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Changing the Canon of Modernism

Posted on September 28 2017

 

Photo, Yokohama International Passenger Terminal by Foreign Office Architects Farshid Moussavi & Alejandro Zaera-Polo

What could architects Frank Lloyd Wright, Antoni Gaudi, and Shigeru Ban, possibly have in common?

The question is answered by Colin Davies, formerly at London Metropolitan University, in his just released book, A NEW HISTORY OF MODERN ARCHITECTURE. This ambitious volume addresses architecture of the twentieth century – and twenty-first century – worldwide. His far-reaching approach capably analyzes both Western and non-Western architecture, as well as that from developing nations. In doing so, he juxtaposes images of iconic buildings, organizing by ideological themes instead of time period. The works of Wright, Gaudi, and Ban are placed together in the intellectual development of modernism, because they shared similar ideas.

With an emerging definition that is more expansive than ever before, this break-through book manages to extend the boundaries of modernism well beyond the cliches of the Europe-based International Style, to create a new canon.

How do you see the current status of architecture history?

There are, of course, a number of histories of modern architecture, but most of those still in print were first written in the early 1980s. At that time architectural critics and historians were mostly interested in the development of Modernism, which was assumed to be the only style that really mattered.

Since then, the historical perspective has shifted somewhat, and though Modernism retains its importance as the characteristic style of the twentieth century, it must now take its historical place among other styles such as Art Deco, traditional classicism, the Chinese national style, Rationalism and, of course, Postmodernism. My technique takes readers through these styles and beyond, into architecture of the present day, as impacted by evolving building technology, environmental concerns, country-specific influences, and digital design.

Why write a book about this, and why do it now?  How did you go about writing it?

This book is intended to be a useful survey from a fresh point of view rather than a work of history based on primary research. Research was therefore broad rather than deep – but still thorough. I combined a readable text with over 800 photographs, plans, and sections, to create a reassessment of modern architecture that may well become essential for architecture students and enthusiasts alike.

As I say in the introduction, there are many possible ways to organize an architectural history: biographically, geographically, technologically, chronologically, typologically and stylistically. But each has its limitations, so I decided to use a judicious combination of all of them.

Architectural history is often written in a rather dry, aloof style. But since my book is meant to be enjoyable, potentially difficult architectural concepts are explained plainly. Having designed a few buildings myself I am in a good position to understand those designed by others.

-- Mid Century Books interviews Colin Davies, of A New History of Modern Architecture 

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