Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Picchu Piku

Well I'm finally caught up to the present time blog-wise, or at least closer to the ultimate goal of actually reporting on current events. After a long plane ride and a seven hour layover in San Salvador, I have made it down to Lima, Peru! I'm off to a good start, already lost a sketchbook on the plane ride down here. Luckily [and sadly...] I don't think there was anything too important in it. Thoughts of Peru so far... everyone in the airport has surgical masks on, to protect against the influenza scare. Which, by the way, is not one of the things you want to see when entering a new country. Either that or armed guards with german shepards patrolling the streets. Both scenarios reek of post apocalyptic foreshadowing.

My Spanish has gotten rusty to the point of being incomprehensible over the last few years. Usually at restaurants I end up playing a game of gastronomical russian roulette, not entirely sure of what I'm going to get, and too polite to try and order anything else. Since Lima proved relatively uninteresting I decided to hop the first bus I could out of Lima to get closer to the ultimate goal of Machu Picchu [apologies to any Limians, you have a lovely city I'm sure]. On a side note, I've also given up all of my dreams and ambitions after having a taste of the good life. From now on I'm selling what moral character I had left to pray at the alter of greed with the hopes of becoming rich enough to afford VIP transportation. I came to this conclusion after accidentally buying a ticket for the "premiere class" of a bus company going from Lima to Cusco, Peru. Not truly accidentally, but they were out of tickets for the regular economic and business classes and all they had left was a ticket to ride in style in the luxury bus. Luckily it wasn't actually that expensive as far as transportation goes, so I said "Hey Taylor, live a little and upgrade." If I'm spending 21 straight hours on a bus I at least want it to be comfortable. As soon as I sat down in the cushy comfy seats on the "Cruz del Sur" I heard another fellow travel-goer exclaim "This is definitely the nicest place I've ever been!". We were on a bus, just to recap, but I did have to agree with him somewhat that it was a very nice bus. Each person had two vents, with the assumption you could blow cool air on your feet and head at the same time I guess? Well now that I've lost a majority of readers talking about seat cushions, I'll reward those that persevered by fast forwarding to the main reason I'm in Peru in the first place. Machu Picchu.

Its written into the Peruvian constitution somewhere that it is every tourist's legal responsibility to visit the Incan ruins, so I set about to fulfill my patriotic duty by doing the same. The bus ride was relatively uneventful besides passing by some great examples of typical Andean housing on the way to Cusco. The closer you get to the city, the more confused the houses became, finally resembling a cross between an 80's office building and a mud hut. Very strange. The wooden doors are usually always extremely well crafted, made of solid material with carvings and different patterns worked into them. The houses blend almost seemlessly into the courtyards they are adjoined to, with adobe walls skirting around the property to close in livestock and shop spaces. Earthy tones of umber also gives the houses even more of a seeming connection to the lush green landscape that surrounds them.

Machu Picchu. Words cannot accurately describe the mystical power of the rocky site nestled in the midst of the towering mountains that stare down at it. Therefore I won't attempt to weigh the memory down of those who have been there or are yet to go with superfulous analogies. I will put forth some of my thoughts on the construction of the place though, with the hopes that they have many relevant examples even in today's world of architecture.

The site was built nostly around the 1460's [A.D.] and only stood used for around 100 years before Spanish conquistadores and disease all but wiped it out. It was not plundered however, and is intact in most all of the key areas. One of the main techniques used in construction was called "ashlar," or the tight setting together of stones without mortar. Earthquakes are a major concern in the area, and ashlar type construction holds up much better against lateral movement, having nowhere to go and no mortar to disrupt. There are also male and female ¨keys¨where the blocks touch to interlock them even further from movement. To quarry the necessary stone in order to build such a prodigious structure, several different techniques were used. One of the ways that the stone was broken down into managable sizes was to make a crack in the rock and insert wooden wedges into the fissure. The wedges would be wet and therefore expand, splitting the stone further apart. This technique was repeated until the rock seperated.

I was also blown away by the complexity achieved by just one single material, stone [not including earth]. True, the thatched wooden roofs have long since deteriorated leaving only the shell of ruins, but most all of the main parts of the structures are made using different sizes and shapes of one single material. Relating the philosophy of less is more in terms of material to contemporary practice yields an interesting comparison. Instead of using a multitude of materials to achieve complexity [and perhaps contradiction....bad architecture joke...] the Incans chose to exploit all the possibilities of a single one, but in numerous different ways. As seen in the pictures above, stones are cantilevered out from walls to create simple functional staircases. In the repetition of openings in a stone wall, some are infilled to create alcoves instead of views. The path of water is traced and made way for by openings and matter worn away with the passage of time. And the creation of a threshold is made evident in the selection of higher quality stone to differentiate the doorway´s importance. All the subtleties in design are made by a re-thinking of a single material in order to make it work a number of different ways. Machu Picchu was inspiring and opened up a host of ideas in thinking about how to make the most out of a single piece.

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