Tuesday 16 January 2024



There are many varied, published illustrations that offer suggestions on how the brochs were once occupied. Each vision is rooted in its own romantic concept of what a broch was, and what its role in the related community could have been. The illustrations all hold some sense of authority that seems to confirm the adage that a picture tells a thousand words - these images are convincing. One sees elaborately specific, detailed drawings of broch interiors - and some not so explicit - showing people working at various rural tasks, usually with animals on the ground level, and skins and fish hanging high on the upper levels, all with pots scattered around to make the space look totally functional, with no ‘waste’ spaces: there is usually smoke wafting though the space from a central fire. In spite of the conviction displayed in the detail, the role of the intramural stair is generally just ignored, at best left as an aside for one to make one’s own assumptions about. It seems that the artist might be hoping to distract the viewer from wondering about this stairway that, being unique to brochs, should hold some special significance – see https://voussoirs.blogspot.com/2023/03/the-broch-its-intramural-stair.html.

The proposition that the brochs were built in stages is supported by the change in the form of the walls
that become closer to parallel in the upper levels.

The basic challenge in all of these illustrations seems to be the effort to fill up the void; to make it look as though the interior of the broch truly fits the purpose being proposed; or vice versa. This task of infusing the void with functions so as to justify the proposal being sketched, leads to absurd extremes, with pots and sundry items spread out willy-nilly, placed high and wide, in awkwardly accessible, sometimes nearly impossible locations just to make the expanse of the levels look useful in order to confirm the hypothesis.

Having suggested some domestic purpose for this building, the theory is then offered that the broch was the residence of the local chief, apparently using the ‘storybook’ presumption that people in power, (in towers), live in big houses; e.g. lords living in castles; wealthy noblemen living in grand country houses; and today, ‘stars’ living in expensive, exotic mansions. This suggestion of a hierarchical distribution of accommodation in the broch village struggles to be explained in the drawing that appears to envisage the accommodation of simple, everyday tasks rather than any grand lifestyle one might expect to match the stature of the structure. This leaves one to ask: why build such an elaborate building just to accommodate daily life, when simple village shelters can incorporate every activity illustrated with much less effort and without any stark grandeur? Surely the ego of the leader was never that distorted to be driven to such an extreme excess time and time again? Would one see such a conglomeration of similar, almost identical excesses if the displays were driven by competitive, personal ambitions? Why wouldn’t each seek to outdo the other instead of conforming to the model? “Mine’s bigger/fancier/quirkier than yours!” is all a part of the intent of the aggressive, ambitious spirit seeking its exclamatory expression; its public declaration.

The inner diameter of brochs is relatively small, making the proposition of an open top with an inner, perimeter lean-to structure
difficult to understand as being functionally reasonable for any purpose.

While we might be used to grand interior spaces,
might other more modest times have held other ambitions?

The propositions suggested for broch occupancy all seem just too forced; too quaintly romantic with their assumed rural pastimes that look like museum exhibits; dioramas. There appears to be no essential necessity for interiors of this size, scale, and structural complexity when one sees daily life in its pieces and parts spread almost randomly throughout the broch interior just to make it look used. It is this uncomfortable fit, with its contrast between the simple and the grand, that makes one wonder about other uses that might have greater integrity; that might demand such a built form for their proper accommodation, not merely for magnificent displays of power. One has to remember that these eras did not engage in some of the excessive, blatant, egocentric showmanship we know today; the extreme efforts to boost self-esteem and authority that lie - literally - at the heart of our ‘ME’ era. Things were more integral, intertwined into an essential set of functions, although still with all the human frailties we know today. The extremes of the dilettante and egotist came with Rome, and later in time during the Renaissance. Power in broch times was, perhaps, more related to a spiritual role and status in these stringent eras rather than any gross, narcissistic display; and even then, this leadership role was very likely to be embodied, embroiled/embedded in the everyday, as one sees in traditional communities. We have to remember that the world was abuzz with spiritual energy; everything had its symbolic significance and meaning. Might one assume that expressions of roles were subtle; perhaps something similar to a certain presentation adopted for the appropriate occasion, as is still seen in traditional societies today?#

The ground floor of the broch is seen as the link to the everyday,
the place for preparation and transition - for stores and persons too.
It is from this place that the intramural stair is accessed to get to the upper space.

So what might a broch have been for? The suggestion that the broch was a big, static display of power and prestige seems out of step with the perceived rigours of existence of the broch era, unless one supposes that enforced labour and slavery formed the basis of society at these times, such is the difference between the broch and its village. One has speculated on broch occupancy and symbolism previously - https://voussoirs.blogspot.com/2023/03/the-broch-its-intramural-stair.html and https://voussoirs.blogspot.com/2023/03/the-broch-symbol-place.html - suggesting a more co-operative circumstance where communities operated as individual groups each supporting and working for the good of the whole settlement, still with the village chief playing an important role – such is life. The idea was that the ground level of the broch was a preparatory/foyer/work space servicing the storage spaces over, and the scared place above that, an area accessed by the intramural stair. This concept gives the stair a central role in the idea of the place. This broad notion of occupancy uses the broch interior spaces without the stressful tensions revealed in other proposals, and without ignoring any of its unique features.

Just how did those on the top of the broch get up there from the stair?
Where did all of the roof rainwater run to?

Stores were essential for survival during winters and hard times when seasonal crops failed. They also provided the basis for trade with other communities when there was a surplus. These goods had to be safe and secure, stored in conditions that would allow their preservation for the periods required. One did not want the stores to rot, go mouldy, become infested with pests, or be pilfered by neighbouring tribes: they had to be retained and defended as required by any potential aggression, to be available, perhaps rationed, when needed. The entry space at ground level could be seen as a checkpoint for a loading dock/work area/packaging space, and for a foyer for ceremonial preliminaries - maybe a space for brewing beer/wine too, and for other communal activities requiring preparation, ready to be stored above? The proposition is that this multipurpose space played the role of accommodating special everyday tasks required for communal storage, and for ceremonial events that progressed ritually up the intramural stair to the higher ‘chapel’ or sacred space for offerings/worship.

This notion accommodates the idea of the internal, timber-framed perimeter structure being supported on the scarcement, with centre poles carrying floor loads to the ground, thus keeping the damp isolated from the higher spaces. The twin walls likewise keep the upper interior spaces dry, with inner openings allowing air movement: one would like to see what air flow tests on a broch model might show to confirm this notion, or otherwise. The whole structure of the broch very likely offered a cool, dry, ventilated space perfect for food/liquid storage. Activities for the preparation of storage could have included smoking, salting, drying, pickling, and brewing, with other activities being the sealing of jars and the packing of wicker baskets, etc. The height of the broch could grow to accommodate the stores needed. This same lower space would also be used for the unpacking and distribution of the stores, and for the termination of spiritual processions before going out into the ‘real’ world again, back into the everyday. It is from this transitional area that the stair is approached/left. The entry into the stair and the movement up to the sacred space above would have been highly significant, just as its exit would have been - transformative. It was nothing like the way we approach it today as tourists re-enacting expectations. There would have been preliminaries required, perhaps for both access to above, and for the stores too; and some finality, some sense of closure too, with, perhaps, celebrations for the ‘thankful’ distributions.

This complexity of use has more necessity than the sketched proposals one sees in various places that display a static, homely vision. This suggested multifaceted set of broch functions truly lies at the heart of the community, supporting it both materially and spiritually with an appropriate expression being made possible for these occasions and purposes as might be required. Such a vision has the broch humming with spiritual meaning, holding material sustenance in a world filled with vitality and spirits, making the broch the real and essential heart of the community: the community’s core necessity for survival in a mysterious, challenging, frightening world. It is a concept worthy of the impressive form; one that does not need the artists’ skilful efforts to make the place look used in a purposeful way. The broch is easily filled with stores for the whole community, with ground activity below and worship on high; not one millimetre is inessential; not one expression is indulgent or forced. Necessity lies at the heart of this purpose that can accommodate structural integrity and growth too – see piecemeal development sketches in https://voussoirs.blogspot.com/2023/03/the-broch-symbol-place.html.

The intramural stair goes from ground to top with no access to any other level or 'in between' void.

The broch breathes to avoid mould; smoke filters through the stores to exclude vermin; the cavity wall maintains a cool, dry interior while keeping damp at bay; the supporting daily, ‘special’ activity is readily linked to the everyday surrounding village, with the transition from the everyday to the interior being in itself both significant and managed: one was entering a very special place for a precise role.

‘Broch,’ the name, may come from the Scottish Lowlands ‘brough’ meaning ‘fort,’ but one has to ask when this naming took place, and when it came to be generally accepted. Might the name reflect the attitude that such the structure looked defensive and was therefore something like a castle, a ‘fort’? Armit gave the title to his study of brochs: Towers in the North, appearing to reinforce cliché concepts of what a broch might be – c.f. Tower of London. One needs to be aware of previous assumptions embodied in names. Brochs were built in an era where symbols resonated in an enchanted world; our times are rigorously secular and rational. We will never understand brochs until we see them through the eyes of those living at the time that they were built. All of our ideas must accommodate broch activities as a whole, and not ignore features like the intramural stair when they are found difficult to rationalise into the ‘fit’ of things.

We can never assume that brochs were seen as we might see them today. Approaching Mousa as a tourist is a poor start for any understanding, as the broch is seen as a bespoke entertainment, a distraction to boast about; a tick off the bucket list after having seen the ‘defensive’ lookout – “we climbed to the top; great views!” - that confirms concepts of ‘fort,’ when matters are likely to have been otherwise in times when efforts went into survival rather than into any playful, dramatic, artful expression or gleeful indulgences. These were not ‘Hadid’ or ‘Gehry’ times; nor were they eras interested in gazing at picturesque landscape. Life was a constant engagement with meaning and survival. Disease was prevalent without the medicine we accept today, unquestioned; times of plenty and scarcity varied randomly without any easy supply chain to ensure the everyday everyday. Seasons were critical; predictions relied on the best tools available – the sun; the moon; the stars; the earth; the sky; the breezes; the animals; the birds; the fish; the plants: the events in nature.

For thoughts on the roof of the broch, see:

It was the broch that allowed these natural variations in life’s events to be managed – both materially and spiritually: birth and death must have been involved here too. The broch was the place of certainty; the heart of existence; the core reference for understanding. It was the intermediary between the ordinary everyday and the buzzing spiritual cosmos both as fact and symbol; it held the sustenance for life as a whole. The broch physically provided a skin, an outer layer around the elements of the everyday material world, that encased an enclosing spiritual space for intimate engagement with the supernatural through celebrations, and worship: sacred festivals and religious ritual – involving the intramural stair and the sacred zone ‘on high.’

The outer and lower 'wet' walls protect the inner 'dry' walls that have vents for air circulation.
The roof form illustrated here is that argued for in https://voussoirs.blogspot.com/2023/03/the-broch-its-intramural-stair.html

The deliberate layers of the broch - the outer 'wet'' and the inner 'dry' walls - act as an egg shell and its yolk.
The intramural stair becomes an integral part of this concept, providing access 'in between' to the special upper space.
The transition from the everyday at ground level to the upper space must have been a revelation to the broch dwellers.
The pattern of clockwise circumambulation is clear.

The idea offers a wholeness and necessity to occupancy that the usual illustrations lack. There is no struggle to fill voids or avoid any difficult ideas about the intramural stair. It is a wholeness that embodies the structure of the broch too – its necessity. Twin walls provide a place for the stair; keep the interior dry and cool; and keep the upper dry stone walls lighter, yet structurally stable. The concept rings with meaning and emotion, humming with a reality and coherence that one can feel, shaping the broch with its essential needs rather than merely being some random development of the wheelhouse for the grandiose display of the whimsy of the head man of the village: the latter thought seems too rooted in cliché to be useful. The purpose of the broch and its related form needs to be as refined as the form of the finest violin fashioned can make the most beautiful sounds: necessity demands this. We cannot assume the stair might have been merely a structural convenience (Armit); or that the scarcement might just have been for scaffolding (Brian Smith). Symbolism demands a rich, multifaceted understanding that our rational, ‘selfie’ specialisation knows nothing of.

The proposition is that the scarcement supported a perimeter timber structure,
keeping it above the 'wet' walls, with an array of inner poles supporting the floor,
reducing the spans to suit available timber sizes.

Diagrammatically, the broch is anchored on the axis mundi, with a hierarchy of levels ranging from the exoteric to the esoteric both vertically, up and down, and, in plan, radially. If one places a hearth at the centre of the ground level space, this is the core point of meaning, the anchor of place: the intersection of the vertical and the horizontal; and the centre of the circumferential surround. It is the very first starting location of the broch building, the site of the inaugural celebration; the foundation blessing; a place that retains its significance forever as ‘the centre.’ It marks a zone in the universe, anchors it, with ‘higher’ places above – stores; spirit; below – earth mother; and, horizontally, has a radial engagement likewise. The cluster of the village around the broch relates to this one place – its heart: hearth – its very being: the place of protection, sustenance, and solace, for both body, mind, and spirit: wholeness – holiness.

The proposition is that the basic dwelling developed into the broch to provide a safe community centre
for storage and ceremony.

One can now envisage a broch without apology for any spatial excess, and without having to fudge or forget the ‘known unknowns.’ It is a beginning; we need to know more: much will rely on detailed studies of the life of the times.


One is only too aware of the assumptions made in this hypothesis that seeks to establish a purpose for the broch that might hold greater integrity than some of the concepts put forward to date. While our ‘scientific’ era has made startling changes with its rational, logical, and secular approach, this does not establish any preference for such a strategy or even suggest that this might assist in understanding what a broch was. We are looking at a life and understanding that is completely alien to ours.


One recalls David Fanshawe’s search for the man he had photographed in full ceremonial dress, 'Hippo Man,' and used for the cover of of his marvellous African Sanctus recording. Fanshawe returned to Africa and travelled the region with this LP cover, asking if anyone knew who this man was. He did finally find the man, an unassuming, modest, ordinary figure in daily life. As part of a celebration, the man put on his transforming ceremonial outfit and Fanshawe recorded and danced with the group. The man’s special role in the community came into play when ceremony required. Apart from this, he was an ‘ordinary man' - apologies to Christie Moore. Might the broch society have had a similar arrangement for its special occasions?

'Hippo Man.'


For more on brochs, see:












Tuesday 9 January 2024


Forget all visions and hopes for coherence and wholeness; now the most important matter in architecture is the art photograph. The experience of continuity and relationship is irrelevant; feeling for place is immaterial; context means nothing. A project becomes only a collection of lovely bits'n'pieces - random jigsaw parts that will never go together, and are never intended to, apart from being viewed as a published collection.

One is asked to understand and appreciate the marvel - ‘the whole picture’ - with a unique piece of sky, a part of a familiar face, an obvious portion of the river, a distinctive red piece, etc., all arrayed as a jigsaw might be at the very beginning when distinctive, recognisable pieces can be identified and placed in their relative positions in a void, so as to initiate some pattern of relevance; initial clues to allow other similar parts to coagulate to create the whole. The only difference is that the slick architectural images have no specific location other than the graphic relationship with the published text. They are intended for individual display; to be seen and appreciated alone, as framed by the lens and ‘shopped’ by the photographer to be presented as a collected set. It is the personal, individual assemblage of emotive readings that becomes the perceived architecture: the phantom wholeness.

Architecture is now presented for admiration, to be sensed as these scattered, schematic, piecemeal offerings; a collation of lovely parts that give no indication of any whole in any context. One is left juggling emotions in an abyss of private intrigue that hopes only for the very best. This is not the start of anything ‘architectural’ as it is the beginning of the completion of the jigsaw; it is the architectural end: there is nothing more. One is supposed to look and be bewildered by the stark beauty of the contrived art photographs, and be satisfied that one has seen everything; sensed the project’s qualities; its bespoke richness. One assumes that the things perceived actually go together.

So it is that Street View is frequently brought into play, to reveal the unaided eye and the everyday whole; and should be if the architect is going to be so devious in disguising the foibles and awkward collisions with cunning collusions.+ It is a shame that we do not have Interior View to complete the whole.

It is this concentration on the image that has changed architecture, made it into a self-conscious styling of bespoke concepts prepared for admirable display, rather than being an enrichment of the everyday; supporting life in all of its variety and depth.* The sad thing is that architects start believing in their own art photographs, and begin designing for them; seeing the whole world as a set of framed pieces rather than thinking about those who will live in and use the work.

Instead of Sullivan’s dictum, one now has: Form follows photograph; photograph defines form. Blake’s ‘a World in a Grain of Sand’ holds a meaning that is trivialised in the attempt to present the whole building in a few snapshots.#





For the importance of Street View in architecture, see:











See: https://www.dezeen.com/2024/01/08/the-henderson-skyscraper-zaha-hadid-architects-hong-kong/

ZHA sets the example for blatant, grand architectural display by creating an 'orchid' building for the '21st century and forward looking,' designed to 'make waves around the world.' These are the words of ZHA principal, Patrik Schumacher.


Auguries of Innocence

BY William Blake

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour

A Robin Red breast in a Cage

Puts all Heaven in a Rage

A Dove house filld with Doves & Pigeons

Shudders Hell thr' all its regions

A dog starvd at his Masters Gate

Predicts the ruin of the State

A Horse misusd upon the Road

Calls to Heaven for Human blood

Each outcry of the hunted Hare

A fibre from the Brain does tear

A Skylark wounded in the wing

A Cherubim does cease to sing

The Game Cock clipd & armd for fight

Does the Rising Sun affright

Every Wolfs & Lions howl

Raises from Hell a Human Soul

The wild deer, wandring here & there

Keeps the Human Soul from Care

The Lamb misusd breeds Public Strife

And yet forgives the Butchers knife

The Bat that flits at close of Eve

Has left the Brain that wont Believe

The Owl that calls upon the Night

Speaks the Unbelievers fright

He who shall hurt the little Wren

Shall never be belovd by Men

He who the Ox to wrath has movd

Shall never be by Woman lovd

The wanton Boy that kills the Fly

Shall feel the Spiders enmity

He who torments the Chafers Sprite

Weaves a Bower in endless Night

The Catterpiller on the Leaf

Repeats to thee thy Mothers grief

Kill not the Moth nor Butterfly

For the Last Judgment draweth nigh

He who shall train the Horse to War

Shall never pass the Polar Bar

The Beggars Dog & Widows Cat

Feed them & thou wilt grow fat

The Gnat that sings his Summers Song

Poison gets from Slanders tongue

The poison of the Snake & Newt

Is the sweat of Envys Foot

The poison of the Honey Bee

Is the Artists Jealousy

The Princes Robes & Beggars Rags

Are Toadstools on the Misers Bags

A Truth thats told with bad intent

Beats all the Lies you can invent

It is right it should be so

Man was made for Joy & Woe

And when this we rightly know

Thro the World we safely go

Joy & Woe are woven fine

A Clothing for the soul divine

Under every grief & pine

Runs a joy with silken twine

The Babe is more than swadling Bands

Throughout all these Human Lands

Tools were made & Born were hands

Every Farmer Understands

Every Tear from Every Eye

Becomes a Babe in Eternity

This is caught by Females bright

And returnd to its own delight

The Bleat the Bark Bellow & Roar

Are Waves that Beat on Heavens Shore

The Babe that weeps the Rod beneath

Writes Revenge in realms of Death

The Beggars Rags fluttering in Air

Does to Rags the Heavens tear

The Soldier armd with Sword & Gun

Palsied strikes the Summers Sun

The poor Mans Farthing is worth more

Than all the Gold on Africs Shore

One Mite wrung from the Labrers hands

Shall buy & sell the Misers Lands

Or if protected from on high

Does that whole Nation sell & buy

He who mocks the Infants Faith

Shall be mockd in Age & Death

He who shall teach the Child to Doubt

The rotting Grave shall neer get out

He who respects the Infants faith

Triumphs over Hell & Death

The Childs Toys & the Old Mans Reasons

Are the Fruits of the Two seasons

The Questioner who sits so sly

Shall never know how to Reply

He who replies to words of Doubt

Doth put the Light of Knowledge out

The Strongest Poison ever known

Came from Caesars Laurel Crown

Nought can Deform the Human Race

Like to the Armours iron brace

When Gold & Gems adorn the Plow

To peaceful Arts shall Envy Bow

A Riddle or the Crickets Cry

Is to Doubt a fit Reply

The Emmets Inch & Eagles Mile

Make Lame Philosophy to smile

He who Doubts from what he sees

Will neer Believe do what you Please

If the Sun & Moon should Doubt

Theyd immediately Go out

To be in a Passion you Good may Do

But no Good if a Passion is in you

The Whore & Gambler by the State

Licencd build that Nations Fate

The Harlots cry from Street to Street

Shall weave Old Englands winding Sheet

The Winners Shout the Losers Curse

Dance before dead Englands Hearse

Every Night & every Morn

Some to Misery are Born

Every Morn and every Night

Some are Born to sweet delight

Some are Born to sweet delight

Some are Born to Endless Night

We are led to Believe a Lie

When we see not Thro the Eye

Which was Born in a Night to perish in a Night

When the Soul Slept in Beams of Light

God Appears & God is Light

To those poor Souls who dwell in Night

But does a Human Form Display

To those who Dwell in Realms of day


On photography in architecture, see: