Architectural Principles in the Age of Historicism
This engrossing book is a powerful work of intellectual history that draws from anthropology, ancient history, theology, philosophy, and the agony of the Holocaust to redefine architectural history for both architects and historians. It also contains an arsenal of ideas and practical propositions that will help students of architecture to build a more human world. The central question of the book is the relationship between architectural history and the current practice of architecture. Van Pelt and Westfall argue that the dominant trends of architectural historiography, which explains buildings and cities in stylistic and cultural-historical terms, deny the historian the possibility of discovering enduring “architectural principles” that inform the practice of contemporary architecture and urban design. The authors reject the modernist assumption that architecture has a relationship only with a specific place and time and argue that, after two hundred years of this “age of historicism,” architecture should be understood historically and in relation to a process of development through time. Beyond this overall consensus, van Pelt and Westfall conduct an invigorating debate on architectural history in which Westfall champions the classical tradition and van Pelt the Judeo-Christian perspective. In alternating chapters, the two authors discuss the concepts that structure each tradition and investigate their validity for current architectural practice. Westfall discusses such topics as the theory of architecture, architecture as political form, and the significance of vernacular architecture. Van Pelt’s thoughts range from the Christian typological understanding of history to the urban forms of Periclean Athens to the architecture of Nazi Germany. The book, whose title deliberately echoes Rudolf Wittkower’s classic 1947 study, Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism, matches that earlier work in depth, range, and wisdom.
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