In his last published article (“A Black Box”), Reyner Banham argued that architecture owed fifteenth-century Tuscany a debt for fostering a concept, disegno, against which it was long measured as a body of knowledge. Architects from Tuscany and elsewhere regarded Rome as a live lesson in their art. Italy’s cities have long been held as important for the evolution of architectural ideas elsewhere, its architects and architecture crucial points of reference for the disciplinary knowledge of modern architecture. Italian footprints can be found across histories of twentieth-century architectural culture, just as many parts of the world have found it important to “return” to Italy for instruction. The longue durée of Beaux-arts academicism’s veneration of Rome, the Venice School’s critical histories, and modernist and postmodern interest in Baroque space, Renaissance proportion, Mannerist ambiguity and postmodern referentiality are only a few examples of many recurrent sites, architects, authors, and frameworks observed or read into Italian architecture, cities and critical discourse that occupy prominent positions in the twentieth century’s historiography of architecture. The conflicted message of Le Corbusier’s “The Lesson of Rome” (in Vers une architecture) encapsulates Italy’s (and history’s) complex place in modern architectural culture as both problematic foil and powerful inspiration: to understand twentieth-century architecture, one must know Italy.
And yet, to study Italy’s pervasive impact on contemporary architecture inevitably invokes a contentious privilege. In the age of “global” architectural history and the corrective moves needed to read architecture into those situations (geographical, economic, racial, or cultural) where it had been overlooked, Italy’s long-term prominence in the historiography of architecture and the artistic imagination demands reflection. How to embrace the complexity of the Italian peninsula’s history while acknowledging the clear lessons its architecture offered architects elsewhere? To account both for the specificity of cultural and political contexts and the abstractions derived from them? Does the study of Italian architecture—in curricula, and through institutions—reinforce an idea of architecture and the historical authority of its values that cannot be sustained either in professional education or historical research? Does pursuit by twenty-first century scholars of a deeper, broader Italy enrich the historical and critical references of contemporary architecture, or foster a rift between scholarship and its uptake? Is there any way left to study the history of Italian architecture beyond Italy that promotes a more open disciplinary map?
This symposium invites studies that navigate these waters by conducting critical interrogations of Italy’s powerful, arguably problematic position in the architectural culture and ideology of the past century. Its driving aim is to question where, how, and why the disciplinary edifice of twentieth-century architecture—its canon of built, visual, textual, and conceptual works—relied on Italian foundations, and to identify where and how those foundations have become insecure. The linkages to Italy can be overt, implicit, or sublimated, and celebrated or castigated. The overarching agenda is to develop more incisive perspectives on how this structure has shaped or distorted architecture’s vision of itself, thereby opening up spaces for alternative approaches to how we understand the field’s creative, theoretical, social, and historiographic horizons.
Submission requirements: 300 word abstract by 1 November 2019.
- Denise Costanzo, Assistant Professor of Architecture and Art History, The Pennsylvania State University | [email protected]
- Andrew Leach, Professor of Architecture, School of Architecture, Design and Planning, University of Sydney and Stuckeman Professor of Interdisciplinary Design, The Pennsylvania State University | [email protected]