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Cyclopean architecture for a better future
The Cannibal’s Cookbook. Cyclopean Architecture for a better future
To begin with, I'm republishing an old review I wrote for Domus Web in 2018.
I think it's important because it provides us with an interesting read on alternative approaches to overcoming modern architecture and the incredible amount of waste it produces; and today, six years later, I added at the bottom an extra reflection on the theme «innovation in tradition».
Riccardo Buratti
The Cannibal’s Cookbook – a unique volume conceived by Brandon Clifford, professor at MIT – encourages heresy and rebellion, advocating a completely different model of architectural development from the one currently in use; he proposes that today’s buildings be divided into sections and recycled in enormous blocks for inclusion in future constructions, to generate an “eco-megalithic” future.
This book is driven by the impressive amount of research on rediscovering megalithic construction methods that, for years, Clifford has carried out with a team of scientists. Their wide-ranging investigation of Cyclopean masonry involved everything from archaeological data to digital technologies.
The moment comes when the chef reveals his intention and clarifies the ties between the ingredients and the flavours: we are chewing Cyclopean architecture!
Clifford’s study critiques today’s construction methods and draws on megalithic, or Cyclopean, structures to recycle the debris of architectural demolition, bringing it back to life through entirely new techniques.
However this is not just a simple manual for analysing megalithic construction techniques: the book is a true bombshell, fearlessly exploding the world of architecture; by getting rid of contemporary times, defined as a self-destructive, mad delirium, Clifford takes us back to what Bruno Zevi called, “the Zero Mark,” a primigenial architecture – eternal and mythical in its construction processes – that, in this case, is projected into the future.

So the Cookbook functions as a time wormhole, a shortcut passage where past and future meet in the present, somewhere between references to lost centuries-old knowledge and hints on using that know-how today, thanks to such new technologies as 3D scanning, precision milling and algorithmic iterative programming.
All of this has composed a cookbook, a distillation of the globe’s megalithic cultures throughout the millennia; the material is presented to the readers by the “mythological Giants” who built those mysterious Cyclopean structures. The ingredients are presented individually before being thrown into a cauldron where a primordial broth boils, slowly giving rise to something new.
At the end of the manuscript, we find a very useful glossary and a thorough afterword that explains the book’s conception together with other details of interest to readers with a special eye for graphics and typography. In fact, the graphic design by Johanna Lobdel and the perceptive, ironic illustrations by Joshua Longo, a Drexel University professor of Product Design, succeed in communicating both the information and spirit of Clifford’s work in the best and most refreshing way.
Like any self-respecting cookbook this “manuscript” – published in a 250 copies limited edition – also opens by whetting the reader’s appetite with a series of delicious starters followed by an assortment of entrées. Then the moment comes when the chef reveals his intention and clarifies the ties between the ingredients and the flavours: we are chewing Cyclopean architecture! At the end of the book you’ll be satiated but you won’t be able to help yourself from going back to savour other recipes from The Cannibal’s Cookbook.
Innovation in Tradition. Can it be?
One thing that I found astonishing in online discussions about this book is how divisive it can be:
on the one hand, the passionate scholars of megalitic architecture being totally scandalized by the mere hypothesis of recreating it with the aid of technology and, above all, by the ironic graphic style of the book, which shows "anachronistic" (oh the horror) details such as a massive stone held in place by a hiking boot.
On the other hand, the paladins of postmodernity for whom the book makes no sense, as the results of that particular approach do not include glass/light/thin steel frames rising on pilotis, or convoluted parametical Grasshopper modellings.
In my opinion both are blinded by the respective ideologies and exclude themselves from brand new spaces of action and thought.
I can't care less about both of them, since my philosophy is guided by moral and ethical laws (informing my ideology), rather than ideology informing ethical positions (thereby, distorting them).
Through our activities, studies and initiatives at the Round Table of Architecture (TRA) I'm firmly convinced that:
•traditional techniques provide time-tested reliability;
•craftmanship is part of the techniques...
•...but technology can be used to speed up the process (and partially cut costs);
•those costs will be offset by the longer lifespan of the building and...
•...simpler, cheaper and less frequent maintenance.
Furthermore, the idea of using massive chunks of recycled concrete slabs can apply to virtually everything, from megalithic architecture to classical orders. It's just a question on how those reinforcement bars are hindering our sculpting work.
Of course, a practical application of this technology in the future would be less residential-oriented and -say- more infrastructural. What about building a bridge following the Roman tradition and using advanced milling techniques to shape massive chunks of recycled concrete slabs and columns? Personally I find it a fascinating and very feasible hypotheses.
Posted: 01/08/2023 10:45 — Author(s): Riccardo Buratti