Skip to main content
Prior Art: Patents and the Nature of Invention in Architecture

Prior Art: Patents and the Nature of Invention in Architecture

Current price: $50.00
Publication Date: May 7th, 2024
The MIT Press
Available for Preorder


A groundbreaking text on the history of the use of patents in architecture.

Although patents existed in Renaissance Italy and even in Confucian thought, it was not until the middle third of the nineteenth century that architects embraced the practice of patenting in significant numbers. Patents could ensure, as they did for architects’ engineering brethren, the economic and cultural benefits afforded by exclusive intellectual property rights. But patent culture was never directly translatable to the field of architecture, which tended to negotiate issues of technological innovation in the context of the more abstract issues of artistic influence and formal expression. In Prior Art, scholar Peter Christensen offers the first full-scale monographic treatment of this complex relationship between art and invention.

Christensen’s method, a site-oriented approach steeped in multinational and multilingual archival work, is geared toward unifying fractured global histories of architectural patents through the distinct union of architectural, cultural, and legal history. Prior Art offers a record of the marriage of intellectual property and architectural invention—a momentous, understudied, and still underutilized aspect of architectural culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries—and the ways in which it influenced how buildings are conceived, designed, engineered, constructed, and promoted.

About the Author

Peter Christensen is the Arthur Satz Professor of the Humanities, the Ani and Mark Gabrellian Director of the Humanities Center and Associate Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Rochester. He is the author of Germany and the Ottoman Railway Network and Precious Metal.