Coming Back to Haunt You

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Mari Hvattum hosts the session ‘Coming Back to Haunt You: The History of Rejecting History in Architecture’ at the European Architectural History Network’s biennial conference in Tallin, 14-16 June 2018. http://eahn2018conference.ee/  The call for papers are open until 30 September and abstracts can be sent to mari.hvattum@aho.no

At least since the mid nineteenth century, architects and architectural thinkers have routinely rejected history. From Heinrich Hübsch’s insistence on a contemporary style to Le Corbusier’s fantasies about the tabula rasa, the idea of architecture’s absolute contemporaneity has long been something of a commonplace. And yet, history crops up in surprising ways in the midst of attempts to exorcise it. Alois Riegl, for one, while insisting that art and architecture belongs to its time, also conceded that no time could reach “aesthetic fulfilment” by its own means alone. The past, by virtue of its otherness, provides something that contemporary culture, with its seamless conformity to the Zeitgeist, is incapable of providing. The present, it seems, needs history to constitute itself qua contemporaneity.

The involuntary presence of history in nineteenth and twentieth century architecture is the topic of this session. Studying the history of history’s rejection, we invite scholars to explore the multifarious ways the past comes back to haunt any attempt to reject it. The specter takes many forms. Karl Bötticher, for instance, was one of the many nineteenth century architects who insisted that architecture had to respond strictly to the conditions of the present. In an interesting twist, however, Bötticher included the past – its beliefs, material culture, and accumulated experience – as a constituent factor of the contemporary era, thus smuggling history back into the equation. The insistence on contemporaneity, then, comes with its own particular historicity, like the way James Joyce made Leopold Bloom’s day into a vehicle of history, or T.S. Eliot insisted on tradition as the very precondition for the modernist break with the past.

While focusing on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the session is open to contributions from any period or place. We look for papers that study the rejection of history in architecture by means of focused scholarship and well-defined material, be it in the form of specific architectural works or textual and discursive analyses.

 

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