentality of that epoch, it could be identified as a stage of polytheistic development of urban culture. General basis of plastic arts reflected a process of formation of local art schools in main state units – Bactria, Sogd, Khorezm and Ferghana. Having similar basic features, the art of each region manifested its own style and art methods. This period of city planning and art culture can be also identified as a time of local canons. Another peculiarity of pre-Islamic city is connected with a wide use of clay, but not stone or brick, as a main construction material. That’s why city has mainly preserved in a form of eminence (tepa) or ancient ruins.

Replacement of religious and cultural paradigm after Islam coming caused a new stage in urbanization, a stage in the development of urban culture under the banner of monotheistic world vision. Islam coming into the region had radically changed public mentality including architectural and plastic minding of that epoch. Unification of aesthetic principles in the Muslim world as a whole had become a new cultural dogma – a period of universal aesthetic canon had started. Therefore, some generalized and standard vision of oriental city as a composition of blue domes and slim minarets has some basis to be reasonable. The universal style spread over not only over plastic forms of culture, but verbal ones too. Ornament and words’ ligature became a distinguishing feature of new aesthetic and defined not just a form but its matter. New canons of social and cultural life had been forming energetically. By the X – XI cc. formation of universal Muslim aesthetic canon had been completed in a whole.

Since this period and for almost the millennia, in Sredneaziatskoe Mejdurechye had been formed and developed the urban culture of a new type. Its principal peculiarities were in the active evolution of trade and craft zones; involving of the region into the space of general Muslim culture, active interactions with nomadic ethnos and, in this context, in the growth of influence of the Turkic-speaking peoples on social, political and cultural life of Maverannahr.

Islam, coming into the region in the VII – VIII cc., had radically changed not only social and economic urban infrastructure as well as architectural image of local city, but its philosophy. This was a time of occurrence of trade and craft cities and formation of new plastic silhouette of cities, a time of changes of city planning and architectural priorities in a whole. A structure of simple inner hierarchy of pre-Islamic city (the architecture of citadels and castles with adjoining country side) had become much more complicated. Cities of Termez, Samarkand and Bukhara transformed into large multifunction structure (administrative, royal, religious, commercial and craft, fortification, engineering and other structures) and at the same time were important centers on transcontinental routes of the Great Silk Road. Cult structures, like mosque, madrasah, minaret and others, in many respects defined the image of cities of the Muslim Middle Ages. They brought a new plastic and styling intonation into general atmosphere of urban life. Brick as a construction and decorative material came into use.

From the point of territorial development the cities of Uzbekistan in the Muslim period were rather big. Some scholars pointed that in the XIV c. Samarkand and Bukhara, by their area, exceeded many Europen cities such as Paris, Milan, Naples and others, yielding to Rome only. But density of the population in the cities of Central Asia was less. Thus, the biggest cities in the pre-Mongolian period numbered not over 40 thousand inhabitants, and there were about ten such cities (Bukhara, Samarkand, Kesh, Nesef, Termez and others). Most of the cities, about 70, numbered 10 – 15 thousand people. Thus, in that period, a total number of urban inhabitants in Maverannahr was around 1.5 million, or according to opinion of some scholars, 20 – 30 percents of all population, in this case numbering about 4 million people. If to consider that by the end of the XX century 24 million people lived in the cities of Uzbekistan, the basis of which formed cities of Maverannahr, the dynamic of population growth looks very impressive. Thus, according to the census of 1868 there were 47 thousand inhabitants in Tashkent. Today the mega police numbers over 2 million people.

By the end of the XIX century, the colonization of Turkestan caused the attempts to transplant European and Russian architectural and city planning traditions into space of medieval cities. New centers occurred inside old urban structures, but it had lasted for a short time, new national traditions influenced the architectural image of our cities not too much. Nevertheless, the idea of new European center inside of traditional structure of Turkestan cities became principal in the formation of new city planning philosophy in Central Asia. Restoration of monuments of colonial architecture of the XIX c. is the easiest and realistic task because of their good state of preservation. They need just fundamental reconstruction. As for the influence of architecture of totalitarian Soviet regime, it was total and obsessive. Exactly in the XX c. the system of conscious total urbanism of new formation occurred. Its philosophy had proceeded from the Communist ideology that declared principles of social justice. Partly it had been executed, especially in the field of dwelling construction. But Soviet city planning, propagating philosophy of centralism and single planning institution, deprived national republics of possibility to form their own architectural and city planning concepts and, accordingly, original national schools and architectural traditions. That’s why the problem of comprehension and regeneration of positive heritage of medieval urban culture as well as re-planning of socialistic cities and creation of new urbanistic philosophy became highly vital for architecture and city planning practice.

Among the most difficult tasks of modern national city planning and architecture there is a search of topical ideas in the plastic heritage of the past. It is difficult but important task. Architecture historians have accumulated a rich database in this regard. Now they carefully study different stages of city development and give detailed specification and description of architectural monuments, construction and architectural technologies. The architecture of 70s – 80s reflected efforts to interpret some technologies (sun-protected pandjara, stalactites, inner yard and etc.) but they lay within stylistic but not insight content of architectural idea. However, nobody has still approached to the fundamental task – understanding of language of architectural ideas and principles of graphic expression and subject intonations. At the same time Samarkand and Bukhara give exclusively important material for this kind of cultural and philosophical challenges.

In these cities the fundamental philosophical and ideological tasks of that time were moved forward and perfectly, with tremendous figuratively-emotional power, solved. Thus, the ensemble of Registan in Samarkand became a result of deliberate implanting of state doctrine, the idea of power and strength of empire of Amir Temur, into urban structure. The architecture of Samarkand strikes by its greatness and monumental pathos. Even its memorial buildings are distinguished by aesthetic luxury and stressed refined beauty of plastic forms and ornamental decor (the memorial complex of Shahi-zinda, the XIII – XV cc.; the mausoleum of Guri-Amir , the XV c. and others). In Samarkand the big structures (the complex of Registan, mosque of Bibi-khanum, mausoleum Guri-Amir) look proudly, dominating by itself over dwelling houses and quarters and creating irregular and contrast plastic rhythms. As for Bukhara, the old city, preserved till now, gives the wonderful example of plastic and tonal harmony of dwelling, religious and economic structures. One can see integrated ensemble of city planning components. Symmetry, balance and certain pacification prevail in the atmosphere of the city giving the feeling of plastic rest to the Bukharian dwelling houses, public and religious buildings. Remarkable samples of the philosophy of architectural silence and harmonious symmetry are reflected in the Bukharian monuments of the XV – XVII cc. constructed according to the principle of “kosh” (bigeminal). They are a famous complex of Kosh-madrasah representing oppositely standing mearasah of Madori-khan (1566) and Abdulla-khan (1588 – 1590) as well as two buildings, occurring at different times, – the complex of madrasah of Ulughbeg (1417) and Abdulazizkhan (1652), also constructed according to “kosh”. A small monument of the XIX c., the madrasah of Caliph Niyazkul, known among people as “Chor mynor”, presents apotheosis of symmetrical and well-balanced architectural philosophy.

Covered markets in ancient trade streets play an important role in stabilization of plastic rhythms of Bukhara. In the aspect of form (multi-domed) and size (middle height between low dwelling houses and high palace and cult structures) they form the intermediate architectural link, which integrates differently-leveled space volumes. Almost the same we could see in masterpieces of art crafts and architectural decor of Samarkand and Bukhara. Mysterious and pacific philosophy of art and plastics of Bukhara oppose to open, sometimes dynamic, aesthetics of Samarkand. If urbanism of Samarkand, in its brightest pieces of architecture, is consonant with bravura and march music, the architectural philosophy of Bukhara, more chamber by character, goes back to meditating music of makoma and Sufi ritual actions with their aiming to the individual sensitive perception and some hedonic world vision.

It is interesting, for example, in architectural aspect, to analyze how in Bukhara the problem of reducing of de-humanistic factor in urban environ, typical of big cities separated from nature, was solved by means of construction of water reservoirs (hauz). Among the brightest examples is the complex of Lyabi Hauz (a reservoir framed by well-balanced portals of the madrasah). It has irrational character and, creating chamber atmosphere, unconsciously materializes a normal striving of a man to the nature. In this case the city intuitively establishes self-regulating system trying to solve the urbanistic formula of combining the human and environmental space. Occurrence of such landscape projects in urban space of Bukhara is explained by prosaic factor – a limit of water in the city and attempt to supply water to inhabitants of adjoining quarters. In the course of evolution this idea lost its initial utilitarian sense and obtained the meaning of materialized art-natural solution. Considering the specificity of local climate, in the modern city planning practice this principle could have extremely important significance. Unfortunately, water reservoirs are rare in the modern cities and existing ones (mainly in Tashkent) do not balance with a human way.

Each city materializes mentality of previous generations of its inhabitants and forms, at the same time, emotional, sensitive, social and spiritual character of subsequent ones. Tashkent as a new Asiatic mega police should be aimed to the training of technogenical features but during last ten years in the capital of Uzbekistan became obvious the combination of styles – universal architectural trends (hotels “Intercontinental”, “Sheraton”, Business-Center and others) and attempts of pointed turn to historical forms (the Museum of the Temurids, building of Oliy Majlis, Tashkent Khokimiyat, State Conservatory). Importance of the turn to the history is explained and understandable. At the same time, the modern buildings as signing symbols of our world vision demand more careful arrangement of retrospective material. Experience of our own urbanistic classic, a brilliant piece of which is Bukhara, prompts the necessity of more ponderate approach to own sources of architectural ideas. The architectural philosophy of Bukhara, atmosphere of its quarters is aiming to the search of optimal solution of the problems of the succession both in city planning and spiritual aspects. The principle of harmony in human and urban environ should be used in the process of construction of new urban and architectural structures. At the same time, it is vital to adapt the international experience and achievements in architecture and city planning. It is a paradox but the richest architectural heritage, in the case of its uncritical interpretation, becomes a factor of braking and architectural flatness. General use of formal methods of the medieval classic without consideration of historical context sometimes leads to groundless aesthetic and art solutions. In this regard addressing to the modern international experience in interpretation of architectural heritage would be useful and required.

Author: Akbar Khakimov

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