1

Professor of Architectural History and Theory, University College of London.

2

Historical research into architecture is not a professional competence accredited exclusively in architecture qualifications. Any other researcher can work on architectural history, despite the fact that historical studies carried out by architects clearly differ in terms of the methodological approach adopted and most of the doctoral studies and theses done by architects focus on the history of their own discipline.

3

Except for those who choose to do a degree specialising in Architectural History and Theory.

4

The term “Eurocentric” is often wrongly used to express disdain for European culture, even within specialised circles. In principle, to criticise Eurocentrism is to question the one-way narrative of Western architectural history and seek alternative historical discourses. It does not seek to devalue European culture, or suggest that Europeans have “finished making history” and should now turn their attention to other continents. Even so, I have never the found the term convincing. It reminds me of typically modern stances in which “A was bad, B is good, so let’s do B”.

5

Co-authors with D.K. Ching, on the occasion of the release of the second edition of the classic “A Global History of Architecture” in 2017.

In Favour of a Global History of Architecture

Illustration: Sir Banister Fletcher’s Tree of Architecture, as published in “A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method for the Student, Craftsman, and Amateur”, 16th edition, 1954. Bottom left: detail from “Los Leñadores” (“The Woodcutters”), Goya, 1777-1780, Museo del Prado, Madrid.

“Drop your pencil, study Brunelleschi, and load your Molotovs”

That was how Mario Carpo1 graphically expressed his idea of architectural history and theory as a bulwark against the stylistic trends being established in big projects involving British and American companies and investors in the 1970s. Although the same situation still exists, architectural history is today in decline in most schools of architecture in the world. The displacement of subjects seen as mere “supporting elements” for the “architect’s task”2 by emerging technologies no longer raises any eyebrows. The problem is even more evident in three-year degrees in the United States, where all of architectural history from classical antiquity all the way through to the 20th century is compressed into barely one or two years of study3.

While history teachers’ scope for action diminishes, the cultural, institutional and social challenges that can be addressed in architecture training syllabuses continue to multiply.  In the increasingly complex, interconnected contemporary world there is a need to expand cultural history in the field of architecture and make good the skimpy attention it receives in most syllabuses. The task of making students aware of history, a difficult undertaking in itself, is further complicated when the “genealogical tree of architecture” is questioned and the linear Eurocentric tenet of “Greece, then Rome, then the Renaissance”4 is abandoned.

Since the problem is global and there are no easy answers, some teachers have started networking on platforms like the Global Architectural History Teaching Collaborative (GAHTC), founded by Mark Jarzombek and Vikramaditya Prakash5 at MIT. The debate generated in these groups is intense. Chopping down the tree of architecture is a risky business because when you turn your back on “true” history you inevitably find yourself on ground lacking in points of reference. It’s acceptable for a 20th century architect to be familiar with Florence Cathedral but not with the Buddhist temple of Borobudur. But it becomes controversial when he/she knows the latter but not the former. The ideal thing, of course, would be to know about both buildings, but architectural history courses have their limitations.

One of the few things agreed on in this debate is that the global history of architecture is about processes, not products.  The aim is to find overlapping influences, spaces where traditional categories don’t work. From this perspective, buildings are not structures erected in such-and-such a style and finished in such-and-such a year, but centenarian superimpositions of techniques, sensitivities and expertise. Each floor, elevation and structural detail is associated with interrelated global networks that can be mapped out. The details of how a theory like this can be put into practice are still unclear, but we press on, convinced that this sensitivity – a sensitivity which also exists in other fields of history – will make it possible to overcome the panoply of designer labels, styles and national branding that continue to define architecture.


LINKS:

Text translated by Andrew V. Taylor
Notas de página
1

Professor of Architectural History and Theory, University College of London.

2

Historical research into architecture is not a professional competence accredited exclusively in architecture qualifications. Any other researcher can work on architectural history, despite the fact that historical studies carried out by architects clearly differ in terms of the methodological approach adopted and most of the doctoral studies and theses done by architects focus on the history of their own discipline.

3

Except for those who choose to do a degree specialising in Architectural History and Theory.

4

The term “Eurocentric” is often wrongly used to express disdain for European culture, even within specialised circles. In principle, to criticise Eurocentrism is to question the one-way narrative of Western architectural history and seek alternative historical discourses. It does not seek to devalue European culture, or suggest that Europeans have “finished making history” and should now turn their attention to other continents. Even so, I have never the found the term convincing. It reminds me of typically modern stances in which “A was bad, B is good, so let’s do B”.

5

Co-authors with D.K. Ching, on the occasion of the release of the second edition of the classic “A Global History of Architecture” in 2017.

Autor:
Arquitecto, Investigador. Investigador pre-doctoral en el programa Arquitectura. Historia y Proyecto del Politécnico de Turín. Ex Profesor de la Universidad de Los Andes, Colombia. Colaborador de Historia National Geographic. Fundador de blogURBS y URBS Revista de Estudios Urbanos y Ciencias Sociales . Antiguo corresponsal de La Ciudad Viva .

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