"THOSE WHO CANNOT REMEMBER THE PAST ARE CONDEMNED TO REPEAT IT."
- GEORGE SANTAYANA
The often overlooked importance of this famous quote is in not just remembering the 'what' and 'how' of the past. Names, dates, and places can only teach you so much. The most important thing history can teach us is the 'why' of the past. It is only in understanding why our predecessors made certain mistakes, that we can hope to avoid them in the future.
There may be no more important quote to the human experience. Humans have been evolving for over 200,000 years. We've learned a lot in that time, and it took a lot of different people to create that knowledge base. For architecture, we have been learning how to design shelter since the first human huddled in a cave. Successive generations continually added to the knowledge base of shelter, to get us to the complex buildings we have today.
True inspiration can only come from deep study and understanding of a source. For instance, if one were to look only at the exterior shell of a smartphone, and tried to build their own, they would only have a useless little box that maybe looked like a smartphone. Without an understanding of the inner workings of the smartphone, you couldn't possibly build your own. It may superficially look like a smartphone from the outside, but the similarities stop there.
Conversely, if the 'why' of the smartphone is studied. If every design decision that went into making the smartphone is understood, one can not only recreate the smartphone, but improve upon the design with fresh new ideas and perspectives. It is in this deep understanding of 'why' our predecessors made various decisions we can hope to avoid being condemned to repeat past mistakes.