In the very first example of sustainability we venture far back into the recess of time to ancient Mesopotamia. Sustainability progressed in the heart of human life, that is the land area that lay near the Tigris and Euphrates which has been known far and wide as a very important piece of human history. It was here that the first civilizations sprang up to stop wandering and to settle down. This area is also known for the emergence of humanity’s first code of laws and love stories. We know that the area was first settled around the late 4th millennium. This area, where the rivers run fast, was known for it’s development. But in modern times is has been know for it’s ancient legends. One such structures is the Hanging Gardens’,known as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.
The Hanging Gardens were created in 600BCE. The legend has it that they were created for the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II who was the ruler of this land from the period of 605 and 562 BCE. He created these gardens for his wife Amytis of Media who could not stand the starkness of Babylon, and longed for the green world she came from. Media is now an area of Northwestern Iran and a place where Amytis hailed from. The existence of the garden’s have been debated for centuries, and are supposed to have been built about 25000 years ago. Their existence was told to others, by passing soldiers and merchants from faraway lands. Those people then went on to tell others of these amazing structures, and in the course of the translation as human beings are want to do it may have been exaggerated. Another argument for their design was that they were originally documented in latin, and therefore the translations are not accurate. In recent times, documentation of the gardens has been unearthed even though the structure does not remain.
The documentation details how they were created. The very essence of the Hanging Gardens is rooted in sustainability. For architects, the Hanging gardens represent the very begging of recorded green roofing. Green roofing is a very popular piece of sustainable building techniques, and is becoming more and more predominate in the modern era. In fact, most of our knowledge begins with the Hanging Gardens. It is reported that they were building the structure by passing soliders. The question remained for many how could they water this structures. Sir Leonard Wooley believes they created an irrigation system. The water was pumped to the gardens as described by the historian Philo who stated that the pump was created by attaching a chain to buckets. The chain moved and the buckets would go to the gardens and irrigate them, the water pumped in from the Euphrates.
Philo also stated that the garden was cultivated above the ground, with the roots of the trees embedded into an upper terrace rather than the earth. The water emerged from elevated areas and then reportedly moved down sloping channels. The roots were moist consistently, and the grass grew permanently. The pumps may have been discovered in the late nineteenth century, but at this point the claim cannot be substantiated. However, the find is attributed to Robert Koldeway, who found stone irons, which he believed to be the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. He discovered as well a room that had three big holes in it. He also believed he had found the pump. We believe that the gardens were built with a stone foundation, and clay bricks. As was the practice at that time, clay bricks were created by shaping and being set out in the sun.
The green roofing of the Hanging Gardens was indeed radical. The pumps were similar to what is called Archimede’s screw was created three centuries later,a pump that transfers water from low areas to another.Archimedes reportedly saw this in Egypt, however there is no evidence that they were the first to create it and it may lead sources to see that it was created in ancient Greece. The balconies of the Hanging gardens were flat roofs layered with the clay bricks and stones and other natural materials to keep the moisture from seeping into the rooms below. There has been disputer over what ruler created the gardens, but despite that the concept of pumping water to the rooftop from the euphrates is poignant for this period of history.
The ancient Mesopotamians were also famous for their use of other natural materials. These included keeping the roofs cool to promote sleeping at night like their counterparts the ancient Sumerians. In Ancient Mesopotamia, they used flat roofs which they covered with material like palm trunks and reeds to which were then covered with clay and plaster. It provided a cooling effect, making sleeping in the hot and arid climate comfortable. The roof also served as a way to reflect the sun to keep the roof cool. This is know as passive solar design and was used undoubtedly to create a more comfortable environment for it’s inhabitants. The area is essentially devoid of stone, so in order to create the wondrous structures the sumerians, and ancient Mespotamians used clay bricks, that they created.
Mud bricks were common as we have said before because they were the prevalent natural material. Thus, many of the Mesopotamia and Sumarian structures have not withstood the test of time. The bricks dried in the sun were used in conjunction with reeds and palm for a rood, which is commonly call thatch. Palm was used for the framing members of a roof, and the leaves have been used for the cladding on the wall structure. In hot dry climates the use of sun dried bricks can clearly be seen. For sustainability purposes the most common place we see this today is in the United States, specifically the southwest. In ancient times the common dwelling was created from onsite materials only. These materials were found and grown in the area because of topography. The dwelling shape was dictated by the organic materials in most cases and not by design.
Mud, straw and water were mixed together, and shaped into a brick then baked in the sun until it was dry. This of course creates the mud brick that we have been discussing. Though this method of building did not withstand time as well as other materials, it still was versatile and durable. The Arch of Ctesiphon was created in 400CE out of mud brick. It was one of the world’s first skyscrapers and stood 115 feet tall and 86 feet wide.The first cities were created out of mud bricks as well. The city of Ur is known for archeological evidence of mud brick structures.
In about 1200 BCE the inhabitants of ancient Mesopotamia at a site known as Hassuna, set up tents to protect themselves from bad weather. The tents served as a weather protector, and the nomadic peoples saw that it kept in the heat and kept out the sun. They began to use durable materials, like rammed earth and yes, mud brick. It is sustainable living at it’s earliest starting point.
Reeds were also used in the area, for not only the thatch to cover a home, but to construct temples.Text does suggest that certain temples were fitted with reeds and that these temples were like shrines, and very primitive in their formation. In some areas in Lower Iraq reed huts are still be created, and used as reinforcements, roofing and fittings. Reed was used used as matting, carpeting and as a binding agent when mixed with clay. The use of reeds can also be seen in brickwork Ziggurats, used to fuse them together. In some cases, they appear as plaits, straw tied together.
Ancient Mesopotamia also saw the creation of weep holes. They help dry the moisture that travels to the warmer interiors of a wall contraction. The ziggurat masonry temple in most Sumerian cities use this very same technique. Weep holes are employed today, and used in the construction of large buildings. They are typically located near the base of the building. In recent times, modern weep holes used screens to keep out snakes and other vermin.
The ancient people os Sumeria, located in Mesopotamia, were also extremely studious and efficient when it came to creating structures based off of local materials. As we discussed before water was instrumental, in the progression of the Hanging gardens of babylon. The land of the Tigris and Euphrates was prone to flooding. Therefore, the mighty empire of Mesopotamia began to construct dikes to control the ebb and flow which allowed them to burgeon and grow.
The technology of the ancients has been studied and studied over and over again. The pieces of wonderful mudbrick and crumbling clay that they have left behind are part of the lexicon of sustainable design. The ancient times harnessed passive solar coverage and moisture control is being revitalized across the globe. These techniques if applied today would produce effective sustainability practices. They have been employed in some areas of India-an arid region where mud brick may last longer. In the next chapter we will discuss the use of sustainable materials in the middle east in general.