Monday, February 20, 2012

RR #6: Hypostyle Halls through History

Concept: Hypostyle halls are an architectural element that have existed throughout history. They are evident in eastern and western architecture, and are still constructed today. I think they are built more because of their atmospheric effect and less because of any design function.

A hypostyle hall is a "hall of many columns." Generally, the spacing between the columns were smaller than necessary, so that the columns seemed unusually close together and densely packed through the space. Part of the primary intent of hypostyle halls is often to emphasize the massive scale of the columns, dwarfing occupants in comparison.

Historical examples of hypostyle halls mentioned in this post
  • Mortuary Complex of Zoser, Egypt, c. 2613 BCE
  • Temple of Amun, Karnak, Egypt, c. 1295 - 1186 BCE
  • Palace complex at Persepolis, Iran, c. 515-330 BCE
  • the Telesterion at Eleusis, Greece, c. 435 BCE
  • Temple of Horus, Egypt, c. 237 BCE
  • Tarik Khana, Iran, c. 760 CE
  • The Mosque at Qayrawan, Tunisia, c. 670 - 863 CE
  • The Kutubiyya Mosque in Marrakech, Morocco, completed in 1199 CE
  • The Great Mosque of Cordoba, Spain, begun c. 786
  • Ben Gurion International Airport, Israel, 1936
  • Johnson Wax headquarters, Frank Lloyd Wright, Wisconsin, 1944
Hypostyle halls have existed for millennia. Almost as early as the beginning of our recorded architectural history, we can see examples of massive monumental columns that are utilized in design for their dramatic effect rather than for any necessary structural support. Perhaps the oldest monumental columns in the history of architecture are the stone columns used in the Mortuary Complex of Zoser in ancient Egypt, built around 2613 BCE (Ching, page 40). These columns were enormous; the exaggerated scale was meant to suggest to visitors the difference between the mortal world and the afterlife.

Mortuary Complex of Zoser, Egypt, 2613 BCE
Another famous Egyptian structure that utilizes these massive columns is the Temple of Amun at Karnak. The columns here were covered in carvings depicting Egyptian history. Here's a diagram of the layout of the hall and an image of the remaining columns from present day.

A Reconstruction Drawing of the Great Hypostyle Hall of the Temple of Amun, Karnak,
c. 1295 - 1186 BCE
The Great Hypostyle Hall at the Temple of Amun, Karnak
Even though there was very limited travel and cross-cultural communication during this early time period, the hypostyle hall emerges as a part of architecture in various regions across the world. The Palace complex at Persepolis, Iran (c. 515-330 BCE) contained multiple hypostyle halls. The largest building in the complex, Apadana, which was the main reception hall, had 72 fluted columns which were 7 meters high. According to the text book A Global History of Architecture, the general idea behind halls filled with columns originated around the 8th century BCE. Precedent can be seen in early Median architecture. A palace-citadel in Gobin Tepe contained a hall with 30 columns, and Cyrus's palace in Pasargadae did also (Ching, p 118).

Hypostyle halls were also an important aspect of Greek and Roman architecture. Columns played a central role in classical Greek and Roman architecture.  Greeks created rules regarding the three classical orders of columns and established rules about the proportional height of columns relative to the diameter. They are known for using columns primarily around the perimeter of their buildings, but examples of their hypostyle halls still exist. An example of the evolution of the hypostyle hall is the Telesterion at Eleusis, Greece, c. 435 BCE.
Plan view of the Telesterion at Eleusis, Greece, c. 435 BCE
The hypostyle halls at the Temple of Horus (c. 237 BCE) is a well-known example of how this building type evolved from the Greek-style of architecture and influenced Egyptian architecture. The Temple of Horus have many features of Hellenistic style, including the colonnaded court and the carvings and images found throughout the interior of the temple.

Centuries later, the use of hypostyle halls was adopted by builders of Islamic mosques. The halls of worship at most mosques consisted of a courtyard leading to an open space filled with columns. This style of mosque is known as "hypostyle-courtyard style." Tarik Khana (c. 760 CE) in northern Iran is one of the oldest mosques that still exists. Its prayer hall contains massive round brick columns that are nearly 2 meters in diameter.
Tarik Khana, c. 760 CE, prayer hall

Tarik Khana, c. 760 CE; massive brick columns around courtyard
 North African mosques adopted hypostyle halls from other cultures. The Mosque at Qayrawan (c. 670 - 863 CE) served as a prototype for later African mosques built in a very similar style. The Kutubiyya Mosque in Marrakech, Morocco, for instance, was built four hundred years after the Qayrawan mosque (it was completed in 1199 CE), but they are very similar. It has a low hypostyle hall situated around a t-shaped axis.  

The Great Mosque of Cordoba, Spain (begun c. 786), is one of the earliest examples of monumental Islamic architecture. This mosque contains over 500 columns! Its design is evidence of how the Arabic rulers incorporated Roman style of architecture (the existing architectural tradition) into their own designs.

Hypostyle hall of the Great Mosque of Cordoba, Spain

The Kutubiyya Mosque in Marrakech, Morocco, completed 1199 CE
Throughout history, additional examples of hypostyle halls can be found in various building types. Expansive open spaces that are organized around a grid of enormous columns have been used for multiple purposes. Even Catholic cathedrals are built around a central space that is filled with massive columns. These hypostyle halls are not just built for structural purposes. In fact, the columns are generally placed much closer to one another than necessary. The halls are intended to have a dramatic effect on their occupants. The huge columns make the human scale dwarf in comparison. I think this effect typically is meant to elevate the scale of whatever is represented by the hall, whether it's representing a sacred space and the infinity of the divine or it's representing royalty and their possession of power and money.


Even modern buildings sometimes use hypostyle halls as a prominent architectural element.  Frank Lloyd Wright modified the basic idea of a hypostyle hall when he designed "lily pad columns" in the Johnson Wax headquarters.

Johnson Wax headquarters, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1944, Wisconsin

The hypostyle hall in an architectural convention that has been around for millennia. It is still utilized though, and will continue to be, thanks to its effectiveness in communicating a certain impression of a space. Hypostyle halls are a simple and powerful way to create a huge open space. While keeping all parts of the space connected, the hypostyle hall  emphasizes the massive scale of the structure around its occupants and can have an awe-inspiring effect.

Ben Gurion International Airport, Israel, 1936

Futuristic airport terminal concept

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