Inka Architecture: Style and Function

There are a number of excellent studies on Inka architecture and its association with status, style, and function (Gasparini and Margolies 1980; Hyslop 1984, 1988, 1990; Kendall 1985; Protzen 1993). Scholars have examined how Inka architectural canons found expression in different contexts,

The Oroncota Complex (also known as Inkarry) in the Pucara Plateau, southern Bolivia. Map based on Lee 1992; Nair 1999

Figure 5.1. The Oroncota Complex (also known as Inkarry) in the Pucara Plateau, southern Bolivia. Map based on Lee 1992; Nair 1999.

have mapped the regional distribution of particular building types, and have identified the main architectural components of Inka masonry. Despite regional variations, the regularity of Inka architecture has made it possible to distinguish different types of imperial temples, military settlements, storage facilities, and workshop areas (Hyslop 1990).

Scholarly work has also identified stonework features often associated with status, and the ways in which they were distributed in provincial settings. For example, the type of wall construction can reveal the prestige or status of an Inka construction. Niles’s classification (1987b) is particularly useful in this respect. On the basis of the amount of labor invested, she identified three main variations of stonework that closely track status. The most prestigious, known as the Inka Cuzco style, consisted of finely cut and well-fitted rectangular and polygonal blocks. These blocks were often beveled or had smoothed joints. This kind of architecture was common in important religious and administrative installations of the core, although rare outside Cuzco. Therefore, when found in peripheral or frontier regions, it is most likely that the building had a paramount importance in regional and state politics (Niles 1987b:207-209).

A second type of Inka architecture is based on fieldstone masonry. The walls were often constructed using unshaped or partially modified stones, and set in a matrix of clay as mortar. This type of architecture is ubiquitous in small buildings and support facilities like tambos and storage units, and in a number of settlements in the capital and the provinces. Because of its characteristics, this masonry requires the least labor input and low levels of stonework specialization. As a result, it often carries low prestige (Niles 1987b:211). By comparison, the intermediate style, as the third kind of construction, fits between the elaborate Inka architecture and the low-status fieldstones (Niles 1987b:212, 1993). Mostly found in provincial regions, this stonework is composed of worked or partially cut blocks that are fitted or simply accommodated in the walls. It was generally used for administrative structures or civic buildings. Hence, it represents the most common form of Inka stonework outside the capital (Niles 1987b:212, 1993).

In provincial regions, it is also common to find that Inka constructions were relatively well planned. To keep the costs of transportation low, Inka centers were often placed in strategic locations and adjacent to the imperial road. Depending on their intended function, these centers were built in unoccupied areas to become population magnets or were placed in preexisting settlements (D’Altroy 1992; Hyslop 1990; Morris 1982, 2004; Morris and Thompson 1985). However, they generally lacked large residential sectors or market areas, and were not the home of independent producers or craft artisans. Because of these features, they were not strictly urban spaces. Instead, these centers had selected residential areas for bureaucrats and retainers, as well as productive areas and administrative facilities that housed the temporary mit’a laborers residing elsewhere (D’Altroy 1992; Gasparini and Margolies 1980).

Because these centers were often constructed with state support, they shared similar features, including standardized areas like plazas; large rectangular halls, or kallankas; small, rectangular rooms with patio areas forming kancha units; tambo shelters along the roads; and storage qolqas (Gasparini and Margolies 1980; Kendall 1985; Niles 1987a, 1987b). In addition, ushnu platforms in the principal plazas served as standard ceremonial landmarks representing the state. Other distinctive features included trapezoidal windows, niches, and doorways. In prestigious buildings, they were often ornamented. They were carefully fitted or coursed to achieve an even wall height, without the need for filling in with smaller blocks (Niles 1987b:281-285). By comparison, niches in the intermediate style and fieldstone masonry were built by first laying out the niche frames, and then filling up the intermediate spaces with small stones in a mud mortar mix. Another important feature that differentiates high-prestige buildings from the rest is the use of double and triple jambs. They are found in association with oversized niches. As suggested by Niles (1987b:215), large body-size niches are rare, and are only found in selected buildings. They are located on the exterior walls, and the niches have intricate double or triple jambs, forming unique contrasts of light and shadow. Because of their elaboration and execution, large double and triple jambs are restricted to high-prestige buildings (Figure 5.2). Therefore, their presence is considered a reliable indicator of status.

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