ISBN 0 5. Bryan E. When it was first published in , it was reviewed a number of times both within and outside of architectural discourse. On the one hand, generally positive reviews from Lewis Mumford, Arnold Hauser, Paul Zucker, and Marshall McLuhan characterized many of the architectural, art historical, and non-academic responses. These propensities often make his decisions about content and narrative appear arbitrary, especially when lifted out of the context of his intellectual project that, while historically informed, had particular aims for the contemporary practice of architecture. Combining the www.
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ISBN 0 5. Bryan E. When it was first published in , it was reviewed a number of times both within and outside of architectural discourse. On the one hand, generally positive reviews from Lewis Mumford, Arnold Hauser, Paul Zucker, and Marshall McLuhan characterized many of the architectural, art historical, and non-academic responses. These propensities often make his decisions about content and narrative appear arbitrary, especially when lifted out of the context of his intellectual project that, while historically informed, had particular aims for the contemporary practice of architecture.
Combining the www. However, it has also turned his work into a punching bag for many contemporary architectural historians. Much of the critique has naturally been directed at the www. However, I would like to suggest that Mechanization Takes Command can provide a way out of the simplistic narratival operativity that characterized the earlier, more famous work.
At over pages with just over images, Mechanization Takes Command appears at first glance as an encyclopedia of the mechanization of technology, work, and life. However, many subjects were simply left out, as reviewers pointed out. There is little to no mention of the cinema, air-conditioning, electricity and lighting, military technology, steamships, airplanes, or automobiles.
And understood as any other type of history—economic, social, cultural, etc. Of course, Giedion states at the outset of the book that it is not a global overview, but rather an attempt to reveal a new field of investigation Giedion, vi.
Perhaps then, as Reyner Banham claimed, error has arisen more in the reception of this book, which has tended toward the view that it exhaustively covers mechanization, than in the book itself The question then is how exactly to characterize this new field of historical investigation. The work of architectural historians over the last decades has been marked by a continual struggle with the question of how to incorporate social, material, and cultural history.
The American Society of Architectural Historians was founded in with one of its key aims being to guide architectural history to take more thoroughly into account sociology and in particular intellectual history Wright, One could list countless other examples www. Of course, the goal of an architectural history that takes into account cultural and social conditions had presence well before the mid- twentieth century. These aspects, of which I will call out three, are what make Mechanization Takes Command particularly useful in considering the purpose and character of the project of architectural history today.
A History of That Which Hides Itself On a first pass, we could understand Giedion as simply addressing key aspects of contemporary architecture that so often go historically and theoretically unconsidered. Essentially a cultural history of industrialization, this manuscript has many thematic similarities to Mechanization Takes Command, while drawing mostly on European rather than American historical material 54, This is not a history that fills gaps but a history of a process that has become so intertwined with our life that we have a tendency to naturalize it—it is an unwritten history because what is unwritten obscures itself.
And further, it is not only a history of what is obscured but also of how the obscuring occurs. His goal is not to regard this condition sentimentally nor to see mechanization merely in terms of the production of commodities, but to try to expose an essential condition that the mechanization of death brings out, one whose connection to the historical moment he makes overt: What is truly startling in this mass transition from life to death is the complete neutrality of the act.
One does not experience, one does not feel; one merely observes. This broader influence does not have to appear in the land that evolved mechanized killing, or even at the time the methods came about.
This neutrality toward death may be lodged deep in the roots of our time. It did not bare itself on a large scale until the War, when whole populations, as defenseless as the animals hooked head downwards on the traveling chain, were obliterated with trained neutrality. However, he does not want to reduce the meeting of the mechanical and the biological to the ending of life, as he also considers it in terms of the production of life through processes such as artificial fertilization.
The project of Mechanization Takes Command is to draw out and distill the essence of a phenomenon that resists discretization. In this first sense, then, Giedion is performing what we might characterize as a sort of phenomenology—making present something usually tacitly experienced by saying it.
And in doing this, he is attempting to move from minute particulars to abstract essences, to those things that fundamentally shape the conditions in which modern architectural practice takes place. History, on this reading, becomes a tool for teaching us something about our contemporary life by showing the historical development of a condition that wants to hides itself once developed. Erwin Panofsky, in Perspective as Symbolic Form, argued that the formation of perspective in the Renaissance created a system through which the world could be understood, a system that rationalized the connection between individual perception and the infinite extension of mathematical space.
This system has had ramifications central for architectural practice from the fifteenth-century to the present. In Mechanization Takes Command Giedion is arguing that the development of mechanization leads to the replacement of perspective with movement as the fundamental symbolic system This is not the mechanization of isolated activity but of whole biological processes.
That is, have we understood the movement of mechanization as something in itself, or have we failed to think mechanization properly and thus let it become an assumed aspect of all the movement of life? Have the hand and endless rotation become conflated? Their implications, like those of mechanization as a whole, are not unilaterally tied to any one system. They reach into depths of a basic human problem— labor—and the historical verdict will depend on how www. Our technological surroundings are in part a result of the way we have seen the world.
Mechanization has the potential to produce a new way of life. The problem for Giedion then is not mechanization in itself or simply harnessing its productive power, but in shaping our understanding of it. How do we give mechanization form? How can we make an image of it so that we may understand its qualities?
Mechanization outstripped tools of representation, magnifying the devaluation of traditional symbols that had already begun. The result was an aesthetic of symbols that people desired yet that had no relationship to the conditions of production—a superstructure entirely detached from its base.
Symbols, such as the ornamentation of buildings, began to be reproduced mechanically without reconsidering what it symbolized. This problem was compounded by the fact that symbolization in itself was devalued by the mechanization of the symbolic production Thus, to get out of the problem the nineteenth-century generated, not only must we find ways to symbolize the new conditions of mechanization, but also we must further find a way to once again treat symbolization as a meaningful activity.
That is, aesthetic production must find a way to re-present mechanization. On this second reading Giedion can be understood as tracing the history of mechanization in order not to give a complete account of mechanization but rather to understand how it can form a symbolic www. This is not a history of mechanization as such, but rather a history of a condition external to architecture in as much as it determines the conditions for the symbolic production of architecture.
History is a tool for unmasking conditions of the present so that architectural practice can find new ways to symbolize the present to itself. The operativity of architectural history is thus displaced from directing architectural production as Giedion seemed to do in Space, Time and Architecture to revealing the conditions that make architectural production possible. If 1 mechanization is a process that has a tendency to obscure itself and 2 it is a process that we need to find a way to symbolize, a way to give a formal image, then by what methodology can history participate in the revelatory function of symbolization?
Arnold Hauser, in his review of Mechanization Takes Command noted that this methodology is marked by the metaphysics of romanticism. That is, anonymous history is a method for treating individuals as the bearers of impersonal tendencies that are greater than them and that have their own trajectories.
It is idealist art history done with ordinary objects. In one sense, Hauser is right to suggest that anonymous history purposefully posits trajectories greater and more powerful than the individual. However, the www. Rather, the larger trend is the collection of the individuals. Historical life is not an independent absolute, but rather is the movement of the parts.
The historian is always a part of the whole that they are trying tog rasp. Progress itself is an epochally determined concept. In a theoretical attitude closer to Thomas Kuhn than Hegel, Giedion argues that each moment has its paradigmatic forms of representation, but a progressive relationship between these epochs cannot necessarily be assumed.
History, like life, for Giedion is a dynamic process—writing the past is a way of doubling existence back on itself. The anonymous historical mode of constructing relations of continuity is not through the horizontal lines of sequential time e. The aim of vertical history is not a universal www. This is a mode of historical writing that is not done for the sake of filling a gap in the literature. Rather it is history written in order to make present something that hides itself in the present—it is a history written in order to reveal the powerful presence of the seemingly absent past.
It is a way of struggling with the tendency of the world to conceal itself. This is not a struggle with an end, as the hermeneutical structure of temporality guarantees that one will continually need to represent and symbolize the conditions that burden contemporary architectural practice. This is an activity that is to be done for architecture, so that architecture might find a way to give an image to the world in which it exists.
References Adams, H. Washington: Henry Adams. Banham, R. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Frankl, P. Cambridge, Mass. Geiser, R. Giedion, S. Fifth Edition. Hauser, A. Johnston, G. Leach, A. Panofsky, E. New York: Zone Books. Rybczynski, W. Tafuri, M. Wright, G. New York: Princeton Architectural Press.
In the Time of Full Mechanisation By Nicola Published: August 4, In , Swiss art historian Sigfried Giedion published Mechanization Takes Command , an epic investigation into the origins, evolution, and impact of mechanisation on human civilisation. Pennsylvania Magazine, Philadelphia, This device typifies the early phases of mechanization in agriculture. It multiplies the number of flails and imitates by mechanical rotation the motion of the human arm. The threshing machine came into practical use in late eighteenth-century England, and was the first successful instrument of mechanized agriculture.
In the Time of Full Mechanisation
Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anonymous History
Mechanization Takes Command