Research project

The Primitive

The Primitive

This innovative edited collection, derived from a conference held at the Welsh School of Architecture, charts the rise, fall and possible futures of the word primitive.

The word primitive is fundamental to the discipline of architecture in the west, providing a convenient starting point for the myth of architecture’s origins. Since the almost legendary 1970s conference on the Primitive, with the advent of post-modernism and, in particular, post-colonialism, the word has fallen from favor in many disciplines. Despite this, architects continue to use the word to mythologize and reify the practice of simplicity.

Primitive includes contributions from some of today’s leading architectural commentators including Dalibor Vesely, Adrian Forty, David Leatherbarrow, Richard Weston and Richard Coyne. Structured around five sections, Negotiating Origins; Urban Myths; Questioning Colonial Constructs; Making Marks; and Primitive Futures, the essays highlight the problematic nature of ideas of the primitive, engage with contemporary debate in the field of post colonialism and respond to a burgeoning interest in the non-expert architecture.

This now controversial subject remains, for better or worse, intrinsic to the very structure of Modernism and deeply embedded in architectural theory. Considering a broad range of approaches, this book provides a rounded past, present and future of the word primitive in the architectural sphere.

The book’s contents are as follows:


Jo Odgers, Flora Samuel and Adam Sharr

Part 1: Original matters

  1. Primitive: the word and concept
    Adrian Forty

Part 2: Negotiating origins

  1. The primitive as modern problem: invention and crisis
    Dalibor Vesely
  2. Origins redefined: a tale of pigs and primitive huts
    Mari Hvattum
  3. The primitive hut: fantasies of survival in an all-white world
    Lorens Holm
  4. Gottfried Semper’s primitive hut: duration, construction and self-creation
    Jonathan Hale
  5. Mineral matters: formation and transformation
    Richard Weston

Part 3: Questioning colonial constructs

  1. Post-colonizing the primitive
    Felipe Hernández and Lea Knudsen Allen
  2. Notes for an alternative history of the primitive hut
    Stephen Cairns
  3. Reinventing ‘primitiveness’: Henri Lacoste and the Belgian Congo Pavilion at the 1931 Colonial Exposition in Paris
    Johan Lagae
  4. The radicalization of the primitive in Brazilian modernism
    Styliane Philippou
  5. The need to be critical
    Robert Brown

Part 4: Urban myths

  1. Practically primitive
    David Leatherbarrow
  2. Giants and columns
    Nicholas Temple
  3. The emblematic city: John Wood and the refounding of Bath
    Jo Odgers
  4. Alvar Aalto and the primitive suburb
    Harry Charrington
  5. Metaphorical Manhattan – paradise lost
    Lorna McNeur

Part 5: Making marks

  1. The perception of self-negation in the space of emptiness: the primitive in Tadao Ando’s architecture
    Jin Baek
  2. The ‘primitive’ surface: carving, modelling, marking and transformation
    Stephen Kite
  3. The modern-day primitive hut? ‘Self-building’ with Jung, Aalto and Le Corbusier
    Flora Samuel and Sarah Menin
  4. The wisdom of the sands
    Simon Unwin

Part 6: Primitive futures?

  1. Digital commerce and the primitive roots of architectural consumption
    Richard Coyne
  2. The primitive and the everyday: Sergison Bates, Lefebvre and the guilt of architectural expertise
    Adam Sharr
  3. Heart of darkness: air of comfort
    Helen Mallinson
  4. Primitive: from which construction begins
    Peter Salter
  5. United cultures of Britain
    C. J. Lim

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