The Evolution of Forms
Darwin’s validity extends to architecture. In 2009, the coinciding of the second centenary of the birth of the naturalist with the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species triggered a proliferation of commemorative acts focusing on his scientific legacy and the social impact of his ideas, questioned to this day by religious fundamentalists of different callings. Nevertheless, little attention has gone to his influence in other fields of thought, particularly those of the artificial sciences, where evolutionism provided a powerful analytical tool, one not always put to good use. This is the case of architecture, for the interpretation of which Darwinism offered a rich collection of biological analogies that were often beneficial because they highlighted the connections there are between the architectural organism and the natural environment, but that also gave rise to errors and distorsions by explaining cultural evolution with features of what is strictly biological evolution.
Of course by presenting the totality of living beings as a tapestry woven with impeccable logic, the irreversible development of which introduced historical time in the natural environment, Darwin’s intuition had such far-reaching consequences for the natural sciences that the celebration of his person and his work must necessarily be situated in the specific territory of science. At the same time, opposition to the theory of evolution headed by creationist movements or the advocates of intelligent design – under the wing of American evangelical Christians and of many mullahs, in the Muslim world and in the West – is so ardent and disconcerting that it explains the overwhelming presence in the media of the religious controversy concerning the teaching of evolution in schools, as if these 19th-century ideas had not made it to the 21st more than sufficiently validated by advances in paleontology, genetics and molecular biology. That said, beyond paying tribute to his scientific legacy and deploring its social persecution, the commemoration of Darwin should serve to recall some of the milestones that are embroiled in the tangle of his cultural influence...