The book architecture and modernity by Hilde Heynen explains the relationship between architectural practice and theory. It shows the position of a historian with an interest. The book is also divided into four sections-: the first section is all about architecture facing modernity, along with conceptual sketches for a better understanding of the reader. The first section is also raising some important questions like the definition of modernity, the place of dwelling, and the relationship between architecture and politics. The other three sections conclude the position of the thesis, antithesis, and synthesis. The thesis part is all about constructing the modern movement which covers how modernity is understandable by the people who have been practicing for a long time and who also withstand the Modern Movement. The antithesis part contains, ‘Reflection in a Mirror,’ which talks about the people who opposed the Modern Movement, and the last fourth section shares the details of, “ Architecture as a Critique of Modernity,” which comprises the synthesis.

The author’s overall conclusion is a strong one, but the central role that she describes dwelling in the thesis section asks me to raise a question. Why does author Heynen pay so much attention to dwelling? Although housing plays an important role and a key function for the architects and of the Modern Movement. But by the end, the concept of dwelling loses its central role gradually in the projects where author Heynen explores and the writing of the critical theory starts. Actually, Heynen needs to provide a proper context that is recognized for housing design as one of the forms of architectural design practice, she also needed to add how the role of housing design as critical practice changed historically over time.

Book in Focus: Architecture and Modernity : A Critique by Hilde Heynen
Architecture and modernity ©

The book also deals with a number of interrogations in a very articulated manner. Heynens’s also added some definitions of modernization, modernism, and modernity. Explaining the critical relationship of these terms should lay behind the procedure of any thesis which is concerning the potential of architecture entitled as a cultural form being able to provide a critique of capitalism. But if modernization involves the process of urbanization and industrialization it can be understood to some who came closest to the Marxist notion, It is very clear that the distinction between modernism and modernity. Modernity tends to be viewed as the only form of representation that is produced through their modernization, and also modernity as the experience of cultural change overall.

The main question remained as it is whether modernism is a mere reflection of modernization or as Heynen explains whether these critiques and reflections are conscious or unconscious actions. A huge number of theorists have taken the concept into postmodern critique. But after all, how in general Heynen grounds her analysis of the projects from the early stage of the era in the process of modernization, she does not need to do the same in the fourth section, where the work of Rem Koolhaas and Bernard Tschumi is not related to a critical account of postmodernity. The potential of the term culture is resisting capitalism which brings about changes in the lynchpin for the questionable discussion on critical theory. Heynen really came into grip while discussing the details and also it is easy to follow, with her commentaries on Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno. Architecture is more often seen as too close for the mechanisms of the capital accumulation and the flow which is needed to provide a good position. Manfredo Tafuri’s architecture was not that impressive but somehow Benjamin perceived in architecture the potential which changed the game. It is a simple passive reflection of an alienated society.

Benjamin saw an architecture capable of reflecting numerous aspirations. Benjamin also viewed the redemptive philosopher, which Adorno had not, the discussions related to art and music celebrating the autonomous positions that these forms of cultural production could take. The Mimesis was central to Adorno’s proposition. The critical reflection for him mimesis stated as a critique of society, on the other hand, an agent revealing the unacceptable. It is at this level concerning aesthetics and politics that Heynen’s ability to remake a complex argument really comes to the point.

What kind of book is this then ultimately? Is it for the academic theorist or only for those who are experts in the field? No, the architects and the theorist Heynen choose to study in the order to involve her thesis which will range from Benjamin, Bloch, Adorno, and Ernst May to Tafuri and Koolhaas who are both interesting and relevant too. Heynen’s approach and details show that the architect can read on their own without losing the debatable arguments and projects. I can imagine this is how undergraduate students will find it impressive to read the book. I have also found that Heyen’s discussions on montage and mimesis particularly useful for everyone in the studio and also in the seminar rooms. Heynen’s thesis is a whole dense and at times it is also hard to follow.


Tanushree Saluja is constantly inspired by connecting different forms of art and translating into architectural experiences. She strives for the eccentricity that’s interminable in the mind of the receiver. Bringing in fresh perspectives and unique outlook has been the greatest challenge and reward to her creativity.