Navigation – Plan du site
Proceedings of the panel “Still on the Margin: Reflections on the Perspective of the Canon in Architectural History” (1st Conference of the European Architectural History Network, Guimaraes, Portugal, 17-20 June 2010)
Reasons for the persistence of the canon

Designing a Better Textbook

Challenges to the Expansion of the Content of Architectural History Survey Texts
June Komisar

Texte intégral

1With cultures being increasingly interconnected, architecture programs and architecture theory/history survey courses need to incorporate a global perspective. Although architecture programs and accreditation boards have mandated the need to embrace architectural traditions outside the Western canon, textbook authors and publishers for English-language programs and courses have yet to react to this demand. The issue may be similar for texts in other languages as well, but our investigation will be limited to publications in English.

2The textbooks that have been written or revised to address the demand fall into one of two extremes along a desired continuum. Some are broad enough in scope but lack depth; others delve into particular architectural issues or periods at the expense of their scope. How can a single survey textbook embrace the enormity of the subject yet develop each aspect of it to sufficient depth? This is particularly challenging when the Western canon is retained while the net is cast more widely.

  • 1 Banister F. Fletcher, A History of Architecture for the Student, Craftsman, and Amateur, London: B. (...)
  • 2 Dan Cruickshank (ed.), Sir Banister Fletcher’s A History of Architecture, London: Architectural Pre (...)

3To use a benchmark of the canon as an example, the text for the 1896 edition of the Banister Fletcher (both father and son) architecture survey is around 560 pages.1 The twentieth edition, with many editors and contributors, is 1,730 pages, including a section called the “Architecture of the Pre-Colonial Cultures outside Europe.”2 The huge quantity of material to cover makes the course professor the captain of a ship, guiding students over an enormous sea of examples, touching on most of them only briefly.

  • 3 Francis D. K. Ching, Mark M. Jarzombek and Vikramaditya Prakash, A global history of architecture, (...)

4A newer contribution is the chronological A Global History of Architecture by Ching, Jarzombek and Prakash.3 The clear, linear text works well as a framework to show parallel developments, and how styles evolve and are transmitted. Its authors make an effort to include small-scale work like teahouses, and architecture without architects, like Dogon structures in Mali. However, as with the aforementioned Banister Fletcher, due to the commitment to great breadth of global inclusiveness, depth is not possible.

  • 4 N. D’Anvers, An Elementary History of Art, Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting, [2nd edition ], L (...)

5Well-rounded exposure to regional architecture is only one of the challenges. Most survey texts, including the two already mentioned, largely ignore vernacular and ordinary buildings. The inclusion of non-monumental architecture was discussed as early as 1882 by N. D’Anvers, who wrote, “[A] private residence may be raised to a work of art by a proper arrangement of the groundplan, by judicious treatment of materials, and a careful attention to the laws of beauty.”4 Despite this, the canon continued to develop almost exclusively with a focus on monumental work. Housing and many other building types were and still are underrepresented. D’Anvers’s views defy the canon while, at the same time, her initial N. hides her identity as a woman. One might speculate whether her own place in the world enabled her to understand the need for inclusion of the non-monumental.

  • 5 For a robust discussion of Kostof’s survey text see Panayiota Pyla, “Historicizing Pedagogy: A Crit (...)

6About a century later, Spiro Kostof wrote at greater length about being more inclusive in A History of Architecture: Settings and Rituals. He discussed America before contact, making connections to the canon by showing parallel intention and use; for example, he compared the large-scale land marking initiatives of the Peruvian ancients with the constructions of Carnac and Stonehenge. He also discussed small-scale residences. Critics have discussed how his comparisons and understanding clearly derive from the canon, yet his attempt cracked the mold, laying the groundwork for recent attempts to expand the canon.5

  • 6 Lewis Miles (ed.), Architectura: Elements of Architectural Style, Hauppage, NY: Barrons Educational (...)
  • 7 Ibid., p. 12.

7One of these recent texts is Architectura, edited by Miles Lewis.6 The book is divided into building components, including chapters such as “Foundations” and “Putting up Walls.” While the introduction discusses the “fundamental need for a dwelling place,” the focus is still on the monumental.7 Because of the thematic structure, there is less breadth and less chronological sequence, the opposite problem to the Ching, Jarzombek, and Prakash text. It allows, however, for more in-depth discussion of particular examples that provide a deeper understanding of the various themes.

  • 8 Michael Fazio, Marion Moffett and Lawrence Wodehouse, A world history of architecture, Boston, MA: (...)

8A World History of Architecture by Fazio, Moffett, and Wodehouse also concentrates on the monumental.8 A noted exception is the inclusion of a robust section on the indigenous architecture of the Americas. But still, the text misses colonial expressions in South America, African architecture, and other regions. The latest edition has consciously added a few references to female architects, yet it misses important pioneers such as Julia Morgan.

9In general, representing regions of the world outside the canon is not the only problem. In surveys, there has been little room for housing, the small-scale, the “architecture without architects,” the industrial, the market building, the utilitarian structure, and the role of women and minorities in the design process.

10The answer to this almost intractable problem would be a streamlined, clear, updatable narrative that can go into considerable depth in any area the reader needs. This is now possible. Currently, some publishers augment texts with online workbooks and blogs.9 In addition, e-books with an accompanying printed text can be customized. For example, Primus Online (a division of McGraw-Hill), allows instructors to choose chapters from any of their textbooks and combine these with anything they have permission to reproduce. They then offer this as an e-book or a printed volume. It is only one additional step from the e-book to the hypertext book.

  • 10 Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital, New York, NY: Knopf, 1995.

11Many architects and others became acutely aware of the possibilities of hypertext in 1995 through the publication of Being Digital by Nicholas Negroponte.10 Hypertext browsing is hyper-interesting. It creates exponential opportunities for research, for reading in-depth about subjects discussed in the basic survey narrative. Clicking on a link mentioned in passing provides a gateway to a wealth of additional information. But all of this is no longer novel for us. Most of us use Wikipedia and gather images and information from online databases, blogs, and other sites that incorporate hypertext links.

12A hypertext architectural survey text can link the basic narrative to a bonanza of videos, slideshows, maps, plans, sketches, interviews, architects, engineers, visitors, information about materials and methods, the building site’s evolution, comparisons, out-of-print texts, and more. The basic text navigates the waters of history and theory. It expresses the viewpoint of the author or editor. Attached to this framework, the hypertext choices enable the reader to explore particular architectural developments spatially, temporally, and in depth. Investigations can range from a small building component to a particular city, from a building type to the responses to a challenge such as climatic extremes or technological change. Students and instructors can pick and choose. Neglected architects as well as overlooked building types–the basic house perhaps–can come to the fore. Linkages and comparisons can be made with ease. Permutations across time and through dissemination into various climates and cultures would be easier to trace.

13Technological innovation, from the earliest tool to the Internet, has led to our increasingly global view of the world. It can also help bridge the gaps between the canon and the world of architecture which needs to be covered by the architectural curriculum.

Haut de page

Notes

1 Banister F. Fletcher, A History of Architecture for the Student, Craftsman, and Amateur, London: B. T. Batsford, 1896.

2 Dan Cruickshank (ed.), Sir Banister Fletcher’s A History of Architecture, London: Architectural Press, 1996.

3 Francis D. K. Ching, Mark M. Jarzombek and Vikramaditya Prakash, A global history of architecture, Hoboken, N.J: J. Wiley & Sons, 2007.

4 N. D’Anvers, An Elementary History of Art, Architecture, Sculpture, and Painting, [2nd edition ], London: Samson, Lowe, Marston, Searle & Rivington, 1882. URL: http://archive.org/stream/anelementaryhis00dullgoog#page/n12/mode/2up. Accessed 15 January 2012.

5 For a robust discussion of Kostof’s survey text see Panayiota Pyla, “Historicizing Pedagogy: A Critique of Kostof’s ‘A History of Architecture’,” Journal of Architectural Education, vol. 52, no.  4, May 1999, p. 216–25.

6 Lewis Miles (ed.), Architectura: Elements of Architectural Style, Hauppage, NY: Barrons Educational Series, 2008.

7 Ibid., p. 12.

8 Michael Fazio, Marion Moffett and Lawrence Wodehouse, A world history of architecture, Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill, 2004.

9 Earthscan (http://www.earthscan.co.uk/) is one publisher that does this.

10 Nicholas Negroponte, Being Digital, New York, NY: Knopf, 1995.

Haut de page

Pour citer cet article

Référence électronique

June Komisar, « Designing a Better Textbook », ABE Journal [En ligne], 1 | 2012, mis en ligne le 02 février 2012, consulté le 21 octobre 2017. URL : http://abe.revues.org/87 ; DOI : 10.4000/abe.87

Haut de page

Auteur

June Komisar

Associate Professor, Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada

Haut de page

Droits d’auteur

Licence Creative Commons
La revue ABE Journal est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

Haut de page
  • Logo INHA
  • Logo CNRS – Institut des sciences humaines et sociales
  • Logo In Visu
  • Revues.org