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 2018

Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi
From Sri Lanka to the World: Minnette De Silva, Architecture, and History
Wednesday, January 24, 2018, 6:30pm
Room 934, Schermerhorn Hall
Columbia University

Few careers lay open the complexities of architectural entanglements with gender, labor, and the politics of cultural heritage in the twentieth century as does that of Minnette De Silva (1918-1998): R.I.B.A. Associate, Sri Lanka Institute of Architects Gold Medalist, C.I.A.M. participant, and co-founder of the journal MARG. She combined progressive and revivalist thrusts together, from her student work in the 1940s at the Sir J.J. College of Architecture and the Architectural Association to later studies of Asian architecture for MARG, Ekistics, and Sir Banister Fletcher’s A History of Architecture. Her designs combined reinforced concrete technology and Surrealist composition techniques with Ceylonese arts and crafts and a gendered, village-based system of fabrication.

Though she was a fixture in modernist Bombay and London and engaged in some of the most important modern architectural interventions in South Asia, her appearances in the institutional record, and thus the history, are erratic. No formal archive documents her practice or professional biography, but her international itineraries and localized productions appear in her scrapbook-style memoir, The Life and Work of an Asian Woman Architect. Part Bildungsroman and part architectural portfolio, the lone volume of the two she intended to publish offers an amputated narrative of engagements with significant institutions and figures and a similarly remarkable body of built works and writings. This aborted map offers a possible model for historiography—for histories of women, of South Asia, of architecture, of modernism—by throwing into question the reliance upon the catalogue raisonné and instead giving space to its occlusions, which may better serve to trace the creative life and intellectual labor of an architect in the world.

Basile Baudez
Between Convention and Seduction: European Architectural Drawings and Color
Thursday, March 1, 2018, 6:30pm
Room 930, 9th Floor, Schermerhorn Hall
Columbia University

This talk will trace the use of color in European architectural drawing and prints between the Renaissance and the early nineteenth century. Its most basic premise posits that color was never an essential feature of architectural drawing but made so by an increasingly codified and precise system of architectural representation that responded to the demands of political institutions and the general public. Color provided a visual means of communication that sidestepped textual explication of technically and structurally complex building programs. Looking across national borders yet attentive to the eventual supremacy of a French model, this talk will address color as a key player in the long history of rivalry and exchange between European traditions in architectural representation and practice.

Anna Bokov
Institutionalizing the Avant-Garde: Vkhutemas, 1920-1930
Tuesday, April 10, 2018, 6:30pm
Room 832, 8th Floor, Schermerhorn Hall
Columbia University

In his canonical 1936 chart mapping the development of modern art, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., the founding director of MoMA, prominently placed Constructivism and Suprematism right beneath Cubism. The two Russian avant-garde movements were considered its two more prominent outcomes, along with De Stijl and Neoplasticism – all of which drew on what he called, the “machine esthetic.” The Staatliche Bauhaus is placed just below—in turn, a product of these, also powered by the esthetic of the machine. Notwithstanding the prominent role assigned to the avant-garde, Barr chose to omit a contemporary of the Bauhaus—a school that, arguably, played a central role in articulating both the theoretical programs and the practical outcomes of its movements.

Conceived by the Bolshevik government as a “specialized educational institution for advanced artistic and technical training,” the Higher Art and Technical Studios, collectively known as Vkhutemas (Вхутемас), were created to “prepare highly qualified artist-practitioners for the modern industry.” From its establishment, this interdisciplinary school offered free education and accepted students from underprivileged backgrounds. While similar, according to Barr, to the Bauhaus in its “communistic spirit,” Vkhutemas, with an enrollment of over 2000 students, was an unprecedented modern undertaking, an institution that “focused on developing the masses.” The mandate for mass education was framed within the larger project of the industrialization of the Soviet economy and the grounding of everything—from artistic to labor practices—in science. Vkhutemas faculty emphasized the link between design practice and the so-called “objective method.” Continuous feedback between educational process and tests performed at various “research laboratories” at Vkhutemas facilitated an enormous leap in the development of both the theory and practice of modern space and form.

Shiben Banerji
The Financial Ties that Bind: Paul Otlet's Mundaneum and the Fraternal Spirit of Global Capital
Monday, April 23, 2018, 6:30pm
Room 930, 9th Floor, Schermerhorn Hall
Columbia University

Paul Otlet's Mundaneum, and Le Corbusier's pyramidal design for it, confounded critics as soon as it was published in L'Architecture vivante in 1929. Lost in the clamor to denounce the project as needlessly monumental, and in Corbusier's vehement, if incredulous, defense of its functionality was the equivalence that Otlet drew between the pursuit of financial profit and the acquisition of higher consciousness. How was it that Otlet came to equate financial speculation and spiritual attainment? Why did he characterize both processes as democratic, and how did he so readily identify these twin and simultaneous processes of subject formation with the logic of the pyramid? Presenting a genealogy of cosmic imagining in architectural discourse stretching back to William Richard Lethaby's iconoclastic history of architecture from 1892, this paper addresses a blind spot in left criticism of the Mundaneum and opens an examination of the architectural designation of fraternity as a spirit animating economic globalization.

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