Natural Architecture
- History - 

The history of construction goes back thousands of years BC. Archaeologists keep finding more caves - places where people lived in those distant times. They provided shelter from danger, bad weather and heat. People ate animals they hunted, plants and fruit. They led a nomadic lifestyle (they wandered to hunt and find food). Over time, they began to cultivate fields and settled in one place. At that time, they lived in dugouts (partially dug pits in the ground, covered with a plant roof) or in houses carved in rock or made of clay. They used primitive tools to work stone and wood. There were more and more houses and people. Settlements, castles and cities were established. Cities grew, churches, castles, fortresses and defensive walls were built. People built from materials that were readily available. Some buildings are in good condition and are still in use today, others are a tourist attraction, and others were so fragile that we only know them from photographs and drawings, as in the case of Native American homes in North America and Aborigine homes in Australia.



The oldest human traces, dating back 300,000 years, were found in Africa. At that time, humans lived in caves that were their natural refuge. Millennia passed. About 100,000 years ago, some people migrated from Africa to other continents. Those who stayed formed new tribes and started building houses and settlements of clay, stone, and wood. New countries were created with their own religion, culture and buildings typical for them.


Laas Geel

Caves in red granite rock were used as shelter. People had cows, which they depicted in cave paintings. They also painted themselves, dogs, and other animals.

najeeb / flickr / CC BY-SA


Matmata, an example of a two-level Berber house

Berbers carved houses in the rock. The living quarters were connected by corridors. Such an underground city was used by director George Lucas in "Star Wars".

Goran Jakus Photography © / iStock


clay casbahs

They were defensive structures built of clay bricks dried in the sun and clay mixed with straw and stones. The ceilings in these buildings were wooden and reinforced with reeds. Later, residential buildings at the foot of fortresses were named kasbahs. Kasbahs of this type are built on a square plan with living and utility rooms centered around an internal courtyard, the atrium, with a fountain or well.

pasja1000 / Pixabay


Djenne, Great Mosque

The houses in this city are built of clay on a wooden structure. The Great Mosque is renovated every year by all residents. The protruding wooden elements serve as scaffolding during the renovation of clay walls.

Andy Gilham / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA


Giza, pyramids

The world's largest stone pyramids are the tombs of pharaohs. They have a square base and are built of limestone rock blocks. The tallest one, the Khufu (Cheops) pyramid, is 147 meters high, 230 meters at its base, and was built in 2650 BC. The pyramid of Khafre, slightly lower, measures 137 m, and the pyramid of Mykerinos is 65 m high. About 2 million 300 thousand stone blocks were used to build the Pyramid of Khufu (Cheops), each weighing from 2.5 to 15 tons. The blocks are stacked on top of each other and reinforced with mortar, the composition of which has not been discovered to this day. The pyramids were covered with sanded limestone plates, called alabaster, and shone with the reflected sunlight.

StockSnap / Pixabay


terracotta models of houses

The houses of the poorer people in Egypt were built of Nile river mud, papyrus and wood. They were usually single-story, but there were also two-story ones with external stairs leading to a terrace where people slept. Sometimes there was a wall around the houses.

Vania Teofilo / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA

Wooden model of a richer family house

The houses were built of dried clay bricks, had wooden ceilings and flat roofs, and were surrounded by a wall with one gate. Inside, apart from smaller courtyards, there was a garden with trees, and in the buildings, apart from the owners' living space, there were also rooms for servants, animals, and utility rooms.

Einsamer Schütze / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA


A huge continent where many civilizations, cultures and religions meet and so there are also varied construction methods. People migrating from Africa, looking for new places to live, found fertile land in the valley of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers (the territory of today's Iraq). Agriculture was established there about 8,000 BC. People began to settle down, grow crops and raise animals. Others continued their journey: west to today's Europe, east to today's India and China, north and south. When they found good living conditions, they settled down. First, they inhabited caves, then they built small houses from materials they found in the new place: clay, wood, branches or leather. Then they founded settlements, cities and states. This pattern of civilization formation is similar on every continent. This is confirmed by the ongoing archaeological research, and now also genetic research* on the migration of peoples.


Kurdistan, City of Ur, archaeological site

At first, the peoples of the Euphrates and Tigris valleys lived in houses made of mud bricks, and the walls of the houses were made of reed braid covered with a layer of river mud, reeds and stones. Ancient Ur was built 5,000 BC. It was surrounded by a wall and inside were temples to the gods, priests' houses, a citadel*, royal tombs and residential quarters. The city was built of clay bricks dried in the sun. Ur was unearthed in the desert in the 19th century.

M.Lubinski from Iraq, USA / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA


Kurdistan, City of Ur

clay water pipes were sealed with natural asphalt

Jw2c / Wikimedia / Domena publiczna


Shibam, "Manhattan* of the desert"

Residential high-rise buildings built of clay on a wooden structure are up to 11 floors high and there are about 500 of them. Some of the surviving ones are 100, 200 and 400 years old!

Jialiang Gao / CC BY-SA


Bam city

Built of clay 2,500 years ago, Bam was famous for the largest ancient fortress (defensive structure). The city was made of dried clay bricks. It was destroyed in 2003 by an earthquake and is being rebuilt by the Iranian government in cooperation with other countries.

Ales.kocourek / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA


Elura (Ellora), a complex of 34 temples

The buildings, carved out of rock 1,600 years ago, are covered with plaster - a mixture of hemp, gypsum, clay and lime. Such plaster kept the temples intact, providing the monks with a warm and cozy place. Nowadays, such plaster is called hemp concrete and is widely used.

Sachin Kawale / Pixabay


Fujian province – tulou

Multi-story defensive buildings, called tulou, were built of compacted earth, with a wooden load-bearing and roof structure. The outer walls (about 2 m thick) have only small windows - shooting holes. Tulou were built by peoples fleeing the invasions of nomads in the north of China. They occupied lands already inhabited on the slopes of the mountains, where they were attacked by the natives. The structures constructed in this way ensured safety and the possibility of defense.

Gisling / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA


tulou – interior

The interior of tulou is a mini village. On the ground floor there were rooms for animals and carts, on the first floor there were warehouses, and the upper floors housed flats for many families. Up to 800 people lived in a tulou. There was a temple inside, sometimes a market, and there was one gate leading inside. Today some tulou are falling into disrepair, but many are inhabited or renovated and converted into hotels. They are a great tourist attraction.

Gisling / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA


Lhasa, the palace of the Dalai Lama, known as Potala

Potala rises 90 m above the capital of Tibet, is 1.5 km long and spans an area of 41 hectares. It is 13 floors high. It was built with clay, stones and wood - without any nails!

Antoine Taveneaux / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA

North and Central America

Long ago, during the Ice Age, mainland America was connected with Asia. People made their way across the ice to the new land and began to walk along the coast of the Pacific Ocean to the south. Some were still hunter-gatherers (North American Indians), others settled where they liked the living conditions (lots of game, forests, wild food, good climate). It was 20,000 years ago. Humans traveled south through what is now Mexico, to Cape Horn in South America. Great civilizations with stone buildings arose there.

The Arctic

igloo - "house of snow" built by the Inuit tribes

The entrance to the igloo was usually long, almost three meters long, and covered with skins. The dome was built of snow cubes 60 cm wide, 120 cm long and 20 cm thick. The building was sealed with snow and covered with hides. The igloo was a shelter during winter, tents were built from branches in summer and covered with animal skins.

George Francis Lyon „Inuici budujący igloo” / Domena publiczna

North America

North American Indian Homes

Before Columbus came to America, the native tribes living there (there were about 300 of them) lived in simple tents and small houses. The supporting structure was usually made of branches arranged in a cone or dome, covered with hides, birch bark, grass or branches, which were sometimes covered with earth or clay. This is what teepee,

W. H. Jackson / Biblioteka Kongresu USA / Domena publiczna


Fotograf nieznany / Biblioteka Kongresu USA / Domena publiczna

and wikiup looked like.

Edward S. Curtis / Biblioteka Kongresu USA / Domena publiczna

Hogans, small houses made of tree trunks, were sealed with clay and grass.

Dsdugan / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA

The long houses of the Iroquois were constructed with wooden pillars, the walls were made of boards, the roofs were pitched or semicircular, sealed with branches and birch bark. One or more families lived in long houses. These buildings were 20 to 100 meters long, inside there were wooden sleeping platforms and wooden floors. The long houses had no windows but only openings in the roof through which smoke from the fireplaces came out. Today they are built by modern Indians in open-air museums as places of meetings, education and traditional celebrations. Long houses have been made all over the world, now they can be found in Asia on the island of Borneo.

Eden, Janine and Jim from New York City / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA

New Mexico, USA

Adobe brick buildings

Homes and farm buildings were built of bricks made of sun-dried Adobe clay. Such bricks were used where there was a shortage of wood and stone. Adobe was also made of clay or river mud, with added grass or straw to strengthen it. To this day, such bricks are used in the construction of houses, schools or hotels.

Departament transportu USA / Domena publiczna


Houses of Pueblo indians

In the half-dugout houses, the walls of the living quarters stuck out of the ground. The walls were made of clay with mixed in grass or straw.

John Phelan / Wikimedia / CC BY


Palenque National Park, city of the Maya people from 7th-8th c.

The largest structures in the cities of Mesoamerica were stone step pyramids with temples on their tops. Crumbling cities and structures have been discovered in Central America. Cities were abandoned or slowly dying out because of climate change, invasions from the north, and lack of water.

Jan Harenburg / Wikimedia /CC BY



The city of Teotihuacán was founded in the 2nd century, in the central part of the present-day Mexico State. Its culture and customs influenced other cities. In the center there was a large square with stone pyramids of the Sun and Moon with temples. There were two main streets running from the square and smaller streets with residential buildings made of stone and wood. On the outskirts peasants lived in earthen houses made either of sun-dried bricks or of clay with straw, grasses, and reeds. The Teotihuacán culture was preceded by other peoples with their customs, buildings, beliefs: the Olmecs, Zapotecs, Mayans and Toltecs. All of these peoples lived in city-states. They were invaded by peoples from the north who took over their customs and then created their own.

Jackhynes / Domena publiczna


Tenochtitlan (Cactus Rock) – the capital of the Aztecs

The city was founded around 1325 on an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco and on artificial floating islands. Bridges led to it. Drinking water was supplied from the nearby mountains by aqueducts. Floating gardens, palaces and a huge center with temples and a stepped pyramid were built in the city. The capital of the Aztecs was captured by the Spaniards in the 16th century and razed to the ground. They used the rubble to build the present Mexican capital - Mexico. Today, we can only see a model of the city's buildings and its painted view in a museum.

Luidger / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA


stone step pyramid in Tikal, a Mayan city

yogi / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA

South America

South America was inhabited by peoples who came from the north and who built their culture here. The Incas are the most famous. Their country was where modern Peru, Ecuador, partly Bolivia, Chile and Argentina are at the moment. It was conquered by the Spaniards in the 16th century. Many stone structures survived to our times, many are still discovered by archaeologists.


the famous Inca town at the top of a mountain Machu Picchu in the Andes

Incan residential buildings were built of rough stone and clay mortar. The doors and windows are shaped like a trapeze (the Incas didn’t know the arch vault) and the roofs were covered with straw.

Allard Schmidt „Wschód słońca nad Machu Picchu” / Wikimedia / Domena publiczna


the Inca city of Ollantaytambo, terraced buildings

Inca art developed in Ollantaytambo from the 11th century to the mid-16th century. It was created on the shores of Lake Titicaca, it covered the Bolivian plateau and the northern regions of Chile and Argentina. Like other peoples of the Americas, the Incas were invaded by Europeans.

Stevage / Wikimedia / CC BY-SA


Europe was inhabited by peoples who came from Africa and Asia. The Greeks and Romans created the oldest well-known cultures. The ruins of magnificent stone buildings have been preserved, the houses of the poorer people disappeared. We know about their construction and the materials used from excavations.


Chauvet's cave

Lascaux Cave and the Chauvet Cave, decorated with beautiful rock paintings, are some of famous caves where human traces from thousands of years ago were discovered.



a rock painting of a bison from 20 thousand years ago

National Museum and Research Center of Altamira, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Sicily, habitable cave

© GiovanniCaruso, iStock

Great Britain

West Stow, West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village

After the cave period, people lived in dugouts or small houses made of clay and wood. The shelters were dug in the ground, mostly covered with branches and undergrowth (moss), sometimes they had a clay oven. They have not survived to our times, now they are built in open-air museums for visitors.

User: Midnightblueowl, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


model of the settlement in Biskupin

A model of a fortified settlement built around the 8th century BC on an island in Lake Biskupińskie. Wood and soil were used to build the settlement. There were about 106 10-meter-long houses in 11 rows. Many families lived in each house, with up to 1,000 people living in the whole village. Between the houses there were 2.5 m wide wood-lined streets. The settlement was surrounded by a wooden and earth embankment, 640 m long, 3 m wide and 6 m high, with an entrance gate. The stronghold was surrounded by a breakwater, 2 to 9 m wide, built of diagonally driven piles. After 150 years, the water level in the lake rose and the settlement was flooded so the people moved to another place. The remains were discovered in 1933.

FxJ, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


settlement in Biskupin

view of a street with long houses

Mirlont56675, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons


plan of a two-story residential building

The owners and servants lived in these houses. They were built of stone, because in a hot climate it kept the rooms cool. The ceilings were wooden. The houses were covered with baked ceramic tiles.


Athens, Acropolis limestone hill

The Acropolis is a complex of temples of ancient Greek gods. The buildings were made of stone, with carved columns and statues. All buildings were painted different colors, but over time the paint was washed away by rains. The remains of these decorations were discovered by archaeologists. The largest building was the Parthenon from the 5th century BC, dedicated to the goddess Athena.

Benutzer:Fantasy, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Rome, Forum Romanum

The Roman Forum was a city square. It was the main political, religious, and social center of ancient Rome. The most important public ceremonies were held there. The Roman Forum was surrounded by stone temples that housed the head priest quarters and archive*. Construction began in the 8th century BC and over the centuries other squares and new buildings were added and named after the rulers of the time. Town buildings were built of stone and the homes of the poorer people in Rome were built of clay, wood and burnt bricks.

BeBo86 / CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons


Rome, Coloseum, amphitheatre

Bert Kaufmann from Roermond, Netherlands, CC BY-SA 2.0


Side, Roman amphitheater

Romans conquered all the countries and peoples around the Mediterranean Sea, their magnificent stone buildings are in many countries in Europe, Asia and Africa around the Mediterranean: temples, agoras, colosseum, amphitheaters, aqueducts.

Pixi0815 / Pixabay


Catalonia, Roman aqueduct in Tarragona

bearfotos / Freepik


A long time ago, Australia was closer to Asia and then, during the Ice Age (about 70-50 thousand years ago), people reached it. As the ice melted, Australia became a separate land. The people who remained there lived in isolation from other civilizations. They developed their own culture that was very much connected with nature. The continent was green and there were about 600 tribes living there, speaking about 500 different languages. Changing the climate to hot and dry caused many people to die. They moved to where there was vegetation and where they could work in the fields, hunt, fish and pick wild fruit. Some adapted to living in the desert. They did not build permanent houses. They thought nature didn't like it. What they built for themselves could be moved or taken apart, because the huts were made of wood, reeds, branches, grass, banana leaves, and skins. Some groups of Aborigines, as the people of Australia were called, built low round stone houses, covered with a turf dome and sealed with clay. Houses, huts, tents merged into villages and settlements. Such Australia was seen by the English sailor James Cook in 1770.


Kakadu National Park

caves with Aborigine paintings

Sardaka / CC BY-SA


Aborigine boys and men are sitting in front of their hut

Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons