Puay-peng Ho (何培斌)，新加坡國立大學建築系系主任 / 收錄自《台灣建築史學會通訊創刊號 2022.01》
Historiography is a factor of societal context in its outlook and concerns. While as historians, we choose the topics that interest us to work on and the methodology we employed for the study, we are also affected by the academic climate and the state of research at the time. In understanding the contribution of an architectural historian to the weaving of historical knowledge field, we can look at the contribution of different historians across the field and the body of work of a historian over the lifetime. Several questions can be asked to ascertain the state of the field. In research, the two main questions are: what are the gaps of the field and how an individual’s work contribute to the field. The study of architecture history in East Asia has progressed by leaps and bounds since the early scholarships in Japan at the end of the 19th century, and China at the beginning of the 20th century, first by foreign scholars and later Chinese scholars trained overseas. In those periods, the main effort was for better understanding of national heritage and providing an interpretive framework for its historical development. However, since the second half of the 20th century, scholars from different parts of East Asia, some homegrown and others studied abroad, worked tirelessly to expand on the scope and depth of the field. Most chose to follow in the footsteps of the forerunners in historical research, others elected to adopt Western theories and methodologies and applied to East Asian subjects.
Pronounced changes began at the beginning of the 21st century when new scholars challenged the long-held premises in East Asian architectural history and broke new grounds. Examples include in-depth biographical studies of individual buildings or sites, studies of intercultural exchanges and the effect on local architecture, studies in building materials or constructional practices, and the framing of architectural history within the social and cultural milieu of the time, to name just a few directions. While the scope of research topic has expanded, what might be the objective of historiography? Is architecture history about story-telling, or for the better understanding of architecture at the time, or for detailing the construction practices in history? Obviously, the variety of approaches has enriched the field and we were able to probe deeper into issues that had never been looked at before. However, while robust in-depth research had been achieved in broadening the scope and methodology, there is still a general lack of broad history written to shed light on the total context of architectural production (taking the line from Professor Spiro Kostof), taking in all social-political-economic-climatic factors that shaped and give meaning to architectural forms and space. In the same period, many historians were also interested in working in the field of architectural conservation, offering much needed expertise in value assessment and architectural interpretation. Whilst this is not a new phenomenon, as historians in early 1920s had started to show concerns for heritage preservation in East Asia, in recent years, this welcomed movement became more professionally oriented and the results had been encouraging. Not only the monuments had been given significance, other less exceptional buildings, such as industrial heritage, historic neighbourhoods or villages, built elements along a waterway or trade route, or modern heritage are widely researched with community buy-in. Furthermore, the connection between built and intangible heritage is increasingly being made so that the study of architecture history is no longer object-based but more accurately situated within the society that produced the built landscape. The role of an architectural historian in East Asia has reached maturity today, albeit more needs to be done. I am confident that we are approaching a holistic understanding of architectural history that defines our identity in East Asia.