With 30 bit-like chapters and some illustrations, this book is an ambitious attempt to write a global history of architecture that focuses on the arrival of modernity. The central idea of this survey is the shift away from the Weberian approach that views modernization as emanating from the West. Instead, in this book modern architecture is rewritten according to a global approach that allows for multiple perspectives in a multipolar world. This decentring approach is also pivotal for other parts of the book. For example, there is the much-needed effort to include women in the canon.
In addition, the author exchanges a stylistic history for a social history and combines this with a narrative that maps the agents of the built environment, thus complementing the narrative of the genius-architect with that of the role played by clients, patrons and critics. In this way, Lina Bo Bardi or Zaha Hadid not only take their place next to Le Corbusier or Brunelleschi, but in addition Eleanor of Toledo is mentioned as an influential sixteenth-century ruler next to her husband Cosimo I, and Hardwick Hall in England is now considered the outcome of the cooperation between the architect Robert Smythson and the landowner Bess of Hardwick.
In fact, during the s the first cracks in the stronghold of modernist historiography became apparent. However, the real problematization of the grand narratives of modern architecture took place in the aftermath of the debate on the decline of orthodox modernism. The contribution of Manfredo Tafuri and the School of Venice to this process is well known; in addition, as a result of the changing architectural-theoretical context of the mid-seventies, there was a new interest in broader cultural and philosophical themes.
In particular, the shift towards post-structuralism and the study of Derrida and Foucault led to the insight that, in order to expose the hollowness of modernist ideals, history had to be dissected into parts rather than welded together into a grand whole. As a consequence of these developments, the survey as historical genre became more or less suspect. The new ideal was that history ought to be an agent of disjunction where the emphasis was on analysis rather than on synthesis.
This state of affairs also reflected the changed position of Europe in the world. It was now no longer considered the centre of the world: rather, it was, so to speak, but one tree in a whole forest.
As a consequence, histories about the triumph of reason or the glorious struggle for emancipation were now considered to be only of local importance and for that reason not suitable for a meta-narrative. The publication of new architectural historical surveys in the last few years signals in a certain way the return of this genre.
James-Chakraborty seems to go even a step further: where Cohen still begins his history traditionally, with the Industrial Revolution, James-Chakraborty re-writes the history of modernization in the key of globalization, thereby changing its geographical constants. For James-Chakraborty, is a crucial year for the start of modernity: around this year, the Ming dynasty seized control of China, the palace city of Cuczo was created in present day Mexico, and in Florence the architectural competition for the dome of the city cathedral was held.
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According to James-Chakraborty, what all these events have in common is that they represent a modernisation process that is characterized by an increasing amount of novel structures and an intensification of contact and interaction between geographically disparate cultures. The Italian Renaissance is now contrasted with very different experiences in China, or with divergent architectural developments in England, France, Poland and the Netherlands.
The Baroque is discussed in Rome, but equally in terms of its Spanish and Portuguese heritage in the Americas. James-Chakraborty writes about Neoclassicism and the Gothic Revival but also about very different experiences in Edo Japan — present-day Tokyo — and in other Asian regions. The book concludes with a completely updated history of twentieth-century architecture, which departs, among others things, from the failure of the modern movement to capture the full impact of modernity on architecture.
Global history emerged as a new field of study after the end of the Cold War and directly reflects the rise of new themes such as multiculturalism. What most global histories have in common is the wish to develop less Western-centric narratives and to come to a new understanding of the past that is not in any way restricted by national concepts. Architecture Since fits into this trend: it fuses global history as a new field of study that is still in the process of defining its basic assumptions with the central notion of architectural history, which is the arrival of modernity.
This leads to the main thesis of the book, which is that even though Europe has lost its central place in the world, the history of modernity stills holds its value, albeit in a context that encompasses the whole world and no longer privileges Europe. Architecture Since is structured on the basis of a number of corrective insights that stem from this challenging statement. First, James-Chakraborty breaks with the assumption that a pre-modern corpus of architecture was defined by traditional architecture incapable of change, while the modern architecture of the Western world was marked by a rapid succession of styles.
Instead, she depicts modernization as a complex process consisting of several modalities and tempi. China, for example, had an imperial system that remained relatively stable until the eighteenth century, resulting in the architectural refinement of tradition rather than the introduction of radical changes as was the case in Renaissance Europe.
However, at the same time, Chinese architecture was not static: the development of the Chinese courtyard house, for example, was gradual, but real. Another assumption that is rejected in this book is that innovation moves from the core to the periphery and that at the edges of political and economical systems nothing goes on.
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Relevant is also the way in which James-Chakraborty describes the rise of non-Western non-colonial modern architecture, not as an import product of the Western World to the exotic periphery or to teach ignorant natives, but as something that was desired by that very public, albeit for reasons that differed from the motivations and aspirations of the West.
Naturally, the ambitious undertaking of Architecture Since also has its pitfalls. Passed the , word mark on my work in progress. Writing every day!
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Writing on Modernist Painting Outside Europe
Search all the texts on this site. A map of James Elkins's travels, and locations of visitors to this site. An essay on the reasons why it is difficult to write about modern art outside the traditional trajectories Europe, North America, the North Atlantic. One option for writing about modernisms outside western Europe and North America is expanding the crucial stories of modernism by adding unfamiliar names and practices that can count as avant-garde.
This is the Czech artist Jan Zrzavy's wonderful, outlandish "Cleopatra," a good example work that could claim admission to the indispensable stories of European and world modernisms. But there are reasons not to go searching for "new" avant-garde moments.