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Athens Institute for Education and Research


ATINER's Conference Paper Series


The Historiography of Modern

Architecture: Twenty-five Years Later

Macarena De la Vega de Leon

PhD Student

University of Canberra



An Introduction to

ATINER's Conference Paper Series

ATINER started to publish this conference papers series in 2012. It includes only the papers submitted for publication after they were presented at one of the conferences organized by our Institute every year. The papers published in the series have not been refereed and are published as they were submitted by the author. The series serves two purposes. First, we want to disseminate the information as fast as possible. Second, by doing so, the authors can receive comments useful to revise their papers before they are considered for publication in one of ATINER's books, following our standard procedures of a blind review.

Dr. Gregory T. Papanikos President Athens Institute for Education and Research

This paper should be cited as follows:

De la Vega de Leon, M., (2014) "The Historiography of Modern Architecture: Twenty-five Years Later”, Athens: ATINER'S Conference Paper Series, No: ARC2014-1152.

Athens Institute for Education and Research 8 Valaoritou Street, Kolonaki, 10671 Athens, Greece Tel: + 30 210 3634210 Fax: + 30 210 3634209 Email: info@atiner.gr URL: www.atiner.gr URL Conference Papers Series: www.atiner.gr/papers.htm Printed in Athens, Greece by the Athens Institute for Education and Research. All rights reserved. Reproduction is allowed for non-commercial purposes if the source is fully acknowledged.

ISSN: 2241-2891 08/08/2014 ATINER CONFERENCE PAPER SERIES No: ARC2014-1152

The Historiography of Modern Architecture:

Twenty-five Years Later Macarena De la Vega de Leon PhD Student University of Canberra Australia Abstract Why reopen Panayotis Tournikiotis’ The Historiography of Modern Architecture? What for? There are two basic reasons for which Tournikiotis’ book is still a useful research tool after 25 years: first, for the historians he covers, it provides the reader with interesting references for further study; and, second, for the study of history and how it is written. In his last chapter, Tournikiotis tries to point out the lessons his study of the histories offers. He emphasizes repeatedly how each history presents modern architecture and how each tries to design the architecture of the present or even the future. Does this hold true for historiography as well? Is this book, as a discussion on nine different histories, projecting what historiography should be in the future?

What is Tournikiotis’ real proposal?

The aim of this study is to present how several authors have revisited the history and historiography of modern architecture after Tournikiotis’ dissertation (defended in 1988), especially after its publication in English in

1999. The study has two main objectives: one, to reconsider the impact of Tournikiotis’ Historiography on further studies of the matter; and, the other, to provide a bibliography, as complete as possible. The Historiography of Modern Architecture is a perfect manual for initiating students in the study of the histories of modern architecture. To try to ‘complete’ it, discussing what has been written since, seems like a small addition to what should be considered as a compulsory starting point for every study of architectural historiography.

Keywords: Tournikiotis, History, Vidler, Hartoonian, Arnold

Acknowledgements: My thanks to Jorge Sainz for commissioning me with this work which and publishing a slightly extended version of this paper as a postscript of the 2nd edition in Spanish of Panayotis Tournikiotis’ The Historiography of Modern Architecture. And my special thanks to Panayotis Tournikiotis for attending this paper’s presentation at the ATINER 4th Annual International Conference on Architecture, on July 7, 2014 in Athens.

ATINER CONFERENCE PAPER SERIES No: ARC2014-1152 Panayotis Tournikiotis’ The Historiography of Modern Architecture is a key study. So it has been described by fellow authors and scholars since its publication in 1999.

Figure 1. Cover of Panayotis Tournikiotis’ The Historiography of Modern Architecture The aim of this paper is to discuss the impact of The Historiography on recent works in the field.

Therefore, the starting point ought to be a discussion of Tournikiotis’ contribution to the ‘writing of histories’ (the name of the last chapter, which could be understood as an extended conclusion) to help determine the true reasons for this book’s relevance. Moreover, the study of the influence that it has had on a selection of works would bring more arguments into discussion. These selected works are Anthony Vidler’s Histories of the Immediate Present: Inventing Architectural Modernism, Gevork Hartoonian’s The Mental Life of the Architectural Historian: Re-opening the Early Historiography of Modern Architecture and Trevor Garnham’s Architecture Re-assembled: the Use (and Abuse) of History.

But first, a brief commentary should be made on Tournikiotis’ conclusions. One of his key concepts is genealogy, understood as the group of chosen pioneering architects whose work led to the Modern Movement according to each historian. The author states clearly that the choice of genealogy shows each historian coming to a decision and that the way in which

historians present it gives a certain character, démarche, to their discourses:

operative, derogative, veridical or interrogative. Can these categories be used


to discuss other histories? Tournikiotis insists on the relevance of genealogy as it can be used to ‘lay foundations’, to ‘refound’, to ‘dismantle meanings’, to ‘introduce new terms’ and to ‘open new horizons’.1 According to Tournikiotis, at the time when he was writing The Historiography it made no sense to return to genealogies and histories such as those being discussed in his book. What the author did find necessary was ‘the formulation of a different discourse about the recent past of contemporary architecture’.2 Based on ideas from Martin Heidegger, Henri-Irénée, Leopold von Ranke or Michel de Certeaus, Tournikiotis makes a proposal: an idea of history as the relationship between past and present that depends on each historian’s conception of reality. Even though such a history could not be considered ‘objective’, a true value can be appreciated in it. Each historian narrates that relationship past-present conditioned by the theories on which he constructs his discourse and by his view of the past. Thus, it can be affirmed that for Tournikiotis reality disappears and what remains are narratives.

Reading this book and the way in which Tournikiotis presents and dismantles each discourse, reveals how ‘history’ and ‘theory’ are confused in the histories of modern architecture, the latter being more prescriptive than descriptive. This is the reason why the author approves of Manfredo Tafuri’s engagement: histories of modern architecture are ‘true architectural projects’.3 Reflecting on this question leads Tournikiotis to ask himself about the aim of the making of history; the answer in each case takes him without exception to Leon Battista Alberti’s principles: necessitas, commoditas and voluptas. In every historian of his corpus, despite their differences, the author perceives an intended ‘reintegration of necessity, convenience, and delight in the early twentieth century’, defining the special nature of modern architecture.4 Tournikiotis keeps in mind that the first historians of modern architecture were art historians, who focused their attention on appearance and visual perception, on aesthetics. Reintegration somehow becomes the perfect excuse for the lesser importance historians gave to function and construction. In the end, every historian in Tournikiotis’ corpus based their narratives on those first histories, some to confirm them, others to reject or even oppose them. Every historian bases his text, one way or another, on the same histories used in the nineteenth century, in order to make a proposal: ‘a repertoire of the knowledge necessary for the process of conceiving in the present and the future, for the process of the architectural project’.5 As a result, despite the difference between the object, intentions and aims of the history of art and the history of architecture, Tournikiotis states that the former lays the foundations of the latter.

Tournikiotis, P. (1999). The Historiography of Modern Architecture. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, page 231.

Ibid., page 232.

Tournikiotis, P. (1999). The Historiography…, page 238.

Ibid., page 243.

Ibid., page 247.


He continues reflecting on the difference between past, present and future, and how they are presented in the discourses which form his corpus.

Tournikiotis understands ‘identity’ as a concept used by historians prior to the 1960s to create direct links with certain projects of the past. In the following years ‘identity’ was replaced by the concept of ‘difference’, which was used to define modern architecture, to study its structure and, thus, to transcend it in the direction of a truly new architecture. Tournikiotis based this idea of difference in conceiving the past on two prestigious discourses: on the one hand, Rudolf Wittkower’s Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism 1,where he discusses a series of principles applied in the procedure of the architectural project of the present (the ‘subjective’ approach); and on the other hand, Erwin Panofsky’s “Der Begriff des Kunstwollens”2, which conceives a ‘scientific’ system that distances itself from the past searching for objectivity and impartiality, and proposing a different and indifferent perception of the past (the ‘objective’ approach). Both standpoints allow Tournikiotis to distinguish between a modern concept of history, which looks at the past with present eyes, and a metamodern concept of history, which distances itself from the past in order to, ultimately, make peace with it. Both categories can be considered tools when discussing subsequent trends in architecture.

To conclude, once again Tournikiotis leans on several historians and theoreticians such as Hubert Damisch, Karl Löwith, Georg G. Iggers, Nikolaus Pevsner and Karl Popper, to reflect on the concept of historicism, and he comes to the conclusion that these historians (from Emil Kaufmann to Manfredo Tafuri) are ‘working on the same level’; that ‘the discourse they articulated stood at the same distance from the discourse that had been articulated in the nineteenth century’.3 They discuss a modern architecture of the present, aware of its historicity and critical towards the past, a past that should be studied and applied to an architectural project that looks forward in the direction of the future. In spite of the differences in genealogy and aims between each narrative, a significant conclusion after reading The Historiography is that Tournikiotis considers all these texts to ‘lie on the same level’.4 The present study continues with the examination of what could be considered the historiographies of the twenty-first century: three books in which the influence of Tournikiotis’ Historiography will be discussed.

Re-Inventing Architectural Modernism

We will start with Anthony Vidler and his Histories of the immediate Wittkower, R. (1949). Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism. Londres: Warburg Institute.

Panofsky, E. (1920) “Der Begriff des Kunstwollens”, Zeitschrift für Ästhetik und Allgemeine Kunstwissenschaft 14.

Tournikiotis, P. (1999). The Historiography…, page 266.

Ibid., page 268.


present.1 Vidler discusses four categories and four historians who embodied the re-invention of architectural modernism: Neoclassical Modernism through Emil Kaufmann; Mannerist Modernism through Colin Rowe (the only not included in Tournikiotis’ corpus); Futurist Modernism through Reyner Banham; and Renaissance Modernism through Manfredo Tafuri. Vidler, like Tournikiotis, offers the reader a thorough and complete examination of the chosen historians. Moreover, he ends up reflecting on history –or, in this case, on post-histoire– a discourse that needs to be read carefully in order to search for the influence of Tournikiotis’ Historiography (if any).

Figure 2. Cover of Anthony Vidler’s Histories of the Immediate Present:

Inventing Architectural Modernism Vidler uses Tournikiotis to comment on ‘the first scholarly examinations of modern architecture [that] began to appear in the late 1920s’: those written by Adolf Behne, Gustav Adolf Platz, Sigfried Giedion and Henry-Russell Hitchcock.2 According to Vidler, Tournikiotis’ book showed that ‘these narratives shared a common concept of history as a determining, unfolding force, capable of articulating questions of the past, present, and future of architecture, as well as a belief in some form of sociocultural zeitgeist that, if correctly identified, equally determines the respective “modernity” or Vidler, A. (2011). Histories of the Immediate Present: Inventing Architectural Modernism.

Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Ibid., pages 5-6.


nonmodernity of the work’.1 In the note accompanying this commentary, Vidler both praises and criticizes The historiography: on the one hand, it is an ‘excellent analysis’ and ‘must form the basis of any serious study of the works’ of every historian of his corpus; on the other hand, he comments on the ‘structuralist’ character of Tournikiotis’ approach and on the lack of context.2 It is precisely this lack of context that is the main difference between both works,

according to Vidler:

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