Reading Architectural History: An Annotated Anthology

Reading Architectural History: An Annotated Anthology

Reading Architectural History: An Annotated Anthology

Reading Architectural History: An Annotated Anthology

Synopsis

Architectural history is more than just the study of buildings. Architecture of the past and present remains an essential emblem of a distinctive social system and set of cultural values and as a result it has been the subject of study of a variety of disciplines. But what is architectural history and how should we read it?Reading Architectural History examines the historiographic and socio/cultural implications of the mapping of British architectural history with particular reference to eighteenth - and nineteenth-century Britain. Discursive essays consider a range of writings from biographical and social histories to visual surveys and guidebooks to examine the narrative structures of histories of architecture and their impact on perception adn understanding of the architecture of the past. Alongside this, each chapter cites canonical histories juxtaposed with a range of social and cultural theorists, to reveal that these writings are richer than we have perhaps recognised and that architectural production in this period can in interrogated in the same way as that from more recent past - and can be read in a variety of ways.The essays and texts combine to form an essential course reader for methods and critical approached to architectural history, and more generally as examples of the kind of evidence used in the formation of architectural histories, while also offering a thematic introduction to architecture in Britain and its social and cultural meaning.

Excerpt

Style remains a principal concern of the histories of British architecture from the sixteenth century to the early nineteenth century, if not up to the present day. Architecture and style are interlinked to the point that style can almost be believed to contain the essence of architecture, but if this were the case then style would constitute the subject of architectural history. Quite clearly it does not. Instead, style is one of the many orders of narrative open to the architectural historian. What then is style? We might say that style is the specific organization of form, but the characteristics of a style consist of a repertoire of ornamental components which cannot be confined to a single period, many appear again and again in different configurations. So a style is characterised by the manner in which form is interpreted as the reading of these ornamental components changes according to their context. What changes form - is there a kind of autogenesis or does the historian trace lines of development only possible with the benefit of hindsight? But first of all, where does the idea of style come from, what is its relationship to the aesthetic and how should we read it?

Much has been written on the role and importance of the aesthetic in art where it is used to help set up the distinction of fine art from the everyday. Moreover the aesthetic enables the recognition of a work of art as an object in its own right and ensures that it is intelligible and valuable as such. in this way a work of art has intrinsic properties that are independent of its relation to other things, as well as its creator and viewer. There are several ways of offering explanations or analyses of the aesthetic. We can consider its causal conditions and emotional effects or we can situate the aesthetic within the realm of visual culture, to provide a more materially based explanation. Alternatively, the aesthetic can be reduced to a critique of the visual through either biography or autobiography. the privileging of the aesthetic gives a work of art an autonomous status and this can be employed in the historical analysis of buildings - notwithstanding the obvious pitfall of art for art's sake. But architecture is more than façades; it is a lived experience - a set of spaces which stage social and cultural relationships. the aesthetic is only one element in this complex set of interactions, and although it might offer a framing device for viewing architecture it is not the only explanation. Style is a means of identifying, codifying and interrogating the aesthetic and I want to use it as a way of exploring the taxonomies of architecture and the impact this has on our reading of its histories.

If style is anything more than formal analysis or a description of the ornamentation of a building it must surely offer or represent a specific set of ideals from the moment of its production. We, the viewer, will see this within the context of our own culture - in this way we understand the formal qualities of a building as the product of the convergence of past and present. Thus architecture plays an important ontological role in representing and it is up to us as viewer to be sensitive to the particular statement it is making. It is this secure cultural

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