Quatremere de Quincy
In this important revisionist work, Sylvia Lavin uncovers the origins of one of thefundamental concepts of modern architectural theory, the idea that architecture is a form oflanguage. She demonstrates how, in some little-studied texts, the late Enlightenment theoristQuatremere de Quincy transformed a simple metaphor into a framework for reconceptualizing thestructure of architecture. Lavin's effort to interpret Quatremere in the context of intellectualhistory permits a deeper understanding of this controversial figure. More importantly, by focusingon the conceptual structure rather than the material illustrations of an architectural idea, shesuggests a valuable new approach to the study of theories of architecture.Lavin suggests that byusing language to provide architecture with a conventional rather than natural model, Quatremereequated architecture's capacity for progressive development with its sociality. Challenging theusual appraisal of Quatremere as a conservative academic, Lavin argues that his underlying emphasison the social contract of architecture, rather than the neoclassical style he explicitlypromulgated, is the key to the persistent interest in his writings. She shows how Quatremere'seffort to establish a universally valid theory of architecture led him beyond the boundaries ofacademic classicism and into contemporary developments in language theory, ethnography, andEgyptology.Lavin then demonstrates how the relativism of these emerging spheres of knowledge, whichsought to discover fundamental relationships between distinct cultural traditions, affectedQuatremere's understanding of architecture. She posits Quatremere as the first thinker to develop atheory of architecture able to accommodate a wide range of formal expressions and generatedissimilar discourses. In the process, she reveals a consonance between the interdisciplinary natureof his thought and the extraordinary breadth of his influence.Sylvia Lavin is Assistant Professor ofArchitectural History and Theory in the Graduate School of Architecture and Urban Planning at theUniversity of California at Los Angeles.