The present is 30 years ago (in design theory)

We picked up a book a year ago that I've been intending to read but never seemed to get the time; "Architectural Theory from the Renaissance to the Present" (Taschen, 2006). Today I wound up with some dead time sitting in offices and got a chance to read through part of the chapter on the 20th century.

By way of background, Soni met another architectural design theorist at the Cafe Scientifique half a year ago and she arranged a chance for all of us to sit down over crepes to discuss theory. Thing is, we studied rather different areas of theory. She was focussed exclusively on the most current post-modern theorists. My thesis stopped with the early theorists of architectural postmodernism, though I read a few of the later theorists, none seemed to have much in the way of non-trivial insights (to my young mind).

The number of times I've met another design theorist can be counted on a single finger, so rather than not having any common ground to discuss, I figured I'd bone up on the major theories of current post-modern theoretical thought. Toward that end, the "to the Present" in the title was promising. I was intending to sit down and read the book's (encyclopedically-styled) introduction to the major theorists of post-modernism so that I could put together a reading list to pick up from the architecture library at U of T.

Except the book leaves off right where my thesis did. That is, it covers up to the era of Venturi and Koolhaas and then stops, apparently having exhausted the interesting postmodern theorists. Or did they just not have time to cover the later theorists? Or were they later theorists just not in their field of study? For whatever reason, the present seems to stop 30 years ago in terms of architectural ideas.

Since I had the time, I also browsed through some of the older entries. Some are pretty obviously uninteresting (e.g. folks creating how-to books for constructing gothic style features during the eclectic period), some are more theoretical. It will probably be worth it to go through the book in a more systematic way and see if there's anyone I've overlooked in my studies, but it doesn't seem it's going to help with updating to the debates of the day.


  1. the big lechomsky

    the big lechomsky on 07/03/2008 7:36 a.m. #

    Koolhaas era is now

  2. Mike Fletcher

    Mike Fletcher on 07/03/2008 9:08 p.m. #

    Yes, Koolhaas is comparatively modern (the second book covered is from 1995), but it's still a theory from 1978 that's being discussed.

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