Hosted at the Benaki Museum in Athens with the sponsorship of the Hellenic Institute of Architecture, the Reading Architecture symposium was organised by the History and Theory Program, School of Architecture, McGill University. The point of departure was the wish to explore how literary production of modernity can enlighten architectural designers as well as theoreticians and historians. Discussed through an opening roundtable among six renowned scholars – Caroline Dionne, Phoebe Giannisi, Klaske Havik, Mari Lending, Franco Pisani and David Spurr – and 20 papers selected through an open call, this epistemological concern pointed to the reconsideration of the basic relation between the production and experience of architecture and its verbalisation. Most of the presentations relied on literary study cases, from ‘Axolotl’ by Julio Cortázar to Le Petit Prince by Saint-Exupéry and ‘The Machine Stops’ by E. M. Forster, to delve into the architectural connotations of written language rather than on the linguistic interpretation of architecture. As a common device, the category of space mediated these readings.
Mari Lending, professor of history of theory at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design and co-founder of OCCAS, elaborated on ‘Fabrics of Reality in Fiction’, drawing on Stendhal and Sebald but particularly on recent short stories by Laslo Krasznahorkai. As fictional representations, these pieces conflate art and restoration history, academic discourse, topography and the portrayal of historical buildings in twisted temporalities with strong mimetic power. In addition, OCCAS PhD candidates Mathilde S. Dahl and Christian Parreno contributed with the papers ‘Traces of Christiania. A topographical reading of Knut Hamsun´s Hunger’ and ‘Oran, the Capital of Boredom’. While the first presentation reconstructed the urban parks and streets of Oslo through the intellectual deliberations and hallucinations of the starving protagonist of the novel, the second considered the architecture of Oran as a theme of absurdity and confusion rather than of clarity and significance.