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Questions and Considerations

The reinvention of French regionalist styles in the Centre Régional of the 1937 International Exhibition in Paris (Source: Favier 1937)

Architectural Historiography and its Desiderata

Architectural historiography as a category of art history is primarily constructed on the territorial conception of the European nation-state and wrote its ‘world history’ of modern architecture until the 1960s (Giedion, Hitchcock, Benevolo) without colonial components. Even if its radius was enlarged globally through the discipline of postcolonial studies, the Eurocentric perspective in the formulation of a binary and linear constitution and asymmetric transfer history with architecture as a medium of power and dominance (‘from’ Europe ‘into’ Asia) was perpetuated (e.g. King 1976) and most publications on ‘World Architecture’ until the 1990s were still based on territorial categories ‘Europe’ and ‘Asia’ (Frampton 1999). Critiques called for a paradigmatic turn to conceive colonialism as original ‘space of production’ (King 1992) and the colonies not only as receiving containers and/or places for the transformation of European building notions, but as innovative laboratories of architectural styles that themselves influenced tendencies back in Europe.

Our Desideratum I calls for an entangled architectural historiography. Lately, a patchwork ‘global history of architecture’ (Ching 2006) of form-oriented case studies has ignored the structural analogies of the ‘centre-periphery’-model to inner-colonial and inner-metropolitan style innovation processes (i.e. analogies between external and internal colonialisms) the application of which questions the model of ‘the European metropole – the Asian colony’ as a narrative of one singular modernity.

Our Desideratum II calls for the recognition of multiple contact zones within multi-centred resp. multi-peripheral modernisms. Abstracted and detached from their nation/colony-specific context, style formation processes could be conceptualised as a transcultural phenomenon inside a systemically analysed architectural historiography the validity of which is to be tested in different colonial constellations inside the European-Asian arena (mandates, colonies, protectorates, concessions).

Overcoming national and territorial determinants and approaching the formation processes of architectural styles from a transcultural phenomenon aims, as our Desideratum III, to reframe the discipline of art history by reconfiguring one of its analytical core categories.