The Origin of Modernist and Eclecticist Architecture out of the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries, Part I: The Spatiotemporal Dialectic of Capitalism
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To understand the history of architectural modernism and eclecticism as they originated out of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, one must take into account the broader development of architecture over the course of the latter half of the nineteenth century. This development, in turn, must be seen as emerging from the dynamic of late nineteenth-century capitalism, which had by that point extended to encompass the whole of Europe. For it was the unique spatiotemporal dialectic of the capitalist mode of production — along with the massive social and technological forces it unleashed — that formed the basis for the major architectural ideologies that arose during this period. Before the story of the academicians or the avant-garde can be told, then, some background is necessary to explain both their origin and the eventual trajectory they would take into the early twentieth century.
So while my aim is to eventually account for how a single social formation, capitalism, can give birth to these two opposite tendencies within architectural thought, the space required to give an adequate exposition of the spatiotemporal dialectic of capitalism is such that it deserves to function as a standalone essay. Certainly other trends, both cultural and social, could be understood as reflections of this underlying socioeconomic dynamic. It is thus my intention to post this as its own piece, before then proceeding to detail the way in which architectural modernism and eclecticism mirrored these dynamics.
I. The Temporal Dialectic of Capitalism
Capitalism does odd things to time. On the one hand, it standardized the measurement of time to obey the artificial pulse of the mechanical clock. This standardization was at the same time part of a larger project of rationalization that took place under the auspices of capitalism as it spread throughout Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. For the first time in history, society was synchronized according to a single regime of time; its movement was as clockwork. This new temporal order replaced the traditional system of timekeeping, based as it was on the arbitrariness of convention and the natural cycles of the changing seasons and daylight. This sort of time, abstracted from all events that might take place under its watch, can be referred to as Newtonian time — pure, uniform, untainted by the messiness of historical change.
On the other hand, however, capitalism after a certain point seems to generate a new sense of historical consciousness separate from the abstract, Newtonian time with which it coincides. This is brought about by an underlying dynamic inherent in the composition of capital itself, located specifically in its value-dimension. For once capital began to revolutionize the basis of production in pursuit of what Marx termed “relative surplus-value,” a series of accelerating social and technological innovations began to send down shockwaves throughout the rest of society. This was experienced as a corresponding sequence of convulsive social transformations, continuously uprooting the time-honored organic social relations that preceded the rise of capitalism. As the process of capitalist production developed further into the early nineteenth century, this dynamic became more and more pronounced. Since these successive transformations could now be seen as occurring within the space of a single generation, a new consciousness of time arose around the notion of progressive “phases,” “stages,” or “epochs” of history. Opposed to both the mode of abstract time manifested by capitalism as well as the kind of historical temporality that preceded it, this can be referred to as historical time as it exists under capitalism.
The precise way in which capitalism gave birth to these two opposite modes of understanding time will be elucidated in the following. Their connection to the styles of architecture that emerged in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries will only be possible after the elaboration of both the temporal and the spatial dialectics of capitalism have been completed.
A. Abstract, Newtonian Time
Before the advent of capitalism, the workday was regulated by the organic rhythms of sunup and sundown, by the rooster’s crow and the dim fade into twilight. Time was measured, not by the mechanical regularity of the clock, but by much more arbitrary and conventional standards. For example, in seventeenth-century Chile, “the cooking-time of an egg could be judged by an Ave Maria said aloud.” Even at the level of months and days, the calendar was less important than the events that occupied it. Planting-time, harvest-time, and the celebration of religious and secular holidays — these were the patterns by which precapitalist societies understood the passage of time. “In terms of the human organism itself,” observed Lewis Mumford, “mechanical time is even more foreign: while human life has regularities of its own, the beat of the pulse, the breathing of the lungs, these change from hour to hour with mood and action.” The digital precision of time-measurement, to which we have become so accustomed today, would have been an utterly foreign concept to a person born prior to the rise of capitalism.
The mechanical calculation of time can be traced to the fourteenth century, when public clocks were mounted in cities and large commercial towns. Their impact on society at this point was still limited, however; the clocks’ accuracy was often in question. Some improvements were made in the seventeenth century with the introduction of the pendulum in the grandfather clock by Christiaan Huygens in 1656, which allowed for the isochronous measurement of time. Still, their circulation throughout society remained minimal. The broader dissemination of chronometric devices took place in the first half of the eighteenth century, and only then it was the typically the gentry who would own a pocket-watch, as a symbol of their status. But it was the industrial revolution that first made the exact measurement of time socially universal. As Mumford explained, “[t]he popularization of time-keeping, which followed the production of the cheap standardized watch, first in Geneva, was essential to a well-articulated system of transportation and production.” The British Marxist E.P. Thompson verified Mumford’s claim when he later wrote: “Indeed, a general diffusion of clocks and watches is occurring (as one would expect) at the exact moment when the industrial revolution demanded a greater synchronization of labour.”
And why was the precise measurement of time so vital to a society founded on the exchange of commodities? Why did the workday have to be so artificially broken down into abstract units of time? For exactly the reason Marx explained when he wrote that
A use-value, or useful article…has value only because abstract human labour is objectified [vergegenständlicht] or materialized in it. How, then, is the magnitude of this value to be measured? By means of the quantity of the “value-forming substance,” the labour, contained in the article. This quantity is measured by its duration, and the labour-time is itself measured on the particular scale of hours, days, etc. [my emphasis]
Of course, this duration is not determined by how long it takes this or that particular individual to complete the production of a commodity. “What exclusively determines the magnitude of the value of any article,” Marx then continued, “is therefore the amount of labour socially necessary, or the labour-time socially necessary for its production.” Marx makes it clear that this time is abstract, in the sense that value is determined by the time necessary to produce a commodity through abstract, homogeneous human labor.
And indeed, as Thompson demonstrates, it is no coincidence that the exact monitoring of time was increasingly enforced as the industrial revolution gathered steam. At both school as in work, lateness or tardiness of any sort were to be penalized with greater severity. Ringing bells were installed in the schools to indicate to students when one period was to end and another to begin. Workers were obligated to “punch in” with mechanical devices to keep them honest about the amount of time they had worked. A new ethos of timeliness, punctuality, and efficiency was encouraged. “In all these ways — by the division of labour; the supervision of labour; fines; bells and clocks; money incentives; preachings and schoolings; the suppression of fairs and sports — new labour habits were formed, and a new time-discipline was imposed.” But the students and workers did not at first bend willingly to this new regime of time. The shift from the traditional, less methodical time required to complete a specific task (which Thompson called the “task-orientation”), to a strictly-regulated pace of work was not an easy transition. “The onslaught, from so many directions, upon the people’s old working habits was not, of course, uncontested,” recorded Thompson. “In the first stage, we find simple resistance. But, in the next stage, as the new time-discipline is imposed, so the workers begin to fight, not against time, but about it.”
This fight about time would culminate, of course, in the struggle for the regular ten-hour workday, which Marx documented at length in Capital. Reacting to the outrage of the working class over the “spurious ‘system of relays’,” the British government mandated that clocks be readily visible to the workers to ensure that they were not made to work over the ten-hour limit: “‘The time shall be regulated by a public clock,’ for example the nearest railway clock, by which the factory clock is to be set. The manufacturer has to hang up a ‘legible’ printed notice stating the hours for the beginning and ending of work and the pauses allowed for meals.” Because capital had previously sought mainly to maximize the amount of surplus-value obtained from labor simply by extending the number of hours worked as far beyond the value paid for the labor-process, i.e., through absolute surplus-value, members of the working class were gradually made to work inhuman lengths of time. Whereas before the working-class had objected to the strict regimentation of time-measurement in their labor, the struggle of the working class to restrict the number of hours they could be legally made to work entailed a certain acceptance of this new regime of time. “The history of the regulation of the working day in certain branches of production, and the struggle still going on in others over this regulation,” wrote Marx, “prove conclusively that the isolated worker, the worker as ‘free’ seller of his labour-power, succumbs without resistance once capitalist production has reached a certain stage of maturity.” No longer did the spirit of the worker revolt against the close monitoring of his time. Thus did the worker (and urban society in general) internalize the new temporal order.
Here it may be worthwhile to briefly reflect on the way capitalism transforms the temporal dimension of social experience. On the one hand, it homogenizes time into a set of quantitatively equivalent metric units — minutes, seconds, hours, days. These units are effectively interchangeable; one minute lasts exactly the same duration as any other minute, regardless of the time of day. Such time, abstracted from any concrete events or occurrences that may take place in that time, is essentially universal — devoid of any particulars or peculiarities. It is Newtonian time: pure, repetitive, and scientific. It is unsullied by natural or historical accidence. As the Marxist theoretician Moishe Postone puts it,
“Abstract time,”…by which I mean uniform, continuous, homogeneous, “empty” time, is independent of events. The conception of abstract time, which became increasingly dominant in Western Europe between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries, was expressed most emphatically in Newton’s formulation of “absolute, true and mathematical time [which] flows equably without relation to anything external.”
This time is, moreover, also cyclical. Of course, it cannot be claimed that nature has no cycles or rhythms of its own; but these natural cycles are organic and matters of quality. The artificial cycles of abstract time are mathematic and matters of quantity. Every day has twenty-four hours, and every hour sixty minutes. Each minute in turn has sixty seconds, and all these remain invariable quantities. Once one minute is over, another begins, and once an hour has passed another has started. Such is the nature of abstract, cyclical time.
All this is well and good conceptually, but when historically did this new sense of time-consciousness become normalized? At what point did the majority of society come to march to the tick of a synchronous clock? Our investigation thus far has suggested that it became increasingly prevalent and normative along with the contiguous spread of capitalism during the industrial revolution. But this brings us into a longstanding debate within the study of horology. To this point, it would seem that we have downplayed or dismissed the prior invention of the clock, such that our treatment of the subject has failed to acknowledge the longue durée of timekeeping itself. But there is often a great disconnect between the mere moment an innovation occurs and the generalization of its consequences to the rest of society. “Although abstract time arose socially in the late Middle Ages, it did not become generalized until much later,” asserts Postone. “Not only did rural life continue to be governed by the rhythms of the seasons, but even in the towns, abstract time impinged directly upon only the lives of merchants and the relatively small number of wage earners.” Only later did this profoundly ahistorical mode of thinking about time arise historically, as part of the deep social transformations that were taking place at the time. The compulsion to synchronize the whole of society only took effect with the advent of capitalism. As Postone writes emphatically, “[t]he tyranny of time in capitalist society is a central dimension of the Marxian categorial analysis.”
 Thompson, E.P. “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism.” From Past & Present 38. (1967). Pg. 58.
 Mumford, Lewis. Technics and Civilization. (University of Chicago Press. Chicago, IL: 2010). Pg. 15.
 Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism.” Pgs. 63-65.
 Mumford, Technics and Civilization. Pg. 17.
 Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism.” Pg. 69.
 Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Translated by Ben Fowkes. (Penguin Books. New York, NY: 1982). Pg. 129.
 “In order to act as such a mirror of value, tailoring itself must reflect nothing apart from its own abstract quality of being human labour.” Ibid., pg. 150.
 Thompson, “Time, Work-Discipline, and Industrial Capitalism.” Pg. 90.
 Ibid,. pg 85.
 Marx, Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Pg. 394.
 “[T]he value of labourpower, and the value which that labour-power valorizes [verwertet] in the labour-process, are two entirely different magnitudes ; and this difference was what the capitalist had in mind when he was purchasing the labour-power.” Ibid., pg. 300. Marx later provides the formula for the rate of absolute surplus value as (surplus labor/necessary labor), or (s/v). Ibid., pg. 326.
 “We see then that, leaving aside certain extremely elastic restrictions, the nature of commodity exchange itself imposes no limit to the working day, no limit to surplus labour. The capitalist maintains his rights as a purchaser when he tries to make the working day as long as possible, and, where possible, to make two working days out of one.” Ibid., pg. 344.
 Ibid., pg. 412.
 “Before the rise and development of modern, capitalist society in Western Europe, dominant conceptions of time were of various forms of concrete time: time was not an autonomous category, independent of events, hence, it could be determined qualitatively, as good or bad, sacred or profane.” Postone, Moishe. Time, Labor, and Social Domination. (Cambridge University Press. New York, NY: 1993). Pg. 201.
 Ibid., pg. 202.
 Ibid., pg. 212.
 Ibid., pg. 214.
 Taylor, Frederick Winslow. The Principles of Scientific Management. From The Early Sociology of Management and Organizations, Volume 1: Scientific Management. (Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group. New York, NY: 2005). Pg. 129. My emphases.
 Gilbreth, Frank and Gilbreth, Lillian. Applied Motion Study: A Collection of Papers on the Efficient Method to Industrial Preparedness. (Sturgis & Walton Company. New York, NY: 1917). Pgs. 14-15.
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