Traduire l’architecture is a selection of significant papers given at a series of workshops initiated in 2009 and continued in 2011 and 2013 at the Conservatoire des arts et métiers and Institut national d’histoire de l’art in Paris. The editors present it as the first collective study of the translation of many of the founding documents of European (and occasionally extra-European) architecture and stress the breadth of their writ. Translation is understood literally but also in an extended sense, perhaps even beyond that now used in translation studies though similar to the famous interlinguistic, intralinguistic and intersemiotic modes of translation posited by Jakobson (1959). It thus embraces the transposition and adaptation not only of text but, significantly, of other semiotic systems, in particular illustrations as used in architecture. The editors, and indeed the authors of the individual texts, stress the complementary nature of translation and sociocultural exchange, which in turn influences professional usages. As Fabio Colonnese astutely observes in one of the articles, the real challenge is to translate architecture rather than to translate writing on architecture and this can be taken as the overriding ambition of the whole book.
The volume contains twenty-one essays, mostly in French, divided into two sections (‘Translating from one language to another,’ and ‘Translation as a creative process’), an introductory chapter and one other in conclusion. The diversity of subjects covered and questions raised means that a relatively detailed description of each paper is needed in reviewing this highly innovative publication, though priority is given here to the issue of translating specialist texts and some of the associated terminology problems.
One of the editors, Valérie Nègre, devotes a preparatory chapter to the organisation of the volume and homes in on the theme of betrayal: the old saw of traduttori traditori is not far from the surface here. The introduction clearly sets out the challenges thrown up to the translators/adapters, to their readers and to the scholars who analyse them today, and points out that many of the articles which make up the volume will concentrate on the range of changes wrought by the translator and other intermediaries and their significance in the development of architectural theory. This introduction tells the linguist that for art history in general and the history of architectural theory in particular, the focus had previously been on authors and it is only recently that attention has been focused on the role of such intermediaries as draftsmen, engravers, printers… and translators. The book in hand may thus be seen to be participating in a new movement in the field of the arts, which is significant in itself as a manifestation of specialised translation, which will in turn be the main focus of this review.
In the first paper proper, Philippe Bernardi addresses some of the language issues involved in producing legal documents in fifteenth century Provence relating to real estate. Whereas Latin was at this time the default language of the law, and of contracts, the “lay” language – i.e. Provençal – was used for certain functions, in particular to convey technical information concerning building. The focus here is on how the two languages are used, including those instances of translation, and special attention is given to the choice of equivalents, which may be literal translation, approximations or in the case of the Latin text, Latinisations. In this context, the notary is seen as an intermediary, using various discursive techniques to convey both the legal and technical aspects of the contracts involved, and generally translating from Provençal into Latin. The author also points out the role played by plans and drawings in conveying specialised knowledge, which deserves further study. This first chapter is a good example of the aim of this collective work, showing how translation is to be understood in its broadest sense and how it fits into a more general communicative strategy.
Pierre Caye, in his essay on Leon Battista Alberti’s use of Latin rather than Italian in his major works on painting, sculpture and more particularly here, architecture, extends the notion of translation to transpositions within one language. He argues that Latin, as an artificial, conventional language, rather than the vernacular, was still during this period the obvious language of arts and crafts. But the Latin used was not the language profoundly influenced by the Greek of Vitruvius, rather that of ancient Rome, when Greek had been absorbed to refer to native realia. The translation referred to is largely the wholesale transformation of the Greek-based terminology into more concrete Latin forms. Once again, by examining the use of both languages and registers in the Renaissance through the prism of translation, the author throws light on the sociolinguistic situation of the time, which in turn informs the choice of language.
The influence of Vitruvius permeates Scamozzi’s life work, Idea dell’ architectura universale (1615), and perhaps for this reason, added to competition from Palladio’s writing, it never had great impact in Italy. It was also never completely translated, but such parts that were, notably those on columns and villas, left their mark on European architectural thought, as Olga Medvedkova points out. These translations were also very much adaptations, in particular that of the fifth book, translated by the chief architect d’Aviler, eliminating the author’s “stories and fables” to concentrate on the more technical details. The woodcuts were reproduced directly, including the inscriptions in Italian, the translator providing equivalents and explanations. The versions of these parts of Idea were published in Holland in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, first in French, then in Dutch, but always in a selective form, incorporating illustrations from other sources. Medvedkova’s explanation is that the selection was made to present the work as a link with Classical architecture, going back to Ancient times, and thus common to all Europeans, rather than representing specifically Italian architecture.
D’Aviler is better known for his Cours d’architecture (1691), inspired by Vignola’s Regola delli cinque ordini d’architettura. The French work was translated into German in 1699 by Leonhard Christoph Sturm, minus the second volume, a dictionary in which d’Aviler explains the technical terms. Many of these were however incorporated into the index which Sturm provided. Martin Pozsgai explains in detail the strategy used by Sturm to modify the many illustrations to incorporate the German equivalent, as well as possible other languages for further editions. To this end, Sturm used motivated terms, many of which he coined himself, rather than borrowings from the classical languages, even accepted ones, such as Fries (fries) or Architrav for which he used Borten and Unterbalken, much as Dürer did in the sixteenth century to establish geometry in German (Peiffer 1996: 85). Like Dürer, few of Sturm’s proposals have stood the test of time. This paper is particularly well illustrated, with reproductions of the original and the translation, as well as tables showing the chronology of different versions, including the multilingual versions of Vignola.
The adaptation of terminology is the topic of Véronique Samuel-Gohin’s paper, focusing on the translations of Christian Wolff (1710) into French (1747) and Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand (1802-1805) into German (1831). In earlier times, Italy had been the reference for both French and German architects, but, from the seventeenth century on, a common theme was found in the desire to simplify classical rules for practical purposes, and this approach is illustrated in the two works studied here, the German Ansfangsgründe anticipating and the French Précis consolidating the Enlightenment. Both are analytical works, designed to be accessible to anyone willing to exercise reason, universal in ambition and thus transcending national boundaries. Of the many issues regarding the translation discussed in this chapter, that of the terminology is particularly telling: Wolff’s terminology is analytical and thus highly motivated, using basic forms to constitute paradigms. For example, the term Platte is used to develop a whole series of derivatives: Ober-Plättlein, Unter-Plättlein, abhangende Platte… However there was no attempt on the part of the French translator to mirror these series, as the traditional trade terminology was too firmly entrenched. A glossary provides equivalents for terms used in the trade and those used by the authors. This goes against Wolff’s ambition to provide a universal guide. There is thus a tension between the aims of the author and that of the translator, the latter being at pains to keep tradesmen and architects at arms’ length. On the other hand, Durand’s translator sticks very closely to the original French, though modulating to achieve the most appropriate German equivalent. Thus the key term réunir is variously rendered by no less than five, generally more specific equivalents. The third part of this chapter is devoted to an analysis of the language used in a German textbook by Heigelin, inspired by Durand’s Précis, and which Samuel-Gohin suggests could be considered as a translation. The role of illustrations and the glosses involved is considered exemplary in the transfer process.
Two chapters are devoted to the translations of Rondelet’s Traité théorique et pratique de l’art de bâtir, first published between 1802 and 1817, though the translations are based on the 1827-1832 edition, one into Italian (1831-1835), the other into German (1833-1836). The Italian translation, analysed by Valérie Nègre, is characterised by a large number of translator’s notes, which do not however relate to the interpretation of the original text, but instead present a digest of recent publications in Italian, French, German and English on the points raised in the original. This is particularly the case in subject fields only distantly related to architecture, such as road, railway and bridge building, and also includes the translation of a mémoire by K.F. Wiebeking (1832) on suspension bridges. More generally, the Italian translator conveys the scientific and encyclopaedic approach that characterises Rondelet’s work, and more generally transposes the French civil engineering model (Ponts-et-chaussées) to Italian conditions. Torsten Meyer, in analysing the German translation, makes the same point: that the translation of Rondelet was effectively transferring to another culture the polytechnic understanding of building, though, contrary to the Italian version, there is much more input from the translators to justify the approach. It was argued at the time in Germany that French building techniques were not always applicable, as much less importance was placed on the use of timber, a point which the translators take pains to justify in their preface. Again unlike the Italian, the two German translators provided footnotes – many in the first volumes, and few in the latter ones – which relate directly to translation questions: notably on corrections (only one significant, purely material example), discussions (referring to German publications or the translation of Vitruvius), additions (where new evidence was available), translations (in particular where no obvious equivalent is to be found in German) and comparisons (from other European countries). Globally, the translators – one in particular – specifically sought to adapt Rondelet to German conditions.
Lei Huang is the first author to tackle the question of the emergence of one particular term, i.e. architecture romane, in the major European languages and the role translation played in the process. Under review are French, German, Spanish, Italian and English, in which the term was adopted in widely differing circumstances. The emergence of the French term around 1820 is well documented, in particular the early competition with the more restricted saxon and normand, the subsequent elimination of byzantin, used for some time in conjunction with roman by those who sought to acknowledge the debt to Byzantine architecture. The actual time span and the features involved continued to be a subject of negotiation for some time after the actual name came to be generally accepted. In French, as in German and Spanish, the contemporary philological interest in Romance languages provided an additional motivation for the term roman/romanisch/románico. In England, where medieval monuments had been studied for rather longer, the trajectory of Romanesque was largely independent of Continental influences, though a name evoking Roman origins was felt to be more universal, as in the other languages.
Murugas Constantinescu and Lucian Constantinescu also tackle a question of terminology, but that of the constitution of the modern Romanian architectural lexicon taking French as the model. Relations between Romania and France were particularly close by the end of the nineteenth century, and Romanian architects often finished their studies at the École des beaux arts in Paris. The first Romanian journal of architecture was published from 1890 and the first professional society founded the year after. The journal contained an ongoing dictionary, but the authors consider that the articles and the illustrations were a more important vector for the creation of the new Romanian terminology. Significantly, many of the articles contain direct but more often indirect and probably unconscious quoting, in Romanian, of terms used in French. Similarly, the many illustrations containing text in both French and Romanian stimulated lexical creativity. This period is characterized by considerable instability, both in the form of terms proposed and in the strategies of word formation, but which also reflects the thought that went into defining what architecture and building were and how they should be expressed.
Isabelle Gournay examines the curious history of the translations of Viollet-le-Duc’s works into English. With the important exception of the voluminous dictionaries of architecture and furniture, all of his works were translated into English during his lifetime. Some, such as the famous Story of a House, were translated twice, once for British and once for American readers. This chapter details the publication history and reception of his later works, more particularly in North America, and explains why interest in the history of European architecture and in Viollet-le-Duc in particular declined towards the end of the nineteenth century to blossom again at the end of the twentieth. Particular attention is paid to the three translators of the main works, their backgrounds, aims and methods, and the chapter ends on a suggestion for a website with the various historical translations, including those which remained in manuscript form.
Christoph Schnoor addresses the question of Le Corbusier’s interpretation of the concept expressed in early twentieth-century German town-planning by the keyword Raum. We learn that early in his career, Le Corbusier was greatly interested in town-planning, and wrote a first version of La construction des villes in 1910-1911, which was only published long after his death, though he revised the manuscript several times. He was greatly influenced by the German approach to Städtebau, which gave the title of his treatise, though the field was later to be known in French as urbanisme. From this point of view, the concept of Raum was central and he rendered its different aspects by various equivalents, notably espace, volume, chambre (even for a garden!), and corporalité, often commenting on his choice of the appropriate term. The article contains an analysis of these choices and puts them in their linguistic and cultural contexts.
Eleonor Pistis’ study of Henry Aldrich’s Elementa Architecturae is the first article in the series of translation as a creative practice. It perfectly illustrates this broad, creative use of translation, since Aldrich’s treatise, published in a limited edition in 1708, is not a translation at all, but a syncretic presentation of architectural theory of the previous two hundred years, drawing on material in Italian, French and English. The choice of Latin indicated that the work was aimed at fellow academics rather than practitioners. It is particularly interesting to note that the treatise includes a glossary, in which terms are defined as they are used by the various authors cited, thereby showing that each country has its own customs, rather than attempting any definition of universal rules.
Fabio Colonnese’s study of the influence which Pliny’s description of Porsenna’s tomb, as Labrynthus Italicus, exerted over the centuries in Italy and England, is an excellent illustration of translation conceived as a multimedia activity. Not only are the different textual interpretations of Pliny’s work as rendered into Latin and Italian the subject of analysis and discussion in this chapter, but the various plans, drawings and constructions inspired by it – visual embodiments, as the author puts it – are shown to be comparable manifestations. This chapter thus adds the three dimensional translation to the two-dimensional interpretations studied in the previous section.
Michaël Descrossas’ essay on seventeenth century architect Anthoine Le Pautre devotes only a cursory glance at translation from one language to another, and does not really explain how the relations between text, drawing and building can be conceived as translation.
The next two papers pursue the idea of what is termed intra-linguistic translation, that is the adaptations of a given work in the same language, generally as a result of a profound modification. This is the case of Pierre Bullet’s Architecture pratique (1692), a practical treatise focusing on measurements (toisé) made according to the custom of Paris: there was thus never any great motivation to translate into any other language. However, as Juliette Hernu-Bélaud explains, this manual became a normative text and was reedited and adapted over a century and a half. The chapter analyses the degree to which the different editions remained faithful to the original or departed from it. In a similar vein, Robert Carvais examines how the Lois des Bâtimens, (1748) by Desgodets et Goupy was “translated”’ in the early nineteenth century, to bring it in line with the Code civil, though as the author points out, the latter is in fact based not on Roman law but on the customs of Paris. Translation, in this sense, is a form of updating. For Carvais, the methods of interlinguistic translation – and translation studies – can be usefully applied to intralinguistic situations, and he ends the chapter quoting Jean-René Ladmiral’s famous dichotomy of translation attitudes (sourcier or cibilistes) (Ladmiral 2014) by classifying the various reeditions of Desgodets; those who seek to banish the past belong to the former, and those who see the continuation from the Ancien Régime to the latter.
With Susanna Pasquali’s paper on the Italian writer and translator Francesco Milizai we return to interlinguistic translation, though a most complex example of this: the eighteenth century compiler wrote a book on the lives of famous architects, largely taken from other sources, in particular from French publications. It was then published in French, in a severely modified version with many additions from other sources, only to be translated back into Italian, at least for the additions made in the French version. In spite of the “mosaic” method of composition, the author presents him as a worthy representative of the Enlightenment, bringing reason to bear on architecture.
Linnéa Rollenhagen-Tilly presents a series of books on the architecture of houses by the Swedish architect Carl Wijnblad published as from 1755 and, in a definitive edition in 1757 (Byggningskonsten). Here translation is once again presented indirectly as drawing on many Italian and French models, from Vignola and Palladio on, but which are placed on the same level as Swedish sources. The adaptation of these models to Swedish conditions, for example in the use of stone, is analysed here in some detail.
Petra Brower examines the influence of French books on the first Dutch architecture handbooks and more particularly the adaptation strategy adopted. There were thirteen architectural manuals published in the Netherlands in the nineteenth century, only two were translations but the others, by Dutch authors, were largely inspired by French and to a lesser extent, German models. The first of these manuals was a rather haphazard affair, not just simplified in comparison with the French model, but presented unsystematically; these faults were addressed in the second manual, with more systematic recourse to such models as Valérie Nègre’s article on Rondelet, mentioned above. Translation here encompasses not only the “cut and paste” (in translated form) of texts, but also the layout of architectural texts.
The final two contributions focus on the contacts between Western and Japanese architecture. Jean-Sébastien Cluzel’s article deals with the question of translating Japanese architecture into various European languages in the nineteenth century, whereas Nishida Mastzugu analyses a very early example of translation in the other direction, i.e. the Japanese edition of Vignola published at the end of the nineteenth century.
The conclusion, by Robert Carvais, entitled “‘Translated’ architecture, between faithfulness and innovation,” is a remarkable synthesis of the individual contributions to the collective work and even more importantly of its global ambitions. It adds a new perspective to the old chestnut alluded to in the title; does the new work strictly conform to the original or does it forge boldly ahead towards a new creation, thanks to the particularities of architecture and the many codes which go to make up the architectural text? The idea of the translation as a negotiation, official or unofficial, between the parties involved: author, translator, editor, publisher, reader… echoes reflexions of the negotiation of meaning in semantics. The social and cultural dimension of the translation of architecture is also brought out by the convergence of all theses individual studies, which together illustrate how translation – including successive translations of key texts – participate in the circulation of knowledge over time and through cultures.
The authors of this collection are primarily art historians, most of whom have experience in translating, either directly or through editorial activity, rather than translators who happen to be interested in the history of architecture. It is heartening to discover that so many art historians are active in this field, thereby enriching translation studies. The linguist may feel on foreign territory here, as the conventions of this book are presumably those of art history, which the linguist may feel difficult to follow. There is no general bibliography and no bibliography at the end of the various chapters. References are incorporated into footnotes at the end of each chapter, and sometimes rather sparingly at that: Francesco Rico, mentioned on page 29 as the author of Le rêve de l’humanisme, is found at the end of note 2. These notes are not always provided with the reader in mind – for example page 87 the German translation of Bourdieu is indicated, whereas the French readership would be more familiar with the original. Some fluctuations may also be observed in the terminology: calque p 111 is not as used in linguistics or translation studies (statue rendered as statue, putra for poutre…), though this in no way hinders the understanding.
Those interested in specialised translation in general – rather than the translation of architecture in particular – will find much of interest, in particular the very different roles that translation plays from direct acknowledged translation to writing inspired by a work written in another language. Many articles in this volume provide a salutary reminder of how important semiotic systems other than natural language play in specialised communication, and the intricate interplay of text, image and other codes which the translator or adapter has to deal with.
Those interested in terminology, in particular in its diachronic form, will also find much of interest, as many of the studies include references, usually made in passing, to the terminographical activities of both the architects of the original texts and their translators. There are several appreciations made of terminology, generally to the effect that the technical terminology often poses no particular problem, unlike the transposition of more general, culturally determined terms. Many terminologists today would argue that this is also part of terminology work. Several papers focus on how translation has helped to shape the terminology of architecture, in the coining of new terms.
One of the most frequently voiced frustrations in these chapters was the lack of space in this collection to delve into the research in more detail and more systematically, suggesting that these wide-ranging research efforts are in fact skimming the surface of what is still largely uncharted territory.
All in all, this is a major contribution to translation studies in general. The continuing convergence of the history of art, diachronic terminology and translation studies, as illustrated here, would be of great benefit to all concerned.
- Jakobson, Roman (1959/2012): On Linguistic Aspects of Translation. In: Laurence Venuti, ed. The Translation Studies Reader. London/New York: Routledge.
- Ladmiral, Jean-René (2014): Sourcier ou cibliste. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.
- Peiffer, Jeanne (1996): La création d’une langue mathématique allemande par Albrecht Dürer. Les raisons de sa non réception. In: Roger Chartier and Pietro Corsi, eds. Sciences et langues en Europe. Paris: Centre Alexandre Koyré, 79-93.