Decadence, Excellence & Architecture – Another Lesson from the Maya

Maya_Architecture_RGBMaya Architecture: Temples in the Sky

by Kenneth Treister

Available Now

Best known as the sculptor of the Holocaust memorial in Miami, Kenneth Treister turns his expertise of architecture toward the Maya and draws new conclusions about the collapse of their society. In the process, he identifies striking potential parallels to modern day economic concerns and shows how contemporary architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright were deeply influenced by Maya design principles.

Of the Maya’s architectural excellence, which have impressed and fascinated people for centuries, Treister says: “The pride, hubris and egotism created among the ruling elite by their magnificent cities and architecture caused an economic collapse, where a disproportionate allocation of resources was directed to the building process. In addition, there was an ecological collapse because this consummate building and the expansion of their cities created a vastly unsustainable ecological calamity. Perhaps this is a lesson for Miami, a city that is being continuously expanded and reborn.”

Ennis House, by Frank Lloyd Wright, Los Angeles, California, 1923.

Ennis House, by Frank Lloyd Wright, Los Angeles, California, 1923.

The astonishingly well-conceived urban planning and the breath-taking quality of Maya architectural design are captured throughout in a number of full-color photographs, many taken by the author on his trips to study the ruins. Examples of Frank Lloyd Wright’s work are provided for comparison. Readers will easily be able to see similarities in style and form, especially in the images of Wright’s “Textile Block Houses,” which were built in California in the 1920s. Also included is a foreword from George E. Stuart, former senior assistant editor for archaeology for the National Geographic Society.

Kenneth Treister, FAIA, is an architect, sculptor, photographer, artist, and lecturer. He has received numerous awards for his architectural and sculptural designs and is coauthor of Havana Forever: A Pictorial and Cultural History of an Unforgettable City.

Palenque, Chiapas. The Palace is a complex raised on a broad horizontal base composed of palaces, punctuated by the unique four-story observation tower. The palaces enclose and define cloister-like, human-scaled courts.

Palenque, Chiapas. The Palace is a complex raised on a broad horizontal base composed of palaces, punctuated by the unique four-story observation tower. The palaces enclose and define cloister-like, human-scaled courts.

Sayil, Yucatán. The Palace. View from the second-level terrace, which is the roof of the bottom level below, looking toward the colonnade façade. This section has six openings to the interior rooms: two are simple doorways, and four are porticoed openings, each with two beautifully shaped round columns, all holding the strong horizontal frieze of colonettes.
Sayil, Yucatán. The Palace. View from the second-level terrace, which is the roof of the bottom level below, looking toward the colonnade façade. This section has six openings to the interior rooms: two are simple doorways, and four are porticoed openings, each with two beautifully shaped round columns, all holding the strong horizontal frieze of colonettes.

Uxamal, Yucatán. The sixth-century Pyramid of the Magician (Soothsayer or Dwarf), an impressive, unique, oval pyramid, located east of the courtyard. This pyramid was built in five successive periods over four hundred years. Its shape and mass are exquisite and sculpturally powerful.
Uxamal, Yucatán. The sixth-century Pyramid of the Magician (Soothsayer or Dwarf), an impressive, unique, oval pyramid, located east of the courtyard. This pyramid was built in five successive periods over four hundred years. Its shape and mass are exquisite and sculpturally powerful.

Uxmal, Yucatán. The courtyard, Northern Palace, detail of one of three low towers of ascending anthropomorphic images of Chac. This quadrangle defined by four Puuc-style palaces is not a perfect square but has a trapezoid ground plan that orthogonally is more interesting and inviting, like the later legendary Saint Mark's Square in Venice.
Uxmal, Yucatán. The courtyard, Northern Palace, detail of one of three low towers of ascending anthropomorphic images of Chac. This quadrangle defined by four Puuc-style palaces is not a perfect square but has a trapezoid ground plan that orthogonally is more interesting and inviting, like the later legendary Saint Mark’s Square in Venice.

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Categories: Architecture, Arts & Culture, History, Latin America, Photography & Art, Publication Announcement

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