Marvin Trachtenberg: Building-in-Time: Thinking and Making Architecture in the Premodern Era: Some theoretical observations

Wissenschaftliches Kolloquium / Colloquio scientifico

This lecture is about a way of building that for centuries dominated the making of monumental architecture. Yet now it is not only lost as practice, but knowledge of its very existence is consigned to oblivion.

In premodern Europe, the architect built not just with imagination, brick and mortar. He built with time, using vast quantities of duration as a primary means to erect monumental buildings that otherwise would have been impossible. Not mere medieval muddling-through, this entailed a highly developed set of norms and efficient practices. A powerful temporal program, involving an uncodified set of building principles, guided the long-term planning and making of most monumental architecture. Virtually all the great cathedrals of France and the rest of Europe were built under and by this regime. To newly understand its methodology puts the major works of premodern Italy in a new light, from the Pisa cathedral group, to Milan, Venice, Siena and the monuments of trecento Florence, to new St Peters which was its apotheosis.

Yet even as this temporal regime was flourishing, in quattrocento Italy, Alberti proposed a new temporal regime for architecture, an oppositional program in which time would ideally be excluded from the making of architecture. Planning and building, which always formed one fluid and imbricated process, were to be sharply divided, and the change that always came with time--time itself--was to be excluded from architectural making.

In telling this story, the lecturer's recent book, Building-in-Time (Yale University Press, 2010) rewrites the history of medieval and Renaissance architecture in Italy, and recasts the turn to modernity in new terms: of temporality and its role in architectural theory and practice. Recovering this lost element of the deep architectural past allow us to see the present in a very new way: that temporality is not any neutral or secondary factor in modern architecture culture, but an epistemic condition that silently affects all production and experience of the built environment.

Marvin Trachtenberg is Kitzmiller Professor of the History of Fine Arts at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University.

1961 A.B. at Yale University; 1964 M.A. and 1967 Ph.D. (Richard Krautheimer, adviser) at the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU. 1967-70 Asst. Prof. of Fine Arts, 1970-76 Assoc. Prof., 1976-90 Professor of Fine Arts and since 1990 Kitzmiller Professor of the History of Fine Arts at the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU.

Post-Doctoral Fellowships include: 1970 Kress Foundation-National Gallery grant for travel and photographic campaign in France, Italy, Germany; 1974-75 National Endowment for the Humanities Senior Fellowship for study in Italy; 1974-76 Fellowship at the Villa I Tatti, Harvard Center in Florence for Renaissance Studies; 1985-86 Guggenheim Fellowship; 2000-01 Graham Foundation Fellowship.

Publications include: The Campanile of Florence Cathedral, "Giotto's Tower," NYU Press, New York 1971-72 [awarded Alice Davis Hitchcock Prize by the Society of Architectural Historians for the outstanding book on an architectural subject by a North American scholar for the years 1972 and 1973 (1974)]; The Statue of Liberty, "Art in Context" series, Penguin-Viking 1976 (paperback edition 1977, centennial edition 1986); Architecture from Prehistory to Postmodernism, with co-author Isabelle Hyman, Harry N. Abrams, New York 1986 (Revised edition, 2002, as Architecture from Prehistory to Postmodernity); Dominion of the Eye: Urbanism, Art, and Power in Early Modern Florence, Cambridge University Press 1997 [awarded Charles Rufus Morey Award from the College Art Association for best art history book published in 1997 by a North American Scholar (1999); awarded Alice Davis Hitchcock Prize by the Society of Architectural Historians for the outstanding book on an architectural subject by a North American scholar for the years 1997 and 1998 (1999)]; (editor) Desedimenting Time, special volume of 'RES' (40) autumn 2001; Building in Time from Giotto to Alberti and Modern Oblivion , Yale University Press, London 2010 [awarded George Sarton Medal by the architecture/engineering faculty of Ghent University for "outstanding contribution to the history of science," 2011].

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