In 1721 Austrian architect Johann Bernhard Fischer von Erlach published the Entwurff einer historischen Architektur, a collection of eighty-six folios intending to illustrate the architecture of the Jews, Egyptians, Syrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, Turks, Siamese, Chinese and Japanese together with some projects by its author.
It can be argued that Fischer wrote the first book of world architecture. By including examples of architecture of the middle-east, the far-east and of the classical antiquity, Fischer exposed the possibility of a comparative approach to architecture. While a historicist paradigm for the understanding of architecture prevailed, Fischer’s style of observation retains an incredible potential also today.
Fischer’s selection are complicated to summarize. He included in his selection “monuments” like Stonehenge, the Nile falls and the buildings of Isfahan. The definition of architecture that can be derived form theEntwurff is not an easy one. Fischer opens up a possible discussion.
In the case of Fischer, classicism is an attitude articulated by very general principles like monumentality, symmetry and proportion, and often the very careful description of the building site. Fischer introduced a new visual language that would allow the emergence of a far more flexible architectural style depending on a global context. Fischer’s architecture is indeed playful, tolerant, hedonistic, witty, vulgar, plural, and magniloquent. His architecture is populistic and classical at the same time.
Modern architecture, starting from Laugier’s account on the production of the “primitive hut”, has been based on a strict reductivism, that maintained that all architectural phenomena could be explained in “functional” terms. Ritual actions, ritual landscapes, and ritual buildings were consequently excluded from the attention of Modern architecture.
With Modernism, Western Architecture lost more and more the ability to produce monumental public buildings, but this does not mean that Fischer’s idea of architecture is completely outdated or that Fischer’s world has be completely lost. In very large parts of the worldFischer’s vision is still an inspiration. In a lot of places, in recent years, buildings have been realized that demonstrate that Fischer’s fantasies were for more realistic than we might think.
In fact Wonders still exist. Mount Rushmore was “sculpted” with dynamite starting in 1927 (the same year of the Weissenhof Siedlung), a copy of St. Peter has been erected in Ivory Coast starting in 1985, Coptic churches have been dug in the rocks of the Mokattam Hills of Cairo in the 70s (with beautiful bas reliefs realized with the sledgehammer). Why contemporary architecture never paid attention to such colossal things? Why did we fail to see the elephant in the room?