Introducing | History of Modernism
Updated: Jul 4
Semantically ‘Modern’ has an interesting trajectory. The Latin word modernus was one of the first versions of ‘modern’ that appeared between 5th and 16th centuries AD. It means ‘of only just now.’ However, the first-ever mention of the word Modern, in this form, was by Shakespeare.
‘We have our philosophical persons to make modern and familiar things supernatural and causeless.’
His use defines the word in the everyday paradigm, semantically celebrating the past by normalising the present. Thus, modern has, in recorded history, had a cohesive link to the past.
Like the word Modern, architecture too is cohesive to the present and the everyday. The built environment is a result of the socio-political-cultural scenarios of its time. The world around- the governments in power draft policies that shape it; the contextual culture and the local weather mold it. For instance, the architecture in Kerala, India, is very different from that in Arizona, USA. Architects are delusional to believe that architecture can be autonomous. It is but a direct reflection of the concurring changes in and around the world. Thus, architecture is an important testimony of the past. And a powerful tool to examine the history, both told and untold.
The history of architecture is an important archive of our past. It helps us understand what changed and shaped our present. Unfortunately, the current narrative of architectural history is primarily Western-centric. The commonplace narratives are biased towards western ideals, the Eurocentric ones. There is no denying that development started from the West with early and extensive documentation of their histories which lead to a focused narrative. A major reason for this is the resources that came due to events like Colonialism, Industrial Revolutions, World Wars, Capitalism, etc. These events changed the world and the shape of architecture, which are not accounted for in the current curriculums. And yet, despite all that, the idea that modernity is Western is a colonial thought.
History is never singular, nor is it linear. It is, but a beautiful pluralistic overlap of narratives. The question why is always more interesting than the what. Here, in our History of Modernism column, we dissect and show more than just the whats. We raise important whys and ponder upon intriguing hows.
“The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it and join the dance.” Alan Watts
In our column, we attempt to make sense of the changes that happened in and around the world through the lens of architectural history.
How do we plan to do this? By simply posing questions. Questioning influences, studying buildings, analysing actions and people that played a major role in shaping and changing history.
Today’s architecture is a reflective current from the modern movement. However, we cannot overlook the importance of the pre-modern era and its thinking from the interpretation of modern architecture. While we disagree with the thought that western modernity is the only modernity, we trace trajectories of past thoughts, actions, and reactions that have today become the face of the built environment globally.
Through our articles, we aim to show the role of architecture in shaping the world around us, and that of the world shaping the built environment.
The idea is to understand the projects and thoughts of the past. To be able to connect the dots backwards and answer the critical questions that plague our time and ones that might arise in the future. All of this in the hope of realising and demonstrating architecture as it ought to serve the world. Similar to or different than it has been in the past, we’ll see!
About the Author
Falak Vora is an architect, architectural historian, writer and essayist. She is a graduate of the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London (UCL), UK and Sarvajanik College of Engineering and Technology (VNSGU), Surat. She has experience working at Aangan Architects, Eternity Architects, Wall Space Architects, Studio i!, Guallart Architects and The Universidad Politécnica de Cartagena (UPCT).
About the Illustrator
Itika Atri is an undergraduate architecture student at the Deenbandhu Chhotu Ram University of Science and Technology (DCRUST), Murthal (Sonepat). She is a writer, illustrator and graphic designer. She has experience working as an Architectural Journalism Intern at Rethinking The Future (RTF).
About the Publication
Zeyka is a post Covid, tech-enabled Architecture and Interior Design startup. The architecture, interior design and renovation industries are opaque and hard to navigate markets. Zeyka provides knowledge and transparency to homeowners and designers, making their processes more informed and efficient.