Theory’s history 196X – 199X
Challenges in the historiography of architectural knowledge
In recent international literature addressing the history of 20th century architectural theory, the year 1968 is indicated as a decisive moment, giving rise to a ‘new’ architectural theory. From that moment onwards, emphasis was no longer placed on the aesthetics of architecture, but on its critical potential. Yet, according to some scholars, this intensification of theory was short-lived. A presence of coexisting and even contradictory paradigms derived from very different epistemic domains (anthropology, philosophy, linguistics, social sciences, etc.) led to a setback of theory, resulting in an end-of-theory atmosphere in the 1990s.
It is not a coincidence that the so called death of architectural theory concurred with the upsurge of anthologies on architectural theory that collect and classify referential texts. Instead of burying theory, these anthologies had an additional effect, namely to institutionalise it. In other words, they offered both closure to a past period and also defined the locus of a next period of theorisation, invoking a ‘historical turn’. At the same time architectural discourses, and especially architectural historiography, were engaging with new theoretical fields such as gender studies or postcolonial studies, giving rise to a continued production of theoretically informed books and articles.
The goal of this conference is to discuss the methodological challenges that come along with this historical gaze towards theory, by focusing on the concrete processes in which knowledge is involved. By screening the unspoken rules of engagement that the accounts of post-war architectural theory have agreed to and distributed, we want to point at dominant assumptions, biases and absences. While anthologies inevitably narrate history with rough meshes, we believe it is time to search for those versions of theory formation that have slipped through these nets of historiography, in order to question the nature of theory and the challenges it poses to historians. How do you do historical research on something as intangible as theory, or in a broadened sense, the knowledge of architecture?