If the Past Teaches, What Does the Future Learn?

Ancient Urban Regions and the Durable Future


John T. Murphy, Department of Anthropology, Northern Illinois University; Carole L. Crumley, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill // Centre for Biodiversity, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences; Christian Isendahl, Department of Historical Studies, University of Gothenburg; Lisa J Lucero, Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; John Meunier, College of Architecture and Environmental Design, School of Design, Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, Arizona State University; Steffen Nijhuis, Faculty of Architecture and the Built Environment, Delft University of Technology; Payam Ostovar, Coen + Partners, Minneapolis; Clemens Reichel, Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, University of Toronto and Royal Ontario Museum; Vernon L Scarborough, Department of Anthropology, University of Cincinnati; Federica Sulas, The McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge; T L Thurston, Department of Anthropology, University at Buffalo, State University of New York; Carrie Hritz, The Pew Charitable Trusts
Cover from the book: If the Past Teaches, What Does the Future Learn?


How can we transform urban environments to encourage durability and mediate the social price of myriad risks and vulnerability?Our work here is to build a bridge from archaeology to mainstream architectural and design theory. The study of places, landscapes, and regions links the two fields. Architecture can be shaped and enhanced by the long-term cultural and geographic perspective afforded by archaeology; architecture can offer archaeology a ride into the future. We hope that our efforts are novel enough to be inspiring and connected enough to allow existing concepts to be furthered.

The bridge unites three domains: material, social, and aesthetic. We look to the past to find material technologies—new engineering and conceptual solutions to an array of problems—and the past obliges with many examples. However, these technologies in their material aspects are only part of the story. The archaeologist sees them as playing a role in a system. This system, while mechanically functional, is also profoundly social: it includes administrative structures, but also innumerable other kinds of relationships—kin groups, neighborhoods, genders—that mirror the embedded relations between humans and nature. As in architecture, systems include semantics and aesthetics: not only are these forms pleasing to the eye, but they also tell stories of history and place and give identity and meaning to the lives in which they are enmeshed. This multi-functionality and multi-vocality are inherent in past systems.


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archaeology, history, ecology, regional planning, urban planning, landscape architecture


11 July 2022


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