Historic preservation and copyright law attempt to address the question “Who has the right to make a copy?” from ostensibly oppositional perspectives, and translation could be positioned paradoxically on both sides of the response. In a contemporary context where shifting disciplinary boundaries encounter friction with inflexible legal frameworks, translation provides a lens through which to highlight the preservationist-as-artist’s quandary, where protection of intellectual property and public patrimony—both within the singular figure’s purview—are increasingly found to be at odds.
To test the productivity of this friction a logical starting point is architectural history itself—in particular, a period categorized by transnational emigration, linguistic expansion, and the concurrent codification of the modern canon. During this moment in the middle of the twentieth century, modernism was being aggressively justified and folded into the always already globalized field largely through the spread of images and text—media that depend entirely on the act of linguistic translation in their crossing, tracing, and violating of borders. Sigfried Giedion’s Space, Time, and Architecture is perhaps the most famous such case.