The Collins/Kaufmann Forum for Modern Architectural History

The Collins/Kaufmann Forum for Modern Architectural History is a seminar-format lecture series stressing works-in-progress and is organized by PhD students in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia.

All events are free and open to the public, and refreshments will be served.

Spring 2019

Eric Paul Mumford
I.M. Pei and Urban Design, 1948-60
Wednesday, March 6, 2019, 6:30pm
Room 930, Schermerhorn Hall
Columbia University

Architect Ieoh Ming Pei began working for the New York developer William Zeckendorf in 1948, and went on to design a series of major urban projects for him in North American cities until founding his own firm in 1960. While these projects themselves—which include two in downtown Denver, the Place Ville-Marie in Montreal, and mixed use urban renewal projects for Washington, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh—were widely publicized at the time, the intellectual context that informed them and their importance to the history of urbanism are not as clearly understood.

In this paper I argue that Pei’s urban design work for Zeckendorf was closely related to the modified modernist approach to urban design that began to be advocated in the early 1950s by Philadelphia city planner Edmund N. Bacon, and the architects Louis I. Kahn, and Josep Luis Sert, Dean at the Harvard Graduate School of Design from 1953-69. That direction, which was made public at the First Harvard Urban Design conference in 1956 and further developed at the third Harvard Urban Design conference (1959), was an internal critique of earlier CIAM ideas. It put a new emphasis on pedestrian street life and urban connectivity, anticipating some of the ideas of Jane Jacobs’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), while still advancing the model of master planning in an era of extensive Federal investment in cities.

Salomon Frausto
A Game of Infinite Dimensions
Wednesday, March 27, 2019, 6:30pm
Room 832, Schermerhorn Hall
Columbia University

From April to June 1973 the exhibition entitled “How to Play the Environment Game” hung on the walls of London’s South Bank Hayward Gallery, marking one of the first attempts to put on display for a general public the major urban issue of the day: London’s redevelopment after reconstruction. This talk will explore not only how this didactic exhibition was a critique of postwar planning but also how its curator challenged the traditional role of the architect by interrelating message and medium to reach a broader public audience. It will argue that “How to Play the Environment Game” is a progenitor of the kinds of socially and politically engaged architecture and design exhibitions we expect today. 

Conceived, designed, and organized by the South African-born architect and designer Theo Crosby for the Arts Council of Great Britain, the exhibition presented the multiple determinants defining the physical aspects of London. Crosby attempted to distill the complex processes that led to the elimination of neighborhoods, the deconstruction of monuments, and the relocation of communities as part of the city’s redevelopment. Using the idea of a game, Crosby showcased historical and contemporary case studies to shed light on the mutual and conflictual interests of the players involved—including property developers, contractors, politicians, architects, and citizens—arguing that each win in proportion to their involvement. Square-formatted panels of black-and-white aerial photographs, montages, drawings, and diagrams were placed on polychromatic walls, interspersed with textual interventions from contemporary luminaries such as Andrea Branzi, Peter Cook, Jane Jacobs, among others. Crosby also initiated the experimental installation of immersive projections and an accompanying multimedia propaganda van to reach an audience outside the gallery. In a further attempt to extend the exhibition beyond its limited lifespan in the gallery, Crosby released a Penguin paperback featuring the exhibition’s content and designed a condensed version of the exhibition that traveled throughout the United Kingdom. 

But in London, for three months, Crosby reconstituted the Hayward Gallery as a space for discursive display on the built environment. This talk will analyze how “How to Play the Environment Game” brought to the forefront what was at stake in London’s redevelopment under evolving political circumstances, commercial interests, and market realities, and how it was also paradigmatic of Crosby’s half-century career of merging message and medium.

Peter Christensen
Krupp and the Global Spoliation of Steel
Thursday, April 11, 2019, 6:30pm
Room 930, Schermerhorn Hall
Columbia University

Steel, introduced into architecture on a broad scale during the nineteenth century, had a radical impact on architecture, forever changing the way we perceive and inhabit buildings. It also produced a radical new ecology, one that reflected a parasitic new relationship between both man and the environment as well as between cultures. This talk will detail one of several ways of reading steel in architecture and visual culture that moves beyond steel’s familiar guise as a heroic aid to the “genius” architects and “masterpieces” of Modernism by tracing the ways in which steel building units originating at Krupp’s headquarters in Germany were dispersed, reinterpreted and even reinvented outside of the West. This reinvention fostered a new culture of “open source” architecture that forces us to rethink the very definition of ingenuity in the history of architecture and construction.

Alex Bremner
Tuesday, April 30, 2019, 1pm
Room 930, Schermerhorn Hall
Columbia University

In this talk, Alex Bremner will discuss aspects of his latest research on the relationship between architecture and empire. He will focus mainly on his recent work dealing with the corporate infrastructures of the China Trade firm Jardine, Matheson & Co., considering the company’s physical networks of office, storage, and transhipping facilities in the context of early global capitalism. He will also touch upon his Leverhulme Trust funded project "Building Greater Britain," which is a major study looking at the global dimensions of the "Edwardian Baroque" phase in the history of British architecture and its imperial objectives.

Ruth Lo
Monday, May 6, 2019, 6:30pm
Room 832, Schermerhorn Hall
Columbia University  

In the 1930s, Mussolini’s regime (1922–1943) embarked on a large building campaign to construct granaries across the Italian peninsula and in Italian territories abroad. This building mania was a direct result of Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia in 1935: following the imposition of sanctions by the League of Nations, the regime ordered the obligatory consignment of wheat by producers to public storage facilities to centrally manage a critical alimentary resource and publicize the government’s efforts to insure national food security. In this way, fascist politics transformed the granary from banal industrial structure into symbolic architecture that conveyed self-sufficiency and embodied imperial ambitions.

The grain silo occupies a distinct place in the history and historiography of modern architecture. Walter Gropius, Le Corbusier, and Erich Mendelsohn were among the first European architects to proclaim the monumental North American grain elevator as a formal inspiration for the basic vocabulary of modernism. However, this iconic model with its soaring verticality and prominent cylindrical bins was eschewed by the fascist regime as impractical and in contradiction to Italy’s economic objectives. Fascism sought, instead, a wholly different type of grain storage with horizontal floors and flexible interiors, due in no small part to politically driven material constraints.

This talk examines two aspects of fascist Italian granaries: 1) the regime’s deliberate positioning of the granary as a mediator of seemingly contradictory roles in fascist ideologies, and 2) the ways in which fascism mediated the granary to create an illusion of food abundance to allay worries of an unstable future. Thus, the granary’s ontological position was one of betweenness that negotiated the push and pull of opposing poles, portrayed in state-sponsored media as striking a necessary balance between urban and rural, ancient and modern, and past and future. Heavily mediated, the granary as mediator was a visual palliative, a structure that represented the culmination of the regime’s arduous, decade-long battle for wheat.

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