Architecture for Kids

How Values are Reflected by what is Important

You may put your own home or your school at the top of your list of important buildings. But that was not true in the earliest European societies that settled America.

For instance, the first settlers were from Spain in 15??. They entered what is now the south west of the United States through New Spain, which is now Mexico. They came north to conquer the Indians and to make them slaves to produce riches for the Monarchy of Spain. They cared little about the values of the Indians. Their goal was to conquer and to convert the Indians to Christianity. The most important structures in that society were the missions. These are the only structures which survive that era. The missions of the Spanish Conquest.

On the other hand, when the Pilgrims landed in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620, they were not coming to conquer or to instill sovereignty of a particular monarch. They came to escape religious and economic persecution in England. The first structures they built, of course, were utilitarian buildings, shelter from the elements and a simple meeting house to worship their God. Once more settlers came, principally from England, Holland, France, and Sweden, they began to create a society with its own cultural values which according to Gowans was a žtransference of distinctive social and political institutions from the Old World to the New: specifically, transferring cultures produced by and for societies structured upon the principle of hereditary distinctions.Ó

It was generally accepted throughout Europe that human beings were by nature selfish, envious, jealous, deceitful, willful, cruel and capricious. It was important that private expression of such feelings be curbed by religion, and public expressions controlled by social institutions.

This was believed best achieved by class distinctions which were clear to everyone. Society was based on a pyrimid of classes. At the top was the god-prince. His lords were to serve him in war, government, and the church. The small middle class lived in towns and refined and distributed goods and services. The masses were the peasants who toiled on the land. Each class has its own defined rights, duties, and priveleges.

Each class dressed differently, and they were housed differently. Princes and their lords lived in palaces, the masses in hovels, and the middleclass in soemthing in between.

In other words, people had their place in society. There were peasants, artisans, lords, and kings. Each inherited their place, and people did not move from one class into another. A very different attitude about class evolved in American society over time, especially with the development of a majority middle class, but the first settlers were very conscious of class and place.

They also knew about the role of structures in their society and the emotions they were to emote. For instance, Monuments and Tombs, reverence; Shrines and Sactuaries, awe and decorum; Walls and Fort, safety; Shelter, protection from the elements; Homestead, roots and a sense of belonging; Palace, dignity and authority; Public Works, stability, permanence, and reliability; Mansion, luxury; Shop, openness and availability; Amenities, graciousness and generous.

They reproduced what they knew. According to Gowans, they wanted, above all, to transplant their traditions žand especially familiar architectural settings and furnishings -- to the New World as fast and faithfully as possible. They wanted to recreate the environment they had known, the environment that told them who they were, what their place in the world was.Ó

Besides basic living structures, the earliest colonistsŪ first important buildings were churches and meeting houses. The statements tehse buildings made reflected the settlers' values.