What is a global history of architecture? There is, of course, no single answer, just as there is no single way to define words like global, history, and architecture. Nonetheless, these words are not completely openended, and they serve here as the vectors that have helped us construct the narratives of this volume. With this book, we hope to provoke discussion about these terms, and at the same time furnish a framework students can use to begin discussion in the classroom.
This book is global in that it aspires to represent the history of the whole world. Whereas any such book must inevitably be selective about what it can and cannot include, we have attempted to represent a wide swath of the globe, in all its diversity. At the same time, for us, the global is not just a geographic construct that can be simply contrasted with the regional or local: the global is also a function of the human imagination, and one of the things we are very interested in is the manner in which local histories imagine the world. This book, however, is not about the sum of all local histories. Its mission is bound to the discipline of architecture, which requires us to see connections, tensions, and associations that transcend so-called local perspectives. In that respect, our narrative is only one of many possible narratives.
Synchrony has served as a powerful frame for our discussion. For instance, as much as Seoul’s Gyeongbok Palace is today heralded in Korea as an example of traditional Korean architecture, we note that it also belongs to a Eurasian building campaign that stretched from Japan (the Katsura Imperial Villa), through China (Beijing and the Ming Tombs), to Persia (Isfahan), India (the Taj Mahal), Turkey (the Suleymaniye Complex), Italy (St. Peter’s Basilica and the Villa Rotonda), Spain (El Escorial), France (Chambord), and Russia (Cathedral of the Assumption). The synchrony of these buildings opens up for us questions such as, What did one person know about the other? How did information travel? How did architectural culture move or become “translated”? Some of these questions we have addressed directly; others we have raised and left unanswered. But to call Gyeongbok Palace traditional is to overlook the extraordinary modernity of all the buildings listed above.
This is not to say that our story is only the story of influence and connection. There are numerous examples of architectural production where the specific circumstances of their making were unique to their own immediate context. Indeed, we have tried to be faithful to the specificities of each individual building while acknowledging that every specific architectural project is always embedded in a larger world that affects it directly or indirectly. These effects could be a consequence of the forces of economy, trade, and syncretism; of war, conquest, and colonization; or the exchange of knowledge, whether forced, borrowed, or bought. Our post–19th century penchant to see history through the lens of the nation-state often makes it difficult to decipher such global pictures. Furthermore, in the face of today’s increasingly hegemonic global economy, the tendency by historians, and often enough by architects, to nationalize, localize, regionalize, and even microregionalize history—perhaps as meaningful acts of resistance—can blind us to the historical interconnectivity of global realities. What would the Turks be today had they stayed in East Asia? The movement of people, ideas, and wealth has bound us to each other since the beginning of history. And so without denying the reality of nation-states and their claims to unique histories and identities, we have resisted the temptation to streamline our narratives to fit nationalistic guidelines. Indian architecture, for instance, may have some consistent traits from its beginnings to the present day, but there is less certainty about what those traits might be than one may think. The flow of Indian Buddhism to China, the settling of Mongolians in the north, the influx of Islam from the east, and the colonization by the English from the coast—not to mention India’s then-current economic expansion—are just some of the more obvious links that bind India, for better or worse, to global events. It is as much these links, and the resultant architecture, as the “Indianness” of Indian architecture, that interests us. Furthermore, India has historically been divided into numerous kingdoms that, like Europe, could easily have evolved (and in some cases did evolve) into their own nations. The 10th-century Chola dynasty of peninsular India, for example, was not only an empire but possessed a unique world view of its own. In writing its history, we have attempted to preserve its distinct identity while marking the ways in which it maps its own global imagination.