Essay on Architectural History

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The book "What is Architectural History" (2010) by Andrew Leach demystifies the development, changes and current state of architecture from a historical perspective. Andrew acknowledges the significant contribution of Heinrich Wofflin, a young Swiss art historian to the works of the present-day architectural historians despite the dismissal and abandonment of his views and methodology by the current historians. Wolfflin inscribed a series of fundamental questions and concepts in architecture forming the foundation for historians with interests in studying design as they try to understand the driving forces of the changing architectural field. The book aims to give an insight on an increasing trend of introducing architectural history as a discipline in most today's universities and learned societies. The study of architecture has been interest-based where professionals archeologists only write limitedly about the matter when the field affects their areas of research thus contributing to the architectural historiography.

The book defines architectural history as a field that encompasses the broad interest and investment, cities and monuments at professional and academic level. In a bid to explain the concept, some scholars have contributed to the architectural field. For instance, Watkin's book on ‘Architectural History.' Nevertheless, the primary goal of Andrew is to inquire into the architectural past and the usefulness of such past to the developers and how the aspect affects the work of the historians. There are five chapters each explaining the contemporary issues regarding architectural history. The first chapter ‘foundation of discipline' addresses the long-time study of architecture by archeologists, architects as well as historians. The discipline has concentrated on building, cities, monuments where the scholars try to discover their existence and relate them to the people who built and occupied them. The knowledge from other sources facilitates a better understanding of the structures. The interest on the matter has elicited the development of tools and frameworks to promote the learning in different nations. The chapter outlines the historical aspects of the architectural development by presenting treatise as a component of the work by architects.

            The second chapter ‘Architectural history as the architect's patrimony' discusses how the various historians have managed to organize the past works and relate it to the present times. The presents methods have been able to replace the past. Political aspects have greatly influenced most of the processes. Therefore, historians have found themselves restricted to the political borders and languages as they make a comparison of different buildings located in different settings across the world. The use the technique of comparison to find meaning to the structures with minimal non-architectural influence. In chapter three ‘The architect as an artist,' Andrew presents numerous cases of structures in giving the inferences of their architectural and historical categories. He asserts that the evidence follows a set of procedures, concepts, and contexts with each proof supporting the old ideas to the end. The scholars achieve the objectives of testimony by explaining the historical buildings using multiple approaches.

In section four ‘Architecture and empirical knowledge' Andrew justifies the role and importance of the historians in the practice of architecture. He compares the work of the three main historians Zevi, Million and Tafuri giving grounds for scrutiny of their various works in architecture. There are uncovered aspects in their propositions a gap addressed later by the ideas of Crose who ideas have dominated the Italian dialogue on architecture for a long time. The book's chapter ‘Architecture and culture' gives an insight into the implications of the theoretical part of the historiographical architecture in the modern times. He provides some historical occurrences that were essential in determining the extreme ends, the coverage and the goals of the scholars in their work of history.

A History of Architectural Theory

The book "A History of Architectural Theory from Vitruvius to the Present "(1994) written by Hanno-Walter Kruft and translated by Ronald Taylor, Elsie Callander and Antony Wood publishes by Princeton Architectural Press. It digs into the history of the theory of architecture, how it has evolved, its application and modification from ancient time to the present. The author finds it challenging at first to give a precise definition of the theory for fears of making it unhistorical and lack of popular legitimacy and defensibility. However, he argues that providing a meaning would entail the consideration of established like thoughts and documented but again the ideas are tricky due to cases of one missing the records but finds the theory in architectural practices. Therefore, as a result of the missing pieces, many architects continue to interpret the early works due to little explanations by the ancient architects.

The restriction in understanding the concept makes the theory a continuous evolution that brings everybody on board especially the participants. The situation gives the independence of the historical and theoretical system regarding their aim and intended person individually before one makes comparisons. Walter argues that developments come from needs or could be expressions of purely intellectual ideals. He disagrees with the assumption of the same degree of rising in historical development and architectural theory. He attributes the gathered knowledge on theory to numerous sources thus delimiting the scope of inquiry. Similarly, Walter links the adopted practice to people's attitudes. Therefore, scholars anchor their ideas on the individual goals they hope to achieve as architects.

            Through the continuous practice, separations of different aspects like the classical order of architecture, the theory of proportions and study of specific buildings and their parts arose. However, the ideas threatened the recognition of the theoretical contexts and treatment of a plan to represent the whole thing. Nevertheless, taking the views, their objectivity, the order of time and practicality of architectural works, Walter reaches a more convincing even though a practical but not a universally acceptable definition of architectural theory. He defines the argument as a composition of any written system of architecture whether detailed of a part based on aesthetic categories. However, the definition leaves questions by not clarifying the distinction of the architectural theory from artistic and aesthetic opinions as well as pure technology.

There is a close correlation between the theory of architecture and disciplines like archeology, history of architecture and history of arts with familiar figure arising from these studies. Also, the disciplines overlap both politically and socially where societies express their ideas in the form of architecture. However, archeology has remained distinctly essential in architectural understanding theory since the Renaissance. Walter asserts that the historical aspects of other areas like arts have made it possible to understand and influence the opinion of architecture. He uses examples from works of scholars to demonstrate the evolution and development of the design. For instance, the writings of Kaufmann on "Revolutionary Architecture" and "Architectural Principles in the age of Humanism" by Rudolf. However, he emphasizes the need to understand their roles since historians exceed their historical briefs thus unable to develop an outstanding theory.

The theories of architecture keep arising from debates of older systems and not as new ideas. As a result, new concepts are specific to who and what one wishes to understand and, in most cases, make references to previous works to clarify findings, or issues arbitraries. From the linkage of different practices, architectural works seem to be time-based depending on the ideas at a specific time. However, there is opposition to the belief of independent influence of theories on the built structures. For instance, Kaufmann asserts the impossibility of theoretical influence on artistical creations.  He goes further to attribute the current architecture to the impact of Vitruvius due to the close relation of the study of classical architecture and Vitruvius.

August 01, 2023




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