“Today I am accused of being a revolutionary, yet I confess to having had only one master: the past; and only one discipline: the study of the past.” These words stated by Le Corbusier, a pioneer in modernism, are a window towards the importance of architectural history. Architectural history holds an important place in architectural pedagogy. History is often seen as a chronicler of the past. Architectural history is also generally associated with heaps of theory about the architectural time periods and masterpieces of the different architectural styles. But history has been hailed as a great teacher. True to these words, here are a few lessons that architectural history can impart to architects.
1. The ‘story’ in history
The current architectural praxis is a process that has been built over time. Understanding it requires that the historical process behind it be studied. Architectural history encompasses the ideas, philosophies, and discourses that molded the architectural praxis. An architect needs to observe, analyze, interpret, and evaluate these building blocks of the practice. This paves the way for developing one’s critical thinking skills. An efficient architect must not only know the facets of the historical process but also be prepared to skillfully use it to supplement his/her architectural practice. The modular man, the renowned proportional system by Le Corbusier, evolved from his understanding of the Vitruvian man.
2. Trail of breadcrumbs
The architectural language is dynamic in nature, but it doesn’t take on an entirely new identity. The architectural language of the past plays a significant role in the present. Different styles in architecture mark the different periods of its history. The constants throughout these periods denote the defining principles of good design. This continuity is evident through the overlapping architectural language. The timeless principles of architecture are the mark of the past in its present. The traces of Greek temple style are visible in Palladian style, and eventually in some works of modern architecture. An architect must necessarily follow the breadcrumb trail in architectural history to configure a sound theory of practice.
3. Evolution and innovation
Architectural history retains information about the different approaches developed at different time periods. The record of failed strategies is equally imperative as those of the successful ones. The fallen windows of John Hancock tower of Boston, made architects restructure their approach towards the design of skyscrapers. A thorough study of these will provide valuable insights to develop a more innovative tactic. Evaluation of past patterns paves the way for innovation. These evolving approaches will also lay the foundation for future requirements. An architect must learn from architectural history to build upon the experiences of their predecessors.
4. Transforming technology
Throughout history, innovations in architecture are assisted by the evolution of technology. A study of architectural history shows how, the changing trends in technology, gave birth to new architectural visions. The advances in this aspect are quite radical at present. But how can one incorporate a historical art form with futuristic developments? An architect must look through the pages of history to comprehend this union. He must utilize the analysis to create pioneering architectural solutions. An understanding of transformation in technology will give a perception of the direction the field is moving towards.
5. The grassroots of sustainability
The concept of ‘sustainability’ has been in the limelight for some time. It is often mistaken to be a contemporary concept. Sustainable practices have been ingrained into the vernacular folk architectural practices. Some of the earlier practices have become obsolete with the rise of new technologies. But these advancements also have their negative impacts. Revisiting architectural history shows us how, throughout history, the concept of sustainability has come up time and again. Such as the ‘Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle’ mantra that environmental activists brought up in the 1960s and1970s. Architects must correlate the past trends to the present, to determine better ways to attain sustainability in architecture.
6. Averting disaster
Vernacular architecture is a result of repeated trials and errors that developed over a few generations. The changing climate, geography, and regional context have all contributed to its creation. This is the very reason why subconsciously disaster planning has been incorporated into these structures. Architectural history provides us with a peek into how different cultures prepared for catastrophes through their architecture. It also documents the anthropogenic impact on the environment. Architects must learn to understand the history of disasters of a region revealed through its architectural history. It also helps one understand the different mitigation methods adopted by different parallel civilizations to combat similar hazards.
Transience is part of life. Even in architecture, nothing is permanent. The idea of good design is to be harmonious with the region and the socio-cultural community using it. The study of architectural history, reveals opportunities for discourses on these changing paradigms and architecture’s response to it. The controversy during the design of the Shanghai World Financial Centre (WFC), shows why architects must understand transience. A simple geometric shape could hold two different meanings. The socio-political and geographical triggers of a community can keep changing. An architect must be up to date and meet the demands of the clients skillfully.
8. Plant pears for your heirs
Architecture doesn’t merely deal with the design process. The economics and changing market trends associated with an architectural project are equally important. Financial history is a useful tool to predict investment patterns in different areas. Architectural history cannot aid in predicting future pecuniary trends. Nevertheless, it can help recognize the risks involved and the real estate market trends of the previous decades.
9. What’s on the cards?
Architectural history doesn’t just deal with dates and designs. It meticulously records the philosophies, and ideas that shaped history. Essentially it is a medium wherein we understand the society of bygone eras through their architecture, architects, and their ideas. Architects must understand history to prepare for the future. Most iconic designs have been inspired by the architectural history associated with the work or region. It helps not just to prepare but to either improve upon the past approaches or discard them for better ones.
10. Signing off
Architectural history teaches us that it is not just about the socio-historical processes, but that through architects and their works, it narrates a story. The story about the creative process, the inspirations, the criticisms, and the final result. The knowledge of architectural history helped the titans of architecture create their signature styles. Their identities were a result of this knowledge of the past and the development of individual design philosophies. So, to carve your niche in the world of architecture, you must be well versed in its backstory.