Writing the Global Histories of Modern Architecture: A Knowledge Approach
University of Sydney, Sydney, Australia
Global history has been a rapidly growing area in the past decade. Many historians have attempted to go beyond established national and regional history and to investigate entangled realities from a planetary perspective. The new global approaches to history-writing carry both promises and limitations. On the one hand, they have stimulated innovative perspectives of connections and interactions across the world and advanced understanding of highly complicated global processes. On the other hand, there is considerable concern about whether global history is merely another version of Eurocentric history which further opens up the world to the Western gaze.
Adopting a perspective from the global South, this paper will examine what is at stake in writing global histories of modern architecture. It asks: How might we distinguish global approaches to architectural history from more traditional historical approaches? In what ways have the new approaches challenged established regional and national histories? Is there not a real danger of misconstruing other building cultures when viewing them solely from approaches and concepts provided by Western historiography? And how might we evaluate the competing claims of diverse local, national, and regional histories and set them in relation to each other?
Drawing upon recent developments in knowledge studies, this paper sketches out the beginnings of a new framework for global architectural historiography based on the plurality of knowledge. It argues that the recognition of other modernities has to be posited at the level of epistemology in order to imagine an open globality based on connectivity and dialogue on equal basis. It is time to go beyond a dualistic narrative that marks the traditional (and the vernacular) off from the modern by re-formulating different architectural approaches not as evolutionary series but as coexisting knowledge systems.