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Theory and Criticism
 
Tradition and Modernity
Can we respond to 'tradition' and 'modernity', at the same time, in architecture ? As according to some traditionalists; 'tradition' and 'modernism' are two opposite worldviews and cannot coexist.
Asma Zaidi
Responses
 
Tradition and Modernity
Asma, both Mohammad Arkoun and Ismail Serageldin have attempted to answer the very question you pose. Both articles can be found in the Digital Library under publications. The information is as follows: "Islamic Culture, Modernity, and Architecture", by Mohammad Arkoun. "Architecture as an Intellectual Statement-Modernism in the Muslim World", by Ismail Serageldin. Once you have read these let me know your thoughts in this forum.
Shiraz Allibhai
Tradition and Modernity
To consider the rejection of tradition as a sign of modernity is absurd.To consider tradition as the unquestionable package of truth from an immemorial past is not a traditional attitude.Tradition acknowledges continuity and change in a selective process of "tradere"- handing over past experiences,time-tested solutions,efficient types and methodologies etc. from one generation to another.Modernity is not contradictory as it consists in the awareness of the unique historical situation we are involved in and its differences to any preceeding ones.Most of contemporary traditional and vernacular architecture is modern in the sense that it addresses issues of the contemporary situation with a high degree of sensitivity and appropriateness whereas modernism systematically transfigures the modern situation into a scenario of an unfulfilled utopia where architects have to act as the cultural manipulators of ever new promises of future experiments.Celebrating the confusion of our time and its nightmares in brilliant imagery and disturbing artifacts misses actually the purpose of architecture:To build beautiful, comfortable and durable buildings and places for living communities and in the context of continuity and identity,their memories and their expectations of an appropriate modern assessment. Lucien Steil
Lucien Steil
Tradition and Modernity
I agree with Lucien. It is exactly this rejection of past models and values that has caused the degradation of the built environment in many countries. Remember Mao's expiriment of the Cultural Revolution which was supposed to modernise China, by rejecting the past. It succeeded only in impoverishing the nation and creating untold misery to millions. It is easy to reject out of hand as you do not have to stake out a position.

One of the curses of Nationalism especially in the Islamic world was that it provided a position without the baggage of having to stake out any principles or critical thinking. In so doing, many positive developments occuring in the west especially dealing with freedoms and human rights were often rejected. At the same time, many lessons that were learned through the mistakes made during the great development of the 19th century and 20th centuries were also rejected. The developing world only has to look to Upton Sinclair's Chicago or Caleb Carr's New York to realise that the problems that they now face with rapid urbanisation and horrible working conditions were processes that have occured in others parts of the world. These are examples to study and learn from not to reject.
Shiraz Allibhai
Tradition and Modernity
Real Modernity is continuous of tradition; both are changing in time.
Keykavoos Amini
Tradition and Modernity
Drawing a line on earth has been a traditions from the day man learned to build. One can only design XYZ with total/major ignorance to ABC, when he knows everything about ABC and will be very sure that XYZ is totally a new composition. this absence of ABC is the proof of very well acceptance of it in the morder XYZ. So tradition is in three manners blend with modernity: Hidden, Absent or Partial.
Ashish Trambadia
Tradition and Modernity
I think we need a sociological and historical definition of modernity before we can deal with the question. the various forms of arts clearly do relate to historically specific forms of subjectivity itself product of specific forms of social relations. Each form of artistic expression while may contain elements of the previous forms internalised in it through a process of sublation, always is marked by its historically specific soical matrix of conception. So what are the social relations of modernity? I am very interested to see your answers to this quesitons and perhaps then we can engage in a more concrete debate about "Tradition and Modernity".
Kamran Matin
Tradition and Modernity
Kamran - I am not sure what you mean by a sociological and historical definition. Doesn't Modernity inherently contain both these conditions. Perhaps I do not understand your point.

With regards to the Muslim world; when we speak of Islamic civilisation, we are usually referring to some long-forgotten golden age without a real understanding of the past, and the historical circumstances which gave rise to those civilisations. When we speak of Western civilisation, we are talking about what we know and how we live today. This is a disadvantage when approaching the Muslim world. Our lens is tinted. We must remove it, and realise that the processes of modernity that engage and affect societies in the west are also present in the Muslim world. This engagement, present since the 19th century, is today, a sourse of rising friction and tension both external and internal to Muslim societies. Internal debates within Muslim societies have not had the intellectual space and freedom to develop critical responses to these forces. Are the so-called Islamic values incompatible with modern aspirations? How can the heritage of Muslims in the sciences and arts be made meaningful in a modern world?

"All aspects of our existence in contemporary societies is ordered and produced by what is called modernity. Modernity characterised by a continuous and rapid technological and intellectual change is our present way of life and thought. All societies are not equally concerned with and affected by modernity, and modernity does not have everywhere and for all groups in a given society the same components and expressions, but no society, no group, is totally untouched by modernity, whether positively or negatively. Because modernity is among us and in us, we need to make a special effort to subject it to a critical evaluation. We are used to perceiving tradition in opposition to modernity, primitive and archaic cultures in opposition to modern civilisation and knowledge.

During the colonial period and even today, Western thought developed a theory of modern civilisation based on a Eurocentric outlook that has been used for legitimising Western domination over under-developed, traditional, primitive societies. This outlook is still evident in the way in which aspects of Muslim societies are described today. The central characteristic of this opposition is the negation of history and the disguising of procedures in order to transform social, psychological, and political realities into idealised images."

[Arkoun, Mohammed. 1986. Islamic Culture, Modernity, Architecture. In Architectural Education in the Islamic World. Ahmet Evin, ed. Singapore: Concept Media/Aga Khan Award for Architecture.]
Shiraz Allibhai
Tradition and Modernity
i think it is possible but for that u have to take clear stads about "Tradition & Modernity" b'coz in real maner "Tradittional was Modern in their time."
Niraj Naik
Tradition and Modernity
Today's `modernity' shall have all that rational to become tomarrow's `tradition'.
Abhay Purohit
Tradition and Modernity
Modernity - is (my opinion) based on technologies that have not devolved into common - wide spread usage. Technologies of yesterday became the tools of today. Particularly important when you consider how buildings are designed to employ efficient strategies for their creation. Modern (or contemporary) in architecture is based upon a foundation of 20th century engineering technologies as applied sciences. These are not incompatible - rather they are not manipulated to their fullest potential in a visionary (versus functional) way. The result is that contemporary technology driven design and build tends to be rectilinear. Its core - engineered CAD drawings (AutoCad & .dxf) were invented to cut steel parts. It contrasts greatly with traditional hand tool and craft design and construction that embraces flexible approaches and adaptation to both functional usage and aesthetics. That is what is rubbing the traditionalists the wrong way - into a state of frustration. Its that aesthetic core that masters of the hammer, mud and masonry created that inspires people with their respective traditional genre / architectural gems ........... that is missing in a modern engineered design and built box. The apathy and disdain towards purely functional and (curvilinear)ornament devoid architecture is solely because design believes the recent myth delivered by engineers 'tools'. My opinion - everyone who does not learn to master the fabrication potential to do both hammer and machine look in a contemporary world is truly missing the elegant convenience of a modern world. The tools are right there in their hands and minds. What you draw is what you build (or WYSIWYG) As design professionals learn to truly master the new technologies flexibly and autonomously (the way they master a pencil & paper) - the modern or contemporary architecture will embrace the elegance of execution in older hand crafted building - only on a scale and with an economy that remains unrealized in industrializing / corporatized worlds. The traditionalists will be amazed and pleased. 'Technologies' over time become 'tools'. Function leads to elegance in the detailing making buildings inspiring and respected for centuries. In the last century - the United States exhibited a variety of hammers at the world expositions in Paris and London. Who considers a hammer a technology today in an industrialized city?? Not too many. Machines are not only to make machine made things - they are also the potential key to making aesthetic architecture possible. Then that would be 'modern' (or really 'contemporary') til the next rung of the ladder is conquered. The image is a single piece of limestone I have been playing at resolving - computer design & fabricated - no straight lines anywhere. Imagination + mastering technology as a tool + access to competitive machines to fight to keep their shops busy = more affordable, quality design that is specific to a building or genre. Modern technology is just another artisan hammer - literally. It takes time, but everything worth anything - requires a certain devotion to a successful result that will endure and be appreciated.
Eileen Webb
Tradition and Modernity
Eileen,

I totally agree that machines are todays hammers and chisels of yesteryears. It is just a matter of adapting to new technologies. However, machines and modern day technology only benefit the sophisticated in mind ie. the ones who percieve, visualize design and actualize it through machines. The designer gets the full benefit and satisfaction of the end product but the whole process of creation is devoid of any human satisfaction. It is the ones working the machines or in the lines of fabrication that suffer the most in the process. Or is it only the designers right to be satisfied?

.....there is no human endeavour or satisfaction in the creation of the designers object. Drones who would at one time be craftsman of yesteryears are today operating machines with little or no thought or skill. The machines do all the work, the "worker" just programs the machine and watches the machine perform the mastery of a once skilled craftsman. What a great shame and what a tragedy. Craftsman are a dying breed and/or an extinct being...

I'm a woodworker and to be honest I feel highly disatisfied. Machines do all my work. I feel as though I'm a slave to them. The only time I feel any happiness in my work is when I use handtools and this is a rarity...there is a machine for everything. I don't want to burden you with my sadness but I percieve many factory workers, machine operators will go through a meaningless existence without really knowing what true craftmanship is and what happiness could be achieve from it. This is the failure of modern machines. It only benefits the greedy and the selfish designer at heart but leaves the rest in this process to live a life of misery. I wonder who benefits and who gets the glory or is it that we only live for these things......

Best,

Ps Forgive me for my scatteredness but machines leave no time for real thought. Don't you love machines????
Abdul Basit Mukri
Tradition and Modernity
Abdul,

Personally, my perspective is based on several factors. Both as a professional artist who is both traditional trained thru formal processes and apprenticeship, and then completely self taught at adapting technology to create art for architecture working with metals, stone and concrete, I understand and recognnize the place for both sides of the coin.

I work regularly with manufacturers to create sometimes just one of something, or many, depending on the need of a project & client. The mindlessness and slavery you mention, is more embedded in the non-craft of making production components that are unmistakenly 'machineish' or dictated by unseen forces ( a work order or the like). The response of taking a universally compatible, artistic craft like computer file to a job shop is one where the staff, from top to bottom (management, to machine operator "slave") is generally one of wonderment and magic.

Based on almost a decade of pushing the envelope, there is unmistakently art in any autonomous creative process that is created from the heart. As a female, I chose to take a chance on what everyone I spoke with said was not possible. What is or is not possible, has nothing to do with what is accepted or expected. It is a function of effort, just as much as a hand carved wooden screen, or a tessarae mosaic, or a porcelain vase. When you find that benchmark, the separation between art and process dissolves.

The only realistic divide, is that the tools that technology offers, have a very different economic basis. One would be out of their mind to invest in one, when there are thousands (if you look around) of them out there to approach as a potential suitable vendor for the actual 'fabrication'. Instead of spending almost 3/4$M on a really nice 3000+ watt laser........... and really becoming a slave to the machine and its investment base (I know enough who have)........you invest in buying time by the hour. THese people are interested in processing materials 24/7/365.

These machines are essentially modern blacksmiths of the industrialized environment. The creative process is still extremely intuitive, driven by what a material will do in response to the tools themselves.

There is more oppression of creative and human spirit in the conventions of machine made machine components by far, than using them to create handcraft. It the artisan who does things by hand had a viable choice, who would tell them that they had to use only a coal forge and hammer with metal and exclude a welding torch, a file, a grinder, or any other tool that they fathom and master? Its sort of like telling a person that they have to walk alone with a heavy load, when the donkey can carry the load as they walk along together......

The looks that I have seen on various craftspeople, including 3rd & 4th generation blacksmiths, and machine operators for the architectural metals I have created have been simply inspired in their reactions. It also probably frightens a great many, because of the change (progress) that it represents to established patterns of economics, power and society. It does not devalue craft, but rather create greater flexibiilty to solve hard money issues of quality building. It can be the force for a middle market of what can be imperceptively and architecturally appropriate if the artist who works with it understands and embraces it.

People in machine job shops are very glad to see it, and it meets universally with broad smiles. At least in a job shop, I know that the machine operators themselves would rather make art than gears. The referrals of new work, come exclusively from people who have seen the results - normal people to contractors, fabricators, agencies...... No one cares how it was made. They care that the traditional artistic curves exist.

If it made logical sense to exclusively use traditional tools, I would. But it doesn't based on my experience.

Eileen Webb
Tradition and Modernity
Abdul,

ps. there is no school for this type of machine artisan craft anywhere. If you work with machines - spend the time to befriend the tech geeks of your business. Its not rocket science. I taught myself the ropes by asking lots of intelligent and curious questions. Probably like the process, because I don't have alot of upper body strength. Never forget the craft sensibility because that is your best asset when making the transition.


e-)
Eileen Webb
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