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The Problem of Expiration of Style and the Historiography of Architecture

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The Problem of Expiration of Style and the Historiography of Architecture

Abstract

The book chapter discusses ideas about the end of architectural styles. The use of the notion “revival” in a style debate (Gothic Revival, etc.) seems to be an expression of a persuasion that discussed style expirated in a certain moment, and after a period of its non-existence occurred again, “revived”. But is this construct correct? How can the existence of a style be stopped? Art historians invented three basic hypotheses. First, a style dies as a living organism. Second, a style continues its evolution in another culture. Third, a style disappears because it ceases to be fashionable. What serve these hypotheses for? Who likes the notion “revival”, and why “revivalists” usually reject it? How is a style retained in memory, waiting for its “revival”?
REVIVAL
MEMORIES, IDENTITIES, UTOPIAS
EDITED BY
AY L A L E P IN E
MATT LODDER
ROSALIND MCKEVER
Revival. Memories, Identities, Utopias
Edited by Ayla Lepine, Matt Lodder, and Rosalind McKever
With contributions by:
Deborah Cherry
Whitney Davis
John Harvey
Alison Hokanson
Martin Horácek
Phil Jacks
Michelle Jackson
Ayla Lepine
Matt Lodder
Jonathan Mekinda
Alan Powers
Nathaniel Walker
Alyson Wharton
Series Editor:
Alixe Bovey
Courtauld Books Online is published by
the Research Forum of The Courtauld Institute of Art
Somerset House, Strand, London WC2R 0RN
© 2015, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London.
ISBN: 978-1-907485-04-6
Courtauld Books Online Advisory Board:
Paul Binski (University of Cambridge)
Thomas Crow (Institute of Fine Arts)
Michael Ann Holly (Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute)
Courtauld Books Online is a series of scholarly books published by The Courtauld Institute of Art.
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Designed by Jack Hartnell
Cover Image:
Henri De Braekeleer,
The Man in the Chair
, 1876 (detail).
Oil on canvas, 79 x 63 cm, Koninklijk Museum voor
Schone Kunsten, Antwerp.
CONTENTS
List of Illustrations
Notes on Contributors
Acknowledgements
Foreword: The Interval of Revival
WHITNEY DAVIS
Introduction
AYLA LEPINE, MATT LODDER, ROSALIND MCKEVER
I. MEMORIES
‘Nostalgia’, Matt Lodder
The Ghost Begins by Coming Back. Revenants And Returns
In Maud Sulter’s Photomontages
DEBORAH CHERRY
1937 and Victorian Revivalism
ALAN POWERS
The Retrieval of Revival: Recollecting and Revising
the Evan Roberts Wax Cylinder
JOHN HARVEY
The Problem of Expiration of Style
and the Historiography of Architecture
MARTIN HORÁČEK
II. IDENTITIES
‘Historicism’, Ayla Lepine
The New Old Style: Tradition, Archetype and Rhetoric
in Contemporary Western Tattooing
MATT LODDER
Longing for Past and Future: Cultural Identity and Central
European Revivalist Glassware Designs
MICHELLE JACKSON
5
9
11
12
17
27
29
45
67
86
101
103
120
Henri De Braekeleer and Belgium’s
Nineteenth-Century Revivalist Movement
ALISON HOKANSON
Armenian Architects and ‘Other’ Revivalism
ALYSON WHARTON
III. UTOPIAS
Anachronism’, Rosalind McKever
Ferro-concrete and the Search for Style
in the ‘American Renaissance’
PHIL JACKS
Echoes of Manhattan in Parliament Square:
Transatlantic Medievalism for the Twentieth Century
AYLA LEPINE
Modernism and Revivalism in Italian Architecture
and Design, 1935-1955
JONATHAN MEKINDA
Babylon Electrified: Orientalist Hybridity as Futurism
in Victorian Utopian Architecture
NATHANIEL WALKER
Photograph Credits
135
150
169
171
188
205
222
239
86
I.
On Sunday 7 November 2010, the Church of the Sagrada Família in Barcelona was
consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI. The ceremony was the culmination of the most im-
portant stage in the construction of the church, namely the erection and vaulting of
the five naves. If the pace of construction is kept and the plans are not frustrated by
unexpected problems, the largest, most original, most complicated and undoubtedly most
important Art Nouveau building will be completed in 2026, one hundred years after the
death of the designer Antoni Gaudí, 144 years after the start of construction and 143
years from the moment when Gaudí became a church architect and fundamentally re-
worked the design and style of the original project.
CHAPTER 4
THE PROBLEM OF
EXPIRATION OF STYLE
AND THE HISTORIOGRAPHY
OF ARCHITECTURE
MARTIN HORÁCEK
4.1
Antoni Gaudí and
others, the Sagrada
Família Church,
Barcelona, Spain, under
construction since 1882
The five-nave vault was
completed in 2010.
87
MARTIN HORÁČEK | EXPIRATION OF STYLE
The disturbing fact here is that this most important Art Nouveau building will be
completed in 2026, well over a century after the Art Nouveau style went out of fashion
in all centres where it had previously been intensively cultivated. How is the discipline
of History of Architecture to grapple with this fact? Will the Sagrada Família church be
presented as a belatedly realized representative of the architecture of the early twentieth
century, or as a representative of the architecture of the third decade of the twenty-first
century? Will its Art Nouveau style be treated as ‘contemporary’, or will it be classified
(or should it be classified) as ‘anachronism’? Will the Sagrada Família be seen as a creation
in the Art Nouveau style or in the Art Nouveau revival—with the term ‘revival’ express-
ing the idea of the resuscitation of something that once lived and then ceased to exist?
Such troubling questions point to a problem in our discussion of architectural styles.
We are able to determine their start, usually at the time of the first occurrence of the
most characteristic formal motive or group of motives, but can we tell when they came to
an end—or when they perhaps should end?
These issues will be discussed in the following. For the Barcelona masterpiece is obvi-
ously not the only building that gives rise to similar thoughts. From our point of view, the
uniqueness of the building lies in its impact on the history of its stylistic idiom. Never
before in the history of architecture (as far as the West is concerned) have we encoun-
tered the most important exemplum of an architectural formal language appearing on
the scene at a time when this idiom has been out of use for several generations (fig. 4.1).
II.
Historiographers of twentieth-century art coped with ‘anachronistic’ stylistic phe-
nomena with marked uneasiness. The customary approach has been to distinguish be-
tween two fundamental types of such phenomena, usually described as ‘traditionalism’
and ‘historicism’, standing semantically close to another conceptual pair: ‘survival’ and
‘revival’. Traditionalism and survival refer to idioms or activities that survive, by force of
habit or through inertia, in spite of the fact that in the cultural centres other idioms or
activities have become fashionable in the meantime. The protagonists of survival are of-
ten not even aware of these changes or are not interested in them. The terms historicism
and revival, on the other hand, are used for deliberate returns. The artist or the customer
are aware that the style has gone out of use in its cultural context, and with that in mind
they strive for its second lease of life. Usually, their choice is not motivated only by purely
artistic reasons: by using an outdated idiom, some kind of affection may be manifested
for other aspects of life at the time when the particular idiom was still in use (a typical
example is the relationship between the Renaissance and antiquity). In large churches,
built over longer time, there are often elements that belong to both categories, together
with elements that have an ambivalent character and cannot be clearly assigned to either
revival or survival group—as in the case of the Barcelona Church of the Sagrada Família.
For example, the highest church tower in the world, the bell tower of the cathedral of
88
MARTIN HORÁČEK | EXPIRATION OF STYLE
Ulm in southern Germany (161.5 m), dates back to the years 1880–90. Its construction
was led by the architect August Beyer, who based it on the plan of Matthäus Böblinger
from the end of the fifteenth century. The builders of the tower wanted to finish the
construction of the temple in its original form (closer to ‘survival’), while they associated
the Gothic style with Catholicism and the German creative spirit (closer to ‘revival’). The
architectural elements and details of the last stages of construction of the St. Vitus Ca-
thedral in Prague (chief architect Kamil Hilbert, 1899–1929) are basically Gothic in order
to follow the medieval design properly. Nevertheless, they are not simply either ‘survived’
or ‘revived’, since they are marked by Art Nouveau features, absent from the stylistic vo-
cabulary of the Middle Ages.
A significant role in the motives for the intervention of the kind described above is
played by reverence—reverence for the antiquity of a building or set of buildings whose
impression should not be weakened by a new form. For architects like Beyer or Hilbert or
their employers, the completion or repair in the ‘original’ style or a style that is close to
the original, did not represent any historical problem. They said they were building in the
‘old’ or in the ‘Gothic’ style, regardless of the fact that most other structures emerging si-
multaneously were following other languages that were closer to the general taste of the
period. Likewise, they considered it as natural when style gained an individual patina ac-
cording to the specific talent and experience of a particular architect. In the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries, Nicholas Hawksmoor in England and Jan Santini in Bohemia
treated the Gothic style just as masterfully and creatively as the classical language. In
both languages, they completed and repaired old buildings and built new buildings as
well.1 The above-mentioned Hilbert applied a Gothic style in the construction of apart-
ment buildings in Czech towns with a type of layout which did not exist in the Middle
Ages (fig. 4.2). The last Gothic cathedral was consecrated in Europe in 1993 (Santa Ma-
ría la Real de la Almudena in Madrid, construction from 1883) (fig. 4.3) and the largest
Gothic cathedral in the world has not been finished yet (St. John the Divine in New York,
construction from 1892). Preservationists’ sentiments play an insignificant role in these
cases — the Gothic style is sought after mainly because it seems to fulfill the selected task
better than any other style. Style is understood in these considerations as a language of
forms, a set of elements and rules for their merging, with a certain degree of flexibility,
just as with spoken languages.
As indicated above, old styles, despite the fact that their lack of newness is generally
known, are used for their functional advantages. Admittedly, we understand the notion
‘function’ here broadly. The functional advantage means that the client and the architect
consider the chosen style to be the best for the given job in terms of construction, user
traffic, and emotional response (firmitas, utilitas, venustas).
Classification of these styles into survival and revival or into traditionalism and his-
toricism, has an auxiliary character, in addition to distinguishing them from ‘contempo-
rary’ styles. True, it does not fully cover the colourful reality of human interaction with
architecture. On the other hand, such classification proves useful when translation of that
89
4.2
Kamil Hilbert, house U
Bezděků, Plzeň, Czech
Republic, 1906–7.
4.3
Francisco de Cubas and
others, Church of Santa
María la Real de la
Almudena, Madrid,
Spain, 1883–1993.
MARTIN HORÁČEK | EXPIRATION OF STYLE
90
MARTIN HORÁČEK | EXPIRATION OF STYLE
interaction into verbal statement is needed; it is intelligible, as it corresponds with the
tendency of the human mind to classify various phenomena into opposing binary struc-
tures. The awareness of cognitive stereotypes, conceptual categories and intellectual op-
erations, which people employ when translating their perception of reality into a rational
verbal debate, may also help to understand the fortunes of a style in architectural history
and its historiographical discourse. So when and why might a style expire?
III.
Scholars have devoted much of their attention to the origins of styles: when and how
were the Gothic, Renaissance or geometrical abstraction born? Which artists invented
them, and which clients commissioned them? What motives led to them, and what cir-
cumstances influenced them? The dates of the consecration of the choir of the Cathedral
of Saint-Denis, the competition for the second door of the Florentine Baptistery or the
publication of the essay
Ornament and Crime
by Adolf Loos became turning points in
art history. If the exact date or name of the originator cannot be determined, researchers
seek to reconstruct the events through indirect evidence. Like detectives, they combine
comparative visual analysis with the analysis of archive documents and with tests on the
age and origin of materials. Thus the birth of the Doric style or the origins of Byzantine
cupola architecture are considered some of the most intriguing problems of art histori-
ography.
This preoccupation with the origins or the primacy is easy to understand. It results
from natural human competitiveness and the need of the historians for distinct land-
marks on a timeline. Surprisingly, much less research has been devoted to the opposite
end of the story of a style—its termination or expiration. No serious scholar has ever
claimed that the Gothic style ended on the date when the first building with round arches
for its arcades instead of a pointed archivolt appeared. Still, the history of art is widely
understood as a sequence of styles, replacing one another: the Gothic style follows after
the Romanesque and the Renaissance after the Gothic, etc. To explain the fact of over-
lapping nature, or of parallelism of stylistic idioms, or of the pre-historicist stylistic
pluralism seems not to be easy. As information theory instructs us, the brain likes to work
with closed units: what has a beginning should also have an end. In principle, boundaries
cannot be seen as permeable. If the history of art is understood primarily as a historio-
graphical debate, then such expectations are justified. Historical periods are expected to
begin and end: World War II began in 1939 and ended in 1945, communism in Czecho-
slovakia lasted from 1948 to 1989. Architectural styles are expected to follow the same
logic: the Gothic style began with the consecration of the choir of Saint-Denis in 1144
and ended ... well, when exactly?
There are not very many hypotheses that have attempted to explain the termination of
a style. With some simplification, we can find three basic and standard ones:
(1) The first hypothesis believes in a parallel between the life of a style and the life of
an organism. A style is born, reaches its peak, stabilizes itself, then shrivels up or goes
91
wild (becomes Baroque), then dies and from its ashes a new style is ‘inevitably’ born. This
theory stood at the root of modern art historiography and was typical for scholars like
Giorgio Vasari (1511–74) and Johann Joachim Winckelmann (1717–68).2 Metamorpho-
ses of a style, according to this hypothesis, are largely predictable and individual perfor-
mances almost interchangeable.
(2) The second hypothesis complements the first one. It also believes in objective laws,
but adds a geographic dimension to the time dimension. A style can migrate. Its life cycle
begins in one place and finishes elsewhere. The Czech art historian Vojtěch Birnbaum
(1877–1934) coined for it the term ‘the law of transgression’. In the study
A Supplement
to Developmental Law?
from 1932, this phenomenon was demonstrated,
inter alia
, on the
Gothic style, which according to Birnbaum began in the twelfth century near Paris in
France and ended as ‘Late Gothic’ in the fifteenth or sixteenth century in Central Europe
(fig. 4.4). Birnbaum explained such migration by the confrontations of limited forces of
4.4
Benedikt Ried, three-
nave vault at the Church
of St. Barbara, Kutná
Hora, Czech Republic,
1512–48.
MARTIN HORÁČEK | EXPIRATION OF STYLE
92
MARTIN HORÁČEK | EXPIRATION OF STYLE
a cultural community with the objective necessity that every stylistic development be
closed and all its possibilities realized:
The development ... does not want its fortune to depend on the spiritual po-
tency of the nation in which it was conceived, does not want to be premature-
ly terminated and remain a torso just because the energy of the nation was
not sufficient to carry it through to its end. Therefore, it migrates elsewhere,
where there is enough creative ability and fresh vigour for its continuation.3
It does not mean that the style in the place of its origin completely ceases to be culti-
vated, only that it is no longer cultivated creatively in a way that enriches its development.
(3) Whereas the previous two hypotheses apply biological and logical laws to a style as
an objective entity, the third hypothesis refers to the psychology of the observer. Its orig-
inator was the German architect and protagonist of the psychology of empathy Adolf
Göller (1846–1902). In the essay Was ist die Ursache der immerwährenden Stilveränderung
in der Architektur? (What is the Cause of Perpetual Style Change in Architecture?), printed in
1887, he stated:
Our pleasure in the beauty of a meaningless form diminishes when its image
becomes too clear and complete in our memory. It is this far-reaching psycho-
logical law of “jading” [or fatigue–
Ermüdung
] of the sense of form, which
imposes perpetual style change on architecture.4
No matter how beautiful the forms are, all become victims of the law of fatigue. There-
fore, according to Göller, we cannot be surprised that even the best classical feats were
replaced by those that were less valuable. Architects try to prevent the fatigue by innova-
tive combinations of parts and by intensifying effects. The fate of style, nonetheless, does
not depend on their efforts as much as it does on the consent of the public whose judg-
ment is shaped by place-related experience, i.e. by accumulated images stored in people’s
memories.
IV.
Let us now test the three hypotheses. In order to be able to apply the first and second
hypothesis, the style would have to reflect a collective feeling, ideally shared by all mem-
bers of a certain cultural community. Vasari considers Florence, and by extension of the
whole of Italy, as a taste monolith, while Winckelmann applies this model to the whole of
Europe. They both allow for differences in individual preferences within a period; how-
ever, such differences take place within the confines of one style. A cultivated contempo-
93
MARTIN HORÁČEK | EXPIRATION OF STYLE
rary of Vasari could legitimately choose between a Raphael and a Michelangelo, but not
between the Renaissance and Gothic style, as the former is seen as historically justified
due to developmental laws, while the latter is not. If the latter one is still practiced, it is
because of ignorant people, or owing to peoples with less refined taste (for example Ger-
mans, according to Vasari).
It is interesting to see how the experience of the pluralistic, multicultural world of the
twenty-first century helps to reveal the instrumentality of this reasoning. In the modern
totalitarian societies, such as Nazi Germany or communist Czechoslovakia, the belief in
the uniformity of period style and homogeneity of population was hardly ever questioned.
An exception was the stylistic pluralism of the liberal nineteenth century, which, accord-
ing to the regime scholars, represented a ‘missing worldview order’.5 There is hardly any
doubt that art history, in such a conception, serves as a strategy to promote the scholar’s
own aesthetic preferences. Undesirable styles are branded as historically inappropriate
and with the aid of parallels with the life of the organism, the need for their necessary
expiration is demonstrated. One of the motives for the birth and cultivation of art history,
certainly for Vasari or Winckelmann, was thus a personal wish to inhume the previous
style—in order for Renaissance to live, Gothic must die, for Classicism to live, Rococo
must be terminated.
Defending the inevitability of stylistic change actually provides ready ammunition to
all those who profess to have discovered a true artistic expression of the epoch and want
enough room for it, both in the artistic world, and in historiographical presentations.
The proclamative announcements of the due expiration of a style have not vanished with
further development and refinement of art historical knowledge. For example, a hundred
years ago the leading Czech art historian Antonín Matějček (1889–1950) proclaimed the
domestic rural vernacular (so-called ‘folk art’) a ‘dried-up spring’.6 In 1977, the American
architect and architectural theorist Charles Jencks announced the departure of modern-
ism with the demolition of the US Pruitt-Igoe housing development in St. Louis, Missouri,
in order to clear the field for postmodernism, uttering the later famous sentence: ‘Modern
architecture died in St Louis, Missouri on July 15, 1972, at 3.32 pm (or thereabouts)’.7 The
Czech historian and architecture critic Rostislav Švácha retaliated at a distance when, in
1996, in a leading Czech contemporary architecture journal he stated: ‘Above all, we can
be sure of the fact that as an architectural movement, postmodernism already passed away
several years ago and may now exist only as a subject of historical research’.8 According
to Švácha, postmodernists were replaced by a new generation of architects, represented
by names such as Steven Holl and Rem Koolhaas.
However, when we observe the global architectural scene, neither the death of mod-
ernism nor the interment of postmodernism can be confirmed. The typical postmodernist
way of mixing technology achievements with formal quotations and evocations, includ-
ing Jencks’ interpretive guidelines (‘reading’, ‘double coding’), has become very popular
in the last two decades, at least in Russia, China and the Middle East (Moscow, Astana,
94
MARTIN HORÁČEK | EXPIRATION OF STYLE
Shanghai, Dubai, etc.).9 Even the pioneers of postmodernism such as Robert Stern have
not said their last word yet.10
This partially confirms and partially challenges the validity of the second hypothesis,
the law of transgression. Indeed, if a style is adopted by a new community, these people
may breathe new dynamics into it and can even work with it more inventively than the
original community. This happened in the case of radical Baroque in Bohemia and Ba-
varia and in the case of Renaissance and functionalism in the United States (American
Renaissance, International Style). It is difficult, however, to posit it as a rule. The ideas
and inventions of Soviet Constructivists with their technological poetics are still superior
to almost anything else that came nearly half a century later in connection with West-
ern High-tech architectural movement. Some significant stylistic forms have polycentric
origin (segmented columns, biomorphic Art Nouveau decor) and to establish a single life
sequence of the whole style is simply not possible. The interpretative trick with defining
the so-called neo-styles is not of much help either. There is an equally long or longer time
lapse between the choir of Saint-Denis (1144) and the Gothic vaults by Benedikt Ried
in the church of St. Barbara in Kutná Hora in Bohemia (1512–48) than between Ried in
Kutná Hora and Hilbert’s new parts of St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague (1869–1933). It is
very difficult to find a palpable break in the practice of the classical idiom, beginning with
the first Doric temples and up to the present. Even where older geometry of shapes and
use of colours are very accurately reproduced (as in the case of re-built monuments), it is
difficult to deny the creative contribution of the authors (and therefore their contribution
to evolution of a particular style, if that is the concern), for at least three reasons:
(1) Mastering a pre-modern style is usually more difficult than mastering some cur-
rently fashionable idiom, on account, among other things, of a lack of textbooks and
teachers.
(2) The volume of the new building always enters a differently shaped surrounding
space, compared to building in the same style built hundreds of years ago. From such a
holistic perspective, the building is novel; there is no such thing as passive reproduction.
(3) In addition, the new buildings are adapted to the up-to-date technical standards
and requirements for user comfort. The new Frauenkirche in Dresden, unlike the original
church, had to have electrical wiring, fire protection and wheelchair access. The ‘devel-
opmental’ contribution of the new Frauenkirche to the genesis of the Baroque style lies
among other things in solving the problem of integrating the modern technical solutions
so as not to interfere with the compositional harmony of the Baroque idiom (fig. 4.5).
It seems that Göller’s psychological approach is the most feasible one. It respects the
individual attitude, it does not build upon fictitious metaphysical (Zeitgeist) or collectivist
(national) constructs, and when it formulates laws, it does not do so through artificial par-
allels to organic life, but with reference to hard-wired mechanisms of human thought. In
the 1990s, Göller’s study was rediscovered by Anglo-American historians of architecture
Harry Francis Mallgrave and John Onians. With the development of Neuroarthistory
and World Art Studies, the professional attention has been directed not only to Göller’s
conceptions but also to the theory of empathy in general.11
95
4.5
Frauenkirche and
Neumarkt, Dresden.
Architect of the original
building Georg Bähr
(1726–43),
reconstruction IPRO
Dresden, 1992–2005.
4.6
Demetri Porphyrios /
Porphyrios Associates,
Interamerican
Headquarters, Athens,
2000–2.
MARTIN HORÁČEK | EXPIRATION OF STYLE
96
MARTIN HORÁČEK | EXPIRATION OF STYLE
V.
We can conclude so far that a style cannot really die out, the way dinosaurs or mam-
moths did. Admittedly, a style can disappear from an individual memory or that of a cer-
tain community, because it ceases to be popular or because it is prohibited by powers that
be, due to inducing undesirable associations, and architects avoid using it and eventually
forget how to use it. However, as long as a single document, a single building, a sample
book or an image in the mind of the architect or craftsman exists, then the style is poten-
tially still available and ready to be employed and satisfy a demand, should it appear. Its
development as to its innovative potential is never brought to an end—although some
styles may withstand and allow more than others. Some innovations may be adopted
hesitatingly even by the fans of the respective style, for example, prefabricated modern-
ist apartment blocks, or classicist glass and steel permutations of the architect Demetri
Porphyrios (fig. 4.6). Nevertheless, it is necessary once again to accept that innovations
proceed through an individual effort: the method is that of trial and error and the results
depend on the stylistic sense—the artistry—of each author.
A different matter is the termination of a style required by discourse, in other words
who preaches the end of this or that style and for what reason, who wants its transfor-
mation into ‘a subject of historical research’. Certainly, as we have seen, statements like
this may be a part of a ‘battle of styles’. Yet, I believe that behind such manipulation lies
a deeper cause than just a pragmatic need to exclude competitors from the game. A sig-
nificant role is played by the above-mentioned argument of information theory that the
brain requires each item of processed information to have its beginning and end. In the
early twentieth century, the German philosopher Oswald Spengler wrote that space and
time are not understood in the same way by all people thus contradicting the Enlighten-
ment theory of Immanuel Kant. In particular, Spengler considered the obsession with
time, with the measurement of time periods to be a provable specific of modern Western
civilization.12 Incomplete, unfinished phenomena worry us. Historians announcing the
end of a style do so because they conceive of styles as historical events born out of unique
historical conditions and circumstances that, sooner or later, cease to be the agencies that
brought the style into existence.
However, did those whose creations these historians classified as stylistically ‘revival-
ist’ reason in the same way as the historians themselves? Did the architect Edwin Lutyens
(to name one of the celebrated non-modernists in twentieth-century architecture) consider
himself a ‘revivalist’—or did he rather feel he worked within traditional (non-modernist)
styles conceived of as living idioms, and seen as optimal tools for solving a given task?13
The efforts of avant-garde artists and intellectuals to distinguish ‘new’ from ‘old’ in
visual expression is paradoxically based on a much more intense experience of their own
historical situation than was typical for those, whose art was labelled as ‘obsolete’, ‘anach-
97
ronistic’ or ‘revivalist’. ‘The antihistoricist practice ... is based on philosophically histori-
cist assumptions’, stated the American historian Donald J. Olsen in 1986, in his highly
regarded analysis of the artistic development of cities in the nineteenth century.14 Let us
also notice how difficult it is to explain the issue of stylistic ‘revivals’ of architecture to
lay public and even to first-year students. A standard query (for example on a field trip)
is: how do we know whether the building is ‘Baroque’ or ‘Neo-baroque’ when the archi-
tectural elements seem to be ‘exactly the same’ in both cases? (fig. 4.7) Laymen, at least in
the perception of architecture, tend to see as primary what they perceive and immediately
experience rather than what they additionally hear from historians and theorists. This
suggests that laymen perceive all existing buildings as equally ‘contemporary’, regardless
of whether their style was launched thousands of years ago or last year.15
It is by now confirmed, that this kind of ‘a-historical’, i.e. less speculative and more
‘physical’ approach to architectural styles, has its roots in the constitution of the human
brain and the way the brain is biologically set to interpret and respond to external stimu-
li.16 This inclination may collide with the tendency to subordinate the styles to closed pe-
riods of time. Despite that, historians’ understanding of styles should resonate more with
the understanding of those who demand, create and use the styles.17 Instead of conceiving
of styles as expressions of specific historical circumstances, it may be more fitting to see
them as ‘inventions’, i.e. as adaptive solutions to aesthetic problems (making the visual
side of buildings more gratifying), in a way similar to perceiving the wheel as something
that solves a technical problem (facilitating transport). As inventions the styles can be
employed far beyond the place and time of their origin, and in ways its originators may
not have even imagined.
4.7
Guzè D’Amato, the
Church of Our Lady of
Mount Carmel, Valletta,
Malta, 1958–81.
MARTIN HORÁČEK | EXPIRATION OF STYLE
98
MARTIN HORÁČEK | EXPIRATION OF STYLE
The idea of never-ending styles, of stylistic idioms without expiration dates, no doubt
brings a certain confusion into the art historical narrative, if widely accepted. Antoni
Gaudí would be a great hero of the architecture of the early twentieth century as well as
of the early twenty-first century, and the architects recently involved in the design of the
vaults of the Sagrada Família may be considered great masters of Art Nouveau. Never-
theless, art historiography will not suffer a devaluation because of this. In addition to its
other contributions, the discipline may now keep both the public and the artists aware of
these never-ending stylistic idioms and prevent them from falling into oblivion. Accept-
ing that styles have no expiration dates may help historians of architecture to focus, meta-
phorically speaking, less on ‘history’ and more on ‘art’. In any case, this kind of approach
has been common in the research of non-Western architecture, as well as of vernacular
architecture in general (fig. 4.8).18
4.8
The town of Hvar, the
island of Hvar, Croatia,
13th–21st centuries.
99
All references in
Courtauld Books Online
are
hyperlinked. To navigate to a footnote, click
on the reference number in the body of the
text. To return back to the main text, click on
the number at the beginning of the footnote.
MARTIN HORÁČEK | EXPIRATION OF STYLE
This study was supported by the Czech Science Founda-
tion (postdoctoral grant 408/08/P167). Many thanks to
Jan Michl who discussed the text in depth and helped to
shed more light on its most intricate issues.
1. Vaughan Hart,
Nicholas Hawksmoor: Rebuilding An-
cient Wonders
(New Haven and London: Yale University
Press, 2007). Viktor Kotrba,
Česká barokní gotika
(Prague:
Academia, 1976).
2. Giorgio Vasari,
The Lives of the Artists
, (trans.) Ju-
lia Condaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1991). Johann Joachim Winc-
kelmann,
History of the Art of Antiquity
, (trans.) Harry
Francis Mallgrave (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute,
2006).
3. Vojtěch Birnbaum, ‘Doplněk k vývojovým zákonům?’
in Ivo Hlobil (ed.),
Vývojové zákonitosti v umě
(Prague:
Odeon, 1987), pp. 47–50.
4. Quoted from John Onians,
Neuroarthistory: From
Aristotle and Pliny to Baxandall and Zeki
(New Haven and
London: Yale University Press 2007), p. 110.
5. Georg Schorer,
Deutsche Kunstbetrachtung
(Munich:
Deutscher Volksverlag, 1941), p. 140. Compare to B. P.
Michailov, ‘Architektura’, in Sergei Vavilov (ed.),
Bolshaya
Sovetskaya Entsiklopediya
III (Moscow: Bolshaya Sovet-
skaya Entsiklopediya 1950), pp. 190–221.
6. Antonín Matějček, ‘O vyschlém prameni’,
Národ
I/V
(1917): pp. 660–2, 693–4.
7. Charles Jencks,
The Language of Post-Modern Archi-
tecture
(New York: Rizzoli 1977).
8. Rostislav Švácha, ‘Limity postmodernistické architek-
tury’,
Architekt
42, 11 (1996): pp. 42–4.
9. Bart Goldhoorn and Philipp Meuser,
Capitalist Rea-
lism: New Architecture in Russia / Neue Architektur in
Russland
(Berlin: DOM Publishers, 2006). Anne Warr,
Shanghai Architecture
(Sydney: The Watermark Press,
2007). Simone Voigt,
Contemporary Architecture in Eura-
sia
(Berlin: DOM Publishers, 2009).
10. Peter Morris Dixon (ed.),
Robert A. M. Stern: Buil-
dings and Towns
(New York: The Monacelli Press, 2007).
11. ‘I agree with many of the authors in their opinion,
explicit or not, that world art studies is the only plausi-
ble general frame for art history on the global stage in the
next fifteen years or so.’ Whitney Davis, ‘Comment: World
without Art’,
Art History
33 (2010): pp. 710–16, quoted
p. 711.
12. Oswald Spengler,
The Decline of the West
, (trans.)
Charles Francis Atkinson (New York: Alfred A. Knopf,
1927).
13. Martin Horáček,
Za krásn
ě
jší sv
ě
t: Tradicionalismus
v architektu
ř
e 20. a 21. století / Toward a More Beauti-
ful World: Traditionalism in Architecture of the 20th and
21st Centuries
(Brno: Barrister & Principal and VUTIUM,
2013).
14. Donald J. Olsen,
The City as Work of Art: London,
Paris, Vienna
(New Haven and London: Yale University
Press, 1986), p. 308. Martin Horáček, ‘Museum of Art ver-
sus the City as a Work of Art: A Case of the New Acropolis
Museum in Athens’,
Archnet-IJAR
8:2 (2014): pp. 47–61,
accessed 22 November 2014, http://archnet-ijar.net/index.
php/IJAR/article/view/428/348.
15. Jan Michl, ‘A Case Against the Modernist Regime in
Design Education’,
Archnet-IJAR
8:2 (2014): pp. 36–46,
accessed 22 November 2014, http://janmichl.com/eng.
apartheid-ijar.pdf. Jan Michl, ‘Taking Down the Bauhaus
Wall: Towards Living Design History as a Tool for Better
Design’,
The Design Journal
17:3 (2014): pp. 445–54, ac-
cessed 22 November 2014, http://janmichl.com/eng.livin-
gdesign.pdf.
16. Harry Francis Mallgrave,
Architecture and Embodi-
ment: The Implications of the New Sciences and Humani-
ties for Design
(London and New York: Routledge 2013).
17. Nikos Salingaros,
A Theory of Architecture
(Solin-
gen: Umbau-Verlag, 2006).
18. Paul Oliver (ed.),
Encyclopedia of Vernacular Archi-
tecture of the World
(Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1997).
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
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Rebuilding Ancient Wonders
  • Vaughan Hart
  • Nicholas Hawksmoor
Vaughan Hart, Nicholas Hawksmoor: Rebuilding Ancient Wonders (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2007). Viktor Kotrba, Česká barokní gotika (Prague: Academia, 1976).
The Lives of the Artists Johann Joachim Winckelmann
  • Giorgio Vasari
Giorgio Vasari, The Lives of the Artists, (trans.) Julia Condaway Bondanella and Peter Bondanella (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991). Johann Joachim Winckelmann, History of the Art of Antiquity, (trans.) Harry Francis Mallgrave (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2006).
Doplněk k vývojovým zákonům?
  • Vojtěch Birnbaum
Vojtěch Birnbaum, 'Doplněk k vývojovým zákonům?' in Ivo Hlobil (ed.), Vývojové zákonitosti v umění (Prague: Odeon, 1987), pp. 47-50.
Neuroarthistory: From Aristotle and Pliny to Baxandall and Zeki
  • John Quoted
  • Onians
Quoted from John Onians, Neuroarthistory: From Aristotle and Pliny to Baxandall and Zeki (New Haven and London: Yale University Press 2007), p. 110.
  • Georg Schorer
  • Deutsche Kunstbetrachtung
Georg Schorer, Deutsche Kunstbetrachtung (Munich: Deutscher Volksverlag, 1941), p. 140. Compare to B. P.