SAH 2015 in Chicago: A Short Review of all Things Printed & Built

CCuZZE8UgAA0xW0 (1)The 68th Annual Conference of the Society of Architectural Historians in Chicago this April featured a truly breath-taking array of papers on all sorts of topics concerned, in some way or another, with architectural history. Within the 36 paper sessions, one of which was chaired by Mari Hvattum on the very core interests of The Printed and the Built project, there were more than a few papers that resonated with our own work here in Oslo. Below follows a necessarily short and incomplete review of some such contributions, as well as some thoughts on the themes emerging from the Printed and the Built session (see the full conference programme here).

Maarten Delbeke, for instance, discussed the relationship between literary ornament, and the ways in which these please the reader, to concepts of architectural beauty in late 17th-century and 18th-century France and Italy. Discussing the villa’s settings, Finola O’Kane Crimmins pointed out that 19th-century publications on landscape design commonly contained a historical essay, in sharp contrast to today’s textbooks of the discipline. John Loudon, she explained, dedicated the whole first part of his Encyclopaedia of Gardening to a history of the subject, linking past and present, writing and designing, through the printed medium of the encyclopaedia. Erik Wegerhoff, in a paper on Mendelsohn’s concept of ferro-concrete, described the manifold biological and psychological metaphors employed in the textual description of the new material in its early years, pointing out allegories between the interplay of forces within the material as well as artistic and social movements of the period. Timothy Hyde, in his paper ‘London Particular: The City and the Visibility of its Objects’, established a connection between the aesthetics of the city, its beauty or ugliness, and its environmental conditions and regulations, such as Public Health Acts.

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Last but not least, our own session, The Printed and the Built, was opened by Mari Hvattum with a short outline of the multiple relations between buildings & printing in the 1800s. In the paper presentations that followed, a range of common themes appeared that made apparent the particular relevance of the printed for the built, and vice versa. For instance, the concept of truth, or rather trustworthiness, is an obvious element in the interaction between the building and its representation. As Ulrike Fauerbach and Arnd Hennemeyer pointed out, the printing of ancient polychromy raised questions about the essence of architecture – was this to be found in line and form, or in colour? Equally, the narrative techniques employed in the historical surveys of Kugler and Fergusson gave coherence and credence to architecture in a historical sense, with periods serving as evidence for the progress and evolution of architecture, and justified its existence as a discipline, as argued by Petra Brouwer. Then, reading – as a process, action and metaphor – pervades the development of architectural dissemination of the period. In the illustrated press, as described by Anne Hultzsch, the public ‘hear’ through a relationship between large images and smaller written text. Further, the idealised, and highly impractical, schemes of utopian design emerging from mid-century radical reform movements in the US must be considered as rhetorical rather than functional as they were never meant to be built2015-04-16 12.36.20, yet served to relate meaning directly to form, as maintained by Irene Cheng. Wallis Miller, on German exhibition catalogues of the turn of the century, described how the exhibition served as a Gedankenwerkstatt (a laboratory for thoughts) that contributed to the establishing of architectural criticism in the daily press, leading to an increased exposure of the public to experimental architecture. The public itself finally emerged as the most prominent common theme: in all papers, it featured as the binding, or more, the constituting element of the printed and the built in the period. Through the printed matter, architecture gained its own public, a community of readers and critics with the printed and the built as its site.

(images courtesy of Emma Cheatle)

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