One of the reasons I’m so passionate about interior design and architecture is that it’s so much more than technical knowledge or a skill set with practical applications. It also takes creativity, vision, and talent to design buildings and interiors that not only serve a function, but provide beautiful visuals as well. These visuals have the ability evoke a range of powerful emotions, such as joy, happiness and a sense of awe, all while telling a story. Though the fields were originally dominated by men (initially mathematicians and physicists by training; later architects who would also design the interiors including furnishings), women too have played a role in both design and architecture throughout the centuries.
One such pioneer was Hatshepsut, who became the first female pharaoh in approximately 1479 BCE and reigned during the 18th dynasty of Ancient Egypt. As a ruler she was intelligent, diplomatic, open-minded and innovative. She also happened to be a prolific and talented builder. She erected and renovated temples and shrines that included details such as the four granite obelisks at the Temple of Amun at Karnak.
Her greatest legacy is her own funerary temple, the Temple of Hatshepsut. The structure took 15 years to complete and building began seven years into her reign. Though Senenmut, her most trusted loyal servant and (most likely) lover, is credited as having been the chief architect, I believe that Hatshepsut provided a lot of direction and input for the design considering her position and their close relationship.
Hatshepsut’s Temple is one of the best examples of a rock cut tomb and the first of it’s kind, expressing the unique architectural trend of the New Kingdom, which moved away from traditional pyramids. The temple consists of three colonnaded terraces with wide ramps on the center axis. By placing the ramp or causeway directly in the middle of the whole structure, perfect symmetry is achieved. The free standing square columns on each of the three tiers is the first use of columns not solely for practical reasons, but also to provide visual interest and decoration, which became common in structures after this one. The equally distributed light colored columns and dark spaces in between provide a mathematical rhythm that draws attention to the horizontal lines, while the causeway and the three tiers set against mountains draw the eyes up. The visual upward movement and tiers have symbolic meanings as well, with the lowest tier representing the pharaoh’s divine birth; the middle tier showing the pharaoh’s greatest acts as ruler; and the top tier connecting the pharaoh to the god Osiris and serving as the transition into heaven.
Originally, individual gardens, comprised of flowers and vegetation from both upper and lower Egypt, lined either side of the causeway on the second tier. This is the first known use of landscape architecture. The temple resonates with me, because it is more than an ancient tomb. It tells the story of Hatshepsut herself. My own design philosophy revolves around telling the client’s story. The mortuary temple reflects so many “firsts” and is truly innovative and inspiring.
While the temple is thousands of years old, it has influenced contemporary architecture and design. Frank Lloyd Wright, for example, was inspired by the strong lines and dramatic design. His iconic Robie House was constructed using multiple horizontal planes (his trademark). In the dining room, he designed tall vertical dining chairs to balance the visual effect.
Could Hatshepsut possibly have imagined that even today decorative columns are a popular design element? It does remind us of the endless opportunities possible in architecture and interior design. Decorative elements, when utilized in the right way, can be timeless and sophisticated, fit for a King or the average person like us, modern (illustrated by Frank Lloyd Wright), traditional as shown below, or anything in between.
So the next time you see columns I hope you will pause for just a second and think about what an amazing person Pharaoh Hatshepsut must have been. And if you want to create your own unique look in your home that tells your amazing story, call me or one of my talented Interior Designer colleagues!