Add to my Schedule Leschi, Third Floor 03 Nov 2018 Organized Session
Environmental Sciences 13:30 - 15:45

This session explores architecture’s place in the postwar research university. Specifically, it examines academic architects’ adoption of scientific ideals and methods, their crafting of a scientific imaginary of architecture, and these trans-actions’ lasting effects on the discipline’s ever fluctuant intellectual and institutional definitions. Pertinent historical scholarship often portrays architecture’s postwar realignment — its flirtation with mathematics, computing, and the basic sciences — as an uncritical subscription to a culture of scientism, and rejects their outputs as pseudoscientific. This session tactically suspends these categorical judgments to consider architecture’s self-fashioning as a science in a new historical and historiographic key. Taking as a premise the situated, contingent, and non-monolithic nature of both architectural and scientific practices, we ask: How did local epistemic and institutional cultures reflect in architects’ efforts to endow their field with scientific legitimacy? What images of postwar science are outlined by architects’ invocation of scientific theories and practices? What does the case of architecture, a field traditionally dominated by vocational traits, offer to debates about the demarcation between science, non-science, and pseudoscience? What analytical tools may best assist us in addressing the research university’s endemic modes of knowledge production and dissemination? What non-archival sites of historical inquiry (oral histories, ethnography, media archaeologies, etc.) may we explore in pursuit of these questions? What common historical and methodological ground can we draw between architectural history and the history of science? Ultimately, the session seeks to consider mutualities and exchanges between architecture and science as an open field for historical and historiographic inquiry.

Co-organized by Theodora Vardouli (McGill University) and Daniel Cardoso Llach (Carnegie Mellon University)

Commentator – Jennifer Light (MIT)

Mathematization of Megastructure: Yona Friedman's North American Expeditions, 1964-1974
13:30 - 14:03

In June 1966 Hungarian-French architect Yona Friedman traveled to Folkestone,UK to join the International Dialogue of Experimental Architecture (IDEA)— a large two-day symposium on radical experiments with architecture and urbanism. A leading figure of “prospective” international groups of architects and artists crafting techno-futurological visions of three-dimensionally expanding cities, Friedman was a natural participant in what aspired to be a convocation of “all Europe’s creative nuts.” Yet at IDEA, Friedman set aside the provocative imagery of the Ville Spatiale —the architectural rendition of his late 1950s theory for “mobile architecture," and instead presented the project through mathematical diagrams. These diagrams were part of a theory of “scientific architecture,” as he would later call it, that Friedman was developing through visiting appointments in US and Canadian research universities. While being enthusiastically received in North America, Friedman’s mathematical exposition was met with skepticism at IDEA and reviewed as a “pseudo-mathematical” and “naive” way of justifying his aesthetic preference for space-grids. This presentation follows the mathematization of Friedman’s architectural work in its transitions and translations between North American research universities and the 1960s French architectural scene. By examining how distinct epistemic cultures influenced and received Friedman’s claims to “science,” I shed light on collusions and collisions between postwar academizing tendencies in research universities and contemporaneous avant-gardist cultures of novelty and prospectiveness in architecture. I also dwell on how particular mathematical ideas allowed Friedman to negotiate a space between the “researcher” and the “artist-demiurge,” between aniconic rationality and the aesthetic consistency of his oeuvre.

Architectural Scientists in the Steel City: Computing Urban Form at Carnegie Mellon’s Institute for Physical Planning (1969-1974)
14:03 - 14:36

As it transited from tech to university in the late 1960s, Carnegie Mellon started the School of Urban and Public Affairs (SUPA) with the ambition to “deal in a scientific manner with problems of the public sector” and help build the “civil-industrial complex.” Funded by gifts from the Richard King Mellon Trusts and the Aluminum Co. of America, the new school sought the confluence of disciplines such as political science, anthropology, sociology, and urban planning into issues of public administration and —crucially— urban renewal. Aligned with its interdisciplinary mission, the school organized three institutes in cooperation with other Schools: The Institute of Physical Planning, with Architecture; the Urban Systems Institute, with Industrial Administration; and the Joint Urban Science Information Institute, with University of Pittsburgh’s Public and International Affairs. In this paper I draw from archival materials, interviews, and historical software reconstructions to offer a detailed picture of the intersection of architectural and scientific sensibilities at SUPA with a special focus on the work by faculty and students at the Institute for Physical Planning between 1969 and 1974. Examining it as an illustration of the broader intellectual realignment of architecture in the postwar, and drawing methodological insight from recent experimental reconstructions and media archaeologies, I will show the IPP as one site where a self-consciously scientific architectural discourse emerged in the United States; discuss its technical and institutional supports; and document the role it played in articulating new architectural identities and imaginaries, shedding light on their generative contradictions and ongoing legacies.

The Science of Ideology Critique: Fredric Jameson and Architecture Theory in America
14:36 - 15:09

In the period following WWII, ideology critique was often characterized as a science. The French philosopher Louis Althusser epitomized this stance, updating Marx's theories to analyze the growing tertiary economy in Europe. In social theory, literary criticism, and philosophy, "historical materialism" positioned itself as a science in competition with the "positivist" science of other disciplines. This Marxist science was imported into American academic architecture in the 1970s, and it became the mainstream of architecture theory in the 1990s. This paper examines what characterized ideology critique in Europe and how it was transformed in its trans-Atlantic journey.

I will focus, first, on the IUAV and analyze how this higher education institution in Venice developed a "scientific" research program that generated and accumulated knowledge. A leading figure at the IUAV, Manfredo Tafuri, developed a mode of writing to describe the contradictions that provided, in his view, the motive force of architectural history.

I will turn, second, to one of Tafuri's American interpreters, the literary theorist Fredric Jameson. Jameson retained Tafuri's dialectical mode of writing but abandoned the IUAV's research program. I will describe the features of Jameson's writing that made it "scientific," including his reliance on para-textual diagrams and formulae, and how ideology critique disseminated through a unique discourse network of conferences, publications, and teaching.

Today, as many figures in architecture theory are aligned against "instrumentality" and science generally, it may be useful to remember their predecessors, who had a less monolithic view of science – and saw themselves as scientists.

Territories of Finance: Martin Wagner, German Economics, and Postwar US City Planning
15:09 - 15:42

Martin Wagner (1885-1957) was a leading city planner of the Weimar Republic, chief planner for Greater Berlin (1926 to 1933), planning theorist, and mastermind of social housing ventures. Relocating in 1938 to the United States, where he taught at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Wagner promoted a conception of planning shaped by his experiences in the nascent German social democratic welfare state. His ideas then evolved in the context of the regulatory and interventionist policies of American New Deal and wartime mobilization. In both Germany and the US, Wagner’s approach to planning was in dialogue with economics science, in its role as instrument and shaper of territorial governance.

His 1915 doctoral dissertation co-advised by economist Julius Wolf, Wagner went on to develop a concept of the city as financial organism, situated in a regional framework subject to managerial governance. His ideas were built on the structural overlap in the systems of market and political organization theorized by German thinkers such as Max Weber, Werner Sombart, and Rudolf Hilferding. As planning practitioner, he extended to urban territory forms of public-private interplay that defined the Weimar “social economy.” In dialogue with American Keynesian economists, including Alvin Hansen, Wagner would elaborate his approach to the urban fabric as reified fiscal policy. However, his regulatory conception of real estate and advocacy of public land ownership ultimately condemned his theses to obscurity in postwar America.

Connecticut College
Carnegie Mellon University
Harvard University
McGill University
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