Critical Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 405

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In its final pages, Giedion returns to many of the passionate themes with which he began Space, Time, and Architecture—the mission of the artist to “open up new spheres of the unconscious,” the need for a “unity of culture,” and the humanization of the environment. To the degree that he has established a firm basis for his aesthetic judgments about particular buildings and environments, Giedion successfully renews these generalizations, but only in their broad sense. The descriptive and historical elements of his text, taken together with the book’s illustrations, seem well integrated on a deeply intuitive level, but they are more a safety net for his weightier concepts than a demonstration of them. Many of Giedion’s conceptions of the individual in society are very reminiscent of those of the Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung, particularly with regard to the consequences of the “split” between thinking and feeling. Such ideas require the scope of investigation that Jung gave them and that Giedion, as an architectural historian, could not, but Giedion’s adaptation of them is both sincere and constructive.

Giedion shows little evidence of having wished to distill or refine the arguments in Space, Time, and Architecture, and he clearly wishes his affectionate advocacy for his subject to be the standard by which the book is judged. The success of his advocacy is shown by the fact that the book can continue to serve as a kind of partisan introduction to architecture since the Renaissance. It is highly selective in the examples used to support its points of view, but this fact is readily apparent, and the book is unlikely to stand in the way of further investigations; in any case, it has been a touchstone for most later architectural historians, including those whose views diverge markedly from the author’s. A large part of Space, Time, and Architecture consists of documentation of buildings that belong in any history of modern architecture, such as the Eiffel Tower, the Crystal Palace (erected in London for the Great Exhibition of 1851), and the Villa Savoie of Le Corbusier, constructed between 1928 and 1930.

The epigrammatic and oracular elements in the author’s presentation and the occasional disjunctive or repetitive passage seem insignificant in relation to the whole of Space, Time, and Architecture; Giedion’s urgency and enthusiasm outdistance his rhetorical quirks and make the book more readable than the vast majority of studies in art and art history.