Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In the late 1930’s, Sigfried Giedion, a Swiss art historian, traveled from Europe to the United States to teach at Harvard University, where he was invited to give the Charles Eliot Norton lectures for the academic year 1938-1939. These lectures, with the seminars he gave during the same period, formed the basis for the text of the first edition of Space, Time, and Architecture (1941). Both the lectures and the text of the book were originally prepared in German, Giedion’s native language and the one in which he had earlier published two books of architectural history.

Giedion states in the foreword to the first edition of Space, Time, and Architecture that it “was written in stimulating association with young Americans,” and the book has the ambience of the university lecture hall, where the flow of ideas is often more important than the formality or completeness of their presentation. Although Giedion takes up clearly defined positions on many issues of art, architecture, and cultural analysis, his approach to his material is more illustrative than dogmatic; the book’s many editions and reprintings are evidence both of the documentary value of the author’s well-illustrated text and of the continuing interest of Giedion’s insights into modern architecture.