Guide Gottfried Semper and the problem of historicism

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Karl Popper, Science, & Pseudoscience: Crash Course Philosophy #8

Departure from traditional design methods was also present in his restorations. Even though he received some criticism for not being a faithful restorer, he received considerable recognition for his restoration work. Being an entirely forward-looking designer, Viollet le Duc was able develop the stepping-stone to modern architecture from the discoveries of his Gothic studies. The passion he possessed for both architecture and nature is what attracted him to Gothic architecture.

His artistic vision and his hatred for machine would refrain him from consideration of a new style. The notion of introducing new materials, such as iron and glass, infuriated him because the building will then cease to be true to architecture. Being true to architecture was also a philosophy Ruskin carried to restoration. The life cycle and aging of the building is part of the architecture and therefore, should not be retouched.


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Lastly, Gottfried Semper, a German architect whose approach is a combination of the two with the application of scientific methods. As architecture evolved, so did the categories; being read separately or together. Where U is the result of function, C is the functional expression of the relationship between the coefficients, and the coefficients, in which are subdivided into three categories: materials and techniques, local and ethnological, and personal influences.

He believed that style should be influenced by socio-political conditions, fulfilling the needs for that particular location, culture, and time. Pevsner, N.

Architecture as a Mathematical Function: Reflections on Gottfried Semper | SpringerLink

Ruskin and Viollet-le-Duc. Englishness and Frenchness in the Appreciation of Gothic Architecture. London: Thames and Hudson. Summerson, J. Quitzsch, on the other hand, emphasise Sempers scientic aspirations, identifying their epistemological underpinnings. These interpretations are undoubtedly in conict, potentially construing Semper as an idealist or a positivist, respectively.

Yet, both interpre- tations are also undoubtedly true, targeting real and critical aspects of Sempers thought. More important than to determine which of the two readings is correct, therefore, is to identify this conict in Sempers own thought and to see how it conditioned his overall theory of archi- tecture. The tragic aw in Sempers thinking, puzzling so many of his readers, appears here as a schism between his recognition of the onto- logical signicance of art and his desire for its methodical explanation.

Although neither of these pursuits is exclusive to Semper, my interest is in the ambition and rigor with which he attempted to carry out both sides of this conicting enterprise. This study interprets Sempers writings in the context of nineteenth- century architectural, philosophical, and scientic discourse. It does not discuss his buildings but focuses on the interpretation of his texts. Most of the material I use is well known and available in publication.

Rather than aiming to provide new facts, I hope to develop new understandings, believing that despite an overwhelming availability of sources, critical issues in Sempers work as well as in the intellectual context that nurtured it remain unaddressed and misunderstood. By relating the individual and often contradictory aspects of Sempers thought to a larger context, I attempt to throw new light both on Sempers own project and on the context itself, exploring along the way the curious intellectual climate of nineteenth-century historicism.

Sempers writings raise essential questions about the nature, the history, and the methodology of art and architecture, some of which we encountered previously. Yet, he rarely explicated his theoretical. It should be remembered that Semper was not an architec- tural writer, but rather an architect who wrote, and that his associative manner of writing, his idiosyncratic adaptations of theories, and his sometimes underdeveloped arguments require a broad and synthetic reading to make their signicance apparent. Attempting to develop such a reading, I have applied the intellectual framework of con- temporary hermeneutics, interpreting Sempers texts in light of the nineteenth-century horizon or horizons of understanding.

The read- ings weave an interpretative web of references, each addressing a key point in Sempers oeuvre. The selection of these texts does not aspire to present a complete overview of Sempers theoretical sources. Many central gures in Sempers life have been left out, and some of the ones included were most likely unknown to Semper himself.

Jefferies on Hvattum, 'Gottfried Semper and the Problem of Historicism'

What has guided my selection is not so much direct links of inuence although in many cases such links certainly exist as a desire to nd texts that may help us understand Sempers own intentions and assertions. This approach has its obvious limitations. Each of the texts chosen would in itself deserve extensive study, and my selective reading will not do full justice to their complexity. Neither will this reading always do justice to Semper himself, insofar as it is more interested in capturing an intellectual horizon than presenting a scrupulous biography.

Yet, the approach also has benets: it allows me to use Semper as a vehicle to address overriding issues in modern architectural discourse and to interpret this discourse as part of a larger cultural context rather than an isolated aesthetic domain. Let me give some examples of this approach.

When mapping Sempers position vis-a-vis the neoclassical discourse on architecture, for instance, I use M. Laugiers and A.

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Quatremere de Quincys writings on origin and imitation, contrasting them with romantic imita- tion theories like those of J. Goethe and A. Sempers understanding of the notions of origin and imitation goes beyond both neoclassical and romantic aesthetics, however, and his emphasis on the ontological rather than the formal meaning of art suggests analogies with the Aristotelian notion of poetry as a mimesis of praxis. Sempers notion of artistic making in light of Aristotles notions of mimesis, praxis, and mythos, the rst part of the book concludes by lo- cating a dormant poetics of architecture in Sempers reections on the origins of art.

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Mari Hvattum: Gottfried Semper and the problem of historicism

Sempers poetics of architecture was never fully developed, and in his later writings, this insight is overshadowed by his dream of a science of art, or a practical aesthetics as he called it. Part II exam- ines this practical aesthetics and its methodological presuppositions. Semper patterned his new aesthetics on the comparative method, and was undoubtedly inspired by previous comparative architectural his- tories such as those of J.

Leroy and C. He did not take his cues exclusively from architectural discourse, however.

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By the mid-nineteenth century, the comparative method had come to dom- inate elds as diverse as anatomy, linguistics, and sociology all of which were mentioned by Semper as methodological ideals. Searching for precedents for Sempers comparative theory of architecture, there- fore, I draw on the comparative anatomy of G. Cuvier, the comparative linguistics of F. Schlegel, and the comparative sociology of A. Although Sempers references to these disciplines are well known, their common methodological presuppositions remain largely unaddressed.

I attempt to approach this question by looking at the compara- tive method in light of the Kantian notion of organic systems. Such a study, I believe, will not only elucidate the background and implica- tions of Sempers comparative project, but will also throw light on the nineteenth-century obsession with comparative methodology in gen- eral. The rise of this method, I will argue, implied a particular view of the world, one in which the notion of a hierarchy of representation has collapsed, where every phenomenon has gained an equal and com- mensurable ontological status.

In this situation, the task of architecture became particularly problematic. Sempers practical aesthetics may be seen as a contextual response to this collapse. Sempers latent poetics stands in an uneasy relation to his practical aesthetics, a disquiet that has led much scholarship to treat the two in isolation. Yet, Semper himself always attempted to reconcile these aspects, even when, late in life, doubts started to haunt him regarding the possibility of such a fusion. It seems important, therefore, to look.

This framework, I believe, must be sought in the philosophical outlook of historicism.


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The third and concluding part of this book begins by look- ing at the nineteenth-century debate on style and Sempers position within it. I argue that Sempers concern for style was not primar- ily an aesthetic concern, but rather informed by a particular notion of history, formed and articulated by key contributions to historicist thought such as that of J. Herder, W. Relying on the interpretations of R. Koselleck and H. Gadamer, I investigate the aporetic structure of historicism, looking at the way the seeming opposites of romantic aestheticism and pos- itivist scientism were fused within it.

This fusion, I believe, is key to understanding Sempers merging of a poetics with a practical aes- thetics.

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The concluding chapter probes deeper into the aporias of historicism, using Gadamers critique of historicist epistemology and methodology as its point of departure. By looking at Diltheys idea of a science of history and its methodological presuppositions, new light may be shed on Sempers own dream of a method of inventing. Both Semper and Dilthey envisioned the possibility of a scientic method- ology in the eld of human culture, by means of which art and history could become transparent objects for the scientist-historian. Sempers project for a science of art remained unnished, as did Diltheys dream of a science of history.

The incompleteness of their project indi- cates, perhaps, a limit beyond which instrumental reason cannot move.