Building, Texts, and Contexts: Architecture’s Multiple Modernisms
Modernism is aligned with the emergence of new kinds of objects and events, new conceptualizations of their appearance, and changing event structures and temporalities. At the same time, these changing relationships between objects, their producers and maintainers, and their audiences and consumers were brought forth by the development of extractive projects that transformed human relations with the land and its constituents. A history of modern architecture, then, must involve a robust theory of the producing, using, viewing subject as well as of the object itself—which includes buildings and projects, texts and discourses, and the contexts of their production and reception. It also involves questioning the ways in which architecture spatializes technologies of extraction, means of production, and systems of power and domination.
Specific features of the object—colonialism and the violence it enacts on lands and peoples; global capital markets and the rise of nationalism; lingering regimes of inequality; aspirations to universality and the entrenchment of local interests; in general, the contradictory conditions of the modern world—marked a fundamental change in the way its history could be conceived. By the turn of the twentieth century, the ideal of the universal subject of the European Enlightenment had been irrevocably fractured and contested as a fiction of empire. Similarly, former parameters outlining “proper” forms of art and architecture have been revealed as Eurocentric constructions that conceal the multiplicity of architectural production. Rather than constructing a singular historical narrative able to contain and make sense of these contradictions, this course traces multiple modernisms that arise to respond, enforce, or contest these regimes.
This course will use theoretical texts and historical examples to generate ways of thinking about modern architecture not as a bygone era but as the inaugural frame for our own situation. Our question is not “How does modern architecture reflect the given conditions of modernity?” but rather, “How can architecture (as subject, as object, as technique) produce, impose, or resist those very conditions?’