Mediating History/Distances with Modern Architecture Since 1900
Authorde la Vega de León, M
Source TitleProceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand 36, Distance Looks Back
PublisherSociety of Architectural Historians Australia and New Zealand (SAHANZ)
University of Melbourne Author/sde la Vega de Leon, Macarena
AffiliationArchitecture, Building and Planning
Document TypeConference Paper
Citationsde la Vega de León, M. (2020). Mediating History/Distances with Modern Architecture Since 1900. Proceedings of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand 36, Distance Looks Back, pp.91-101. Society of Architectural Historians Australia and New Zealand (SAHANZ).
Access StatusAccess this item via the Open Access location
Historical distance, though commonly understood to refer to the passage of time, is being reconsidered in relation to a wide range of media, of mediatory purposes, in the writing of history, itself a mediatory practice. In his 2013 book On Historical Distance, Mark Phillips argues that the aim of intelligibility and understanding, among other forms of engagement, gives distance a new complexity that was missing from older formulations. Precisely, issues of method and literary style are raised by the writing of surveys of architectural history, commonly disregarded as lacking sound scholarship. Among the canonical architectural surveys written in the 1980s, there is one for which not only readability, but also first-hand experience is crucial. William Curtis travelled extensively through Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa between 1977 and 1981, experiencing architecture and meeting local architects, in preparation for the first edition of Modern Architecture Since 1900 (1982). Moreover, it was illustrated with at least 50 photographs taken by Curtis himself. He had a privileged, at times dangerous, unmediated experience of architecture at a time when global travelling was yet to become frictionless and photographs ubiquitous. This paper argues that Curtis’s book is exemplary of a reconsideration of certain mediatory means between the writing of history and its audience– deeply grounded in the disciplinary tradition—that reshapes our understanding of dimensions of distance. Rather than detracting from its truthfulness, history’s dialogical character supplies the essential questions that carry the narrative forward in an effort to establish meaningful relationships between past and present. For this reason, history is best seen as a mediatory practice.
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