Challenging the Canon
The history of modern architecture runs parallel to that of globalization, to an expanded market of international exchange. The Modern Architecture Network outlines the extensive mobility of modern and contemporary architects and diagrams events that brought about a conflux of innovative minds. By diagramming networks of learning, collaboration, movements, world expos, and exhibitions in architecture dating back to the mid-nineteenth century, The Modern Architecture Network’s web-based platform challenges the canon by offering new perspectives on the development of contemporary architecture practice and constitutes a rich tool for evaluating concepts as they emerge and mutate. A user will be able to easily explore and critically interpret each practitioner’s trajectory and draw one’s own conclusions regarding influence and innovation. Since the project’s founding, however, the primary objectives have remained and include:
1) Foregrounding architects who have been marginalized because of gender, race, or location, and whose significance is often overshadowed;
2) Diagramming networks finely embedded within predominant historical narratives so as to uncover threads of great significance and intrigue;
3) Ushering the history of architecture into a new era of big data;
4) Visualizing history as a work in progress, which is both constructed and fragmented;
4) Creating new knowledge.
Practitioners, scholars, and the larger public would all benefit from more robust histories based on interrelation rather than singular feats of mastery. This project promises to be as illuminating for the serious scholar as the curious web surfer, with information sure to prompt as many “ah-ha!”s as “ha-ha!”s. The Modern Architecture Network takes inspiration from projects like Charles Jencks’ diagram, titled The Century is Over, Evolutionary Tree of Twentieth Century Architecture, and Henry and Elsie Withey’s Biographical Dictionary of American Architects (Deceased), but also from questions that have trailed from our own research. Where are all the women and people of color working on their own terms, in their own ways, who have shaken the architectural genealogical tree? Might we include philanthropists like Museum of Modern Art founder Abby Rockefeller for making design accessible and appreciable? What do artists like Rachel Whiteread, Vik Muniz, and Jenny Holzer see in monuments that escapes those entrenched in a stricter disciplinary understanding? Haven’t performance artists such as Adrian Piper and William Pope. L meaningfully challenged boundaries of what does and doesn’t qualify as common space? How about environmentalist Rachel Carson, whose activism has greatly impacted systems thinking? And when we talk about material culture, might we include Coco Chanel and Zelda Wynn Valdes along with Art Smith and Charlotte Perriand? Why not broaden our scope in order to magnify architecture's aegis while engaging a larger public for the sociocultural good? The Modern Architecture Network offers an interactive archival framework that aims to equalize the playing field and challenge disciplinary boundaries.
A comprehensive visual and computational analysis or genealogy of modern architecture has never yet been formalized. The Modern Architecture Network, formerly The Modern Architecture Genealogy, aims to accomplish just that. This project is premised on the belief that a collection of historical documents and accounts can not only provide a reliable record of events, but can also serve as a potent source of energy for what is yet to come.
The difficulty posed by conventional historical projects is that they tend to reinforce existing narratives without questioning them. The Modern Architecture Network instead presents a means to explore latent and potential chronologies that have, for a number of reasons, escaped attention. This interactive archive rewards the curiosity of a user interested in multiple approaches to a subject. By observing and linking patterns, the researcher encounters new perspectives as well as new problems worth considering.
The Modern Architecture Network's primary platform is an interactive website, an online archive that charts the extensive mobility of architects and diagrams their convergences. It begins with the first World Expo, The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, held in London in 1851. This date marks the conjunction of design innovation and globalization. Tracing from this crucial point, where the history of dramatically expanding markets and international trade emerges in consort with the history of modern architecture, the research platform is invaluable to scholars in countless fields including economics, business, and sociology as well.
The Modern Architecture Network encodes complex data sets into easy-to-use models including maps, statistics, timelines, an image archive, and a library of written resources. By diagramming trajectories of pedagogy, collaboration, migrations, and exhibitions in architecture, the platform invites users to critically interpret work and draw their own conclusions on matters of influence and innovation. The Modern Architecture Network is just as much an effort to fortify the legacy of visual histories (such as catalogs, encyclopedias, dictionaries, textbooks, and atlases) as it is to provide a contextual tool for understanding them as part of a continuum—a living, and therefore incomplete, statement.
Since the project's founding, its primary objectives have remained the same: to diagram networks finely embedded within predominant historical narratives so as to uncover threads of great significance and intrigue; to usher the history of architecture into the data frontier where new knowledge can be extracted; and, most importantly, to foreground marginalized figures who, because of gender, race, or location, have been unjustly overshadowed.
When architectural history becomes more inclusive and more honest about its generations of unacknowledged participants, architecture's agency expands. Architecture’s disciplinary fundamentals are challenged and strengthened by engaging the real histories of the creative networks that shape the built environment and its discourses—by duly acknowledging the contributions of lesser-known architects and non-architects. Indeed, The Modern Architecture Network recognizes contributors, such as patrons, curators, and allied professionals who have collaborated in formulating urban and domestic design schemas, infrastructure, and material culture to the present day.
Laura Foxman is a Detroit-based architect, information artist, teacher and researcher. She leads the interdisciplinary architecture studio WE ARE ALL COLLAGE. Her projects include architectures, environments, and cultural archives and explore the materiality of place, information, and experience. Foxman is a licensed architect in Michigan and New York.