Style is a key issue when studying architecture’s uses of the past. To revisit this important but neglected topic, PriArc scholar Mari Hvattum hosts a session On Style at the Society of Architectural Historians’ 70th Annual International Conference in Glasgow, Scotland, June 7–11, 2017.
‘Style’ has been one of the most reviled concepts in 20th century architecture. From Mies van der Rohe famously equating style with formalism, to Rem Koolhaas echoing Le Corbusier’s ‘The styles are a lie,’ style continues to evoke suspicion among architects and historians alike. Apart from a short-lived comeback in the 1980s, the term seems still to ring with modernist allegations of lie, deceit, and historicist masquerade.
Modernist critique notwithstanding, style was for centuries a sophisticated way of dealing with meaning in architecture and a subtle vehicle for thinking about architecture’s referentiality and historicity. Whether one studies 19th century style theory or style as an agent of architectural dissemination across time and place (crucial to understanding e.g. architecture in periods of colonial expansion), the centrality of the concept to modern architectural discourse and practice can hardly be overestimated. All the more curious, therefore, is the noticeable lack of interest in style—be it as a concept or a practice—among contemporary architectural historians.
While style has been subject to investigation in current art theory, the subtleties and complexities of style in architecture have rarely been tackled head-on in recent scholarship. To contribute to such investigations is the aim of this session. The On Style session invites papers that investigate style as theory and practice. The session aims 1) to trace the formation of the modern concept of style, 2) to investigate the particular idea of history underlying this concept, and 3) to probe into key examples of style at work. Contributors are encouraged to explore these issues through a well-defined historical material, paying particular attention to the multifarious ways in which style has served to reconfigure and transcend time and place. More than mapping revivalisms, the session aims to study the complex polychronicity at work in architectural style.
Speakers are Caroline van Eck, Martin Bressani, Ole W. Fischer, and Deborah Barnstone. Introduction by Mari Hvattum.