Ancient Egypt house and contemporary architecture

Modern Housing in Ancient Egypt

The architecture of Ancient Egypt is grand: pyramids, temples and colossal statues. It is an architecture obsessed with afterlife, for most things left are meant for the dead. The famous pyramids are tombs. The best preserved city, discovered by now, was a worker colony for the royal tombs (today Deir-el-Medina). If not for royal tombs’ paintings and furniture, we would not guess how people lived. No ordinary house survived except for miniatures discovered — where else? — evidently, in tombs.

Ancient Egyptian house. Louvre
Model of an Egyptian house, found in a tomb. About 400 BC. (photo: Louvre Museum)

Paradoxically, the common houses looked modern: flat-roofed, rectangular, with a roof terrace. Only the window openings’ small size gives away the design’s ancient time. Houses were built directly on the ground, without foundation, out of sundried mudbricks (which makes them even more modern, truly ecological!). And smart, for they circulated the air through the windows and tiny roof openings. The walls’ thickness (half a meter) together with the exterior whitewash kept the house even cooler. The covered roof terrace was accessible by outside stairs. It provided a breezy spot during hot days. They were equipped with some utilities — a cooking pit outside and a corner with stone floor (probably for bathing). The layout and appearance of those 5000 years old houses don’t diverge too much from our contemporary dwelling. We upgraded only the utilities.

But, no worry, we’ll soon reach the Ancient Egyptian standard of living, as there is a global tendency for degrowth that decreases the water consumption (thus, no need for bathtubs) and diminishes the food preparation (no need for fireplace due to raw food’s health benefits). Moreover, the tiny house movement — an architectural movement promoting houses under 45 square meters — becomes trendy in the US and parts of Western Europe, where people did not experience the Soviet tiny apartment movement of 8 cubic meters per person.

Ancient Egypt house and contemporary architecture
House elevation: Ancient Egypt versus contemporary time.

Take a look at the ancient Egyptian house elevation. Stripped by the column’s capital and windows’ striation, it can easily turn into a minimalist-designed house. Even the surrounding wall is a modern feature, for contemporary design aims to create oases, protected outdoor spaces, where people relax far from the urban noise and sight.

The modern appearance of the ancient world is both pleasant — “Look what prestigious roots modern architecture has!” — and problematic — “Can’t we invent other logics of dwelling?” It poses the question whether the gap between our virtual dwelling in space, mediated by IT, and our physical dwelling, in houses easily recognizable as houses by people who lived 6.000 years ago, won’t be too wide.