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National Identities

Vol. 8, No. 3, September 2006, pp. 189  206

Space, Time: Identity

Carmen Popescu

Perceived as a symbol of the world and experienced as a powerful frame that shapes the
cognitive process, architecture is intimately related to identity. It embodies a narrative
that can be appropriated and turned into a reflective discourse. Identity represents a key
concept of the modern era, and its appraisal results from changing perception of space
and time. These changes engendered a loss of references and, hence, a need for identity.
Pictured as immutable, identity is in reality a subjective, evolving concept, defined by the
process of identification. The latter appears as a more relevant category, producing
various responses and thus explaining the multifaceted aspect of the images of identity.
Constructed under the direct guidance of power and culture, the images of identity are
forged through the intimate collaboration of ideology and aesthetics. Conceptually, the
primary referents of identification are subsumed by space and time. Yet these two also
constitute the fundamental coordinates of architecture. Hence architecture appears as a
privileged medium of expression, representing both an instrument and a vehicle that
conveys identity. Time brings a perspectival understanding of tradition, and thereby
transforms history into a major referent. Space exalts the values of appropriateness and
adequacy to the site, perceived as a matrix shaping the characteristics of its inhabitants
and of their artefacts, as well. In architectural terms, the concept of time catalysed the
creation of historicisms and various national styles, while the concept of space favoured
all forms of regionalisms and localisms.
Keywords: Identity; Identification; Architectural Narrative; Appropriateness; Modernity;
Space; Time; Historicism; Architectural Nationalism; National Styles; Architectural
Regionalism; Localism; Contextualism

Art and architectural historian, Carmen Popescu is associate researcher at the Centre of Research in Art History
Andre Chastel (CNRS, Paris). She has worked extensively on identity in architecture, publishing numerous
articles. She is the author of Le style national roumain. Construire une nation a` travers larchitecture (Presses
Universitaires de Rennes/Simetria, 2004). She was the scientific director of two international conferences on
nationalisms and regionalisms in architecture (Bucharest, 1999, 2000), and edited the proceedings (National and
Regional in Architecture: Between History and Practice , Bucharest: Simetria, 2002). Carmen Popescu is currently
working on a project on Modernity in the Balkans: Progress and Specificity. Correspondence to: Carmen
Popescu, Associate Researcher, Centre of Research in Art History Andre Chastel (PARIS), 7, rue de la Mare,
F-75020 Paris, France. Tel/Fax: /33 1 43 15 09 63; E-mail: crmv@noos.fr
ISSN 1460-8944 (print)/ISSN 1469-9907 (online) # 2006 Taylor & Francis
DOI: 10.1080/14608940600842060

190 C. Popescu

Identity has become a frequent topic in the architectural debates of the last few years.
There are two reasons for this apparently sudden interest for the subject. On the one
hand, it is a consequence of the after-modern syndrome, with the crisis of
modernism in architecture reinforced by the growing effects of globalisation. As a
result, a certain identitarian dimension of architecture began to be explored at length
in architectural criticism and architectural history. On the other hand, the numerous
recent studies dedicated to nationalist theories and ideologies in the humanities have
initiated a thorough reconsideration of architecture as an instrument and vehicle
of identity. This latter perspective was the principal one adopted by historians
of architecture. This topic, with its twofold structure, is not new. The nationality of
certain styles and the national or regional character of architectural production
stimulated discussion all through the nineteenth century and the beginning of the
twentieth, but beginning in the interwar years, the subject seemed progressively to
lose relevance. A waning of interest in these issues resulted from a shift of attitude,
but also*and particularly*from the marginalisation induced by the supporters of
the Modern Movement.
Linking architecture and identity is not an artificial approach. In Building
Dwelling Thinking, Heidegger (1971a [1954]) defined dwelling as mere existence on
earth (staying with things). As a corollary, architecture appears as an embodiment of
the world, as Norberg-Schulz (1996 [1983]) remarked in his reading of Heideggers
text. While inhabiting the world, man shapes it according to its own image:
Dinocratess myth established an allegorical iconography of this vision. Thus, while
the architect is pictured as a demiurge, architecture appears to contain the idea of
identity in se. Seroux dAgincourt (1810, p. 2) perpetuated this concept, affirming
that architecture identifies itself with man: [I]dentified in some way with man, since
the need to use it is born in the same time with him.1 At the same time, if man
identifies himself with architecture, it is not due to its abstract capacity to delimitate
space (in a Heideggerian sense), but to its emotional charge. Architecture is not
merely a science of the rule and compass, as Ruskin remarked (1893, p. 1), it does
not consist only in the observation of the just rule, or of fair proportion: it is, or
ought to be, a science of feeling more than of rule, a ministry to the mind, more than
to the eye.
Addressing itself to the mind, architecture embodies a narrative*not only does it
tell a story, but it is also able to symbolise history: [Architecture] connects forgotten
and following ages with each other, and half constitutes the identity, as it concentrates
the sympathy, of nations (Ruskin, 1901, p. 340). The geographer Vidal de la Blache
gives a phenomenological interpretation of this narrative capacity of architecture, be
it an individual edifice or a whole settlement: A city, a village, a house, is a descriptive
element; however one thinks about their form and their material, or their adaptation
of way of life, be it rural or urban, agricultural or grazing, they enlighten the
relationship between man and the soil (Vidal de la Blache, 1995, p. 181).2 And he
concludes that the character (expression) of a place is defined by the presence of
human settlements.

National Identities


Identity or Identification?
Architecture and identity, individual and collective, appear to be intrinsically
connected. This is true particularly for collective identities since groups identify
themselves with the place in which they evolve (live, work, etc.). As Marc Augie
(1992) observes, groups need to think simultaneously about their identity and their
relationship of internal cohesion, and thus they need to symbolise the constituents of
their shared identity. Hence apprehending space serves to build the collective identity.
As a constructed concept, identity is subjective, evolving in time, as the subject
evolves. In his Anthropology, Kant (1996, p. 26) affirmed:
I, as a thinking being and as a being endowed with senses, am one and the same
subject. However, as an object of inner empirical intuition, so far as I am inwardly
affected by temporal sensations (simultaneous or successive), I conceptualize
myself only as I appear to myself, not as a thing-in-itself. Such cognition depends
on a temporal condition which is not a concept of the intellect . . . .

Since identity is continuously revised, it appears that the process of identification that
reflects this continuous re-examination is more relevant. Identification represents the
way the subject projects itself and is responsible for the multifaceted substance of
identity. This mechanism is even more visible within the identity of groups, activating
a continuous dynamic of identification, as James Tully (1995, p. 11) observes:
[E]very culture is continuously contested, imagined and reimagined, transformed,
negotiated. . . . Identity, and consequently, the signification of every culture is
Therefore, this special issue of National Identities could have been entitled
Architecture and Identification in order to stress the fact that the articles published
here treat mechanisms of identity related to architecture, and not an immutable
identity reflected through architecture. Identification is a volitional process, the
relevance of which is more significant within a group, since collective identity is
explicitly constructed. The multiple manifestations engendered by this process have a
common denominator: the aspiration towards identity or, in other words, the will of
identification. The diversity of manifestations is determined by the evolution of
support for identification (ideological and/or aesthetic) that is intimately connected
to the thought system of the time. The case studies presented in this special issue
reflect this diversity, revealing some of the multiple aspects of identity expressed
through architecture.
Identity in the Age of Modernity
Identity is a key concept of the modern era.3 It acquired this status due to the
enormous changes that turned modernity into a powerful category: industrialisation,
the perspective of history and the pre-eminence of scientific thinking. These three
factors brought with them unprecedented transformations, which were experienced
as an irrevocable rupture that Hannah Arendt (1993 [1961]) defined as a loss of

192 C. Popescu

tradition. Indeed, the gap between past and future, as Arendt called it, seemed
irreparable, since the modern era changed the perception, and later on the
conception, of the two major axes for apprehending the world: space and time.
Industrialisation, with all its consequences, reinforced the longing for a paradise lost:
spoiled landscape, uprooted populations, savage urbanisation. At the same time, the
developing network of transportation, particularly railroads, brought an unprecedented mobility that compacted time and vastly expanded the distances that could be
covered. History was analysed as a philosophical subject, providing a unified
conception of humanity, while evolutionism and taxonomy irrevocably influenced
other fields of thought and creation. Progress, retrospective vision and an analytical
approach defined modernity.
The change of the perception of space and time, compounded by changes in the
way they were apprehended, engendered a loss of references. In traditional society,
the world is represented as a closed, and therefore apprehensible, space (Augie, 1992,
p. 59). The explosion of the traditional scheme generated a need for identity in order
to establish new references. Modern man is torn between past*to which he no
longer belongs*and future*in which he can only project himself. Arendt (1993
[1961], p. 7) employed a parable borrowed from Franz Kafka to describe this
situation of crisis:
He has two antagonists: the first presses him from behind, from the origin. The
second blocks the road ahead. He gives battle to both. To be sure, the first supports
him in the fight with the second, for he wants to push him forward, and in the
same way the second supports him in his fight with the first, since he drives him
back. But it is only theoretically so. For it is not only the two antagonists who are
there, but he himself as well, and who really knows his intentions? His dream,
though, is that sometime, in an unguarded moment *and this would require a
night darker than any night has ever been yet *he will jump out of the fighting line
and be promoted, on the account of his experience in fighting, to the position of
umpire over his antagonists in their fight with each other.4

The architect of the Modern era, like Kafkas man, longs to overcome the antagonism
between the past (understood as tradition) and the future (understood as
modernity). Identitarian architecture embodies this aspiration, reconciling tradition
and modernity.
From Identity to Identitarian
The loss of tradition engendered a quest for identity in a double sense. The concept
progressively acquired more significance in the writings of the time, becoming an
operational notion and gaining particular relevance in the context of developing
nationalist theories. As a corollary, a need for identity emerged; concretely, this meant
that identity was not to be revealed, but fabricated by defining its symbolical
constituents. Among these, architecture played an important role from the beginning;
due to its representativeness, it seemed to be one of the most efficient instruments in

National Identities


creating and conveying identity. According to Hegels Philosophy of History, a

fundamental work in shaping the concept of Volksgeist (developed earlier by Herder),
only people that are well-defined could aspire to a place in the universal history.
Hence, identity appears as a necessity for all people, be they fully conscious of what
they were or, particularly, but half awakened (Hegel, 1988 [1952], p. 153). In this
context, as Gellner (1983) and Anderson (1991) observed, identity is constructed
under the direct guidance of the binomial Power and Culture. This is an intimate
collaboration since ideology and aesthetics work together to forge the structure and
the narrative of identitarian images.
Defining their characteristics, nations but half awakened become fully conscious*a process paralleling that of the individual: a child who begins to use the
pronoun I and thereby replaces feeling by thinking (Kant, 1996, p. 9). If the child
discovers himself or herself, the nation rediscovers itself by defining its
characteristics*a fabricated cognitive process through which identity is invented
with the aid of symbolic elements (Thiesse, 1999). These elements therefore become
identitarian instruments; it is not that they necessarily reflect identity, but they are
empowered to represent it. The loss of tradition induced by the modern era affects
architecture on two interconnected levels, one individual, the other collective. The
change in the perception (and conception) of space and time raises the question of
how to repair the rupture, while consciousness of the historical perspective turns
architecture into an identitarian instrument. If architecture was previously connected
allusively to identity (a metaphor of the human condition), now it becomes explicitly
involved in building it.
Architecture: Space and Time5
Two primary referents structure the process of identification in architecture: space
and time. Both terms determine the way tradition is conceptualised: the dynamic of
temporality engenders its substance and the spatial limits determine its recipient. It
was natural that the loss of tradition would demand reparation of its altered
components, but space and time represent fundamental coordinates of architecture,
too. Space in its abstract, mathematical conception is also a delimited place
(Heidegger, 1971 [1954]); time is an experience of short duration, related to covering
the delimited space, but also is a testimony of long duration, in the sense of
It is in their lasting witness against men, in their quiet contrast with the transitional
character of all things, in the strength which, through the lapses of seasons and
times, and the decline and birth of dynasties, and the changing of the face of the
earth and of the limits of the sea . . . that we are to look for the real light and colour,
and preciousness of architecture. (Ruskin, 1901, pp. 340 341)

What the makers of identity exploit in these constitutive elements of architecture is

not their abstract qualities, but their emotional dimension. These include the socially

194 C. Popescu

experienced nature of place (Frampton, 1996 [1974]) and the evocative force of time.
In their immediate relation to architecture, these two elements are not equally
relevant. Space is pre-emptive not only because its experience is immediate, but also
because it creates social places, hence Gregotti elevates place-making to the primal
architectural act, the origin (Nesbitt, 1996, p. 49). In contrast with the immediateness
of the perception of space in architecture, time requires a retrospective understanding. This difference, manifested on a cognitive level, emerges also in the manner
in which the two elements act as referents. Space as a referent, understood in this
context as nature, stimulates imitation (to be understood also as appropriateness),
while time, with its multiple layers, requires interpretation. This different initial
approach is to a great extent responsible for the pre-eminence of new or critical
regionalism6 and all kind of localisms in the historiography of modern architecture.
Authenticity, as framed by modernism, is the key term in understanding this
theoretical conflict.7 Not only was the act of imitation close from the origins of
architecture as established since Vitruvius, but it also led to appropriateness: a
synonym for good architecture. On the contrary, the very notion of interpretation
indicates an alteration, hence a condemnable architecture, as all historicisms were
categorised. Furthermore, this theoretical conflict finds a solid justification in the
long series of architectural treatises from antiquity to the modern age,8 which have
established the idea of geographical determinism.
The relationship constructed between the two referents, space and time, allows
another reading. The original architecture that imitates nature by using natural
materials and copying natural forms is primitive in the sense of not elaborated. Not
only is stone architecture more elaborated, but it is also conceptual because it
employs abstract forms. Time plays a significant part in the conception of stone
architecture: its materials are durable and its shape is the result of successive
experiences as well as of theoretical thinking. Viollet-le-Ducs Histoire de lhabitation
humaine opened with these two typologies: a shelter improvised with close-growing
trees (the primitive hut; see Figure 1) and an elaborated masonry house (Figure 2),
replacing a wooden dwelling destroyed by the storm (Viollet-le-Duc, 1986 [1875]).
There are no such distinctions as primitive and elaborated in Viollet-le-Ducs
Vitruvian perspective; however, the description of the two edifices, and particularly of
the methods of their building, makes them implicit.
Space and time could be interpreted as paradigms of modernity and tradition.
When the issue of identity turns into a veritable quest, moderns have to confront
two opponents: traditionalists, who defend the great tradition, and identitarians,
comprising nationalists as well as regionalist militants. The latter category becomes
their favourite target for two main reasons. On the one hand, identitarians claim to
be modern too, not only because they oppose the traditionalist approach, but also
because they also assert the principle of appropriateness, a founding concept for the
moderns. Yet their appropriateness refers to the subject of the desired identity
(national, regional, etc.). On the other hand, they lack authority since their tradition

National Identities


Figure 1 The natural hut as the first shelter invented by the humankind (Viollet-le-Duc,
1986 [1875]).

does not have the legitimacy of the great tradition. Thus, they are neither real
traditionalists nor real moderns.
Building Identity: History and Geography
The thread of tradition broke as the modern age progressed (Arendt, 1993 [1961],
p. 14); this was less a rupture than a revolution in the interpretation of the very
concept of tradition. Antiquity, the great tradition, has been progressively supplanted
by humbler narratives. When Seroux dAgincourt started his tour of Europe in 1777,
his intention was to follow the broken thread of tradition, as he called it, which had
been abandoned by Winckelmann at the era of the decay of arts. He wanted to
demonstrate that this thread was never broken, and searched for tradition in the
middle of the most crude structures, in the least important and most fragile of
monuments (Seroux dAgincourt, 1810, p. 5).9 Not only did the French erudite
attempt to establish a continuous chronology for the history of art, he also broadened
its field by including multiple traditions like the Gothic of the Northern Europe or
the Moorish of Spain.

196 C. Popescu

Figure 2 The masonry house: an evolved architectural design that replaces the wooden
house (Viollet-le-Duc, 1986 [1875]).

Like history, architecture became both an object of study and an instrument of

knowledge. It also benefited from the methods developed in various fields of science,
turning styles into efficient categories. As Seroux dAgincourt (1810, p. vi) put it:
[I]nstead of seeking to determine the age of a work of Art by the scholarly nature of
the subject, one should explain the subject by the style of the monument and by the
norms of the Art.10 History, with its chronological perspective, and geography, with
its variation of climates, constituted the double grid in studying architecture. This
combined vision was not new, having been used since antiquity; the novelty was that
henceforth its use was directed to articulate the difference, the distinction, whose
importance for defining identity (individual as well as collective) was pointed out by
both Kant and Hegel. The rhetoric of the difference was extensively exploited in
worlds fairs, which thus contributed to the concept of identitarian architecture.
Encoded through the grid of history and geography, the architectural image became
recognisable; when recognisability was judged insufficient, quotations from famous
examples reinforced its symbolic dimension. Power and culture turn architecture into
both a vehicle and an instrument of identity. As a vehicle, it conveys the features of
the sought after identity, contributing to shape it in the spirit of the group; as an
instrument, it imposes a certain image of identity, supposed to function as a model.

National Identities


Referents of Identification
To resume, time and space are the major referents used to create identitarian images
in architecture. Time is related to history and thus brings legitimacy to the
identitarian construction, which appears as rooted in the past or nourished by
it. Time introduces a perspectival view in the understanding of the concept of
tradition. The process of identification is determined by the dynamics of temporality.
The architectural responses are summed up in all forms of historicism and national
styles. Space is related to geography, which endows the identitarian construction with
an analytical spirit and appropriateness. Geography represents the contextual
approach, and the process of identification is determined by a spatial matrix.
Architectural responses are recapitulated in the various manifestations of regionalism.
Both approaches are founded on doctrines: time exalts ideology while space favours
aesthetics. One invokes the genius of history, the other, the genius loci. Identification
through time tends to transform architecture into an ideological instrument; hence
the image is explicitly a construction. Identification through space employs
architecture as a conveyor of identity, pretending to authenticity. This does not
mean that the architectural image is less artificial since construction is required by the
functioning of the mechanisms of identification. In both cases, the process of
identification is founded on the power of architectures power of representation.
Schematically, time as a referent introduces a wilful power of representation; space
enhances the innate power of representation.
Considered from the point of view of the identitarian quest, the use of time as a
referent seems to have a certain pre-eminence. Chronologically, it is intimately related
to the birth of the modern era, developed as a corollary to historical perspective. Also,
it responds better teleologically to the need of identity due to its use of constructed
images. Given that the relation to the site preoccupied architects from very early
times, identification through space could be seen as precursory. However, this
priority is deceptive because the place was rather a subject of appropriateness than an
object of identification as it became with the historical regionalism. Nevertheless,
discussing pre-eminence is irrelevant since space and time are complementary
coordinates, just as history and geography form a complete set of instruments of
knowledge. If identitarian architecture was founded on time as a referent, it never
ignored the spatial dimension, as indicated by Ruskins evocative work Poetry of
Architecture or the Architecture of the Nations of Europe Considered in Its Association
with Natural Scenery and National Character (Ruskin, 1893). More than that, in
defining identities, the historical perspective progressively evolves towards ethnography, thereby proposing a more complex understanding that brings together
territories and temporality.
In the postwar era, the crisis of modernity induced a crisis of identity, destabilizing
the mechanics of identification. Could identity still be a relevant topic? More than
that: could one possibly imagine that architecture could (and should) express it? The
first reaction seemed to be a total rejection of the topic: postwar society, absorbed in

198 C. Popescu

building a new world and mere reconstruction, did not have time for particularisms.
What was actually rejected was not the topic itself, but its apprehension. On the one
hand, abhorred by the modernists and already explored in all its extent by
traditionalists, narrative rhetoric was replaced by a conceptual approach. On the
other hand, at a time when the relevance of group identity was questioned the process
of identification became a matter of individuality, thereby provoking parallel
interpretations. Therefore, architectural responses multiply, assembling manifestations that seem unrelated, like brutalism, contextualism, postmodernism, organic
architecture and so on.
Necessity or Fashion?
What is the real motivation of revisiting the past or imitating nature? How much do
historicism, regionalism and so on respond to a real need of identity and how much
do they merely echo architectural trends? Ruskin (1893, p. 2) deplored the prevalence
of the latter:
This department of the science [the identitarian character of architecture], perhaps
regarded by some who have no ideas beyond stone and mortar as chimerical, and
by others who think nothing necessary but truth and proportion as useless, is at a
miserably low ebb in England. And what is the consequence? We have Corinthian
columns placed besides pilasters of no order at all, surmounted by monstrosified
pepperboxes, Gothic in form and Grecian in detail, in a building nominally and
peculiarly National; we have Swiss cottages, falsely and calumniously so entitled,
dropped in the brick-fields round the metropolis . . . .

What was the real meaning of the orientalising motives employed in creating a
National Style in Romanian architecture around 1900? Did they fulfil the aspiration
to define the spirit of the nation (by interpreting the Ottoman heritage) or did they
simply imitate Orientalism, so fashionable in Western Europe? (Popescu, 2004). The
answer is difficult to ascertain. Since the references to space and time in architecture
involve both ideology and aesthetics, it would be tempting to associate the first with
the quest for identity and the latter with artistic emulation. Yet how could one
dissociate ideology from aesthetics in fabricating identitarian images? Pugins (1841)
concept of picturesque utility is a perfect illustration of the intimate functioning of
this tandem: the smallest detail should have a meaning or have a purpose.
This axiological value clarifies the difference between National Styles and
historicism in general: both are nourished by the past, but the first look for
legitimacy by quoting old monuments, while the latter seek norms and principles. In
emerging states, inside Europe as well as out, historicist architecture was perceived
(and used) as a symbol of the nation. In countries with a well-defined national
history (i.e., the Hegelian fully conscious of what they were) historicism served to
question the very concept of creation, thus feeding the debate on aesthetics. The
axiological value*of the ensemble as well as of each compounding element*

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appears to be crucial in the case of images pretending to an identitarian status; hence

the dispute between engaged art and art for arts sake.
Notes on Time: Writing History
The very fact that the modern era is characterised by a loss of tradition demonstrates
that temporality represents a central notion in defining it. In this context, one should
measure the importance of the founding of history of arts as an academic discipline at
the beginning of the nineteenth century.11 Not only did it introduce an historical
perspective, but it implicitly opened the path toward an identitarian vision based on
Hegels concept of peculiar national genius, which he described as a concrete
manifestation idiosyncrasy of spirit.12 Temporality motivated history of arts also by
hurrying the historian to register monuments before time erased them: The beating
of the large wings of time erases everything, noted Seroux dAgincourt (1810) in the
prospectus of his study.13 Thus, by guaranteeing durability, history of arts could
itself be understood as an identitarian enterprise; hence the architect who aspires to
apprehend the spirit of the community he represents acts often as both the creator
of an identitarian architecture (expressed as national or regional styles) and the
historian of past tradition. His position reinforces the connection between history
and architecture, where the latter is supposed to reflect or to concentrate the first.
Being so knowledgeable, he risks at the same time the abuse of history in his work;
thus his creation tends to be too bookish (in the sense of narrative), or even worse, it
could turn into pastiche.
Ruskins (1901) term lamp of memory helped him explain at length that history
and architecture are intimately connected. An edifice massively built, consequently
evoking durability, and chased with bas-reliefs of our . . . battles is better than a
thousand histories, asserted the architect (Ruskin, 1901, p. 336). He proclaimed
architecture as a readable object, its decoration playing the role of the narration in
history: better the rudest work that tells a story or records a fact, than the richest
without meaning (Ruskin, 1901, p. 334). The comparison of architecture to a book
was a current metaphor in the nineteenth century, rooted in Goethes description of
Strasbourg cathedral (1772). In his essay on The Book and the Building, Neil Levine
(1982) points out the complexity of this metaphor, linking Hugos theory of
architecture (defending monuments as recipients of collective memory) to Labroustes use of inscriptions for the Sainte-Genevie`ve library in Paris. The history of
architecture is a history of writing, explained Hugo: the earliest raised stone slabs or
menhirs were letters and thus the first step was the creation of an alphabet
(quoted in Levine, 1982, p. 149). The use of inscriptions appears thus as highly
symbolic, especially when the edifice represents itself a symbol of the community: not
only do they enclose a narrative, but they become part of the tectonics of the
Identitarian architecture employs structural details and decoration, often quoted
from illustrious examples, as markers of belonging. Therefore, National Styles in the

200 C. Popescu

emerging countries combine a specific decoration with a universal structure (i.e., in

the Balkans or in Asia); the academic compositions imported from the Western
centres of culture are adorned with details inspired by local heritage that confer on
them the quality of a national architecture. The aesthetic eclecticism of such edifices
could be understood as an ideological strategy; in order to be readable abroad as well
as at home, they adopt a lingua franca, particularised by certain expressions of the
local dialect.
Manipulating historical narratives can lead to aesthetical confusion: our culture is
a mixture made up of elements from all earlier cultures, consequently our modern
architectural style should also be a mixture of every conceivable style of architecture
from every time and nation, deplored Semper (1989, p. 267). This criticism not only
concerned the realm of art for arts sake; it applied to the engaged architecture as
well: a profusion of readable references could eventually hide the message. Investing
architecture with the power of an historical narrative equals the writing of history:
creating an architecture able to reflect and represent the Volksgeist is a proof of selfconsciousness (in the Hegelian sense), thus opening the gates of universal history.
Writing history does not imply solely the past: the present and the future are
concerned as well. Nourished by past traditions, the architecture of the selfconsciousness aspires to be a legacy for the future generations (Ruskin, 1901, pp.
326327, 337338)*a vision that Bergson translated as the past gnawing
incessantly into the future (quoted in Giedion, 1967 [1940], p. xliii). Yet in doing
so, it becomes an architecture of the eternally present. Spirit is immortal; with it
there is no past, no future, but an essential now (Hegel, 1988 [1952], p. 190); the
monumental architecture of the 1930s and 1940s is a product of this eternally present.
Notes on Space: Determinism and Appropriateness
The relationship between architecture and space is obvious. The myth of the
primitive hut, on the one hand, and the belief in the determinism of particular
features on human artefacts (comforted by the Hippocratic theory linking humoral
psychology with the geographical position of people on earth (Kaufmann, 2004, p.
23)), on the other, pleads for the relevance of spatial influence. More than that, space
is a matrix that survives the ephemeral productions that it moulds: Geography has
preceded, subsist and will endure, while our civilisations will pass away (Le
Corbusier, 1959, p. 132).14
Space is a multilayered concept that supports several interpretations. In other
words, as well as the abstract notion of space, there are specific spaces: nature, place,
geography, milieu, site, context, environment. Each notion designates a different
degree of the intimate solidarity, as Vidal de la Blache (1995, p. 117) called it, uniting
beings to their setting. Architecture responds differently to each of them: vernacular
language (generically using local materials), old and new regionalisms, contextuality, organic architecture, ecological architecture and so on. In the same way that
human geography largely influenced the creation of regionalist architecture at the

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end of the nineteenth century, the emergence of the new geography, which rejects the
older notion of space as unvarying, has undoubtedly contributed to the reconsideration to all the forms of new or critical regionalism. All these various responses find
motivation in the fact that architecture, as Vincent Scully (2003, p. 198) puts it, is
only part of one large human art, . . . of what must be regarded as the fundamental
art, which is the shaping of the physical environment and of living in it.
There are three principles governing the relationship between architecture and
space: imitation, determinism and appropriateness. Imitation is linked to the idea of
nature and thus to the mythic origin of architecture, to the primitive hut.
Architecture imitates nature, which functions as a paradigm (history is the
development of the idea of spirit in time, such as nature is a development of this
idea in space (Hegel, 1988 [1952], p. 186)). Meanwhile, natures capacity to shape
things leads to determinism: matter engenders form. Materials guiding the hand of
man is a statement discussed by geographers (like the founder of the human
geography: Vidal de la Blache) as well as art historians (the most notorious being
Henri Focillons study of the creative process, Vie des formes (Focillon, 1934)).
Consequently, architecture is determined by the choice of materials, but not solely,
since the particular features of a region or site (climate, geography, etc.) influence it,
too. The architectural response to this influence is appropriateness.
Is this identity? Or is it a search for harmony, or mere determinism? The answer
depends, again, on the axiological value of the established relation. Favouring
geography as a concept determines an identitarian position. Geography participates,
together with history, in building a complete discourse of knowledge. Regionalism
and National Styles, in their second phase, adopted this approach: while using the
space as a referent of identification, they stressed the human factor. Thus, ethnicity
occupies a primordial place in their approach, but if the space concerned by the joint
discourse of geography and history turns into a space of confinement, then the
approach risks becoming dangerous (Foucault, 1980, p. 73). Favouring the idea of
nature, or the more neutral notion of site, implies the immediateness of the dialogue,
without any symbolic dimension. It implies recuperating the authenticity of the
origins, finding the sincerity of the architectural act; hence vernacular is praised as a
zero degree of architecture. Modernists are attracted by such an approach. One year
after the crucial experience in Greece, at the CIAM IV conference, Siegfried Giedion
wrote in the French journal Cahiers dArt: What todays architecture seeks and what
many do not yet understand, is simply that it tends to consider the site, while at the
same time boldly constructing an abstract edifice, as it was done here [in Greece]
(Giedion, 1934, p. 78).15
Notes on Conceptual Thinking: New Significance?
Paradoxically, conceptual thinking is employed to fight abstraction. As Scully (2003,
p. 260) notices, the crisis of modernism was induced by its propensity to abstraction.
Parallel to this, the explosion of the notions of space and time under the influence of

202 C. Popescu

modern physics (Arendt, 1993 [1961], pp. 5556) generated a crisis of the concept of
modernity.16 Not only has society lost its points of reference, but distrusts the very
idea of them. The idiosyncrasy of modernist thinking provoked a loss of space
(Norberg-Schulz, 1980), doubled by the overabundant spatiality of the surmodernity that multiplied the non-spaces (Augie, 1992). Temporality ceased to be
perceived as a continuous progress; the modern man seemed finally to have achieved
the ideal condition desired by Kafkas character: he lives suspended above past and
future in the eternal present. This distanced, but also distant, glance is responsible for
a conceptual vision, while the lack of spatial relevance leads to contextualisation.
Under these circumstances, architecture seeks a new significance: its aspiration to
conceptual plasticity (like Le Corbusiers or Paul Rudolphs objects) and its revisited
relation to the past (like Venturis semiotic architecture) represent but two of its
multiple facets. Writing on Venturi, Scully (2003, pp. 262263) explains that the
architect worked most through the principle of condensation*a principle first
stated by Freud when he described how what he called the dream work brought
dream thoughts into dream content. The first stage of that process was the
condensation of opposites to form a new unity. There is a similarity between this
approach and the Kantian faculty of affinity as a category of the imagination; as
specified the philosopher, the word affinity here reminds one of a catalytic
interaction found in chemistry, . . . analogous to an intellectual combination, which
links two elements specifically distinct from each other, but intimately affecting each
other and striving for unity (Kant, 1996, pp. 6768).
Giedion, who nevertheless foresaw a secret synthesis as a remedy for the crisis of
modernity, distrusted the ironic revisiting of the past, referring to it as playboy
architecture (Giedion, 1967 [1940], p. vi). His position reminds one of the
nineteenth-century debates surrounding the axiological value of the architecture
inspired by the past; as an historian of modernism, he replaced this concept by the
inner meaning and content of the past (Giedion, 1967 [1940], p. xliv). Architecture
recycles previous experiences, recombining referents and mechanisms of identification. History is written again, but under a critical lens.
Space, Time: Identity
This article does not pretend to be a definitive interpretation of the topic of
architecture and identity; instead, it has attempted to put it in perspective in order
to analyse its structure and highlight the similarities of its inner mechanisms along
with those of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Due to its limited length, this
introduction could appear too schematic or at least too abstract in the absence of
concrete examples. In any event, its aim is to offer a common background for the
articles gathered in this special issue of National Identities. Each of the six case studies
presents entirely different aspects of the topic, thus revealing its complexity.
In Placing In-between: Thinking through Architecture in the Construction of
Colonial-Modern Identities, Peter Scriver analyses the way in which architecture acts

National Identities


as a form of cognitive construct, forging common conceptual frameworks for

defining identity. In order to decode the complex mechanisms*cultural and
social*involved in this cognitive construction, he studies the reflection of
architectural experience through its novelistic representation and proposes a reading
of architecture as an in-between space, an unbounded territory of cultural-crossing,
embodying the outside identity of groups. This might appear as a paradox since inbetween-ness transcends limits, while architectural thinking is about delimiting
space. Choosing India as an example (with all the topics concerning colonialism and
post-colonialism) allows Scriver to explore the intricacy of conceiving and perceiving
identity through architecture.
Daniel Le Couedics The Garden of Illusions reveals a paradox, too*namely the
flourishing of regionalist architecture in France, a highly centralised state. Identity is
an invented concept and the French case clearly proves it: supported by the central
power, the architectural regional expression encountered, at its beginning at the end
of the nineteenth century, a certain resistance from the local population. Not only is
identity invented, it is also instrumentalised; by encouraging the development of
architectural regionalism, the central power gives the impression of an opened
governance, while it actually opposes to all form of autonomist/separatist longings,
smothering minority languages. Thus, regionalism is the Trojan horse of centralism.
Le Couedic explains this paradox to be the result of a confusion specific to France
between the territory of the state and that of the nation. The aestheticised vision of
this territory founded by the absolute monarchy in the eighteenth century (the
kingdom as a work of art) secretly fed the regionalist patchwork: an admirable
country made of marvellous differences.
The American strategy in defining the identity of the nation appears completely
different, at least in the way architecture mirrors the concept. In Nationalism,
Internationalism and the Naturalisation of Modern Architecture in the United
States, 19251940, Keith Eggener introduces a post-colonialist interpretation, which
allows him to read the architectural and historiographical discourses as instruments
of identity. By comparing three different stages of these discourses, Eggener
demonstrates the crucial role played by the concept of modernity in shaping the
American identity, the American way of life. He builds his demonstration upon
naturalisation, which concealed the idea of modernity as a fruit of the American
genius (the innovative skyscraper being its perfect embodiment) with imported
European modernism. The naturalisation of the International Style (a label coined
by the American historiography) represented both a return to natural values and a
politicised shift in conceiving identity. In this context, the rise of architectural
regionalism remained a mere topic of discussion, without being invested with an
identity value, applicable only for the margins and not for a central nation.
Indeed, regionalism became emblematic in peripheral Brazil with the Carioca
School, which blended modernity and local tradition. Fernando Diniz Moreiras
Lucio Costa: Tradition in the Architecture of Modern Brazil analyses this twofold
identity. The article can be read as symptomatic of the periphery case in general,

204 C. Popescu

which defines itself through its particularisms by turning them into symbolic values.
A relevant parallel could thus be drawn with the centre-complex of the American
case and the naturalisation of the International Style. In Brazil, the acclimatisation
of modernist principles was intimately connected to the idea of nature, emphasising
the authenticity and honesty of this architecture. According to Lucio Costa, such
an architecture seems to emerge directly from the land. This statement reminds one
that the composer Villa Lobos recorded birdsongs along with folksongs, hence
equating nature with culture.
Since authenticity represents one of the major categories in defining identity, this
special issue concludes with two articles on the topic, each reflecting a different level
of conceptualising its discourse. In Periodisation According to Authenticity, or
Creating Vigorous Borderlines in Nineteenth-century Architectural History, Stefan
Muthesius explores how historiography forged a chronological perspective based on
the criterion of authenticity. Founded in the nineteenth century, this discourse
exercised a durable influence in apprehending art history. By establishing a precise
limit between the age of authenticity and the age of inauthenticity, this discourse
operated an ethical and an existential change, according to Muthesius. A change that
was responsible for both the increasing need of identification and the refusal of
history. The appraisal of vernacular as an essential category in the artistic
conception was related directly to this change, as well. Thus, the authentic values
of vernacular replaced the references of the historical styles.
Hilde Heynens article Questioning Authenticity completes the analysis proposed
by Muthesius by asking how authenticity relates to modernity. While authenticity
emerges as a significant impulse in twentieth-century culture (particularly expressed
as a longing), its multilayered structure can arouse contradictory interactions
between its different meanings. Heynen studies these conflictual interactions through
three examples of restoration of important modernist buildings; the choice enables
her to reveal the complexity and the vagueness of the concept of authenticity, which
is central for both modern architecture principles and the restorations ethics.
Modern architecture refuses the historical perspective, not only by denying the
historical styles, but also by placing itself in a limited duration. Yet when transformed
into a heritage object, its relationship to time appears problematic since the
conservation and the restoration practices fuse past and present. By questioning
authenticity, Heynen eventually questions the notion of identity as related to
architecture: on the one hand, there is the identity of those who build and use
architecture and, on the other, there is the identity of the architectural object itself.

identifiee en quelque sorte avec lhomme, puisque le besoin dy recourir prend naissance
avec lui.
Une ville, un village, des maisons, sont un element descriptif; soit que lon conside`re leur
forme et leur materiaux, leur adaptation a` un genre de vie, rural ou urbain, agricole ou
herbager, ils jettent un jour sur les rapports de lhomme et du sol.

National Identities






I consider, as a convention, that the modern age begins with the nineteenth century and the
publishing of Hegels Philosophy of History : a fundamental work for defining the new era.
The section comes from a text entitled HE , published in Kafka (1946).
The title of this chapter and the title of the introductory text are purposely recycling
Giedions (1967 [1940]) title, Space, Time and Architecture . The reasons are twofold: to
propose an alternative reading of the two constitutive elements *space and time, and to
demonstrate that for the period studied (nineteenth and twentieth centuries) identity
represents a major axis of the history of architecture.
While Lewis Mumford pointed it out, Giedion coined the term new regionalism in 1954 in
the article of the same title published in Architecture, You and Me (Giedion, 1958). Alexander
Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre, followed by Kenneth Frampton, developed this new regionalism
into a critical regionalism.
Alexander Tzonis (Lefaivre & Tzonis, 2003) used the label chauvinistic to describe certain
manifestations of identitarian architecture in the nineteenth century.
Thomas DaCosta Kaufmann analyses this long filiation in his Toward a Geography of Art
(Kaufmann, 2004).
au milieu des productions les plus informes, dans les monuments les moins importants et
les plus fragiles.
au lieu de chercher a` constater lage dune production de lArt, par lerudition qui en
explique le sujet, il faudrait au contraire en expliquer le sujet, par le style du monument et
dapre`s les principes de lArt.
In 1813, to be precise (see, for a condensed analysis, Kaufmann, 2004).
As remarked Daniel Arrasse (1972), history of art was nevertheless dominated by an
evolutionist conception until Riegl (1972) imposed the historical point of view.
Le temps qui du battement de ses grandes ailes efface toute chose.
La geographie a precede, subsiste et durera, alors que nos civilisations sont passage`res.
Ce que recherche larchitecture daujourdhui et ce que beaucoup desprits ne comprennent
pas encore, est justement quelle tende a` tenir compte du terrain, et qua` la fois, elle dresse
fie`rement ledifice abstrait, tel quil est ici [en Gre`ce] realise.
Giedion mentions also the birds eye view and the enormous magnification of the
microscope, which brought us a new perception of nature and its prodigies (in the French
version of his book: Space, Time, Architecture; Paris: Editions Denoel, 2004, p. 257).

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