7 May 2024

The Grotesque, the Ugly, and the Bizarre:
Fletcherism and Ornamentation Theory in Non-Western Architecture

University of Cincinnati

Respondent: Dominik Müller, ETH Zurich

Varun, Mohan, Carving on Pillars on Quwwat ul-Islam Mosque, 2012,
(Wikimedia Commons).

Sir Banister Fletcher’s A History of Architecture has played a monumental role in the formative understanding of historiography of generations of architects across several nations. The fourth edition of Fletcher’s book, published in 1901, categorized world architecture into two styles: historical style of the west and the non-historical style of the non-west. This categorization was based on Hegel, who claimed the East formed a preparatory stage for the rise of the modern, Western world, since the kind of environment needed for intellectual capability existed only in the West. Based on Hegel’s philosophy, Fletcher criticizes ornamental aspects of non-Western architecture, which he claims as the key difference between Eastern and Western architecture. However, is this a fair criticism? This study aims to answer this by identifying the limitations of Fletcher’s ornamentation theory in non-Western architecture through the theory of Orientalism, traditionalist philosophy of non-western art, and modern cosmopolitanism. By providing a metaphysical view of art and architecture of the non-west, as well as a cosmopolitan worldview to counter the binary notions of East and West, this study shows that a deeper knowledge of a particular culture is necessary to understand its ornamentation theory.


Early Narratives and Enduring Impacts:
Persian Architecture in the World Architectural Histories

University of Arts Tehran

Respondent: Alper Metin, La Sapienza University of Rome

A page featuring the Rock-cut Achaemenid Tombs at Naqsh-i Rustam, Persepolis, from J.B. Fischer von Erlach's Entwurff einer historischen Architectur (Vienna, 1721), book I, plate XVI, drawing upon plates LXVII and LXVIII from Jean Chardin’s Voyages en Perse (Amsterdam, 1711).

The genesis of Iranian architectural historiography is conventionally attributed to publications from the 1920s onward. However, a deeper exploration of scholarly literature uncovers an earlier tradition that contemplated Persian architecture. This precursor, the history of world architecture, had engaged with the subject almost a century earlier.
Despite the extensive legacy of these histories, their earliest instances are now largely marginalized in contemporary studies, compromised by inaccuracies and outdated perspectives that erode their credibility. Moreover, biases, thematic limitations, and the neglect of diverse cultures and regions have drawn substantial post-colonial critique, prompting significant revisions in methodologies, thematic scope, and theoretical approaches. Yet, such critiques tend to adopt a broad scope, often based on generalized cases. A focused examination, particularly through the lens of specific regions like Iran, offers deeper insights and a more nuanced understanding.

Iranian architectural historiography, like any domain of historical inquiry, is a continually evolving and developing field. However, it remains intrinsically connected to its foundational influences—those early moments that shaped its core themes, methodologies, and narratives. This presentation recognizes the significance of the initial world architectural histories as a critical juncture, aiming to bridge contemporary debates with their historical underpinnings, thereby deepening our understanding of the field’s present dynamics.

The presentation will explore the portrayal of Persian architecture in the foundational publications from the mid-eighteenth century to the 1920s. It aims to trace the origins of currently prominent themes, periodization, and specifically the stylistic narratives in Iranian architectural studies back to these early works. By demonstrating that the theoretical frameworks and narratives established by the genre’s pioneers continue to influence modern research and education, this critical analysis of over 25 seminal texts seeks to reveal their enduring impact on shaping Iranian architectural historiography.

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