Space, Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition
Harvard University Press, February 2009
Paperback | 7 x 9-1/2 inches | 960 pages | 550 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-0674030473 | $53.50
A milestone in modern thought, Space, Time and Architecture has been reissued many times since its first publication in 1941 and translated into half a dozen languages. In this revised edition of Sigfried Giedion’s classic work, major sections have been added and there are 81 new illustrations.
The chapters on leading contemporary architects have been greatly expanded. There is new material on the later development of Frank Lloyd Wright and the more recent buildings of Walter Gropius, particularly his American Embassy in Athens. In his discussion of Le Corbusier, Mr. Giedion provides detailed analyses of the Carpenter Center at Harvard University, Le Corbusier’s only building in the United States, and
Priory of La Tourette near Lyons. There is a section on his relations with his clients and an assessment of his influence on contemporary architecture, including a description of the Le Corbusier Center in Zurich (designed just before his death), which houses his works of art. The chapters on Mies van der Rohe and Alvar Aalto have been brought up to date with examples of their buildings in the sixties. There is an entirely new chapter on the Danish architect Jørn Utzon, whose work, as exemplified in his design for the Sydney Opera House, Mr. Giedion considers representative of post–World War II architectural concepts.
A new essay, “Changing Notions of the City,” traces the evolution of the structure of the city throughout history and examines current attempts to deal with urban growth, as shown in the work of such architects as José Luis Sert, Kenzo Tange, and Fumihiko Maki. Mr. Sert’s Peabody Terrace is discussed as an example of the interlocking of the collective and individual spheres. Finally, the conclusion has been enlarged to include a survey of the limits of the organic in architecture.
Recently reading Reto Geiser’s excellent Giedion and America prompted me not only to pull down my copy of Sigfried Giedion’s Space, Time and Architecture from my shelf, but also to swap my musty fourth edition from 1962 for a cleaner copy of the revised and enlarged fifth edition, which was released in 1967 (one year before Giedion’s death) and was printed most recently by Harvard University Press in 2009, in paperback form. Originally published in 1941, Space, Time and Architecture came out of a series of lectures the Swiss art historian delivered at Harvard in 1938 and 1939. The Charles Eliot Norton Lectures enabled Giedion to explore the contemporary architecture of (primarily) Europe through an examination of historical precedents. Giedion saw history as “not a compilation of facts, but an insight into a moving process of life.” By “examining certain specific events intensively…in the manner of a close-up,” he honed in on a “space-time” conception of architecture that had Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, Alvar Aalto, and (by the fifth edition) Jørn Utzon as its poster boys. CIAM (the International Congress for Modern Architecture) was also an important player, though in regards to city planning, of which Giedion devotes three chapters, or about 170 pages of his nearly 900-page tome. Giedion was good friends with Gropius and served, with his longtime colleague Jaqueline Tyrwhitt, who was integral to the production of Space, Time and Architecture, as CIAM secretary; meaning his classic book was influenced by, and an extension of, the network he maintained before and after World War II, both in Europe and the United States.
One aspect of Giedion’s dated yet long-influential masterpiece that Geiser delves into at length in his book is its layout. Before Space, Time and Architecture‘s initial publication on the leading edge of WWII, architecture and other illustrated books separated text and illustrations, often the first coming before and referencing the latter. (This was also the case after the war, if a book such as Henry LaFarge’s Lost Treasures of Europe from 1946 is any indication; it has 30 pages of text that function as captions to the 427 photographs that follow.) Giedion’s integration of text (including footnotes and marginalia) and images in a seamless flow throughout his book would go on to become the norm in architecture books, displacing the traditional separation of words and images that was done as much out of habit as out of the limitations of editors and printers. In this regard, Space, Time and Architecture, though not the only book taking this approach, must have been shocking at the time both for its content and its appearance. Giedion’s book also incorporates the juxtaposition of seemingly disparate images side by side, something he did in his lectures — something he used to further elucidate his “space-time” arguments.
Sigfried Giedion was the first secretary-general of the International Congress of Modern Architecture. He taught at the University of Zurich, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard University, where he became chairman of the Graduate School of Design.