Architecture and it’s Past – Part 6 – Mark Campbell – ‘A Man without Qualities’

Lecture date: 2010-05-21

Mark Cousins introduces Mark Campbell, who presents a paper on the historian Geoffrey Scott. It is interesting to discuss Scott’s architecture of humanism in the context of this conference, as it is a very traditional and very English topic; also quite an absurd one. Scott’s work begins to ask one central question: what is it to write bad history? Amongst other things, Scott is a terrible historian; or he is more interesting when he is inaccurate. He quotes The Man Without Qualities of Robert Musil, to possibly define the pass of history: “the course of history resembles the movement of clouds, or the path of a man through the street, turn aside by a shadow here, a crowd there, until he arrives at a place which he never knew or meant to go.” Scott’s treatise, The Architecture of Humanism: A Study in the History of Taste (1914) occupies an unusual position in the genealogies of nineteenth century histories of architecture. To Scott, the past only suggested a direction for the future, because the future entailed a mere continuation of the immediate past. His take on the phenomenon known as the battle of the styles in his time, was that whether there might be a lack of architectural taste, there was certainly not a lack of opinion. Berenson was known by his very acute eye, he was an expert in the recognition of Renaissance paintings. Scott is fascinating because of his relatively biographical anonymity. His work is more one of accidental history, than of connoisseurship. The incidental nature of Scott’s History of Taste is what makes it intellectually interesting. In Reyner Banham’s terms: “must have happened elsewhere.” Moreover, although Scott conceived the present and the future in terms of the restoration of the past, he also realized that history itself consisted in something less reasonable, of a series of accidents or incidental occurrences, failed plans and misunderstandings. The one question that Scott would consciously fails to address is what role does the historian should take in treating those layers of circumstances, to discover what lies beneath. What is remarkable about the work of Giovanni Morelli, was his concentration on those details and gestures which lie beyond the artist’s conscious control, when the artist somehow forgot himself. For Carlo Ginzburg, Morelli is in affinity with the techniques of the criminologist, as he proposes a diagnostic structure in which nothing was incidental. In Theory and Design in the First Machine Age, Banham noted how Scott’s work was the most interesting product in the English discourse of the time. revealing against the insularity and self-referentiality of late Victorian architecture. According to Banham, Scott introduced the concept of space in the anglo-american discourse, which he drew from his interpretation of German aesthetics. Scott’s history always occurs in the footnotes. When he addressed an audience, in the late 1970s, Colin Rowe placed Scott’s definition of psychologically invested space as the centre of his architectural thought. For Banham, Rowe was the most un-groupie of all groupie people. Berenson has a point in saying that Scott’s conception of architecture is overly literal, as becoming a two dimensional surface. Scott professed his preference for an ideal margin between him and the facts, in which to move without affecting the situation. Questions follow. Mark Cousins intervenes, saying that it is almost possible to do a digest of the last century architecture by tracing the following line: Scott, and how he was misread by Wittkower. And that misreading was misread by Colin Rowe, and Rowe’s misreading was then (mis)read by Peter Eisenman. The last misreader would be Greg Lynn.

The focus of the symposium is on the teaching of architectural history within architectural trainings. It is frequently admitted that architectural students do not find their history programmes useful or interesting. Why is this? The conference will address this question and consider how problems within architectural history might be productively changed by a different approach to the architectural past.

The AA has sought to reformulate its syllabus of how the issue of the past is dealt with in architectural terms. The symposium will consider ways in which the issue of the architectural past can be fashioned into a productive element in the training of an architect. Schedule: Friday 21 May10.30 Brett Steele (Director of AA), Welcome10.45 Mark Cousins (AA), Introduction 11.00 Reinhold Martin (Columbia University), Professional Histories 12.00 Brian Hatton (AA and John Moores University), Wandering in the Museum 2.00 Adrian Forty (Bartlett School, UCL) Dissecting the Cadaver 3.00 Irene Sunwoo (Princeton University), The Sta