A Global History of Architecture 3rd Edition
What is a global history of architecture? There is, of course, no single answer, just as there is no single way to define words like global, history, and architecture. Nonetheless, these words are not completely open-ended, and they serve here as the vectors that have helped us construct the narratives of this volume. With this book, we hope to provoke discussion about these terms and at the same time furnish a framework students can use to begin discussion in the classroom.
This book transcends the necessary restrictions of the classroom, where in a semester or even two, the teacher has to limit what is taught based on any number of factors. The reader should understand that there is always something over the horizon. Whereas any such book must inevitably be selective about what it can include, we have attempted to represent a wide swath of the globe, in all its diversity. At the same time,however, the book does not aspire to be an encyclopedia of everything that has been built; nor does it assume a universal principle that governs everything architectural. The buildings included are for us more than just monuments of achievement; we see them as set pieces allowing us to better appreciate the complex intertwining of social, political, religious, and economic contexts in which they are positioned. As much as possible, we emphasize urban contexts as well as materials and surfaces. We have also tried to emphasize quality as much as quantity. From that point of view, the word global in the title is not so much a geographic construct as an eruditional horizon. In that sense, this book is not about the sum of all local histories. Its mission is bound to the discipline of architecture, which requires us to see connections, tensions, and associations that transcend so-called local perspectives. In that respect, ours is only one of many possible narratives.
Synchrony has served as a powerful frame for our discussion. For instance, as much as Seoul’s Gyeongbok Palace is today heralded in Korea as an example of traditional Korean architecture, we note that it also belongs to a Eurasian building campaign that stretched from Japan (the Katsura Imperial Villa), through China (Beijing and the Ming Tombs), to Persia (Isfahan), India (the Taj Mahal), Turkey (the Suleymaniye Complex), Italy (St. Peter’s Basilica and the Villa Rotonda), France (Chambord), and Russia (Cathedral of the Assumption). In some cases, one can assume that information flowed from place to place, but such movement is not itself a requirement for the architecture to qualify as “global.” It is enough for us to know, first, that these structures are contemporaneous and that each has a specific history. If there are additional connections that come as a result of trade, war, or other forms of contact, these are for us subsidiary to contemporaneity.
This is not to say that our story is exclusively the story of individual buildings and sites, only that there is a give and take between explaining how a building works and how it is positioned in the world of its influences and connections. We have, therefore, tried to be faithful to the specificities of each individual building while acknowledging that every architectural project is always embedded in a larger world—and even a worldview—that affects it directly and indirectly.
Our post-19th-century penchant for seeing history through the lens of the nation-state often makes it difficult to apprehend such global pictures. Furthermore, in the face of today’s increasingly hegemonic global economy, the tendency by historians, and often architects, to nationalize, localize, regionalize, and even micro-regionalize history—perhaps as meaningful acts of resistance—can blind us to the historical synchronicity and interconnectivity of global realities that existed long before our present moment of globalization. What would the Turks be today if they had stayed in East Asia? The movement of people, ideas, food, and wealth has bound us to each other since the beginning of history. And so without denying the reality of nation-states and their claims to unique histories and identities, we have resisted the temptation to streamline our narratives to fit nationalistic parameters. Indian architecture, for instance, may have some consistent traits from its beginnings to the present day, but there is less certainty about what those traits might be than one may think. The flow of Indian Buddhism to China, the opening of trade to Southeast Asia, the settling of Mongolians in the north, the arrival of Islam from the east, and the colonization by the English are just some of the more obvious links that bind India, for better or worse, to global events. It is these links, and the resultant architecture, more than the presumed “Indianness” of Indian architecture, that interests us. Furthermore, India has historically been divided into numerous kingdoms that, like Europe, could easily have evolved (and in some cases did evolve) into their own nations. The 10th-century Chola dynasty of peninsular India, for example, was not only an empire but possessed a unique worldview of its own. In writing its history, we have attempted to preserve its distinct identity while marking the ways in which it maps its own global imagination.
Broadly speaking, our goal is to help students of architecture develop an understanding of the manner in which architectural production is always triangulated by the exigencies of time and location. More specifically, we have narrated these interdependencies to underscore what we consider to be the inevitable modernity of each period. We often think of the distant past as moving slowly from age to age, dynasty to dynasty, or king to king, and only of our recent history as moving at a faster pace. In such a teleological view, the present is the apex of civilization, and history becomes a narrative of progress that is measured against the values of the present. By contrast, we have tried to present every historical period in terms of its own challenges, and the history of architecture as the history of successive and often dramatic changes spurred on by new materials, new technologies, changing political situations, and changing aesthetic and religious ideals. These changes, spelled out differently in different times, have always challenged the norm in a way that we, in our age, would call modernity.
The Sumerian urbanization of the Euphrates River delta made the earlier village-centered economy of the Zagros Mountains obsolete. The introduction of iron in the 9th century BCE spelled the demise of the Egyptians and allowed societies such as the Dorians, the Etruscans, and the Nubians, who were once relatively marginal in the global perspective, to suddenly dominate the cultural and architectural landscape. The Mongolian invasion of the 13th century may have destroyed much, but in its wake came unprecedented developments. The Bantu expansion into southern Africa and the Polynesian expansion into the Pacific were just as dramatic in their own time as the admittedly more effective and rapid colonialization of the planet by the Europeans. By concentrating on the modernity of each historical example, we have used the global perspective to highlight the drama of historical change, rather than viewing the history of architecture as driven by traditions and essences.
Turning now to the term architecture, few would have any difficulty in differentiating it from the other arts, such as painting or sculpture. But what architecture itself constitutes is always the subject of great debate, particularly among architects, architectural historians, and critics. Some have argued that architecture arises out of an urge to protect oneself from the elements, others that it is an expression of symbolic desires, or that it is at its best only when it is embedded in local traditions. In this book, without foreclosing the discussion, we hope that the reader begins to see architecture as a type of cultural production. In that sense, this book is a companion to Architecture of First Societies (Wiley, 2013), which looks in depth at the history of pre-agricultural worlds and the transition to agriculture.
Here, we have emphasized issues of patronage, use, meaning, and symbolism where appropriate, and have attempted to paint a broad historical picture of time and context while, at the same time, making sure we have covered the salient formal features of a structure. Of course, words like culture and civilization are, like the word architecture, open to contestation and will have different meanings in different contexts. Yet, despite such ambiguities, we believe that civilization is unthinkable without those buildings that are given special status, whether for religion, governance, industry, or living. Just like the processes of agricultural domestication, architecture emerged in our prehistory and will remain an integral part of human expression to the very end.
Because we have dealt primarily with buildings of quality, we do not have the space to paint a picture of the historical development of vernacular and domestic spaces. This is not because we do not recognize their importance, but because we wanted to remain consistent to a line of reasoning that allows us to see architectural history as connected to the history of ideas, technologies, theories, religions, and politics. Each chapter introduces the set of terms that shape the architectural production and meaning of that age. Changes in some places are perhaps more dramatic than in others, but in all cases we try to explain the causes. The ancient Egyptian pharaohs, for instance, during a period of time commissioned pyramids; but then they stopped and instead built huge temples. The reader needs to come to understand the political reasoning that necessitated this change. Not only did Buddhism morph as it filtered its way into East and Southeast Asia; so, too, did Buddhist architecture. The rock-cut temples of Ellora did not appear out of a vacuum, but the technology of rock-cutting had never been attempted at that scale and would die out by the 13th century. In that sense we ask readers to compare architecture not only across space, but also across time.
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