Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Architectural movements and their reinterpretation

Okay, here’s one for all my smart friends.

In my scenarios project, I’m taking an approach in which I treat scenarios not as texts to be read from start to finish, but as a combination– a package or portmanteau– of formal content, tacit knowledge, media of various types (reports, maps, rigorous analytical stuff, more imaginative stories, etc.), and even events or performances (e.g., workshops, client engagements). One of the things I’m interested in is following how scenarios get used in different contexts, and how the constituent parts of scenarios are sometimes carved off from the whole, repurposed and reused.

I think there’s a parallel here to architectural movements and their impacts. Something like neoclassicism or the International Style isn’t a single concept; it’s a whole package of ideas and forms, and while it can be influential worldwide, it’s not influential in the same way everywhere. Sometimes different elements are pulled out and emphasized in different parts of the world: think of how modern architecture in Brazil and Japan have played out, with the former being much more sculptural and sensual. Local materials may blunt the strangeness of a foreign style. Or guiding principles inspire very different kinds of works: Art Nouveau in Vienna and Aberdeen are pretty different creatures.

This is stock in trade in the history of architecture, but I’m a lot more familiar with specific periods in architectural history, or the works of particular architects, than I am with the historiography; so while I can point to lots of examples of this kind of localization and reinterpretation, I don’t know of anyone who’s written about the process in more general terms. Do such articles exist?

[To the tune of Joshua Rifkin: The Bach Ensemble, “Kyrie: Kyrie Eleison #2,” from the album Mass in B Minor (BWV 232) (a 4-star song, imo).]

1 Comment

  1. Hi Alex,

    I’ve been reading your blog quietly for a while and this might take you rather far afield here, but…The processes of localization and reinterpretation, and the carving off of the whole for repurposing and reuse are processes which seem to be addressed well in the field of folklore studies. (There are some wide-ranging definitions here: http://www.afsnet.org/?page=WhatIsFolklore.) The reinterpretation of formal styles of architecture can have an international flavor, as you suggest, but I wonder if the exploration of variation in vernacular architecture might have some equally good analogies. Folklorists often explore the deep contexts surrounding architectural and other cultural expression– why people choose certain traditional elements in their expression, how they are influenced by emergent aspects (available materials, community change, etc.) — and they examine the interplay of worldview and cultural expression. I see a lot of parallels with futures work here. On the folklore end of things and especially regarding material culture and architecture, the work of Henry Glassie is often the recommended starting point, but there are any number of paths to take.
    Regards,
    Carmen Tschofen

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