Lecture 23. The Mobility of Architectural Knowledge

This lecture considers some of the different modes in which architectural knowledge has circulated since the fifteenth century. Today, in our contemporary context where rapid and economical reproductive technologies are available to many people, we have come to think of written texts and photographic images as the primary means through which architectural knowledge circulates. If we consider the period before printed works were widely available, the architects themselves can be understood as the primary vectors of architectural knowledge. The best-known example of this is the “grand tour” of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries, when architects and artists traveled in the company of young elite European men completing their education by traveling through London, Paris, Venice, Florence, and Rome. It was through this means that neoclassical architecture came to dominate European taste into the nineteenth century. The five case studies discussed in this lecture complicate our understanding of the circulation of architectural knowledge. They show that objects like the hand-printed Topkapi Scroll, and other agents including Indian Ocean merchants in Zanzibar, the conquistadores in Peru, have stimulated the spread of architectural ideas. And even when knowledge was disseminated through the movement of specific individuals such as the Jesuit missionaries in the Qing emperor’s court or the Austrian architect Adolf Loos, the results were never entirely predictable nor unilateral.

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