The concept of the avant-garde in twentieth and twenty-first century architecture : history, theory, criticism

Stergiou, Stavroula (2014) The concept of the avant-garde in twentieth and twenty-first century architecture : history, theory, criticism. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


The ‘Avant-Garde’ in architecture seems a challenging subject: first, because the term has not yet clearly defined, despite the ubiquity of its use; second, because through that ubiquity it has become a buzz-word that is empty of precise meaning; third, because although this use includes the history of modern architecture, its application to this field has been largely unreflective and often unconsidered, as this thesis demonstrates. There is ambivalence as to which architectures are ‘Avant-Garde’ or should be regarded as ‘Avant-Garde.’ Therefore, there is a challenge in any question such as: what is the Avant-Garde in architecture? How can the architectural Avant-Garde be defined? What is the concept of the Avant-Garde in architecture? My thesis is a sociological conceptualization of the Avant-Garde in architecture. It is based on the mapping of the use the‘ term ‘Avant-Garde’ in architectural history, theory and criticism and its analytical tools are sociological. While it belongs to the above fields, it is informed by art theory and history, cultural studies, and the sociology of the professions, and includes sociological, cultural and political analyses. I suggest that the Avant-Garde is an Operation internal to architecture; a mechanism that does not only describe it but formulates it, motivates it, or else, influences our perception of it. I propose that the Avant-Garde is directed by prominent elements of its internal domain. It includes a filtering process, a rough selection process, and a selection process, by which one or more architectures internal conditions - are introduced to the discipline to renew the profession toward the desired and necessary, for the element who directs the operation, direction (see fig. 2, appendix). The end result of the selection process is what we commonly understand as ‘Avant-Garde’ architecture, e.g. Russian Constructivism or Bauhaus. I also propose that the Avant-Garde lies in and operates within the socio-ideological sphere of architecture and that renewal of the architecture's internal domain is necessary, thus the Avant-Garde is necessary, so as to make architecture respond to each time new external conditions and so endure, as a profession, over time. The Avant-Garde is for me an operation of renewal, a driver of difference and change in architecture (see fig. 1, appendix). The methodology adopted is as follows: I first introduce my analytical tools, some key sociological concepts, and concepts from the ‘Avant-Garde’ discourse (chapter 1). I then examine the filtering process and rough selection process in architectural history: I map the usage of the term in a historiographic corpus and arrive at the more frequently and the less frequently named ‘Avant-Garde’ architectures, which become my two case studies. These are Russian Revolutionary Architecture and Italian Rationalism (chapter 2). The third step is to arrive, through the comparison of my case studies, at those parameters that are crucial in being selected as ‘Avant-Garde,’ i.e. their ‘Avantgardification’ - this occurs after 1960 when the term starts being used describing architectures (part 2). The fourth step is to examine the period of the extended 19605 when the term starts appearing as a means of describing architectures and thus the selection process begins (chapter 6). As a fifth step I research the selection process in the discourse of architectural theory and criticism: I investigate in a particular corpus of writings which architectures, by whom they are chosen as ‘Avant-Garde,’ and the reason why, as Well as which are the concomitant effects of the usage of the term on architecture. In other words, beyond concentrating on which architectures or architectural movements are ‘Avant-Garde' in these writings, I focus on the effects of this selection and denomination (chapter 7). As a sixth step, I examine the selection process of my two case studies in architectural theory and criticism, i.e the Avantgardification of Russian Revolutionary Architecture and less of Italian Rationalism. I investigate when, by whom, and the reason why the first architecture is mostly selected as ‘Avant- Garde,’ as well as which are the concomitant effects on architecture (chapter 8, see also fig. 3, appendix). As a final step I examine the Avant-Garde as a sociological concept based on the key-concepts introduced in chapter 1 (Conclusions). A sociological conceptualization of the Avant-Garde is important for shedding light on issues beyond those of ‘Avant-Garde’ architectures. Through such a concept of the Avant-Garde we recognize issues of the profession, issues which are wider than questions which are directly connected to those architectures selected as such. Looking through the ‘Avant-Garde’ we understand the ways by which architecture is being renewed and Operated. By recognizing the conditions, in which the ‘Avant-Garde’ architectures have been created, and the way and time in which the term was employed to describe them, we understand the mode in which architecture, as a discipline, functions. My thesis is a hermeneutics of the architectural profession through the term ‘Avant-Garde.’

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