HISTORY’S GROUND ZERO
Genethliacon to/from John Ruskin
Journal of Architecture and Building Science, Vol. 135, No. 1734, March 2020, p. 32
The interwar period in the 1930’s is the dawn that illuminated the emergence of the history of modern architecture as an overviewing narrative, when Gustav Adolf Platz (1881-1947) in Germany, Henry-Russell Hitchcock (1903-1987) in the United States, and Nikolaus Pevsner (1902-1983) in the Great Britain published their own historical perspectives. For better or worse, their perspectives were the product out of their contemporary circumstance where maritime transportation and long-distance railroad travel were made more open and affordable to the public. The next leap would come in the early 1950’s marked by the start of massification of air travel, a by-product of WWII. Since Shinji Koike (1901-1981) was, Michel Ragon (1924-2020) would be embedded into it, followed by Leonardo Benevolo (1923-2017) and Reyner Banham (1922-1988).
What distinguishes those two respective trends of history-writing in the sphere of modern architecture is the advanced awareness towards the intrinsic globality of modern architecture. Space, Time and Architectureby Sigfried Giesion (1888-1968), being a prompt response to those changing situations that has been tending towards a world history with necessary augmentations, can be seen as a growth record of the history of modern architecture. Japan would be incorporated into it from the fourth edition published in 1962.
If I dare suppose this is due to technological determinism- globalization facilitated the knowledge transfer that wised up those historians to that intrinsic globality and encouraged them to express their visions in their historical narratives.
However, those very means for exchange of information and knowledge, in and of themselves, couldn’t help but function as blinkers that determine historians’ eyesights and those of readers’ as well. Behind each historical narrative lay a local context that urges one to write a history and another to read it. The world is global in this sense of a macrocosm of chains of those contexts, of networks of affluence and diffluence of knowledge, and as a totality of entanglements of interpretations. This saying is not confined merely to the formation and propagation of historical narratives.
We, rocketing up beyond the celestial vault, as it were, should take a panoramic view of the whole, intertwined information network. This is the hope and a curse laid on historians who witness a big-bang development of information technology. The current situation makes us dream of an ultimate future where we could get whatever historical materials of every period of history even without any possible language barrier, the future of ultimate academic fairness and objectivity in historical science. Now, collective historiographic efforts toward a ubiquitous accessibility and development of big data analytics methods within historical discipline are inevitable.
This current backdrop, though, is that which is well capable of delegitimizing the justice and validity of all ready-made narratives. We, floating in the Space of History, are only allowed to enjoy the flickering of the globe as distant as a nightscape. There is no straw to catch for drowning humanity around us. Even if it follows what concerns today, which is so-called a “Global History of Global/World Histories,” the circumstance tells us that we still have been struggling to find an approach to this, that is in itself a vast criticism over all previous works, a widespread global history. This sort of research, though, constitutes the necessary part for the reconstruction of the “world” of history of modern architecture.
Humanity in Heaven still sounds like a cliché in science fiction and shall continue to be a type of it ‘forevermore’. As historians are human beings by good rights, yokes that are their own living environments that encompass them and catch their eyes are naturally bound to their localities. Although this is the case, that representation invariably engages hearts and minds of whom expect our technology a crucial turn of the time. It urges historians for world history, making them speak of “international” in the past, and “global” today.
The author is groping after his historical conception under an incoherent atmosphere of expansion and contraction, of liberation and obstruction, being posed harder and harder day by day. What could be the overriding the picture of the “world” orchestrated through his attempt of resolving this dilemma? To temper our eyes of today to reinvent the way of viewing this universe itself — it is responsibility and pleasure dropped not only in the historian’s lap.
Perhaps all that we have to do is meant for nothing more than an exercise of the heart and of the will, and is useless in itself; but, at all events, the little use it has may well be spared if it is not worth putting our hands and our strength to.
We feel an indistinct muttering of John Ruskin (1819-1900), born his bicentennial birth this year of the beginning of the Reiwa, or the end of Heisei era, laughing beside our enterprise toward a global history.
 Gustav Adolf Platz, Baukunst der Neuesten Zeit, Berlin: M. Propylaen, 1927.
 Henry Russell Hitchcock, Modern Architecture: Romanticism and Reintegration, New York: Payson & Clark, 1929.
 Nikolaus Pevsner, Pioneers of Modern Movement: From William Morris to Walter Gropius, London: Faber & Faber, 1936.
 Shinji Koike, Yuichi Ino, World’s Contemporary Architecture, 12 vols., Tokyo: Shokokusha Publishing, 1952-53.
 Michel Ragon, La Livre de l’Architecture Moderne, Paris: Robert Laffont, 1958.
 Leonardo Benevolo, Storia dell’Architettura Moderna, Bari: Editori Laterza, 1960.
 Reyner Banham, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age, London: Architectural Press, 1960.
 Sigfried Giedion, Space, Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition, Cambridge, Mass.: The Harvard University Press, 1941, 49, 54, 62, 67.
 Shuji Funo, “Toward Global History of Architecture,” Global History of Architecture: 15 Lectures, Tokyo: Shokokusha Publishing, 2019, p. XX.
 John Ruskin, “Lamp of Life,” The Seven Lamps of Architecture, sixth edition, Sunnyside: George Allen, 1889, p. 174.