1st Edition

Writing the Materialities of the Past Cities and the Architectural Topography of Historical Imagination

By Sam Griffiths Copyright 2021
    266 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    266 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Writing the Materialities of the Past offers a close analysis of how the materiality of the built environment has been repressed in historical thinking since the 1950s. Author Sam Griffiths argues that the social theory of cities in this period was characterised by the dominance of socio-economic and linguistic-cultural models, which served to impede our understanding of time-space relationality towards historical events and their narration.

    The book engages with studies of historical writing to discuss materiality in the built environment as a form of literary practice to express marginalised dimensions of social experience in a range of historical contexts. It then moves on to reflect on England’s nineteenth-century industrialization from an architectural topographical perspective, challenging theories of space and architecture to examine the complex role of industrial cities in mediating social changes in the practice of everyday life.

    By demonstrating how the authenticity of historical accounts rests on materially emplaced narratives, Griffiths makes the case for the emancipatory possibilities of historical writing. He calls for a re-evaluation of historical epistemology as a primarily socio-scientific or literary enquiry and instead proposes a specifically architectural time-space figuration of historical events to rethink and refresh the relationship of the urban past to its present and future. Written for postgraduate students, researchers and academics in architectural theory and urban studies, Griffiths draws on the space syntax tradition of research to explore how contingencies of movement and encounter construct the historical imagination.

    Introduction: The architectural topography of historical imagination

    I. Definitions

    II. Crossing the Rubicon

    III. Architectural topographic descriptions

    IV. Figurational contingencies

    Part I: Contingency in the historiographies of the English reformation, French revolution and era of the industrial revolution in England

    Chapter 1: Contingency and artifice

    I. Definitions

    II. Events of the English Reformation

    III. Events of the French Revolution

    IV. Events from the period of the Industrial Revolution in England

    Chapter 2: Encounter and utterance

    I. Definitions

    II. Events of the English Reformation

    III. Events of the French Revolution

    IV. Events from the period of the Industrial Revolution in England

    Chapter 3: Milieu and movement

    I. Definitions

    II. The city as ‘environment’

    III. The repression of the encounter field in the historiographies of the English Reformation, French Revolution and period of the Industrial Revolution in England

    IV. The abbreviation, abridgement and metaphorical sublimation of the encounter field

    Chapter 4: Figure and event

    I. Definitions

    II. Spatial stories

    III. Maps and mapping

    IV. The figures of events

    Part II: Writing history as a city

    Chapter 5: Proximity and distance
    Identifying narrative figures in the architectural topographic sequences of archetypal stories

    I. Definitions

    II. Social stories

    III. Architectural topographic sequences and toponemes

    IV. Narrative figures as architectural topographic sequences

    Chapter 6: The revolutionary encounter field: Paris c.1789–94 and other stories
    how Thomas Carlyle, Simon Schama and Hilary Mantel ‘re-people’ the past

    I. Definitions

    II. Imagining the urban encounter field

    III. Contrasting strategies of architectural topographic description in three narratives of the French Revolution

    IV. Embodying the past in Carlyle, Schama and Mantel

    Chapter 7: Recollection and re-enactment
    Embodying nineteenth-century Sheffield in leader’s Reminiscences (1875)

    I. Definitions

    II. A history of ‘small details’

    III. Embodying Sheffield in the text

    IV. Narrative figures of ‘memory lane’

    Chapter 8: Morphologies of feeling
    Contingency and the experience of social change

    I. Definitions

    II. ‘The passing of Merrie England’

    III. Toponemic disturbances

    IV. ‘Feeling the change’: reflections on contingency

    Appendix A: A notation for the architectural topographic sequencing of texts

    Appendix B: Synopsis of Cinderella

    Appendix C: additional architectural topographic sequences from Cinderella

    Appendix D: Search terms and categories used in toponemic analysis




    Sam Griffiths is Associate Professor in Spatial Cultures in the Space Syntax Laboratory at the UCL Bartlett School of Architecture. His research interests focus on theories and methods for studying the historical relationship between people and built environments, the spatial culture of industrial cities and space syntax as an interdisciplinary research perspective in the humanities and social sciences. He has published a number of articles and book chapters on these topics. He is co-editor, with Alexander von Lünen of Spatial Cultures: Towards a New Social Morphology of Cities published by Routledge in 2016.