Strike

May 31, 2018
By Miranda Critchley

Img for PhD blog_picket line UCL copy

 

In the last two weeks of February and the first two weeks of March, staff at UK universities were on strike. The strike was over cuts to pensions, but much more came up in our discussions: the neoliberalisation of UK universities, casualisation and precarity in the workforce, problems with the curriculum and the corresponding need to support and enact decolonisation, difficulties with hiring practices, or reporting sexual assault, or pervasive ableism, or the ongoing legacies of racist histories (in January, UCL was in the news for hosting a conference on eugenics with white supremacist speakers on campus). Once we started raising our issues with the institutions in which we work and study, it was difficult to understand why we hadn’t been always been on strike.

At the Bartlett, we had a strong picket line and some senior colleagues – in particular Barbara Penner and Jane Rendell – took part in the strike and worked to build a programme of teach-outs, events and a strike chronicle. Not everyone who wanted to could strike – people with precarious immigration status or those who could not lose 14 days’ pay gave their support in other ways – but it was also the case that not everyone wanted to strike: some in the university are scared of disruption, even when its aim is to safeguard their pensions. My decision to participate was made easier by guidance from Barbara and Jane, and at the Bartlett we started to formulate the strike as a form of care: for each other, for future university staff, and for students, even though we were told that to withdraw our labour was uncaring and created harm for those who hadn’t caused it. The picket line at the Bartlett and a room on Gower Street rented by the UCL union branch became strike spaces, and we posted strike writing—an adaptation of Jane’s site writing—on a new website, made by David Roberts: www.s-t-r-i-k-e.org.

Since the union membership voted to accept a deal that is likely to delay the problem, rather than solve it, I’ve found it difficult to keep following the developments in the pensions dispute. But outside of this process, the strike has given us the impetus for new formations. At the Bartlett, we’re trying to bring together a collective to develop critical engagement with UCL’s existing equality, diversity, and inclusion measures. Exploitative contracts and practices now seem more egregious, and the strike has made some discussions easier: the sense that things are wrong in the institution is closer to the surface, although for those institutions tend to oppress, this has always been obvious.

In a lecture this week hosted by qUCL, an initiative that brings together UCL staff and students with interests in LGBTQ studies, gender and sexuality, queer theory and related areas, the feminist scholar Sara Ahmed spoke about her new work on queer use. The lecture was beautiful and poetic and ended with the idea that ‘creating a shelter and disrupting usage can refer to the same action’. The strike allowed us some time and space to disrupt and to build; although it has ended, we should hold onto and extend the desires that it sheltered and keep our strike spaces, where a different university seemed possible.

Captioning ambiguous forms: Aristotelis Zachos’ Loverdos house in Athens, on the pages of Wasmuths Monatshefte für Baukunst, 1930.

March 22, 2018
By Nikolaos Magouliotis

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Aristotelis Zachos (1871-1939) was a seminal figure of early 20thcentury modernism in Greece and played a pivotal role in the search for a regional style beyond Neoclassicism. Returning to Greece around 1910 after having studied and worked for several years in Germany, Zachos designed and built several projects which exhibited a heavily ornate blend of vernacular and byzantine forms. But as his career progressed, the “byzantine jugendstil” of his early buildings, inspired by the architectural traditions of the northern-Greek mainland, gradually gave way to more reduced, white-washed forms.

Among such later projects, the “Loverdos House” (1928-29) in the outskirts of Athens, was marked by a peculiar ambiguity. One the one hand, Zachos remained faithful to the regionalist mindset, seeking inspiration not only in the Northern mainland mansions and Byzantine churches the vernacular houses of the Cycladic islands in the Aegean archipelago. Simultaneously, however, he was attaining to more “modernist” and undecorated forms such as the ones designed by his international peers in the 1920s. The elective affinity of the cubic and white-washed Aegean vernacular with the forms of European modernism, which allowed this ambiguity in the Loverdos house, would culminate in the following years during the CIAM IV (1933), paving the way for the development of a Greek modernism with surprisingly regionalist rhetoric, but also providing international figures of the movement with one more primitivistic precedent.

Through print media, Zachos’ project travelled back to Germany in a particularly transformative way: It was published side by side with state-of-the-art modernist projects by Le Corbusier and Rober-Mallet Stevens, but the building was depicted only through two photographs and very little explanation about its context or the architect’s oeuvre. In this de-contextualized printed form, the photographs of the house were accompanied only by a caption which reduced its ambiguous meaning to only one of its constituents: Although Zachos’ project was seen in Greece as a step away from his previous vernacularism and towards modernism, the editors of the German magazine declared that it was certainly “nicht Corbusier”, and only “Heimatkunst”… 

 

Image caption: Aristotelis Zachos’ Loverdos House in the pages of Wasmuths Monatshefte für Baukunst (Issue no 2, 1930).The caption reads: “Ein griechisches Landhaus / Architekt: Aristoteles Zachos, Athen / Nicht Corbusier, sondern Heimatkunst. Neben dem Haupteingang der Backofen.”.

Victor Hugo’s Survival in the Elephant of the Bastille

March 22, 2018
By Ben Vandenput

Victor Hugo died on 22 May 1885 at the age of 83. Soon after, a rather disorganized stack of notes, sketches, ideas and objects used while writing his 1862 novel Les Misérableswas found, carelessly wrapped in three of his shirts. Among this pile of textiles and papers an envelope was found, on which was written overleaf: “Piece of wood of the Elephant of the Bastille’s structure, demolished during the last days of July 1846. Collected by myself, yesterday, on the 27th of July 1846. V[ictor].H[ugo].” The envelope with the wooden fragment has been handed down in 1929 to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France where it was given the fitting title “Les Misérables – Reliquat (NAF 24744)”.

It seems V.H. loved visiting the bizarre elephant construction which he, grief-stricken and as a way to say goodbye, helped to demolish and of which he since kept a wooden artefact as a dear memento. However, the lamented Elephant of the Bastille didn’t get the chance to slip anyone’s mind; in 1862, Hugo immortalized the building/monument in a chapter in Les Misérables where the gamin Gavroche is told to shelter inside the Elephant. The animal’s architectural qualities are characterized in fascinating terms. Hugo described the ruinous plaster elephant which was literally pushed aside by the July Column – in Hugo’s own words: “that bourgeois cooking-stove adorned with a chimney”- as a monumental and grand figure, “a symbol of the popular will” that sprang from the mind of Napoleon Bonaparte himself, besides being weird, as despised, repulsive, and defiant. One cannot avoid the impression that the terms in which Hugo described the Elephant – (It is monumental and grand! It is Napoleon and the French people! It is unique and disgusting!) – are surprisingly similar to the ones that are so characteristic of Gothic cathedrals in the eyes of our protagonist.

Hugo’s envelope not only physically authenticates his emotional confrontation with the plaster animal and its literary recycling. It also prompts us to rethink Victor Hugo as a theoretician of architecture. It was, after all, he who proclaimed architecture’s death in that other world-famous novel of his, Notre-Dame de Paris. In 1832 – thirty years before the publication of Les Misérables – Hugo stated in the enigmatic chapter ‘This Will Kill That’ or ‘Ceci Tuera Cela’ (‘ceci’ meaning the printing press and the book, ‘cela’ architecture and the cathedral more specifically) that “let there be no mistake, architecture is dead, dead beyond recall.” ‘Ceci Tuera Cela’ is thanks to its discussion of architecture’s aesthetics (but despite its outspoken pessimism) still considered Hugo’s most important architectural statement. In a note added to Notre-Dame de Paris’ definitive edition of 1832 however, the Frenchman wrote that he very much wants the future to prove him wrong on the dramatic fate of architecture. To him, the possibility of having “a fine monument, an isolated masterpiece” still remained open.

In retrospect, the Elephant of the Bastille might be considered precisely such a “fine monument”. Its architectural and elephantine qualities were never completely forgotten. In Brooklyn’s Coney Island, for instance, a colossal elephant hotel seems to have adorned the shore for some ten years, from 1885 onwards. This Elephant Colossus’ technological and imaginative characteristics are suggested by Rem Koolhaas to have paved the way for such Manhattanist emblems as the Downtown Athletic Club and the Empire State Building.

 

 

Captions for the images:

(1) Réville (dessin et gravure), “Vue de la Place de la Bastille (depuis le Nord)” in: G. Sarrut & B. Saint-Edme (ed.), Paris Pittoresque. Nouvelle Edition, Vol. I, Paris: Au Bureau de la Publication, 1842. Engraving. Public domain.

View onto the Place de la Bastille and the July Column. One can clearly distinguish the plaster scale model of the Elephant leering in the back.

(2) s.n., “The Colossal Elephant of Coney Island” in: Scientific American, New York: Munn Co.,1885.

From: The New York Public Library Digital Collections. Engraving. Public domain.

Intrada

March 7, 2018
By Eirik Arff Gulseth Bøhn

 

Kusel 1

 

The bottom edge of this image bears the inscription “Intrada oder Eingang in den garten desz Card. Borghesse zu Rom.”, indicating that the Arcadian scene portrayed above is set by the entrance to the Villa Borghese, the vast sculpture park and suburban palace built by Cardinal Scipione, nephew of Pope Paul V, over the first two decades of the seventeenth century. It is an inscription that testifies to the mobility of the paper sheet on which it is printed, and the villa it purports to portray, with its somewhat jaunty juxtaposition of Italian and Gothic script, and the addition of a distinctly German surplus ‘s’ to the Borghese name. Above it appears the names of its authors; ‘I W Baur in’. (for invenit, denoting that Baur devised the composition in drawing), and ‘Melchior Küsell fe’ (for fecit, attesting that Küsel made the printed image), both of whom were artists from the North, where this etching was printed (the inscription C: Privi: S: C: M: is an abbreviation for cum privilegio, sacrae caesareae maiestatis – conveying the printing licence and copyright bestowed on this image by the Holy Roman Emperor).

Johann Wilhelm Baur, who hailed from Strasbourg, enjoyed a certain success in Rome with his vedute and miniatures, for which he was praised by Baldinucci. Before departing for Vienna to work under the patronage of the emperor, he painted and drew several views of villa gardens and fountains, frequently featuring people strolling about in the presence of lifelike, elongated statuary. Sometime after Baur had passed away in 1642, a number of his designs were purchased from his heirs by Melchior Küsel, an enterprising engraver who lived and worked in his native Augsburg. From here, Küsel etched and published a series of Baur’s designs under the title Iconographia, an ambitious work in four volumes spanning a broad range of subject matter including the life, Passion and miracles of Christ; palaces, sea ports and gardens; pastoral landscapes, mythological scenes and classical allegories.

With remarkable mastery of the medium, the etching depicts two figures in conversation in front of a garden wall, dwarfed by two colossal and heroically nude characters, half sculpture, half flesh, that tower above them on pedestals, flanking a monumental gate. Although the sun is high in the sky, a brilliant light emanates from within the gate, the blank whiteness of the unprinted paper contrasting sharply with the density of textured foliage that saturates the image all around. Were it not for the title, it would be difficult to identify the scene as the entrance to the Villa Borghese. Yet, descriptive though it is, this title is also deceptive; at this time there was no Borghese cardinal presiding over the villa on the Pincian Hill.

While the Borghese villa had been conceived as an image of the magnificence of its founding patron, comprising an unrivalled collection of ancient statuary, modern sculptures and paintings, it was not before Marcantonio IV Borghese inherited this monument to the family fortune in 1763 that the garden estate underwent significant alterations to the architecture and collections. Writing the first guidebook to the site in 1650, nearly two decades after the passing of the founding patron, Jacopo Manilli, the guardarobba of the villa, described his own efforts as motivated by the wish to provide iconographic explanation to curious foreigners, more specifically those visiting from the Oltremontane, North of the Alps, who, so he explains, have an insatiable appetite for Roman antiquities; the ‘mysterious ancient eruditions’ that saturate the property in the form of statues and reliefs. Writing the guidebook, he wishes to spread the fame of the villa and its collection to ‘the most remote nations’.

By this time, the villa featured on the itinerary of the growing number of travellers that would visit Rome at the outset of the Grand Tour, taking a foremost position in the emerging canon of must-see monuments in the city. Those who visited often took Manilli’s guidebook home, some described the villa in published diaries. A large majority of others knew the villa only through prints like this one that passed through Europe. So, while interventions to the casino and gardens were reduced to a minimum and its organising principles were receding into the past, even for the guardarobba who sometimes expresses puzzlement at the indecipherable reliefs displayed on the estate, the villa took on a new mobility in print, disseminated among audiences in the North.

Sketched in Rome, published in Augsburg, and circulated widely both in Italy and elsewhere, Küsel’s etching is testament to this mobility. The first edition of the Iconographia, published from 1670 and comprising nearly 150 impressions (the more complete copies contain 146 or 148 etchings), was expanded for a second edition of 1682, where this image first appeared, subsequently published again in 1686 and 1702; evidence of a great commercial success. The images that made up the Iconographia were also reshuffled and used in other editions. The numbering of the plate, appearing twice – once as a ‘4’ in the bottom of the image and again directly below, cancelled out – bears witness to this. In this process, mutations of images and their annotations is at work, and one thing passes for another as Küsel translates Baur’s designs into etchings. Whether wilfully or not, he gets it wrong. A fairly accurate perspective of the main façade of the Villa Borghese is labelled “Pallaz zu Genova Villamena genandt”.

This impression likely stems from the edition of 1682 and belongs to the third volume of the Iconographia. Here, it appears in sequence after a rendition of a Roman Triumph (#3) and before a dramatic waterfall from Tivoli ‘with the power to petrify’ (#5). In Küsel’s encyclopaedic catalogue of images, it takes its place among the art of the Roman past and of the wonders of nature. In this series of the fantastic, the gate to the Villa Borghese appears remote and otherworldly, and guarded by ancient giants. Although we find mention of several pairs of such sculptures flanking gates at the Villa Borghese in Manilli’s guidebook – the pair of herms executed by Pietro and Gian Lorenzo Bernini are among them – the statues depicted by Küsel, in their dramatically exaggerated proportions, are at a far remove from the ancient marbles displayed in the villa gardens, none of which much exceeded life size. Equally incongruous are the overgrown wall and the tall tree leaning over it, thoroughly departing from the principles of strictly ordered nature that governed the Borghese gardens. With its almost complete lack of descriptive accuracy, so praised in other genres of topographically specific printmaking in the seventeenth century, the etching rather presents a bucolic vision of a garden not only separated from Augsburg in space, but also in time. By evoking a vast secret garden protected by ancient guardians, Küsel’s etching suggests the possibility that a petrified antiquity, spread throughout the gardens as ‘mysterious ancient eruditions’ in statuary and reliefs, is animated and alive inside the gardens, out of view of the beholder.

 

Kusel 2

Images captions: Melchior Küsel (etcher) after Johann Wilhelm Baur (draughtsman), Two figures in front of a monumental gate flanked by two sculptures. Etching. This impressions ca. 1682. Private collection.

Printing Byzantine architecture: Léon De Beylié and architectural knowledge from manuscript to modern print.

February 27, 2018
By Nikolaos Magouliotis

The extensive 19th century French discourse on Greek Byzantine architecture was based mainly on archaeological field research. Architects and archaeologists would visit buildings and sites, document what they considered noteworthy, and publish these findings in whatever printed media available to them, be is as drawings or photographs.

Building on the sum of knowledge produced by this discourse but also wishing to go beyond what was conventionally understood as material remains of Byzantium, military officer, explorer and polymath Léon De Beylié (1849-1910) sought different sources for the deciphering of Byzantine architecture and its particular character. Making an extensive study of the illustrations of the medieval Manuscript of Skylitzes and similar sources, De Beylié extracted diagrams and sketches of buildings featured in the background of historical scenes. His research was published in 1902, in a book titled L’habitation byzantine; recherches sur l’architecture civile des Byzantins et son influence en Europe.

By transferring architectural images from a medieval manuscript to a modern printed publication, De Beylié also transformed them. In fact, De Beylié can be considered as a peculiar case within architectural and archaeological historiography and an interesting example of the modernization of architectural knowledge through the evolution of its print media. First of all, he abandoned field research for a study of the ‘archaeological site’ of manuscripts, thus pointing to a historiography of architecture performed exclusively through books and printed media. Secondly, by extracting architectural elements from an otherwise non-architectural source (or, at least, one that was not intended as such), he contributed to the legitimization of medieval lore as a source of ethnographic and historical knowledge for architecture.

The text is an extract from Nikolaos Magouliotis’ current doctoral research on the historiography of Greek Vernacular and Byzantine architecture in the 19th and 20th centuries. This research is supervised by prof. Maarten Delbeke at ETH/gta and is part of the HERA project Printing the Past. Architecture, Print Culture and Uses of the Past in Modern Europe (PriArc)

 

 

 

 

Pages from Léon De Beylié’s L’habitation byzantine (1902), demonstrating his method of gradually reducing manuscript illustrations of historical events to architectural and typological diagrams.

 

 

The Rome Winter School Tapes

December 6, 2017
By Ben Vandenput

I don’t drink coffee. Not because I don’t like the smell of the freshly-roasted – I actually love it – but simply because I never learned to drink it. When Sabrina – an incredibly shrewd Swiss from Sicilian descent but living and studying in Amsterdam – and I stopped by in a Prati espresso bar on the very first sun-drenched day of many to come, the Roman baristo did consider refusing the black tea S. ordered for me. I won’t blame him for doing that. He was very right for several, very obvious reasons. It made me realize that my (for now) single New Year’s resolution is the following: to learn to drink and appreciate coffee, also in order to avoid infamous Roman situations in the near future. Obviously, when in Rome do as the Romans do; and when not there, it most of the time doesn’t hurt to keep up with these peculiar versions of Italian citizenship (never to leave the house without shiny black shoes, have Da Michele-pizza for lunch or name your dog ‘Marco Aurelio’ to call only three).

Such good intentions have marked the Winter School “Cities, Borders and Identities: Towards an Interdisciplinary Approach”, organized by the University of Amsterdam for RMa students and early PhD researchers, and located at the Royal Netherlands Institute in Rome (which was instantly renamed into the “KNNRRRRR” by Will, my Norwich-born roommate who critically introduced me into the dynamics of UK’s ‘lad culture’, which was greatly appreciated: again, thanks a lot, W.). The course itself then attempted to look into the dialectics of “the ongoing refugee crisis, combined with the continuing aftershocks of the financial crisis of 2008 which have seen the re-emergence of identity politics across Europe in a space that is increasingly divided in cultural, political, social and economic terms, and whose borders are more and more contested. European border cities have historically been crucial sites within which processes of identity-making and contestation have been particularly visible.” To be fair, Rome indeed proved to be a very fertile ground throughout the entire week to reflect on the construction of identity questions of difference and sameness in a city whose essence is imagined and physically constructed by the clash and claims of several historical layers and protagonists. In various seminars, the fifteen of us were confronted with methods to actually read various urban landscapes and analyze several techniques and perspectives that are used by historical and contemporary cultural and literary actors, policymakers and citizens. All of them of course in some way or another construct different identities and apply these to concrete spaces and urban peripheries as a way to engage with the contemporary and longer-standing challenges of the border cities and conditions in which they live. Similar interdisciplinary research questions and methods were to be applied in a research paper in which I chose to focus on the confrontation and the resulting border conditions of Napoleonic architectural programs in Rome. Such nineteenth-century monumental ensembles were juxtaposed to the ancient heritage of Rome, a possibly striking example of assimilating imperial identity politics through the medium of architecture.

The diversity of the participants’ disciplinary backgrounds – Archaeology, Sociology, Urban Geography and Cultural Analysis, etc. – was also reflected in the diversity of the various seminars and site visits. Under the title of ‘Urban History’ for example, lectures and excursions were organized on hybrid urban characteristics in Ostia Antica, as well as an ominous session entitled “Living and Dying in Rome’s Peripheries: the Case of Pier Paolo Pasolini”. Seminars discussing William Kentridge’s Triumphs and Laments subsequently alternated visits to contemporary neofascist housing squats and one’s poetical contemplations while standing on the Piazza del Campidoglio. In short, none of the participants was completely at ease with every single one of these subjects – none of us actually was in the face of CasaPound’s Mussolini-worshipping gang of thugs – but there were without doubt moments where one could feel expert in a session that was closely related to one’s own field of interest and expertise.

Considering all this, the Winter School has raised some questions. The PriArc teams are meeting in Paris later this month – maybe this will be a good occasion to discuss these thoughts? Here are the two most striking ones I remember:

  1. A recurring question when discussing my and others research papers in the context of this Winter School, co-organized by the Amsterdam Department of European Studies, was the ways in which dynamics and debates in historical urban contexts are still relevant for what is happening nowadays. I do acknowledge that there might be something highly problematic in this question, but since I have on several occasions tried to answer this in Rome, it might also be something for you to consider this. To what extent is it reasonable and interesting to stress historical phenomena in the light of today’s events/debates/challenges?
  2. The fact that I was mainly involved with monumental architectural ensembles has raised some debates on the critical position towards this. (Architectural) history is as such again narrated along the lines of well-known events, protagonists and networks. It has raised questions on the viability of a Latourian Actor-Network Theory for the discipline of (architectural) history, as well as the importance of ‘micro (architectural) histories’ and the narratives of those who were the direct victims of large-scale architectural interventions.

See you all in Paris!

Ben

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