The World before Design History
Design History emerged as a distinct discipline in the early 1970s. Adrian Forty reflects on what it was like to be thinking about designed objects when there was no disciplinary or theoretical apparatus to sustain the discussion. Looking back now, with almost fifty years hindsight, what different directions might have been taken? And, more particularly, what of architectural history’s relationship to the then emergent discipline – was it a help, or a hindrance?
Orientalist Aesthetics and National Identity in 19th-century Egypt
When Lord Curzon, the Viceroy of India (1899-1905), restored the Taj Mahal, he asked his colleague in Egypt Lord Cromer to send him a lamp for it. This lamp, still hanging today, is a copy of a 14th century lamp of the Mamluk period that was depicted in an engraving by Prisse d’Avennes in his book L’Art Arabe published in 1869. The author was a French aristocrat who discovered in Egypt his passion for archaeology. There he compiled his richly illustrated first study of Islamic Art that included architecture and the decorative arts.
The workshop that produced the lamp worked for the Comité de Conservation des Monuments de l’Art Arabe, founded by the Egyptian government in 1888, whose members included architects, archaeologists, historians and other experts from various European countries who were strongly motivated to rescue Egypt’s Islamic architectural and artistic heritage.
These events encapsulate the close association of European scholarship, and by the same token Orientalism, with the artistic revival and the creation of a Neo-Mamluk aesthetic to define an Egyptian national style in architecture and the decorative arts. In absence of an own tradition of art history or art theory, Egyptians adopted European notions of historicism together with Oriental fantasies to visualize their nostalgia for the lost golden age and legitimize their aspirations for political independence. This nostalgia continues to the present day to nurture a passion for Orientalist art.
My paper discusses how the European discovery of Islamic art, which began in Egypt, contributed to the creation of an Egyptian Orientalism in art and architecture.
Artificial Habitats and Planetary Furnishing
Both design history and architectural history can be seen within a broader purview of the history of human habitation and the material forms that have been produced for day-to-day living. Today we all face the challenge of global warming and human-induced climate change. The ‘energy humanities’ and ‘environmental humanities’ have been one response to our current situation. Architectural and design history have also been responsive to environmental threat and have sought to re-establish the importance of specific writers and marginalised traditions. In this talk I want to speculate about how an attention to climate is reconfiguring historical work more generally and what opportunities this affords our dual attention to objects and buildings. As a plot spoiler, I want to argue that within our diverse field, there exists some key conceptual ideas that can be retooled for our current concerns.