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Modernity and Early Cultures

Reconsidering non western references for modern architecture in a cross-cultural perspective

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Anna Minta and Bernd Nicolai

At the beginning of the 20th century, the discovery of early cultures exerted a formative influence on modern architecture. Discussions on early civilizations in the Middle East, South-East Asia, and the pre-Columbian cultures of North and South America as well as new perceptions of archaism and primitivism revolutionized the production of art and architecture.
In this anthology, European and North and South American scholars from various fields address art and architectural theory to show the avant-garde’s historical relation to archaeology and its influence on the development of Modernism. Contributors include Can Bilsel (San Diego), Luis E. Carranza (Rhode Island), Johannes Cramer (Berlin), Christian Freigang (Frankfurt), Maria P. Gindhart (Atlanta), Jorge F. Liernur (Buenos Aires), Anna Minta (Bern), and Bernd Nicolai (Bern).

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Modernity and Early Cultures – an outline 9

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9Modernity and Early Cultures – an outline Bernd Nicolai, Luis E. Carranza The main objective of this anthology is to compare how four determinedly Western modern “geographies” (sites and cultures) addressed non-West- ern early cultures in the age of modernity. These include South and North America and the Middle East as peripheries in the process of emancipa- tion and modernization, as well as France and Germany as the centers of European Modernism. On one hand, the emphasis lies, in general, on the origin and ideology of these discourses and on their importance for the development of modern architecture in the 20th century – as the histori- cal period of our focus is the early to mid-twenties century. On the other hand, we are interested in the specific cultural characteristics of theses geographies in order to describe not only cultural differences but also reciprocities. Although publications such as the impressive exhibition catalogue At the End of the Century 1 from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1998 have opened cross-cultural perspectives, they have not dealt with the role of so-called “archaic cultures” for the development of Modernism. This first anthology, however, addresses the present shortfall in contemporary architectural scholarship and research. “To be primitive” was one of the slogans of architects that took part in the European reformation debate prior to 1914. Normative neo-classicism was opposed by means of a vaguely defined construct of archaism and primitivism that, in turn, was seen as a revolutionary shift in the percep- tion...

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