As often happens in academia, our research project originated with an unsuccessful fellowship application. And yet, if our proposal to address Australasian perspectives on architectural history had no luck as a fellowship proposal, the project took on new life as a symposium titled “Australasia and the Global Turn in Architectural History.” We issued invitations in fall 2021 and notified our list of contributors in December 2021. Hosted by the Australian Centre for Architectural History, Urban and Cultural Heritage (ACAHUCH) at the University of Melbourne, the symposium was held both online and in person on 27 April 2022 (Figure 1). The event also served to mark contributions made by Australian and New Zealand scholars to the latest edition of the venerable and problematic survey of architectural history originated by Banister Fletcher in 1896, restyled in 2020 as Sir Banister Fletcher’s Global History of Architecture. The arrival in Australia of Murray Fraser, general editor of the new Banister Fletcher, as the recipient of the prestigious Macgeorge Fellowship at the University of Melbourne following two years of border closure because of COVID-19, made the symposium even more timely. The symposium in turn laid the foundations for the JSAH Roundtable presented here.
Our symposium thus had two aims: on the one hand, to celebrate the twenty-first edition of Banister Fletcher, with its increased attention to Australasia; and on the other, to open a wider discussion of under- and overrepresentation, and to examine key issues demanding further exploration in global narratives, including gender, ethnicity, and migration. Each of these two aims became the focus of a separate session at the symposium. The first, on the Australasian presence in global histories of architecture, featured presentations by Murray Fraser, Vimalin Rujivacharakul, Deidre Brown, Amanda Achmadi and Paul Walker, and Philip Goad. The second session, exploring the limitations of global histories, featured Mark Jarzombek, Vikramāditya Prakāsh, Paul Memmott, Joanna Merwood-Salisbury, and Karen Burns (Lori Brown was unable to join due to a previous commitment).1
We developed our pitch for a JSAH Roundtable even before the symposium took place, after we participated in an online SAH member meetup with JSAH editor David Karmon and associate editor Alice Tseng on 11 March 2022. Following review by the JSAH Editorial Advisory Committee, JSAH accepted our proposal under two conditions: that we foreground the presence of Australasia, and that we engage emerging scholars in our proposed dialogue. We were glad to agree to the conditions, as in fact we had already begun thinking along those lines. In June 2022 we issued a new round of invitations to the symposium participants to inquire whether they were willing to continue as part of the roundtable project, and we also invited additional contributions from new and emerging voices in Australasia and beyond. Our call for contributions elicited more interest than we could accommodate, but we hope to engage with this broader group of scholars in the future.
This JSAH Roundtable presents dialogues between established and emerging scholars both within and beyond Australasia. As the result of our instigation and the participants’ subsequent investigations, we believe the contributions speak for themselves. In the essays that follow, the authors reflect on their own work: many write about their firsthand experiences as contributors to literature resulting from the global turn in architectural history, and all reflect on how their methods fit into, struggle with, or expand upon new global frameworks. Moreover, all the essays are intertwined by a decolonizing thread. Studies by Murray Fraser, Vimalin Rujivacharakul, Paul Walker and Amanda Achmadi, and Solmaz Mohammadzadeh Kive point to a transnational dialogue around the potential for (un)evenness in global histories, while Vikramāditya Prakāsh and Mark Jarzombek explore issues of voice and representation. Both Charmaine ‘Ilaiū Talei and Rujivacharakul discuss the vastness of the ocean and its potentialities for movements, and Rujivacharakul’s reflections on trade also intersect with Walker and Achmadi’s analysis. Paul Memmott and ‘Ilaiū Talei foreground Indigeneity in defense of a cross-cultural approach. Walker and Achmadi’s and Soon-Tzu Speechley’s discussions of nationalism and the nation-state versus the region, as well as their explorations of tensions between the local and the imperial (globalizing but not yet global), gain further nuance from their juxtaposition to the religious case study examined by Jasper Ludewig. Ludewig also contributes to the discussion relating to issues of diaspora initiated by ‘Ilaiū Talei. Karen Burns and Lori Brown, along with Prakāsh, present a timely dialogue on rights and rights-based historiography. Philip Goad’s ten points direct us toward the future, and Prakāsh’s planetary approach exemplifies the kind of ethics that may guide us in this work.
We would like to thank everybody who has been involved in making this project’s first two installments, the ACAHUCH symposium and this JSAH Roundtable, a productive exchange of ideas, positions and positionalities, knowledges, and experiences that find value as well as challenges in the global approach. We are excited by the intergenerational, transnational, and cross-cultural dialogues generated here following our symposium, and we look forward to their future development in Australasia and beyond.2
For more information regarding the symposium, including abstracts, see “Symposium: Australasia and the Global Turn in Architectural History, 27 April 2022,” Australian Centre for Architectural History, Urban and Cultural Heritage, University of Melbourne, https://acahuch.msd.unimelb.edu.au/news-events/symposium-australasia-and-the-global-turn-in-architectural-history (accessed 7 Apr. 2023).
Paul Walker and Macarena de la Vega de León, “Architectural Histories after the Global Turn” (roundtable accepted for the Eighth International Meeting of the European Architectural History Network, Athens, Greece, 19–23 June 2024); see “List of Sessions and Round Tables Accepted,” 20 Mar. 2023, EAHN 2024 Athens, http://eahn2024.arch.ntua.gr/index.php/news (accessed 21 Apr. 2023).
A Provisional, Collectivized Global History
The symposium held at Melbourne University in April 2022 to discuss Australasia’s position in global architectural history raised a number of important questions about historiography.1 Yet equally it became apparent that these questions do not apply solely to the writing of global architectural history but are symptomatic of all historical writing, whatever the scale: for instance, how to discuss aspects where evidence is lost, how to address ephemeral architecture, how to incorporate traditionally overlooked and marginalized social groups, how to achieve gender balance, and so on. Authors of localized “microhistories”—which rightly constitute the bulk of contributions to architectural history—do not often confront this level of historiographical interrogation. Only when issues are discussed in global terms do such concerns tend to be portrayed as stumbling blocks. And yet that is not only intellectually inconsistent, but it also raises additional concerns about the presence of hidden antiglobal, nationalist/regionalist undercurrents within our subject.
Whenever I am asked to describe my role in coediting the twenty-first edition of Banister Fletcher (2020), with its intention of decentering global architectural historiography, I start by observing that the birth of world histories coincided with European imperialism—as attested by Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach’s Entwurff einer historischen Architectur (1721) (Figures 2 and 3). This imperialist stimulus continued in the large nineteenth-century British surveys, further permeated by racist ideology in James Fergusson’s work and alarm about imperial collapse in Banister Fletcher’s. More recent surveys have tried to reverse the Western, colonialist bias within global architectural histories, an aim accelerated by the new edition of Banister Fletcher, for which a networked, distributed, and collective approach was adopted, whereby eighty-eight expert scholars—archaeologists and art historians as well as architectural historians, all engaged in primary research into their specific subject areas and time periods—were invited to write their chapters in their own ways. We thus envisioned the twenty-first edition as a palimpsest: we would scrape away the previous Banister Fletcher text to write it completely afresh, yet in an intentionally provisional manner, rather than attempt to write a fixed, definitive, and comprehensive history—an elusive goal that most historians today recognize as both impossible and unnecessary.
Bloomsbury Publishing also requested that this new edition respond to two other edited books the company had commissioned that would rely on collective contributors: the updating of the Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World by Marcel Vellinga and colleagues, and The Bloomsbury Global Encyclopedia of Women in Architecture, 1960–2015, edited by Lori A. Brown and Karen Burns. The latest Banister Fletcher includes vernacular architecture and cites the increasing contributions of female architects as part of its wider aim of acknowledging the impact of cultural studies and critical theory over the past few decades, yet it also holds back a little so as not to encroach on these two forthcoming volumes.
My uneasiness about the Melbourne symposium stemmed from the claims made by some participants that global surveys like the new Banister Fletcher, which devotes approximately 3 percent of its chapters to Australasia/Oceania, underrepresent that region’s architectural history. Not only do such claims rely on questionable statistics regarding geographic zones, but it is also pointless to attempt to fix quotas based on land or sea area or even population size; instead, a survey’s contents should be decided on the basis of relevance. One symposium participant even tried to claim there will be proportionally more coverage of Australasia/Oceania in the new edition of the Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World, although a quick check with that book’s editor, Marcel Vellinga, revealed that it too devotes about 3 percent of its contents to the region.2 On top of the concern about whether claims about underrepresentation mask nationalist/regionalist/antiglobal sentiment, this points to a continuing problem in that the latest Banister Fletcher, like previous global histories, is often not read or understood for what it actually is—rather, scholars project their own anxieties and viewpoints onto these texts. Indeed, it seems that the new Banister Fletcher also has the function of charting a sense of unevenness within our subject.
Australasian/Oceanian architectural history—especially in Australian studies—undoubtedly faces a significant challenge in seeking to integrate research about Indigenous architecture, past and present, with the study of settler colonial architecture. The twenty-first edition of Banister Fletcher contains three excellent chapters by experts from the region who all point ways forward in the attempt to meet this challenge. That said, the overall proportion allocated to Australasia/Oceania feels broadly appropriate. Another way to view this aspect of the survey is to consider that if the aim is to produce a more decentered, distributed global architectural history, then it is entirely plausible to expect to address at least thirty countries/regions with major relevance for that history—and this again indicates something like 3 percent for each. This is indeed the proportion of chapters that the new Banister Fletcher allocates, for instance, to North America, plus it is an allocation that will continue to diminish in the future as we increasingly include—as we should—multiple voices.
Hence it appears axiomatic that the more globalized our architectural history becomes, the less global architectural history is going to be about any one country or region. This is a positive sacrifice: we should all wish to read more about the countries and regions we know less about. While working on the new Banister Fletcher, I realized that much more writing on architectural history is needed for large areas of the world, notably Africa. This should not be the work of white Western scholars writing Africa’s architectural histories on its behalf, but the work of African scholars from the continent or its diaspora. To address this need, the African Architectural and Urban History Network (AFRAUHN) has been established to help develop a new generation of African scholars who will move global architectural history toward a more balanced future (Figure 4).3 Future global histories will come from locations like Africa—and one hopes they will be carried out in a more networked, distributed, and collective manner, and that they too present themselves as provisional.
See “Symposium: Australasia and the Global Turn in Architectural History, 27 April 2022,” Australian Centre for Architectural History, Urban and Cultural Heritage, University of Melbourne, https://acahuch.msd.unimelb.edu.au/news-events/symposium-australasia-and-the-global-turn-in-architectural-history (accessed 7 Apr. 2023).
Marcel Vellinga, professor of anthropology of architecture, Oxford Brookes University, email correspondence with author, 1 Feb. 2022. Vellinga noted that the forthcoming edition of the Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World includes 95 entries focusing on Australasia/Oceania: 24 on Australia, 26 on Polynesia (including New Zealand), 22 on New Guinea, and 23 on Micronesia and Melanesia. As EVAW consists of 2,769 short entries, these 95 constitute around 3 percent of the total.
The founding members of the African Architectural and Urban History Network are Nnamdi Elleh, Murray Fraser, Lesley Lokko, Ikem Stanley Okoye, and Ola Uduku. The key intention of AFRAUHN is “to promote, support, develop and disseminate high-quality research about the architectural and urban history of the African continent and the African diaspora.”
After History’s Hegemony
Whenever someone asks me, what do I mean by “global”?—a question frequently posed by graduate students, eager to be on the right side of history—I wonder why they do not ask, what do I mean by “history”? One cannot write a “global history” and assume any of the usually comfortable securities, even when it comes to the word history. “Global” forces the word history into an awkward space between onto-epistemic horizons. So let me just quickly give an example.
The Catalan Atlas of 1375 depicts Musa I (ca. 1280–ca. 1337) seated on a throne and holding a golden orb (Figure 5). Musa was no random African potentate. In fact, he might well have been one of the richest men in the world. In 1324, he made a pilgrimage to Mecca accompanied by a procession that included sixty thousand men wearing brocade and Persian silk, an array of heralds, and twelve thousand slaves, each carrying gold bars weighing 1.8 kilograms (4 pounds). Musa’s pilgrimage was perhaps the most awe-inspiring transcontinental display of wealth in history. But what we know comes only from Islamic sources, which obsess mostly about the gold. There are no documents that point to what Musa brought back from Mecca, nor do our histories that talk about Musa raise this question—even speculatively. This is important since the purpose of this journey was not just to pray at Mecca, but also to go on an extensive shopping trip. Musa had to strengthen his alliances with neighboring chiefs. He had to work with elders, warriors, and slave providers of various sorts and ranks. He had to grease the transportation system, particularly the system relating to salt and copper that he also controlled. Everything had to be organized and managed not just at the point of a spear but also through gifts, exchanges, speeches, rituals, and sacrifices of various sorts, calibrated in just the right way. For this, Musa needed cattle, silks, beads, furniture, Egyptian cloth, iron objects, incense, and on and on. In turn, this meant that he had to make careful plans for the acquisition of these items as he traveled both to and from Mecca. But without documents, we can only speculate.
Musa was not an exception to the rule, but one of thousands of variants across the chiefdom continuum. If we could amend the Catalan Atlas, we would add the contemporaneous Zimbabweans building vast palace complexes; the Javanese who controlled the shipping lanes between India and China; the Polynesians celebrating huge feasts on elaborately constructed platforms on the island of Nan Madol; the Mongolians who built a sprawling capital called Karakorum; the Scandinavians who made Gotland, off the coast of Sweden, one of Europe’s leading entrepôts; the Cham in Vietnam who built an extensive mortuary temple complex, known as Mỹ Sơn; and the Khmer who raised a huge city and spectacular temples in the forests of Cambodia. The list continues without end.
Today we would include these places in our global histories, but in many cases, all we know comes from archaeology, which gives us an extremely limited and often skewed perspective onto the past. Ethnography has its own limitations, and even indigenous bodies of evidence, because they often focus on dynasties, battles, and genealogies, offer practically no insight into the day-to-day workings of the economy or into decision-making processes, much less into issues about the perception and definition of society, culture, and landscape. As we start to multiply the problems around how to write a history in these situations, the word history begins to sound premature and downright arrogant.
The academic problems are real. Why, for example, does Janet Abu-Lughod not make a single reference to Musa or to the world of the Bantu or even mention the word chiefdom in her book Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250–1350, when these were all fundamental parts of the world system at that time?1 The reason is that she uses only published documents. As a result, her book misses a lot, quite a lot.
If we seek truth in documents—certainly laudable—we miss the necessities of breadth. If we want “voice” we are forced into the ethnographies of presentism and miss the subvoices of depth, and if we want historical fiction to fill in the gap, well, we will need to change our ideas about publishing and tenure. We come in this way to history’s negative dialectics as the unsignified signifier of history’s bounded condition within its own modernity.
So, one could propose, maybe we should use a different term rather than history, one that is more ambiguous and self-implicatory, one that does not lead us into rabbit holes of historiographic guilt, disciplinary confusion, and authorial anxiety. I am open to suggestions, but in my own work, I love the idea that one has to write oneself into the historiographic problematics to find possibilities of research in the same breath as finding and theorizing its liminal impossibilities.
I will close with a remarkable observation by the fifteenth-century philosopher Leonardo Bruni, who contends that “the world has very many corners; it has as many as there are in the world.”2 It is an intelligent and witty thought. The world is of course round and has no corners. It is us—moderns—who give the world its “corners” when we make our maps to better understand the world, but these corners are neither real nor stable. They change continuously to produce knowledge and yet also to falsify it. The issue is not about the crisis of representation, but about the difficulty of understanding the unrepresentable in the space beyond the corners.
Janet Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250–1350 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989).
Leonardo Bruni, Lettres familières, vol. 2, trans. Laurence Bernard-Pradelle (Montpellier: Presses Universitaires de la Méditerranée, 2014), pt. 8:2, cited and translated by Katharina N. Piechocki, “Cartographic Translation: Reframing Leonardo Bruni’s De interpretatione recta (1424),” I Tatti Studies in Italian Renaissance 20, no. 1 (Spring 2017), 42.
Buildings of the Ocean: Ephemerality and Monumentality
It is no secret that the first sixteen editions of Sir Banister Fletcher’s History of Architecture (1896–1954) did not include a single entry on Australia, New Zealand, or any part of Oceania.1 The book’s first reference to this region was in its seventeenth edition, published a decade after Fletcher’s death. This would seem to confirm our belief in Fletcher’s dismissal of everything beyond the canon. Arguably, the omission was not personal. Throughout Fletcher’s lifetime, no architectural history survey textbooks addressed Oceania. Beset by colonial politics, the region and its geographical subdivisions—Australasia, Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia—seemed a clutter of imperialist forces impossible to disentangle. But World War II changed the order of things, when many islands gained independence. In 1953, the British Western Pacific Territories also relocated to the Solomon Islands, and the United States officially declared Hawaii its fiftieth state in 1959.2 With the new geopolitical boundaries, Australasia came to comprise former colonies of England; Melanesia, colonies of England and France; and Guam and Hawaii, territories of the United States.3 Cultural politics ensued, as did the culture industry. The Beatles toured Australia and New Zealand in 1964, followed by the Rolling Stones in 1965.4 In 1966, Lyndon Johnson arrived, making the first state visit by an incumbent U.S. president. Ten years later, R. A. Cordingley, editor of the seventeenth edition of Fletcher’s History of Architecture (1976), duly included a page-long section on Australia and New Zealand. Although Cordingley’s intervention was significantly shorter than the latest three-part expansion in the twenty-first edition edited by Murray Fraser (2020), it marked the first time a region below the 10 degree southern latitude line earned its own chapter in an architectural history survey textbook.5
Evidently, the region has one underlying geopolitical problem: imperialism sanctions both its absence and its presence. As such, recentering Australasia in global architectural history is not simply a matter of increasing the number of subject entries, chapters, or pages; to do so would be to put aside one set of imperialist geopolitical designations to take up another. Quantified architectural history cannot resolve the region’s historical conditions embedded in the enduring division between Indigenous-precolonial and imperialist-modern.6
Rather, rebalancing the region with global equity will require reexamining the current shape of architectural history. The conventional Eurocentric platform in architectural history instantiates a geocultural model of a region whose cultures exist in close proximity, distinguished by traceable, coherent sequences of change in form. In 1893 Alois Riegl spoke of origins and transmission, and three years later Banister Fletcher and his son began touting the development of style as varying by regions; by the early twentieth century Wilhelm Worringer put forth the concept of regional characteristics, while later architectural historians such as David Watkin and Kenneth Frampton saw evolutionism in regionalism.7 Variations in names and methodological details aside, the construction of such narratives universally relies on the enduring presence of physical evidence. The islands of Oceania have uncountable building traditions, but their physical forms have not always lasted. Mud, bamboo, timber, and straw structures are impermanent historical markers, and modern methods to document intangible heritage are limited.8 Local practices also do not regularly necessitate a clear divide between nature and the built environment.9 Meanwhile, the region’s modern historiography is equally troubled by the massive influx of white migrants, whose stories of their settlements set forth the region’s tales of “progress.” Translating this material-temporal matrix into categories brings up age-old oppositions: monumentality versus ephemerality, settler versus nomad, masonry versus timber.
Historical continuity and successive sequences of changes are elements of a method, but they are not the only ways to recount the past. A study of “Mediterraneanism” as a historical phenomenon illustrates how such elements can affect a region’s history. In the “Middle Sea,” accounts of connectedness and continuity begin with the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations, which have long been the gold standard for the land–sea cultural diffusion.10 Medieval and Renaissance records of trade and the movements of people add an exponential number of case studies for historians to further argue for the Mediterranean’s enclosed seascape. Giuseppe Sergi highlighted cultural diffusion, Riegl pursued collective stylistic development, and Fernand Braudel presented intraregional connections with unmistakable ecological determinism.11 Yet more recent scholarship challenges such arguments, whether in art, architecture, or cultural history, with evidence pointing to sustained neglect of the Ottoman Empire and Africa.12 Michael Herzfeld’s critique of Mediterraneanism is apt, alerting us to the persistence of nationalist narratives whereby the region’s present-day cultural realities are disguised by claims of ancient Greek heritage.13 The making of any cultural commonality through regionalism is selective, inevitably fortifying one dominant identity over others.
For Oceania, the example of Mediterraneanism reminds us to steer away from arbitrary regionalism. The demand for historical continuity and cultural connectedness has already established the parameters that define the seeable and the sayable in architectural history. Excessive privileging of regional commonality may not only accentuate Oceania’s shared colonial past but also unwittingly neutralize the diversity of its Indigenous cultures.
To conclude on a more optimistic note, the late Marshall Sahlins’s Islands of Culture might open up alternative solutions. Arguing for the history–culture correlation at the height of structuralism in the 1960s, Sahlins identified two coexisting types of social structures: prescriptive and performative.14 While prescriptive social structures provide structural benchmarks that can be used to interpret a thing’s significance, we can observe performative social structures only through events that both generate new meanings of things and revise the preexisting cultural order simultaneously.15 When a village layout is altered to reflect change, the altered layout both generates the village’s new cultural order and prompts new conjunctures to unfold in the village’s history. When a community adopts a traditional architectural form to build a modern hospital, the hospital’s modern functions redefine preexisting notions of healing while its form challenges modern impressions of a hospital’s design. A meaning of architecture in the context of performative social structure always emerges when a community’s cultural order changes. Consequently, we no longer need to recount architectural history as a series of events along the teleological tale of progress; rather, we can study it as networks of events marking cultural significances, formed at the moments when those events occurred. This methodological approach offers us a chance to grasp the ephemeral in architectural history. In the process of depicting ephemerality, we may also liberate ourselves and the ocean.16
Because of historiography and geography, I situate my subject in the study of Oceania, whose four parts are Australasia, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia.
Stephen Innes, “From the Archives: Western Pacific Archives in Their New Home,” Journal of Pacific History 42, no. 2 (Sept. 2007), 265–73; Western Pacific Archives, Special Collections, University of Auckland, New Zealand, https://www.library.auckland.ac.nz/about-us/collections/special-collections/general-library/western-pacific-archives (accessed 9 June 2022).
J. W. Davison, “British Policy in the South Pacific,” Pacific Affairs 21, no. 4 (Dec. 1948), 408–10.
“Australia in the 1960s,” National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, https://www.nfsa.gov.au/collection/curated/1960s-australia-fashion-pop-culture-and-events# (accessed 9 June 2022); Shirleene Robinson and Julie Ustinoff, eds., 1960s in Australia: People, Power and Politics (Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2012).
In the 1976 edition, half of the chapter examined Australia and New Zealand, and the other half, South Africa, all three former British colonies that imposed structural discrimination policies. The White Australia policy remained in force until 1973, while New Zealand’s Immigration Restriction policy was lifted one year later. James Jupp, “From ‘White Australia’ to ‘Part of Asia’: Recent Shifts in Australian Immigration Policy towards the Region,” International Migration Review 29, no. 1 (Spring 1995), 207–28.
We can gain a sense of these entrenched historical conditions from the extensive scholarship in architectural history, from recent architectural history surveys such as the twenty-first edition of Sir Banister Fletcher’s Global History of Architecture (London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2020), featuring authors from Australia and New Zealand who are contributors to this roundtable, to key works such as Philip Goad and Julie Willis, eds., The Encyclopedia of Australian Architecture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012); Deidre Brown, Māori Architecture: From Fale to Wharenui and Beyond (Auckland: Raupo, 2009); Paul Memmott, Gunyah, Goondie and Wurley: The Aboriginal Architecture of Australia (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2007); Paul Walker, “Here and There: House and Nature in New Zealand Architecture,” Fabrications: Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand 14, nos. 1–2 (2004), 33–46.
Alois Riegl, Problems of Style: Foundations for a History of Ornament (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1992), 8–11 (first published as Stilfragen: Grundlegungen zu einer Geschichte der Ornamentik, 1893); Michael Gubser, “Time and History in Alois Riegl’s Theory of Perception,” Journal of the History of Ideas 66, no. 3 (2005), 451–71; Banister Fletcher and Banister Flight Fletcher, preface to A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method (London: B. T. Batsford, 1896), v; David Watkin, The Rise of Architectural History (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1980), 86–87; Kenneth Frampton, Modern Architecture: A Critical History, 4th ed. (London: Thames and Hudson, 1992), 315–43; Wilhelm Worringer, Form in the Gothic (London: Putnam, 1927).
The International Council on Monuments and Sites promotes the recording of intangible heritage through the observation of building traditions. As noted in the 1996 ICOMOS charter: “Cultural Heritage refers to monuments, groups of buildings and sites of heritage value, constituting the historic or built environment. Recording is the capture of information which describes the physical configuration, condition and use of monuments, groups of buildings and sites, at points in time, and it is an essential part of the conservation process. Records of monuments, groups of buildings and sites may include tangible as well as intangible evidence, and constitute a part of the documentation that can contribute to an understanding of the heritage and its related values.” “Principles for the Recording of Monuments, Groups of Buildings and Sites (1996),” ICOMOS, https://www.icomos.org/en/charters-and-texts/179-articles-en-francais/ressources/charters-and-standards/387-principles-for-the-recording-of-monuments-groups-of-buildings-and-sites-1996 (accessed 9 June 2022).
Sally Brockwell, Sue O’Conner, and Denis Byrne, eds., Transcending the Culture–Nature Divide in Cultural Heritage: Views from the Asia-Pacific Region (Melbourne: Australian National University Press, 2013).
For example, Ekrem Akurgal, The Art of Greece: Its Origins in the Mediterranean and Near East (New York: Crown, 1968); Michael Llewellyn-Smith, The Great Island: A Study of Crete (London: Longman, 1965).
Riegl, Problems of Style, 25–39; Giuseppe Sergi, “Mediterranean Culture and Its Diffusion in Europe,” Monist 12, no. 2 (Jan. 1902), 161–80; Fernand Braudel, The Mediterranean (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996); James Amelang, Braudel Revisited: The Mediterranean World 1600–1800 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010); H. R. Trevor-Roper, “Fernand Braudel, the Annales, and the Mediterranean,” Journal of Modern History 44, no. 4 (Dec. 1972), 468–79.
See John Watkins, “The New Mediterranean Studies,” Mediterranean Studies 22, no. 1 (2014), 88–92; Robert Ousterhout and D. Fairchild Ruggles, “Encounters with Islam: The Medieval Mediterranean Experience; Art, Material Culture, and Cultural Exchange,” Gesta 43, no. 2 (2004), 83–85. Other studies include Jean-François Lejeune and Michelangelo Sabatino, Modern Architecture and the Mediterranean: Vernacular Dialogues and Contested Identities (London: Routledge, 2010); Sheila Crane, Mediterranean Crossroads: Marseille and Modern Architecture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011); Maria Georgopoulou, Venice’s Mediterranean Colonies: Architecture and Urbanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011); Naor H. Ben-Yehoyada, The Mediterranean Incarnate: Transnational Region Formation between Sicily and Tunisia since World War II (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2017).
Michael Herzfeld, “Practical Mediterraneanism: Excuses for Everything, from Epistemology to Eating,” in Rethinking the Mediterranean, ed. W. V. Harris (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 45–63; Michael Herzfeld, “The Horns of the Mediterraneanist Dilemma,” American Ethnologist 11, no. 3 (Aug. 1984), 439–54; Michael Herzfeld, “Po-Mo Med,” in A Companion to Mediterranean History, ed. Peregrine Horden and Sharon Kinoshita (Chichester: John Wiley, 2014), 122–35; Michael Herzfeld, “Reclaiming the Middle Sea for Humanity,” History and Anthropology 31, no. 1 (2020), 157–64.
Marshall Sahlins, Islands of History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985), xi–xiv, 19–20, 26–31.
Sahlins, vii–viii, 138, 143–45. Islands of History builds on Sahlins’s earlier work, Historical Metaphors and Mythical Realities: Structure in the Early History of the Sandwich Islands Kingdom (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1981). Although a number of anthropologists and historians engage with Sahlins’s method, his arguments about the correlation between history and structure (of cultural order) continue to be debated. For example, F. Allan Hanson and Louise Hanson establish in Counterpoint in Maori Culture (London: Routledge, 1983) a historical sequence of the Māori people’s history by adopting linguistic structuralism to categorize times in Māori oral tales. Steven Webster criticizes this method as too empiricist because of its assumptions of cultural authenticity that associate historicism with cultural romanticism; see Steven Webster, “Structural Historicism and the History of Structuralism: Sahlins, the Hansons’ Counterpoint in Maori Culture, and Postmodernist Ethnographic Form,” Journal of the Polynesia Society 96, no. 1 (Mar. 1987), 27–65.
I thank Macarena de la Vega de León and Paul Walker for inviting me to speak at the April 2022 symposium “Australasia and the Global Turn in Architectural History,” and Murray Fraser for convincing me to join in this roundtable and for reading this essay. Michael Herzfeld encourages me to navigate the fathomless depths of structuralism; his critique of the essay’s draft made me think differently about anthropology, architecture, and structuralism and its aftermath.
Australasia and Oceania in Global Architectural History: Reflections on Catching Up
The first edition of Banister Fletcher’s A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method appeared in 1896, three years before my paternal grandmother was born. In 1967, some seventy years later, I commenced first-year architectural studies at the University of Queensland, where I soon encountered the seventeenth edition (1961) of Banister Fletcher as my architectural history textbook. Taught by expatriate British instructors trained in the Beaux-Arts tradition, my classmates and I were exposed to the conventional linear historical trajectory: Egyptian, Minoan, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Norman, Gothic, Renaissance, baroque, rococo, art nouveau, Bauhaus, and European and American modernism, through to the first American skyscrapers. At the same time, several radical architectural teachers sought to sensitize us to regional Queensland vernacular and Japanese timber traditions. Our student group gained inspiration to decolonize from the historiography of what I now call the “capital A” architecture of Banister Fletcher, and in 1972, we established the Aboriginal Development Group at the University of Queensland. By 1975, it had been reconceived as the Aboriginal Data Archive, focused on Aboriginal ethnoarchitecture, and in 1993 it again transformed to become the Aboriginal Environments Research Centre.
When I received an invitation to contribute a study on Aboriginal architecture prior to the advent of British colonization, and specifically between 1400 and 1780, to the 2020 edition of Banister Fletcher, this came as a complete surprise. My first response was both emotional and marked by a sense of scholarly gratitude—at last the scholarly literature has begun to acknowledge Indigenous architecture. In Australia, such acknowledgment has gone from zero in 1967 to the inclusion of Indigenous architecture as a subject of the examinations administered by architects’ registration boards in all Australian states starting in 2023. International recognition from colonizers (specifically Great Britain) also represented a significant step toward reform. However, I found the limited temporal span of 1400–1780 to be problematic, given that this had the unfortunate consequence of eliminating 60,000 years of Aboriginal architecture prior to 1400, as well as 240 years since 1780. Similar omissions were evident for many other architectural traditions of Australasia and Oceania.
The 2020 Banister Fletcher starts in 3500 BCE in Sumer, then Assyria and Babylonia through to the Egyptian kingdoms, with a parallel to the Andes (starting 4000 BC), the Indus Valley (starting 2600 BC), Mesoamerica (from 1500 BCE), India and China, thence the Minoan, Greek, and Roman worlds up to 500 CE. The coverage broadens out then across Europe (mirroring the previous editions’ trajectory), plus Africa, Russia, Japan, and Central Asia, including the Khmer Empire. This brings us to 1500 CE, when we first hear about Australasia and Oceania, although the focus remains firmly on “capital A” architecture. My main criticism is that the architecture of the common people is omitted, even if different cultural groups had the equivalent of European guilds or master designers and builders.
While writing my Banister Fletcher entry, I assumed the editorship for a stand-alone volume of the second edition of the Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World (EVAW), with some two hundred entries covering Australasia and Oceania, extending from Malaysia east through the Indonesian and Filipino archipelagoes, as well as Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia, to Rapanui (Easter Island). The entries emphasize the past 120 years, with a focus on the “living” ethnoarchitectural traditions of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. Although arguably a collection of disjointed entries of limited coverage, in my view this study remains unequaled. As editor, I had to analyze and summarize 65,000 years of history (from the time of Sunda and Sahul during the Ice Age), addressing the origins, migrations, adaptations, and lifestyles of all peoples in this vast region, whether hunter-gatherers, arboriculturists, swidden cultivators, agriculturists, fishers, or those with hybrid economies, along with their built environments. This huge slice of settlement history does not appear in the latest Banister Fletcher. Future scholarly contributions need to go much further to decolonize the scholarly literature of our region.
One might ask, why do mainstream and colonial architectures require analysis separate from the larger and temporally deep variety of vernacular architectures? In my view, the problem lies in the shifting perspectives on what should be defined as “architecture” and what should be identified as exemplary. Such judgments vary cross-culturally and depend on the cultural values of the authors and editors involved. Elsewhere I have called for a theory of cross-cultural architecture that encompasses all built environments for all cultures in all periods of humankind, moving away from the “capital A” architecture of the old Banister Fletcher to include the “small a” traditions of EVAW.1 This is the reform agenda I would like to press for the global history of architecture. Future histories of architecture will benefit from cross-cultural understandings that include both “small a” and “capital A” architecture, reflecting local and Indigenous value systems and encompassing all periods prior to European colonization.
I conclude by noting a remarkable Aboriginal rock-shaped art gallery, ritual theater, and living area of Nawarla Gabarnmang on the Arnhem Land plateau in Jawoyn country, in northern Australia (Figures 6 and 7). Aboriginal people camped here 50,000 years ago, then between 35,000 and 23,000 years ago they commenced removing a series of natural stone columns holding up rock strata above to enlarge their camping, painting, and ritual space. They broke up the residual stone to make 40-centimeter-long blocks, some of which were used as furniture-type artifacts known as “pillows” in Aboriginal English. Local people engaged with the site as both a built and painted landscape for some two hundred generations, thus creating an architecture that predates Banister Fletcher by more than 20,000 years.2 Going forward, we can only expect more such examples that demand inclusion in the global history of architecture.
Paul Memmott and James Davidson, “Exploring a Cross-Cultural Theory of Architecture,” Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review 19, no. 2 (Spring 2008), 51–68.
Bruno David and Jean-Jacques Delannoy, “The Remarkable Nawarla Gabarnmang,” in Gunyah, Goondie and Wurley: The Aboriginal Architecture of Australia, by Paul Memmott (2007; repr., Melbourne: Thames and Hudson, 2022), 336–39.
Ko hai? Ko au, ko Moana: Whose Architectural History Is It?
The name Oceania represents an attempt to decolonize the identifier “Pacific,” a label that evokes a pan-identity once created for expediency.1 But how should we write an architectural history for the many Indigenous peoples in the enormous expanse of what is commonly understood as the Pacific Ocean? Within the context of Aotearoa New Zealand—itself a Pacific Island—the terms Mana Moana, Tangata Moana, or Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa position Pacific peoples in relation to Tangata Whenua, or the Māori people of the land. Yet even such progressive terms apply specifically to the Pacific peoples living in Aotearoa. The most appropriate of these inventions is simply Moana, a name that originates from its people and that refers to that unfathomable body of water, the ocean, that connects us all. The Moana remains an unclaimed and nameless ocean, the shared entity that positions all of its peoples’ narratives. Moana ancestors found their residing and resting places in close to thirty thousand islands scattered across this vast waterscape. This study explores the architectural historical past and emergent issues of Moana peoples.
Migration across the Moana to our more recent locations began before 3000 BC and, importantly, continues into the present. Our mobility stories take us to Auckland—promoted as the largest Polynesian city in the world—and across the globe: to Brisbane, San Francisco, London, Tokyo, and so on. Moana peoples have not stopped moving and adapting the environments they have encountered along their migratory paths.2 A Pacific architectural history written for Western audiences often blurs precolonial histories and ignores contemporary environments but also fails to acknowledge the endless voyages of Moana peoples over millennia that continue today.
When we start with the mobility of Moana peoples, we can better recognize their architectural feats. What began as lashed, carved, earthen, thatched, or monumental architectures have transitioned into adapted and reinterpreted residential, communal, educational, and sacred spaces across the globe. Engaging with new materials and design approaches, such buildings self-determine representative forms and emergent architectural identities. Here emerges a salient but underresearched aspect of architectural history, namely, the persistence of sociospatial values within contemporary architectural forms.3 Our continued values demonstrate that the architecture of the Moana is not only about buildings but also about the space created for and between its people—their vā.4 ‘Epeli Hau‘ofa’s postcolonial writings challenge notions of smallness and isolation by emphasizing the vital interconnections characterizing our “Sea of Islands,” where tangible and intangible networks develop as we move.5 In the early 2000s, I learned that people living in Pacific Rim cities sent building materials back to their Tongan villages, as a form of “architectural remittance” connecting them to their homeland.6
A meaningful architectural history of the Moana must cover its great voyaging migrations, the early architecture of each Island state, colonial periods, Westernization, Indigenous modernization, and Pacific peoples’ mobilities in relation to the local and the global. With the normalization of vernacular architectural discourses, architectural histories have shifted to prehistorical times to unearth Indigenous knowledges and transactions.7 Now we must attempt to cover both ends of the spectrum—early and contemporary architectures—to develop cohesion and establish cultural sensitivity. As we fill the historical gaps, we also need to collect oral histories and lived experiences to triangulate archival findings. By involving Indigenous knowledge holders, we not only better understand our built environments but also decolonize the architectural history of Island states and acknowledge Indigenous agency.8
Toward the contemporary architectural history of the Moana, researchers are beginning to document aid architecture in the Island states, particularly between Australian and New Zealand–based firms working in collaboration with local governments.9 Seasonal labor mobility from Island nations to particular regions of Australia and New Zealand has motivated further architectural residential transformations in home villages.10 The trans-Tasman migration of Moana peoples from Aotearoa (the land of the long white cloud) to Te Ao Moemoeā (the land of the dreaming) locates Pacific Islander communities within Queensland and New South Wales, and recounts the early phases of the “browning of Auckland.”11
Sustainability measures initiated by the United Nations have drawn attention to the place-making strategies of Moana peoples and their vital importance for the safeguarding of natural and cultural environments.12 Yet the architectural history of Moana peoples has yet to fully address human-centered approaches to cross-cultural design, such as the fashionable processes of “codesign” that engage Māori and Pacific communities within architectural projects located in Aotearoa.13 The most fundamental element of Moana architecture is its people. To codesign meaningfully is to understand the sociocultural values and aspirations of these communities and to design with them. Architectural firms are beginning to develop new cultural sensitivities by indigenizing their design processes and employing cultural experts to guide community engagements. The next version of Moana architectural history will likely feature such praxes. The architecture of ko hai?—the who?—is as varied in all its “Pacific” beauty and vastness as the Moana that we are, and I am, ko au, and certainly we still have much to do.
The title of this essay is wordplay and refers to the Tongan origin story of ‘Kohai, Koau, pea mo Momo.’ See A. Harold Wood, A History and Geography of Tonga (Nukuʻalofa, Tonga: C. S. Summers, 1932), 5.
See Jeremy Treadwell, “Chains of Negotiations: Navigating between Modernity and Tradition,” Interstices: Journal of Architecture and Related Arts 6 (2005), 110–15; Pesetã Lama Tone, “Designing with Pacific Concepts” (MArch thesis, University of Auckland, 2008); Karamia Müller, “Matā’apu, fausaga fa‘aopopo i fale ma maota o tagata mai le atu nu’u Samoa = Extensions and Additions to the Domestic Dwellings of Samoan Diaspora” (MArch thesis, University of Auckland, 2011); Albert L. Refiti, “Recontextualising Polynesian Architecture in Aotearoa New Zealand,” in The Handbook of Contemporary Indigenous Architecture, ed. Elizabeth Grant, Kelly Greenop, Albert L. Refiti, and Daniel J. Glenn (Singapore: Springer, 2018), 127–40; Ruth (Lute) Faleolo, “Pasifika Diaspora Connectivity and Continuity with Pacific Homelands: Material Culture and Spatial Behaviour in Brisbane,” Australian Journal of Anthropology 31, no. 1 (2020), 66–84.
Charmaine ‘Ilaiū, “Persistence of the Fale Tonga” (MArch thesis, University of Auckland, 2007); Fepulea 'i Micah Gabriel Van der Ryn, “‘The Difference Walls Make’: Cultural Dynamics and Implications of Change in Sāmoan Architectural Traditions and Socio-spatial Practices (1940–2006)” (PhD diss., University of Auckland, 2012); Charmaine ‘Ilaiū Talei, “From Thatch to Concrete Block: Architectural Transformations of Tongan Fale” (PhD thesis, University of Queensland, 2016).
Charmaine ‘Ilai ū Talei, “Vā : A Praxis for Pacific Architectural Research and Practice,” Waka Kuaka: The Journal of the Polynesian Society 132, nos. 1–2 (2023), 219–36, https://doi.org/10.15286/jps.132.1-2.219-2 (accessed 12 July 2023).; Charmaine ‘Ilaiū, “Tauhi Vā: The First Space,” Interstices: Journal of Architecture and Related Arts 10 (2009), 20–31; Albert L. Refiti, “How the Tā-Vā Theory of Reality Constructs a Spatial Exposition of Samoan Architecture,” in “The Tā-Vā Theory of Reality,” special issue, Pacific Studies Journal 40, nos. 1–2 (Apr.–Aug. 2017), 267–88.
'Epeli Hau‘ofa, We Are the Ocean: Selected Works (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2008).
Charmaine ‘Ilai ū Talei, “The Twenty-First-Century Tongan Fale: The Emergence of Fale Puha, Fale ‘Amelika and Fale Tufitufi,” in Grant et al., Handbook of Contemporary Indigenous Architecture, 697–716.
On vernacular discourses, see Paul Memmott and James Davidson, “Indigenous Culture and Architecture in the South Pacific Region,” Fabrications: Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand 18, no. 1 (2008), 74–113; Paul Memmott and James Davidson, “Exploring a Cross-Cultural Theory of Architecture,” Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review 19, no. 2 (2008), 51–68. On Indigenous knowledge, see Sēmisi Fetokai Potauaine, “The Tectonic of the Fale,” Interstices: Journal of Architecture and Related Arts 6 (2005), 104–9; Charmaine ‘Ilaiū Talei, “Understanding the Diffusion of Coconut Architecture through an Analysis of Thatching Applied on Traditional Tongan and Lauan (Fijian) Architectures,” Journal of Pacific Studies 33, no. 2 (2013), 47–75; Albert L. Refiti, “Mavae and Tofiga: Spatial Exposition of the Samoan Cosmogony and Architecture” (PhD thesis, Auckland University of Technology, 2014).
Charmaine ‘Ilaiū, “Building Tonga’s Western Fale,” Architecture New Zealand, no. 2 (2011), 61–63; Micah Van der Ryn, “Contemporary Change in Sāmoan Indigenous Village Architecture: Sociocultural Dynamics and Implications,” in Grant et al., Handbook of Contemporary Indigenous Architecture, 637–75; Charmaine ‘Ilaiū Talei, “Kingdom of Tonga,” in Architectural Conservation in Australia, New Zealand, and the Pacific Islands: National Experiences and Practice, ed. John H. Stubbs, William Chapman, Julia Gatley, and Ross King (New York: Routledge, forthcoming).
See Jennifer Taylor and James Conner, Architecture in the South Pacific: The Ocean of Islands (Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2014); Charmaine ‘Ilaiū Talei, “The Architectural Vernacularisation of Pacific Aid Practice,” in Design and the Vernacular: Interpretations for Contemporary Architectural Practice and Theory, ed. Paul Memmott, John Ting, Tim O’Rourke, and Marcel Vellinga (London: Bloomsbury, forthcoming); Louise Stevenson, “(Re)constructing Tropical Architecture in Solomon Islands,” Fabrications: Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand 24, no. 2 (2014), 214–43.
‘Ilaiū Talei, “Twenty-First-Century Tongan Fale.”
Melani Anae, “From Kava to Coffee: The ‘Browning’ of Auckland,” in Almighty Auckland?, ed. Ian Carter, David Craig, and Steve Matthewman (Palmerston North, N.Z.: Dunmore Press, 2004), 89–110; see also Faleolo, “Pasifika Diaspora Connectivity.”
James Miller, “The Continuity of Deep Cultural Patterns: A Case Study of Three Marshallese Communities” (PhD diss., University of Oregon, 2018).
‘Ilaiū Talei, “Vā.”
Writing Architecture across Colonial Borders
Our chapter, “Southeast Asia, Australia and the Pacific, 1780–1914,” in the twenty-first edition of Sir Banister Fletcher’s Global History of Architecture covers a vast region of the globe and encompasses many different places with very different cultural circumstances. For example, the chapter addresses the complexities of Indigenous court cultures struggling with the incursions of Islam in Southeast Asia; the expanding extractive colonialism of European powers and the ongoing arrival of overseas Chinese in coastal towns; British settler colonialism and its interactions with First Nations peoples in Australia and New Zealand; and colonial escapades in Pacific Island territories that tried to assert a surprising degree of self-determination.1 When we agreed to contribute to the survey in 2014, we understood that this latest Banister Fletcher would take on much wider geographical entities than had been included in past editions, but we did not realize that our chapter would involve more geographical merging than any other in the volume.
How could such a chapter be coherent? How could we overcome the disparate foci of our previous work, where Paul studied Australia and New Zealand, while Amanda studied Indonesia? Did these places have anything in common that could be defined in a singular narrative? The outcomes were hardly even, given Australia’s massive overrepresentation in terms of the relative size of its population. But in developing our study, we discovered areas of commonality, where we learned that the architectural conditions of these otherwise disparate places participated in shared processes that were more than local, if not yet “global.” Our selection of twelve key architectural examples sought to demonstrate how these processes involved conditions of hybridity that emerged somewhat unequally across the region. For example, the Great Mosque of Banten, West Java, Indonesia (1580–ca. 1850s), features pre-Islamic Hindu Javanese forms, as well as European elements introduced by Hendrik Lucasz Cardeel, a Dutch architect and mason who converted to Islam after deserting the Dutch East India Company. Or the Kraton Kesultanan Yogyakarta (ca. 1760–1840), an Indonesian palace complex that also combines Javanese Hindu-Buddhist elements with later European influences. In the Pacific, we identified Nasova House in Levuka, Fiji, a building constructed for an Indigenous Fijian government in 1873 by a European builder that featured the roofs of Fijian chieftains’ houses. Following the government’s decision to cede its authority to the British Crown in 1874, the British governors of Fiji used the building until 1882. We also selected the Rongopai Meeting House in New Zealand of 1888; closely associated with Ringatu, a Māori resistance movement challenging British colonial authority, this structure features both the architectural conventions of the whare whakairo (Māori meetinghouse) and images adopted from European representational practices. We were not able to identify such iconic images of architectural hybridity in Australia, but perhaps this reflects our Indonesian and New Zealand origins.
Aside from hybridity, we identified another shared attribute in the architecture across this broad region: the invention in both Southeast Asia and Australasia of new building types that, while unique to those places, were also contingent on the status of those places as imperial possessions. Such buildings facilitated the commercial agriculture linking Australia and New Zealand to the British economy and linking Indonesia to the Netherlands. Our selection of buildings thus also included the Morven Hills Woolshed in New Zealand (ca. 1873) (Figure 8). Constructed by farmers Jock and Allan McLean, this building, with its massive scale, indicates the economic importance of wool exports for New Zealand. It also shows intercolonial connections: the McLeans were of Scottish origin and previously farmed in Australia, and the woolshed, a facility for the seasonal shearing of thousands of sheep, is a building type with Australian origins. Wool shorn at the woolshed ended up in British markets, delivered to be spun and woven in the mills of Manchester. Although scholars in mid-twentieth-century Australia and New Zealand regarded such buildings as exemplars of a nationalist architectural identity, the buildings also symbolized the protoglobalized economy of an imperial system. Another example is the Amsterdam-Deli Company Tobacco Factory in North Sumatra (ca. 1900), which supplied European and American markets with tobacco leaf for making cigar wrappers (Figure 9). This factory building combined European and Indigenous construction technologies and spatial arrangements.
Moreover, as we developed our study, we realized that commerce linked the colonial territories of our chapter not only to their respective metropoles but to each other as well. Writing across colonial borders, we followed a pattern of intercolonial trade that scholarship has barely acknowledged, supported by infrastructures and architectures that have not been researched. Thus, in subsequent investigations that are still under way with other colleagues, we have examined two shipping companies, the Australia-based Burns Philp and the Dutch East Indies–based KPM, both active in the Australian commodities trade, as well as in the western Pacific and Southeast Asia. These companies built trading posts, market stalls, and retail shops throughout the region, and office buildings in Sydney, Batavia, and Singapore (Figure 10). Although in the 1890s, early in their history, these companies collaborated, they later became rivals, particularly in routes linking the east coast cities of Australia, the north coast of Java, and Singapore. Histories of the commerce in the region have already considered such connections, especially in terms of particular commodities: sugar, pearl shell, bêche-de-mer. But because the architectural histories of Australia, New Zealand, and the postindependence countries of Southeast Asia have been written in strictly nationalist terms, such interconnections have yet to be fully explored in terms of their relation to the built environment.
Amanda Achmadi and Paul Walker, “Southeast Asia, Australia and the Pacific, 1780–1914,” in Sir Banister Fletcher’s Global History of Architecture, 21st ed., ed. Murray Fraser (London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2020), 763–80.
The Neutral Frame of Global History
If late twentieth-century architectural surveys responded to the charge of Eurocentrism merely by expanding their coverage of “non-Western” architecture, more recent books have reworked the survey’s organizational structure. Departing from previous editions, the latest, twenty-first edition of Sir Banister Fletcher’s Global History of Architecture (2020) arranges its content into seven periods, moving chronologically from “3500–500 BCE” to “1900–present day.” According to this new framework, each part presents chapters on European and North American countries and regions along with other places. What happens to Eurocentrism when “the West” shares its chronological frame with the entire globe?
Nineteenth- and twentieth-century surveys featured notoriously similar temporal-geographical structures. The core Western narrative was first subdivided into periods or styles, and then subdivided in turn according to regional variations. While the geographical arrangement varied from book to book, this mode of periodization and the primacy of chronology met with almost unanimous approval. Although modern historiography posited chronological sequence as obvious and logical, this logic did not extend to non-Western styles. Often defined in geographical terms, non-Western units appeared in different places in the core chronological sequence of Western architecture from survey to survey. Consider the itinerant category of “Saracenic” or “Islamic” architecture: the 1901 edition of Banister Fletcher placed it in the final chapter after ancient America; in the book’s eighteenth edition (1975, revised after Fletcher’s death) it appeared between Byzantine and Romanesque, while in the nineteenth edition (1987) it followed the European Renaissance with “Early Russia.” When other surveys proposed alternatives, the mobility of non-Western styles reflected their dispensable status in relation to the overall narrative.
Fletcher’s famous “Tree of Architecture” organized European traditions in a time-space plane as horizontally connected buds that grew vertically into the upper branches of the tree, while relegating non-Western styles to the lower branches as isolated buds.1 Not in the margin, these buds existed on a different register. Even when their history appeared in chronological sequence, it never penetrated the time-space plane of Western architecture.2 Departing from this conventional model, the latest edition of Banister Fletcher locates its entire content within the same time-space matrix, presenting these traditions not as stylistic alternatives but as synchronic developments. The book’s structure has traditionally conditioned its treatment of non-Western traditions. For example, in the 1975 edition, the narrative line afforded Western styles an expansive developmental history, while non-Western regions appeared only in single chapters treating vast regional geographies and long spans of time, with limited discussion of stereotypical features. Moreover, the placement of non-Western materials in earlier chapters suggested that these belonged to the past or that they existed ahistorically, while modernity appeared as an essentially Western phenomenon.3 However, the latest edition democratizes the survey’s framework. By covering most regions in multiple chapters, it affords more balanced geographical and temporal scopes, resisting uneven parallelisms and teleological conclusions. Individual parts do not position Europe as the source of change or as the ultimate result. As the introduction anticipates, the disparity between the fine-grained treatment of European regions and generalizations like “Southeast Asia, Australia, and Oceania” will disappear with the benefit of future scholarship.4 Such a structure offers an important statement of equivalence—a potent counterpoint to Fletcher’s “Tree of Architecture.” And yet, whether this more nuanced approach can decolonize survey classes remains an open question.
Although the survey volume adopts a neutral time-space framework, a survey class can easily restore the conventional narrative, not only because instructors trained in Eurocentric paradigms tend to fall back on that familiar model but also because the framework provided by the new edition offers no resistance to these ingrained habits. Despite the more complex chronology presented by the table of contents, classes rarely follow the sequence of the chapters or use such large tomes in their entirety. We can easily reconstruct the traditional chronological sequence of the traditional European core by moving from one part of the book to another. While the synchronic space of each slice of time indicates global interactions, the juxtaposed geographical regions sometimes lack a unifying narrative.5 This means that the dominant Western discourse can resurface as a universal norm even in the book’s own thematic introductions of time slices.6 In other words, simply extending agency to the subaltern does not necessarily challenge the normative actors.
Structure is, of course, not neutral. Neither is periodization innocent, nor is the Gregorian calendar on which it is established.7 Neither are geographical groups, such as Central and South America, impartial, nor is nomenclature like “the Middle East.”8 The conventional affixing of architecture to monolithic units of time and space has traditionally postulated the globe as an agglomeration of confined, centralized cultures, suggesting that architecture is merely the mirror of culture.9 The formulation of the particular through a universal time-space matrix reflected the values of nineteenth-century authors, who used the survey to fashion architectural styles that supported imperialist sentiments and the purported uniqueness of Western modernity, and these ways of thinking also permeated twentieth-century teleological accounts of modern architecture.10 Simply admitting others to the Western time-space plane does not eradicate these essentialist propositions from the architectural survey.
Although a neutral time-space matrix provides perhaps the best model for an all-encompassing global history, we should also consider who is served by uniform expansion of histories. Just as the term global may signify different historiographic models and varied methods, the recent surge of interest in global architectural histories rests on divergent, even irreconcilable, grounds. While extending the survey’s scope enables architects in a global market to expand their “cross-cultural” awareness of the world’s architectural heritage, homogenizing this diverse material into a uniform, even neutralized, structure does not necessarily challenge disciplinary foundational concepts as the abiding goal of a decolonized architectural history.11 I am grateful to the extraordinary roster of experts for their remarkable efforts to rethink Banister Fletcher for the twenty-first century. However, I still wonder whether the survey itself, as a model intended to organize the world under the imperial gaze, will ever completely shed its colonialist legacy.
“The Tree of Architecture” is a diagram that depicts the interrelations among architectural styles. Fletcher added the first version of this illustration to the fifth edition (1905) of A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method for the Student, Craftsman, and Amateur and the second version to the sixth edition (1921). On these changes and changes to the book in general, see Murray Fraser’s editorial introduction in Sir Banister Fletcher’s Global History of Architecture, 21st ed. (London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2020). For one of the earlier critiques of Fletcher’s survey, see Gülstim Baydar Nalbantoglu, “Toward Postcolonial Openings: Rereading Sir Banister Fletcher’s History of Architecture,” Journal of Architectural Education 57, no. 35 (1998), 7–17.
The double presence of Spain in the twenty-first edition of Banister Fletcher, where it appears in two chapters in part 3 (500 CE–100 CE) as both “Christian Spain and Portugal” and “Islamic West,” perhaps signals a surviving trace of this pervasive discomfort surrounding the mixture of Western and non-Western phenomena.
Recent scholarship has attacked the idea of the Western exclusivity of modernity from different angles. While some have debunked false narratives, others have shown the dependence of the modern West as a notion upon its fabricated others. See, for example, the collected essays in Duanfang Lu, ed., Third World Modernism: Architecture, Development and Identity (London: Routledge, 2011).
Fraser, introduction to Sir Banister Fletcher’s Global History of Architecture, 1:xvii.
Sebastian Conrad makes a useful distinction between different uses of the term global history, suggesting that identifying the scope of an inquiry as “global” is very different from focusing on events of global significance, like modernity. While the former often maintains the nineteenth-century emphasis on countries and regions, the latter reframes space as interconnected networks, follows movements between different places, and foregrounds microhistories. See Sebastian Conrad, What Is Global History? (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2016).
Consider, for instance, part 5 (1500 to 1800), introduced under the common theme of “empire.” While many individual chapters skillfully address the complex history of European colonization and effectively discuss other empires, it is debatable whether all of these regions easily fit into the master narrative of “empire.” Even if the thematic introduction focuses on European colonialism and its (one-directional) impact on regions subjected to colonization, such as Africa and the Americas, it presents the Ottoman Empire as “still possess[ing] sufficient power to be able to resist European colonists” (2:3). Here it could be argued that the use of “empire” as a universal theme or global phenomenon subordinates or even effaces more specific regional conditions.
As Murray Fraser notes, the broad-brush time periods framing the seven parts of the latest edition of Banister Fletcher correspond to the Western calendar because that is the most commonly used system in the English language; however, this did not mean that individual contributors had to fit their narratives within this chronological framework.
Although the latest edition of Banister Fletcher maintains these categories in the book’s structure, its key chapters on “the Middle East” explicitly address this point about nomenclature and geography. Thus Mohammad al-Asad’s chapter, “The Middle East, 1830–1914,” acknowledges that the “Ottoman and Iranian components defined two distinct cultural entities” (2:481), while Talinn Grigor’s chapter, “The Middle East since 1914,” discusses the exclusionary nature of the concept of “the Middle East” (2:870). On the history of subdividing the world’s culture by continent, see Martin W. Lewis and Kären E. Wigen, The Myth of Continents: A Critique of Metageography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).
For a critique of art history’s depiction of art and architecture as the representations of culture, see Donald Preziosi, Brain of the Earth’s Body: Art, Museums, and the Phantasms of Modernity (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003).
For instance, in the mid-nineteenth century, Fletcher’s predecessor James Fergusson theorized his histories of world architecture as a response to the nineteenth-century crisis of historicism. By highlighting the correspondence between architecture and its culture, Fergusson hoped to influence Europe to abandon past styles and create an architecture for its modern present.
The past two decades have seen a proliferation of responses to the Eurocentric model of the survey, generating new content for understudied region s and subjects, increasing access through formal and informal platforms, developing new scholarly methodologies, and redefining the foundational questions of architecture and its historiography. See Vikramaditya Prakash, Maristella Casciato, and Daniel E. Coslett, eds., Rethinking Global Modernism: Architectural Historiography and the Postcolonial (London: Routledge, 2022). James Elkins’s discussion of the standardization of art historical methodologies is also relevant for architectural history; see James Elkins, The End of Diversity in Art Historical Writing: North Atlantic Art History and Its Alternatives (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2021).
Muddying the Waters: Complicating Narratives through Global Architectural History
Architectural history’s global turn has received widespread scholarly attention.1 However, what we mean by “global architectural history” remains an open question.2 Drawing on the ambitious new edition of Sir Banister Fletcher’s Global History of Architecture, pointedly reimagined in 2020 as a global history of architecture, the recent symposium hosted by the Australian Centre for Architectural History, Urban and Cultural Heritage highlighted some of the promises and pitfalls of global architectural history as both subject and methodology.3
The nation-state continues to define our peripheral vision, at least in Southeast Asian architectural history. In the latter half of the twentieth century, scholars furnished the region’s newly independent nations with national histories of architecture. While these provided an important corrective to older colonial narratives, the complex entanglements that have shaped the region’s architecture for centuries receded from view. Modern political boundaries dismembered shared communities. Singapore and Malaysia, once yoked together as British Malaya, have been treated separately in writings for decades.4 This problem is not unique to Malayan history. As the French historian Pierre-Yves Saunier argues, historians were “part and parcel of the nation-building process . . . throughout the twentieth century,” and often treated the nation-state “as the natural form of organization of societies and the basic unit of historiography.” For Saunier, the transnational offers a corrective to this “methodological nationalism,” allowing even national histories to capture the “entanglements between countries.”5
As a Malayanist, I am concerned with the local as it intersects with the imperial.6 Architecture is necessarily rooted in place, but thinking about architecture as a product of flows helps to shed new light on the places we study. For Malayan architecture, the colonial era has long been understood as a period of transmission, of technology and expertise, from the colonizer to the colonized. Historians have often judged the vernacular products of this transmission as “ignorant,” “coarsened,” or “plagiarized.”7 An understanding of Malaya as just one “contact zone” among many within the British Empire, as a locus where various global flows intersected, allows for a critical reappraisal of this local vernacular and invites us to consider how Malaya’s imperial contact zone relates to, and differs from, others.8 As Simon J. Potter and Jonathan Saha argue, “Connected histories of empire can help us develop our understanding of how people in the past themselves understood (and sought to influence) patterns of long-distance interaction, and of how contemporaries themselves drew comparisons between widely-separated parts of the world.”9 A global perspective invites us to consider how the flows we study affect other contexts. In the process, we can better distinguish what is specific to the places we study from the impact of global processes.
Malayan architectural history is ripe for a global approach, and my hometown of Kuala Lumpur illustrates this as well as any other city. Founded in the 1850s, and named for the “muddy confluence” of the Klang and Gombak Rivers, Kuala Lumpur boomed on the back of nineteenth-century tin mining. The city’s Indigenous population expanded with Mandailing refugees from the Padri War in Sumatra as well as Chinese miners. Kuala Lumpur’s architecture can be understood as being in a coproductive relationship with the global empire of which the city was a node. British imperial interests sought the creation of a new administrative center for the Federated Malay States, while resources exported from Kuala Lumpur—principally tin and rubber—lubricated the broader imperial economy. These raw materials played a significant role in the Australian manufacturing industry in the early twentieth century and bolstered a rapidly expanding automotive industry.
Imperial networks led to migration from other parts of the empire, with both British and Ceylonese architects and draftsmen playing a significant role in the construction of the new Malayan capital. The transfer of personnel from Britain’s South Asian colonies to Kuala Lumpur—most notably Charles Edwin Spooner, appointed chief engineer of the Selangor Public Works Department in 1891—visibly reshaped the city through the architecture of its public buildings.10 In contrast to the classicism of colonial Penang and Singapore, the distinctive Indo-Saracenic style of Kuala Lumpur’s civic core tied the city to British India and invited comparisons beyond Southeast Asia. In the mid-nineteenth century, authorities of the British Raj favored such architecture in India as a way to “project themselves as legitimate successors to the Mughals.”11 Yet as Preeti Chopra argues, “The Indo-Saracenic of Madras did not have the same meaning as the Indo-Saracenic of Bombay.”12 The use of this style was shaped by local cultural contexts, even as the style was exported globally. What then should we make of the Indo-Saracenic government buildings constructed in Kuala Lumpur between 1896 and 1920?
These buildings that define the city’s historic core also attest to broader currents: their distinctive milieu cannot be understood without reference to the wider global context. In a city named for its mud and enriched by its tin, the British imperial sphere of influence intersected with that of the Netherlands East Indies, the Sinosphere, and the trade networks of the Indian Ocean. Recognizing these architectural ideas and labor as the products of global flows helps me to better understand Kuala Lumpur, both as an architectural historian and as a fifth-generation Kuala Lumpurian.
The map is not the territory, and just as the plan is not the building, architectural history can offer only an approximation of the ways we build. Global architectural history has the potential to remind us of this fact, demonstrating how the people and buildings we study were shaped by global networks and flows; how the stories we tell about a place are often part of larger narratives of movement; how the work we do identifies only certain threads. In muddying the waters, global architectural history offers the promise of fertile soil in which new things can grow.
For example, see Swati Chattopadhyay, “The Globality of Architectural History,” JSAH 74, no. 4 (Dec. 2015), 411–15; Sibel Zandi-Sayek, “The Unsung of the Canon: Does a Global Architectural History Need New Landmarks?,” ABE Journal 6 (2014), https://doi.org/10.4000/abe.1271 (accessed 10 Apr. 2023); Daniel M. Abramson, Zeynep Çelik Alexander, and Michael Osman, “Introduction: Evidence, Narrative, and Writing Architectural History,” in Writing Architectural History: Evidence and Narrative in the Twenty-First Century, ed. Aggregate Architectural History Collaborative (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2021), 5.
Chattopadhyay, “Globality of Architectural History,” 412.
Murray Fraser, ed., Sir Banister Fletcher’s Global History of Architecture, 21st ed. (London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2020).
For example, see Jane Beamish and Jane Ferguson, A History of Singapore Architecture: The Making of a City (Singapore: G. Brash, 1985); S. Vlatseas, A History of Malaysian Architecture (Singapore: Longman, 1990).
Pierre-Yves Saunier, Transnational History (London: Bloomsbury, 2013), 2.
Soon-Tzu Speechley, “The Classical Language of Architecture in British Malaya, 1867–1941” (PhD thesis, University of Melbourne, 2020).
See Lee Kip Lin, The Singapore House 1819–1942 (1988; repr., Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, 2015), 65, 125–26; Gretchen Liu, Pastel Portraits: Singapore’s Architectural Heritage (Singapore: Singapore Coordinating Committee, 1984), 52.
Preeti Chopra, “South and South East Asia,” in Architecture and Urbanism in the British Empire, ed. G. A. Bremner (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 279. On the concept of contact zones, see Mary Louise Pratt, “Arts of the Contact Zone,” Profession 91 (1991), 33–40.
Simon J. Potter and Jonathan Saha, “Global History, Imperial History and Connected Histories of Empire,” Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 16, no. 1 (Spring 2015), https://doi.org/10.1353/cch.2015.0009 (accessed 10 Apr. 2023).
J. M. Gullick, “The Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad,” Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society 65, no. 1 (1992), 27–38.
Thomas R. Metcalf, An Imperial Vision: Indian Architecture and the British Raj (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 215–16.
Preeti Chopra, A Joint Enterprise: Indian Elites and the Making of British Bombay (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2011), 32.
Globe as Network: The Architecture of the Modern Moravian Movement
By the time the British established a penal colony in New South Wales in 1788, the modern Moravians—a pre-Reformation Protestant sect originating in Bohemia, and renewed at Herrnhut in early eighteenth-century Saxony—had already constructed more than seventy missionary and diaspora settlements in continental Europe, Britain, the Arctic, North America, the Caribbean, India, and Africa. Two years earlier, in 1786, Richard Johnson, the first chaplain of New South Wales, wrote that he traveled to Botany Bay “in hopes that the [Moravian] Brethren will soon send missionaries after me, and, if this should be the case, I will receive them with open arms and look upon them as my Brethren.”1 As pietists, the Moravians pursued a transimperial and transconfessional kingdom of God on earth, a global network of evangelical mission stations and diaspora settlements they imagined as subject to, but always transcending, the contemporary geopolitics of empire and colonization. By the late eighteenth century, apart from their work across the British Empire, the Moravians had begun evangelizing Dutch, Danish, and American colonial territories. By 1850, they had established more than two hundred settlements on every continent except Antarctica.
This breadth of influence depended on two interrelated factors: the Moravian Church’s reputation as a highly organized and independent nonstate institution willing to collaborate with different governments around the world, and its systematic establishment of self-supporting settlements in remote locations. Governors, imperial officials, and corporations seeking to control Indigenous, enslaved, or colonial populations often recognized the utility of the Moravians for maintaining social order and facilitating development. For example, in 1824, the London-based Australian Agricultural Company promised the imperial government that it would introduce Moravians into New South Wales to settle and improve the colony’s wasteland districts.2 Presbyterian churches in 1850s Victoria and 1890s Queensland made similar appeals to their respective colonial governments, leading to the establishment of Moravian mission stations in those colonies.3 In 1740s Suriname, advocates framed Moravian missions as bulwarks against attacks by the Arawak on Dutch planters; in 1760s Labrador, Moravians were tasked with “managing the Eskimos”; and in 1820s Jamaica, supporters promoted Moravian settlements as instruments of surveillance and security against revolt.4
Every Moravian settlement represented a carefully planned node of the church’s global network, with individual settlements conceived as leaves along a grapevine, an image that represented both the network’s organization and its apparently organic growth. This metaphor de-emphasized physical geography in favor of the administrative relationships of Moravian settlements and the chronology of their establishment (Figure 11). Moravians argued that their collective purpose depended on the spatial uniformity of their settlements, and Moravian settlements around the globe featured the same planning and design principles (Figure 12). Each settlement kept records of age, marital status, and gender, allowing church officials to monitor the growing Moravian body politic. A communal settlement diary documented the significant events of each day, and the diaries were later sent to the church’s central administration in Herrnhut. Every year, every settlement around the world received a Moravian textbook with a dedicated Bible passage to be read every morning of every day. Periodicals collated missionaries’ reports for circulation around the Moravian world. Donations of money and equipment from Herrnhut and other centers entered into the wider network and circulated within it, linking the Moravian missions in Victoria with those in Nicaragua, and the eighteenth-century West Indies settlements with those in Pennsylvania. Ethnographica circulated in a similar fashion—albeit in reverse—ultimately flowing into Herrnhut, where an ethnological museum established in 1878 still displays artifacts acquired by missionaries.
Perhaps because of the Moravian effort to assume what Gisela Mettele has described as “a position of detachment from the surrounding world,” we still have no comprehensive study of Moravian architecture, or of the specific cultural traditions and codified architectural ideas that refined this global model over the course of two centuries.5 This lack is particularly notable in Australian architectural historiography, with its methodological approaches derived from area studies, imperial history, and heritage studies. As a result, any global implications related to the Moravian settlements are largely subordinated to the emphasis on the Australian colonies themselves as part of a global empire. This in turn has obscured how the Moravians—foreign, transimperial, and globally oriented—in fact advanced the colonial project in the Australian colonies, as well as the function of Moravian architecture as a means to reconcile the objectives of its various stakeholders.
Investigating the complexity of the global Moravian network would require the (architectural) historian to work “from below,” seeking to ascertain the constitutive role of spatial production within what Lynn Hunt describes as a “series of transnational processes in which the histories of diverse places become connected and interdependent.”6 While this means denaturalizing the colony, the empire, and the nation-state as self-evident units of analysis for a global history of architecture, it also means approaching the Moravian network via the discrete experiences of those individuals within it (Figure 13). Connected histories of this kind are, as Simon Potter and Jonathan Saha propose, “more than imperial, but less than global”—an ambivalent middle ground that captures the various registers where Moravian architecture sought to intervene, both in the immediate conditions of its production and also always beyond.7
Richard Johnson, in “Fetter Lane Congregational Diary, Memorabilia 1786,” John Newton Project, 16 Jan. 2015, https://www.johnnewton.org/Groups/252728/The_John_Newton/new_menus/Whos_Who/Richard_Johnson/Richard_Johnson.aspx (accessed 27 Sept. 2022).
C. J. King, An Outline of Closer Settlement in New South Wales, Part I: The Sequence of the Land Laws, 1788–1956 (Sydney: Department of Agriculture, New South Wales, 1957), 33.
See Jasper Ludewig, “Mapoon Mission Station and the Privatization of Public Violence: Transnational Missionary Architecture on Queensland’s Late-Nineteenth-Century Colonial Frontier,” ABE Journal 17 (2020), https://doi.org/10.4000/abe.8032 (accessed 18 Oct. 2022); Jasper Ludewig, “Securing Territory: Grey Architecture and the German Missions of the Cape York Peninsula, 1886–1919” (PhD diss., University of Sydney, 2020).
James Hutton, A History of Moravian Missions (London: Moravian Publication Office, 1922), 131; J. H. Buchner, The Moravians in Jamaica: History of the Mission of the United Brethren’s Church to the Negroes in the Island of Jamaica from the Year 1754 to 1854 (London: Longman, Brown, 1854).
Gisela Mettele, “Eine ‘Imagined Community’ jenseits der Nation: Die Herrnhuter Brüdergemeine als transnationale Gemeinschaft,” Geschichte und Gesellschaft 32, no. 1 (2006), 54, my translation.
Lynn Hunt, Writing History in the Global Era (New York: W. W. Norton, 2014), 59.
Simon J. Potter and Jonathan Saha, “Global History, Imperial History and Connected Histories of Empire,” Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History 16, no. 1 (Spring 2015), https://doi.org/10.1353/cch.2015.0009 (accessed 10 Apr. 2023).
Global Organizing, Women, and Architecture: The Bloomsbury Global Encyclopedia of Women in Architecture, 1960–2015
On 13 October 1976, women architects from across the globe met at Ramsar in northern Iran for an international women’s architectural congress (Figure 14).1 This conference was the last of three convened under the patronage of Empress Farah Pahlavi, who studied architecture in Paris at the end of the 1950s. The 1976 congress emerged from a meeting between Farah Pahlavi and Solange d’Herbez de la Tour, a Romanian French architect who had founded UIFA, the Union Internationale de Féminine Architectes, in Paris in 1963. UIFA aimed “to promote the Woman Architect,” to establish relationships and exchanges between professional women, to collect information on women’s status and “professional life” worldwide, and to foster “friendship links and solidarity.”2 In 1969, the second UIFA Congress ratified the organization’s goals, referencing the United Nations Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. After the United Nations declared 1975 the International Year of Women, three midlevel world powers—Australia, Mexico, and Iran—assumed prominent positions regarding women’s rights. Various Cold War rivalries prompted these nations to elevate their geopolitical status by creating openings for “negotiation on other issues.”3
The global linkages among the 1976 conference participants spanned many nations, and the congress committee included a number of Iranian women architects who had been educated abroad: Azar Faridi, Noushin Ehsan, Guiti Afrouz Kardan, Leila Sardar Afkhami, Shahla Malek, and Nasrin Faghih. The capacious theme “The Crisis of Identity in Architecture” solicited global perspectives, as attested by the participation of women from all over the world: Denise Scott Brown, Joyce Whitely, Anne Tyng, and Ellen Perry Berkeley (United States); Anna Bofill (Spain); Laura Mertsi (Finland); Alison Smithson, Jane Drew, and Monica Pidgeon (United Kingdom); Marie Christine Gangneux (France); Eulie Chowdhury and Indira Rai (India); Gae Aulenti (Italy); Bola Sohande (Nigeria); Mona Mokhtar (Egypt); Hande Suher (Turkey); Nelly Garcia (Mexico); Hanne Kjerholm (Denmark); and Helena Polivkova (Czechoslovakia). Speakers offered conflicting interpretations regarding the status of women, with Iranian Rosa Maria Grifone Azemoun claiming that “this Congress would prove the lack of sexual discrimination in Iran.”4 Nevertheless, it appears that women’s advancement played a “central [role] in legitimating the [Iranian] state’s larger political agenda of modernization.”5
During the first UIFA Congress in 1963, the Hungarian architect Éva Spiró observed that “the situation, opportunities, and wages of Hungarian women architects are equal to those of their male colleagues.”6 And yet, although state socialism had “declared statutory gender equality and actively mobilized women for the workforce,” the gendered life experiences of women in Central and Eastern Europe were more complicated.7 The UIFA archives record an important moment in the history of transnational women’s organizing in architecture, registering varying differences between women as informed by geopolitical locations.
The struggle for women’s rights is one thread that runs through the more than 1,100 entries of The Bloomsbury Global Encyclopedia of Women in Architecture, 1960–2015, for which we serve as editors. This volume, scheduled for publication in 2024, offers a global perspective on women’s practices in architecture, using the genre of biography common to women’s history writing, as well as thematic entries and analytic essays. These reveal women architects’ engagement with various social and economic movements and issues, including second- and third-wave feminism, Indigenous sovereignty and land rights, Black feminism, anticolonial activism, the influence of global NGOs, and the proliferation of national and regional women’s groups such as the National Association of Women Architects and Urban Planners in Mexico, founded by Estefanía Chávez de Barragán in 1969, and the Asia Pacific regional meeting and exhibition held in Mumbai in 2000. This global perspective produces new connected and comparative histories that emphasize the cosmopolitan origins of the struggle for women’s rights in architecture and in society at large. Although the papers delivered at the 1976 women architects’ congress were published in the same year as the globally influential Women in American Architecture (1977), the congress papers have received little attention. Yet their global perspective demonstrates key connections and differences, and challenges an essentialized conception of women or a universal agenda for women’s rights.
Almost one hundred years before the Ramsar congress, women recognized transnational organizing as a valuable method for collective empowerment and for influencing policy with the 1888 founding of the International Council of Women, followed by the establishment of other international organizations.8 These transnational alliance-building events advanced political agendas. Women argued for greater freedoms, for rights of suffrage and citizenship, and for social justice and peace.9 Women from transnational organizations succeeded in making women’s rights integral to the United Nations Charter and were instrumental in the creation of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.10 Latin American women in particular ensured the success of this activism: drawing on their experiences fighting fascism, imperialism, and Pan-Americanism, they created new forms of feminism and solidarity building, and decentered the United States and Europe in defining the international agenda.11 Women architectural professionals participated as well, from Kenya-based Diana Lee-Smith, a self-described “junior functionary” of the United Nations Environment Program who conveyed demands for women’s inclusion at the 1976 UN Habitat conference, to architect Esther Ayuso of Belize, delegate to the Inter-American Commission of Women in 2006. Women in architecture have engaged with global NGOs to make and fund policy regarding numerous issues, including preservation, urban equity, and women’s property rights.12
Although some strands of global history writing have argued against “methodological nationalism,” the complex interplay between global and local forces influenced the format of national and regional geographies for the encyclopedia.13 Legislation formulated by the nation-state has often configured women’s rights, despite the “persistent and shifting significance through the twentieth century of international institutions for otherwise marginalised actors as sites of political negotiation and petitioning.”14 The encyclopedia’s collective authorship (involving around 370 contributors) allowed for local organizing and for different countries to make difficult decisions about what practitioners and themes to include. The activist agenda of the project sought to privilege multiple voices and to feature writers who have been less present in the publishing and conference circuits dominated by universities and actors from the global North.
Our preparations for this roundtable piece took place in the weeks before and during the protests in Iran in response to the death of Mahsa Amini in Iranian police custody. We honor her and all who have been killed during this period.
See the historical note on UIFA in “A Guide to the International Union of Women Architects (UIFA) Conference Materials, 1981–2007,” MS 2012-001, Special Collections and University Archives, University Libraries, Virginia Tech, https://ead.lib.virginia.edu/vivaxtf/view?docId=oai/lib.vt.edu/repositories/2/resources/2755.oai_ead.xml (accessed 10 Apr. 2023). Our forthcoming project on UIFA, “Organizing Women Architects and Global Solidarity 1963-1988: The International Union of Women Architects and the Cold War Divide” has been awarded the 2023 IAWA Milka Bliznakov Research Prize.
Jocelyn Olcott, International Women’s Year: The Greatest Consciousness-Raising Event in History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017), 7.
Quoted in Peyman Akhgar, “The International Congress of Women Architects in Iran (1976),” in The Bloomsbury Global Encyclopedia of Women in Architecture, 1960–2015, ed. Lori A. Brown and Karen Burns (London: Bloomsbury, forthcoming). See also Josenia Hervás and Silvia Blanco-Agüeira, “Women Architects outside the Spanish Borders: Patriarchal Models at International Congresses (1939–1975),” Arts 9, no. 1 (2020), 26; Baharak Tabibi, “Unhiding the Hidden Portrait of Pahlavi Women Builders in Sketching the Iranian Modernity: A Reassessment of the Congress of Women Architects,” METU: Journal of the Faculty of Architecture Middle East Technical University 38, no. 1 (June 2021), 197–208. Unfortunately, the brief word limit for the present piece precludes a more detailed geopolitical analysis of this event, convened sixteen months before the Iranian Revolution. For useful context, see Evaleila Pesaran, “Towards an Anti-Western Stance: The Economic Discourse of Iran’s 1979 Revolution,” Iranian Studies 4, no. 5 (Dec. 2008), 693–718.
Tabibi, “Unhiding the Hidden Portrait,” 198. For a discussion of the roles of class and the paradigm of “subjugated Persian womanhood” in advancing the agendas of Western feminism and Pahlavi feminism, see Nima Naghibi, Rethinking Global Sisterhood: Western Feminism and Iran (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), xvi.
Quoted in Mariann Simon, “Hungarian Women Architects in the UIFA: The Ambiguities of Women’s Professional Internationalism,” in Ideological Equals: Women Architects in Socialist Europe 1945–1989, ed. Mary Pepchinski and Mariann Simon (London: Routledge, 2017), 159.
Mary Pepchinski and Mariann Simon, “Acknowledgements,” in Pepchinski and Simon, Ideological Equals, xiii.
See Leila J. Rupp, Worlds of Women: The Making of An International Women’s Movement (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997).
Mary Hawkesworth, Political Worlds of Women: Activism, Advocacy, and Governance in the Twenty-First Century (Boulder, Colo.: Westview Press, 2012), 4.
Rupp, Worlds of Women, 224.
Katherine M. Marino, Feminism for the Americas: The Making of an International Human Rights Movement (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019), 5.
Diana Lee-Smith, “Women and UN-Habitat: A History,” Women & Environments International Magazine, nos. 70–71 (Spring/Summer 2006), 8–10.
See Sebastian Conrad, “Globalization Effects: Mobility and Nation in Imperial Germany, 1880–1914,” Journal of Global History 3, no. 1 (2008), 43–66.
Glenda Sluga, “Women, Feminisms and Twentieth-Century Internationalisms,” in Internationalisms: A Twentieth-Century History, ed. Glenda Sluga and Patricia Clavin (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016), 84.
Time for Global Reassessment: Architectural Histories of Southeast Asia, Australasia, and Oceania
Global histories of architecture condense continents, make oceans disappear, dissolve cities, and make individual buildings stand in for infinitely more complex stories of patronage, production, and labor. This essay reflects on my experience of contributing to the twenty-first edition of Sir Banister Fletcher’s Global History of Architecture (2020) and asks the question, What next? What might be at stake in our considering together the twentieth-century architectures of Southeast Asia, Australasia, and Oceania?
The process of writing my Banister Fletcher chapter was not easy. First, it was not so much about where to begin, but about how to end a necessarily truncated discussion of extremely diverse and dynamic geographic, social, and geopolitical settings. Global understandings of these regions and their histories continue to be partial, mired in national focus, periodization, and tropes of style and type; they are often blind to the shared histories and voices of Indigenous occupation, decolonization, and migration, as well as the sway of geopolitical shifts. The second challenge was to identify precise but inclusive themes that might sustain such a discussion. In previous surveys to which I have contributed, like the Southeast Asia and Oceania volume of World Architecture: A Critical Mosaic 1900–2000 (1999–2000), the task involved individual entries on Australian and New Zealand buildings.1 In another survey, A Critical History of Contemporary Architecture 1960–2010 (2014), the task was a discursive chapter on Australia and New Zealand.2 My chapter for the new Banister Fletcher required a combination of both: discursive sections on required categories, followed by sixteen individual entries on buildings of my choice, and then two pop-out sections as suggested by the editors, one on corrugated iron in Australia and the other on “the colonial legacy.” Concurrently, it was important to highlight the radically different landscapes and climatic and seismic conditions across the region, the key role played by concrete in the region’s twentieth-century architectures, local examples of postmodernism, and individual architects of extraordinary note, like Cambodian-born and Beaux-Arts trained Vann Molyvann. Key too were examples of Indigenous architects such as John Scott in New Zealand, architects working with Indigenous communities and landscapes of symbolic significance, and those seeking—sometimes controversially—to acknowledge Indigenous presence in the contemporary city.3 Regrettably, this section did not include discussion of the formal and informal processes of urbanization and examples of twentieth-century vernacular architecture.4
However, as I examined the combined regions as a whole—despite the obvious and extreme differences among them in population numbers, wealth, politics, and religious faith, and despite the flaws in the process of encyclopedic capture—something very important emerged. The Banister Fletcher project had not consciously sought this outcome, but as an unintended consequence and in retrospect I am able to identify ten themes or other connections that might reposition the region in future architectural histories:5
Questions of style: colonial legacies. To investigate hybrid meetings of colonial and local uses of architectural styles, ornament, and detail, especially the 1920s–30s across the region. A recent study by Soon-Tzu Speechley of classical architecture in Malaysia provides a model for locations such as Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam.6
Architectures of extraction in Southeast Asia, Australasia, and Oceania. To explore the effects of extraction in mining and agriculture (rubber, tin, and tobacco in Malaya and Sumatra; copper in Bougainville; phosphate in Nauru), highlighting issues of labor, race, and segregation. The work of Amanda Achmadi, Paul Walker, and Karen Burns, among others, exemplifies such directions.7
Decolonization and its manifestations. To acknowledge different experiences of decolonization spatially and architecturally across the region, moving beyond Mark Crinson’s Modern Architecture and the End of Empire (2003) to include contested and sometimes protracted adjacent histories that still reverberate today.8
Architectures and infrastructures of war. To produce detailed studies of the architecture and infrastructures of war in Southeast Asia, Australasia, and Oceania for the first time, moving beyond existing studies centered largely on Europe and the United States to indicate very different physical outcomes, as in Anoma Pieris and Lynne Horiuchi’s The Architecture of Confinement (2022).9
Networks of labor, trade, and tourism. To examine interconnected networks of labor, trade, and tourism that present the region as a larger archipelago of transnational flows, signaled by shipping routes and buildings of commerce and pleasure.10
Questions of practice: the colonial legacy. To examine ongoing legacies of colonial architectural practice, such as by tracing the trajectories of architectural firms like Swan & McClaren (established in Singapore), Palmer & Turner (Hong Kong), and Booty, Edwards & Partners, now BEP (Singapore), against the processes of decolonization and the assumption of local control.
Geopolitics and the Cold War in Southeast Asia, Australasia, and Oceania. To account for architecture and space within the context of postwar geopolitical shifts and the Cold War in Southeast Asia, Australasia, and Oceania.11 No such study exists.
Climate and environment: architecture in the tropical zones. To build upon Jiat-Hwee Chang’s A Genealogy of Tropical Architecture (2016) on climate and environment, rebalancing the focus of Maxwell Fry, Jane Drew, and others on tropical Africa and India to include the twentieth-century architectures of Oceania, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Australia’s Top End.12
Representing and recovering: Indigeneity and Indigenous voices. To expose Indigeneity and Indigenous voices across the region, uncovering forgotten presences and highlighting recent contributions.13
Urbanization, settlement, and the city. To account for urbanization and settlement across Southeast Asia and Oceania. Jennifer Taylor and James Conner’s pioneering Architecture in the South Pacific (2014) began this investigation, but more needs to be done on the Asian megalopolis, colonial ports of the Pacific, and the region’s burgeoning informal settlements.14
In undertaking such expanded studies, we might see a different global history of architecture—one that is recalibrated, inclusive, and demographically balanced—begin to take form. Such an architectural history would not only recenter the periphery but also recognize contested issues such as decolonization, race, and reconciliation as architectural contributions of global relevance.
William S. W. Lim and Jennifer Taylor, eds., Southeast Asia and Oceania, vol. 10 of World Architecture: A Critical Mosaic 1900–2000, ed. Kenneth Frampton and Zhang Qinnan (Vienna: Springer, 1999).
Philip Goad, “Edge of Centre: Architecture in Australia and New Zealand after 1965,” in A Critical History of Contemporary Architecture 1960–2010, ed. Elie G. Haddad and David Rifkind (Farnham: Ashgate, 2014), 437–59.
An example of such a controversial action is ARM Architecture’s placement in 2015 of a digitized impression of the face of Indigenous elder and artist William Barak (1823–1903) across the entire façade of a high-rise apartment building in central Melbourne, on axis with the Shrine of Remembrance (1927–34), a memorial to World War I.
The forthcoming six-volume Encyclopedia of Vernacular Architecture of the World, to be published by Bloomsbury in April 2024, should help fill this lacuna. However, the separation of vernacular architecture from architectures of “pedigree” in twentieth-century architectural surveys remains problematic.
The phrase “other connections” is borrowed from the “Other Connections” series of conferences, the first held in Singapore in 1993, focusing on questions of postcolonial theory and architecture.
Soon-Tzu Speechley, “The Classical Language of Architecture in British Malaya, 1867–1941” (PhD thesis, University of Melbourne, 2020).
“Navigating Encounters and Exchanges: Intercolonial Trade, Industry and Labour Mobility in Asia-Pacific, 1800s–1950s,” Fifth Annual Symposium of the Australian Centre for Architectural History, Urban and Cultural Heritage, University of Melbourne, 24–26 Nov. 2021. The symposium was convened by Amanda Achmadi, Hannah Lewi, Soon-Tzu Speechley, and Paul Walker.
Mark Crinson, Modern Architecture and the End of Empire (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2003).
Anoma Pieris and Lynne Horiuchi, The Architecture of Confinement: Incarceration Camps of the Pacific War (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2022).
For example, see Paul Walker and Amanda Achmadi, “Advertising the ‘East’: Encounters with the Urban and the Exotic in Late Colonial Asia Pacific,” Fabrications: Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand 29, no. 2 (2019), 154–83.
For an important recent contribution, see Mirjana Lozanovska and Cameron Logan, eds., “Post-war/Cold War in the Region,” special issue, Fabrications: Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand 31, no. 2 (June 2021).
Jiat-Hwee Chang, A Genealogy of Tropical Architecture: Colonial Networks, Nature and Technoscience (London: Routledge, 2016).
See Deidre Brown, Māori Architecture: From Fale to Wharenui and Beyond (Auckland: Raupo, 2009); Peter Brunt, Nicholas Thomas, Sean Mallon, Lissant Bolton, Deidre Brown, Damian Skinner, and Suzanne Küchler, Art in Oceania: A New History (London: Thames and Hudson, 2012); Paul Memmott, Gunyah, Goondie and Wurley: The Aboriginal Architecture of Australia (St. Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 2007); Rebecca Kiddle, Luugigyoo Patrick Stewart, and Kevin O’Brien, Our Voices: Indigeneity and Architecture (Novato, Calif.: ORO Editions, 2018); Jasper Ludewig, “Securing Territory: Grey Architecture and the German Missions of the Cape York Peninsula, 1886–1919” (PhD diss., University of Sydney, 2020).
Jennifer Taylor and James Conner, Architecture in the South Pacific: The Ocean of Islands (Honolulu: University of Hawaiʻi Press, 2014).
Dhāranā: The Planetary Imperative of Global Architectural History
Murray Fraser’s reimagining of Sir Banister Fletcher’s magisterial book shows that global architectural history has decolonized a long way.1 Rather than a singular hierarchical narrative, this new global history, as evidenced by a quick review of its table of contents, seeks to be as inclusive, diverse, and representative as possible, going to considerable lengths to include the architectures of previously underrepresented and unrepresented areas, such as Australia. Furthermore, rather than a single voice, this new iteration assembles an eclectic body of scholars, extending the privilege of the authoritative voice to an erudite group of historians from around the world. It is to the credit of this assembly that its members themselves have worked hard to bring as much diversity as possible to the project, ensuring the inclusion of the work of subaltern communities such as Indigenous peoples.
And yet, historiography that has diversity and inclusion as its guiding framework must in praxis inevitably face its own limits, its own exclusions and biases. While strictly speaking every narrative has the right to be included, in practical terms not every narrative can be. This is a structural contradiction inherent to any system based on a uniformly equal right to representation. The almost desperate struggle to be as representative as possible, as presented by the participants in the 2022 symposium “Australasia and the Global Turn in Architectural History,” provides an instructive lesson.2 And then, there is always the necessity of a viewpoint, a defensible subject position, however objectivist or consultative in claim it is. The ever-expanding repertoire of diverse architectural narratives raises the difficulty of cohering them, if not into one grand narrative, into one stitched together into a tale worth telling—which inevitably opens it up to hegemonization and contestation.
In other words, we can aspire to keep our narratives and approaches as open and self-critical as possible, but the structural contradiction inherent to a rights-based approach to global historiography predisposes that approach to the kinds of hegemonic practices that are the precise objects of its critique. Decolonization thus requires supplementation of a rights-based global historiography by another historiography that is based in responsibility. A decolonizing responsibility-based historiography might ask: What is that larger narrative that subtends the rights of the individual and the local, even as it is reciprocally subtended by the latter? Is there a history that is larger than that of the human animal to which we owe responsibility?
To invoke the necessity of a framing that is larger than the individual/local is not to capitulate immediately to one that is transcendental, like the Hegelian dialectic with its spiral of progress, or one that is supremely hierarchical, like Banister Fletcher’s infamous tree. Rather, it is to underscore the importance of acknowledging the constitutive otherness of the world that subtends particular social subjectivities and agencies. A critique of rights-based diversity does not have to yield immediately to the binary opposite of totalizing universals. This is a false, Euro-Enlightenment colonial binary.
At the “Theatres of Decolonization: [Architecture] Agency [Urbanization]” conference in 1995, Gayatri Spivak outlined the concept of dhāranā to intermediate between rights-based individual agency and a responsibility-based holding otherness:
One acts in terms of a script and an elusive code that goes from nature in the roughest sense to a social fabric or textile. We are held in a script which scripts our role so that to act within is to act in the consciousness of a responsibility that exceeds us behind and in front where the individual is at risk thinking that he or she, normally he, is the only agent and the agent of a right. . . . My self-expression, my right emerges out of the unexamined way. The examined way is to deflect desire through the holding otherness.3
For Spivak, the “examined way” was dhāranā, the discursive field of intersubjectivity, or what she described as “subjectity.” I would like to supplement Spivak’s reading with one that is planetary and postanthropocentric. In Sanskrit, dhāranā’s root dhr also gives dharti, or planet earth. Planet earth holds and upholds human history. With its evolutionary calendar spanning 4.5 billion years that has supported five major extinctions and innumerable life-forms, earth’s history is a holding otherness that is tangibly larger than human history without being transcendental. Indeed, given that we are all made of exploded stars, to paraphrase Donna Haraway, the constitutive embeddedness, or heldness, of all human (architectural) history by that of our planet is for me an otherness that should give us pause and deflect our work toward a posthuman, postanthropocentric horizon, particularly given the existential threat of the climate crisis.
Global historiography, in other words, must find constructive ways of parsing its diversity counts in planetary terms before it fully congratulates itself for its decolonial achievements. After all, colonization was always also a planetary activity. It needs to be planetary before it is global. I am not of course advocating only on behalf of projects that are “climate responsive.” Rather, I am suggesting that we purposefully entangle our narratives with the epistemically transformative planetary ones of people like Donna Haraway, Anna Tsing, Karen Barad, and Dipesh Chakrabarty—all of whom are searching for ways to articulate the history of the human animal and its inhabitations in planetary terms. The climate crisis, as Chakrabarty observes, is not just a crisis of science and technology; it is also, and perhaps more acutely, a crisis of narrative, of the humanities. We still do not have good narratives through which to think about it, despite its obvious urgency. For instance, even the “we” in “We need to do something about the climate crisis” is difficult to cohere.4 Global architectural history must be conjoined to this work. It begins with our imagining new vocabularies and narratives to think about the history and futurity of architecture in planetary ways. “Plantationocene,” “capitalocene,” and “postanthropocene” are some of Haraway’s and Tsing’s terms. Barad talks about entanglement, intra-action, and diffraction, drawing on quantum mechanics. What is in global architectural history’s planetary vocabulary? Non-Euronormative architectural epistemes could be a source for us. Dhāranā might be a start.
Murray Fraser, ed., Sir Banister Fletcher’s Global History of Architecture, 21st ed. (London: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2020).
See “Symposium: Australasia and the Global Turn in Architectural History, 27 April 2022,” Australian Centre for Architectural History, Urban and Cultural Heritage, University of Melbourne, https://acahuch.msd.unimelb.edu.au/news-events/symposium-australasia-and-the-global-turn-in-architectural-history (accessed 7 Apr. 2023).
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “City, Country, Agency,” Future Anterior 16, no. 2 (Winter 2019), 70.
Dipesh Chakrabarty, “The Universals and Particulars of Climate,” in Climates: Architecture and the Planetary Imaginary, ed. James Graham and Caitlin Blanchfield (New York: Columbia Books on Architecture and the City, 2016), 21–34.