EAHN: Turin Conference

European Architectural History Network Conference in Turin

The European Architectural History Network (EAHN) held their third international conference in Turin from 19th-22nd April. The conference included several papers with a transnational theme and thanks to the generosity of the presenters/authors we’ve included some of their abstracts below:

S3.1 Concrete Conduits in Gandhi’s Ashram. Tangled Environmental Aesthetics in Post-Independence Indian Modernism

Ateya Khorakiwala Harvard University, USA

Post-independence India’s conception of nature as risk-resource system fuelled its project of modernization. Dams were construed as techno-scientific operations in systems designed to circumvent disaster. The corresponding cultural project of architectural modernism borrowed anti-colonial politics’ essentialist strategy, foregrounding a search for identity and taking its cue from climate and vernacular technology. Although driven by resourcedearth, Indian modernists wrought scarcity into an aesthetic language: louvers, chajjas, verandahs, and lattices came to dominate Indian modernism’s vocabulary. For Charles Correa, climate provided raw material for a new, yet ancient, aesthetic language. His early conceptual project – the Tube House (1962) – a unit designed to be low cost and easily multiplied, used deep louvers, a courtyard, and shaded windows to regulate the internal climate. The prototype has been called “ahead of its time”, as if it were a proleptic part of sustainability; however, the project was rooted in a different set of political and aesthetic lineages that came into play in a parallel project, a museum commission that he won right out of MIT. The Sabarmati Ashram, built on the site of Mahatma Gandhi’s home in Gujarat, in homage to the leader, sat at the intersection of three distinct intellectual lineages – Gandhi’s politics, Tagore’s aesthetics, and Nehru’s techno-science. This paper uses Correa’s Sabarmati Ashram project to interrogate the threads of environmental consciousness nested within the decolonization paradigm to argue that although these threads look like sustainability, they belong to a different history, and although they seemed to be a counter-narrative to big science and big dams, they were wrought of the same anti-colonial political origins. Although the Gandhi/Nehru/Tagore lineage was politically contradictory and certainly never resolved, this paper will look for architectural and aesthetic references to limn the alternate possibilities for what environmental consciousness may have been before the 1970s.

 

S3.4 Experiments on Thermal Comfort and Modern Architecture: the Contributions of André Missenard and Le Corbusier

Ignacio Requena Ruiz Ecole Nationale Superieure d’Architecture Nantes, France

Daniel Siret Ecole Nationale Superieure d’Architecture Nantes, France

The early scientific researches into the thermo-regulative response of the human body during the 1920s and the 1930s normalized thermal conditions in working and educational environments to improve user’s performance. The European and American contexts of housing promotion and industrial development during post-war extended this approach to different environments. Geographers, physiologists and engineers encouraged manufactured indoor atmospheres that could overcome human shortcomings resulting from environmental and biological conditions. Climate, indoor atmospheres and human body were interlinked to develop the ideal environment for modern society. Paradoxically, these original notions and researches have been used to promote both bioclimatic and weatherized architectures along the second half of the twentieth century. The French engineer, researcher and industrialist Andre Missenard was a prominent contributor to the study on the thermo-physiology of comfort as well as its experimental application to engineering and architecture. As a collaborator of the architect Le Corbusier, his influence not only attempted technical fields, but to the whole notion of the ideal environment for modern society. Consequently, Le Corbusier’s works during the post-war became a collective laboratory on hygro-thermal control, where passive and active systems were constructs of what Missenard called “artificial climates”. Based on an original research at the Foundation Le Corbusier archives and the French National Library, this communication presents the design method of the Grille Climatique and the buildings for the Millowners Association (Ahmadabad, India) and the House of Brazil (Paris, France) as study cases. As a result, the paper discusses the influence of physiology and environmental technology in the early approaches to thermal environments in architecture, what afterwards supported both bioclimatic and mechanical viewpoints.

 

S3.5 The United Nations Headquarters and the Global Environment

Alexandra Quantrill Columbia University, USA

The realization of the United Nations Headquarters between 1946 and 1952 marked the onset of a complex relationship between environmental management and global development in the postwar period. Designed by an international committee of architects, the headquarters were a vexed monument to world peace. At the same time the work of the fledgling institution reflected its incipient stance on environmental and economic concerns of a global order. The 1949 United Nations Conference on the Conservation and Utilization of Resources promoted international cooperation in allocating scientific research to resource disparity as a means of keeping the peace. Scientists, engineers, and technical experts offered strategies for prosperous member states to address resource deficiencies within developing tropical and arctic regions, which were presented as the last frontiers of cultivation. Lewis Mumford remained highly circumspect regarding the UN Headquarters’ representation of a new global order, questioning its unconscious symbolism of the “managerial revolution” and monopoly capitalism. Indeed, Mumford pitted the degradations of mechanization against his theory of organic synthesis, in which science and the machine support life processes rather than diminishing them. By contrast, in his presentation of the UN headquarters Le Corbusier presented the organic in terms of an exact biology facilitated by new technology. Purportedly to address the diverse climactic origins of the UN delegates, the envelope of the UN Secretariat was designed to function as a manipulable environmental control system accommodating the global population housed within, thereby fostering harmonious relations. Internationally published and widely imitated, the details of this thin, flat, smooth surface of modernism embodied enmeshed aesthetic and technical ambitions. Drawing from contemporary discourses on technology and the organic, this paper will scrutinize the ways in which the UN invoked science to address environmental management at a global and a highly proximate level.

 

PhDRT2.1 Ahmedabad. Workshop of Modern Architecture: The National Institute of Design

Elisa Alessandrini Universite degli Studi di Bologna, Italy

The subject of this research is the National Institute of Design (known as NID) designed by Gautam Sarabhai and his sister Gira in the city of Ahmedabad, India. This project has been selected because it highlights the two faces of post-colonial India; a nation that sought to amalgamate modern institutions with traditions from the past. Designed in 1961-1964 and built in 1966-1968, NID is one of the most convincing examples of this synthesis. The decades 1940-1960 are the time frame of this study, corresponding to a period of great intellectual upheaval in India following independence from British rule. In these years, the first generation of Indian postcolonial architects created buildings of considerable importance and had close contact with Western modern masters. NID is part of this chronological framework. The wider survey is restricted to educational buildings constructed by Indian architects in Ahmedabad, and highlights the influence of masters such as Le Corbusier, Louis Kahn, and other Western professionals who participated in this climate of cultural exchange. While Frank Lloyd Wright and Walter Gropius welcomed talented young Indian architects into their schools or studios, they themselves never went to the sub-continent. Their American and European colleagues, however, such as Richard Neutra, Charles and Ray Eames, Buckminster Fuller, Enrico Peressutti, Harry Weese, and Frei Otto, had a direct dialogue with the emerging generation of Indian architects through their presence on site in India. The architecture designed by Achyut Kanvinde, Gautam and Gira Sarabhai, Balkrishna Doshi and Charles Correa, just to name a few Indian architects of that new generation, are a clear evidence of these contacts. The National Institute of Design found its seat in Ahmedabad, a city favoured by young Indian architects and a centre of decolonization. The thesis examines some aspects of post-colonial Indian architecture and its outcomes, in particular in Ahmedabad, which must be considered a real laboratory of Indian modernity. NID is a national institution of great importance which, like its designers Gautam Sarabhai (1917- 1995) and Gira Sarabhai (1923), has never been the subject of research and rarely mentioned in history books of post-colonial India. With this study, the author aims to restore NID’s value and reputation and give voice to its designers, investigating the central role of the Sarabhais in the modernization of Ahmedabad and more generally of the country. Thanks to their wide national and international network, Gautam and Gira Sarabhai were key figures in the cultural development of Ahmedabad, and the creation of NID is one of the most significant examples of intellectual exchange between East and West. The study illustrates how the fertile friendships between Indian and Western architects, but also traditions from the past, are reflected in the NID project. This thesis is based on archival research in a number of archives in India, Europe and North America.

 

S23.5 “Housing Before Street”: Geddes’ 1925 Plan for Tel Aviv and its Anarchist Disruption of the Dichotomy between Top- Down Planners-Ideologues and Bottom-Up Urban Citizens

Yael Allweil, Technion, Israel

A founding member of the city planning movement, Sir Patrick Geddes was largely marginal to the movement for his anarchistic challenge of the very idea that new cities form “of thin air” due to the powerful actions of statesmen, capitalists and planners (Hall, 2002; Rubin, 2009). Geddes self-distinguished from conceptions of modern planning, insisting that “urban planning cannot be made from above using general principles […] studied in one place and imitated elsewhere. City planning is the development of a local way of life, regional character, civic spirit, unique personality […] based on its own foundations” (Geddes, 1915). Geddes’ urban vision was affected by issues of housing in the industrial city, yet compared with other theories of urban planning, Geddes’ “city of sweat equity” approach to urban housing “contributed to planning theory the idea that men and women could make their own cities” (Hall, 2002). A perfect match with Tel Aviv founders’ ideas of the city as accumulation of future-citizens as a vehicle for self-government (Weiss, 1956), Geddes’ 1925 plan for Tel Aviv, based on detailed survey of the town as housing estate, accepted Tel Aviv’s use of housing as building block to produce a “Housing before Street” urban planning. Geddes’ Tel Aviv plan poses alternative to accepted models of modern planning: technocratic-capitalist Haussmanism, aesthetic City Beautiful, Corbusian “radiant cities”, or utopian Garden City. At the same time, contrary to the phenomenon of makeshift housing predating formal settlement and creating the city de-facto, as in the auto-constructed peripheries of Cairo, Brasilia or Calcutta (Holston, 2008), Tel Aviv’s formation via housing was the result of a conscious, anarchist, planning process where Geddes fully realized his ideas: not merely challenging top-down mechanisms, but disrupting the very dichotomous perspective of modern urbanism as a clash between topdown planners-ideologues and bottom- up urban citizens.

 

S13.1 The Afro-Brazilian Portuguese Style in Lagos

Ola Uduku, The University of Edinburgh, UK

This paper seeks to re-evaluate the categorisation of “Brazilian” style architecture on Lagos Island. For long the notion of the Brazilian style, Aguda houses on the island has allowed for an exotic reading of the built form, allegedly transmitted to Lagos through the labour and construction skills of mainly Yoruba repatriated African slaves from Brazil and elsewhere in South America. Whilst the original owners of these buildings would have had contact with Brazil, the essential styling can be traced back to Portugal, and indeed is seen in earlier traditional architecture in locations such as Benin (Nigeria) and parts of coastal West Africa, which had centuries earlier had contact with Portuguese traders. The paper seeks to question the labelling of the Afro Brazilian style on these buildings in Lagos, with no reference to earlier Portuguese-European influences on their styling. What does this tell us about the embodied identity of the built form and its presentation within a richer African mediated cultural discourse related to past remembered and forgotten histories? I will be relying on the use of textual histories of Lagos, as well as existing records of buildings in areas such as Campos Square in Central Lagos, the epicentre of what was considered to be Lagos’s Brazilian Quarter.

 

S13.3 Architecture of Sun and Soil. European Architecture in Tropical Australia

Deborah van der Plaat University of Queensland, Australia

Substituting climatic theories of difference, a conception that was common to the eighteenth century, with biological propositions – an approach advanced in the nineteenth century by Victorian theorists of race – aided Britain’s territorial interests in tropical India (Harrison 1999). Breaking the association between racial distinctiveness and climate and identifying difference and superiority with biological attributes effectively negated questions relating to the viability of white settlement within the world’s tropical regions. Parallel strategies, as Evans (2007) and Anderson (2002) have argued, were also evident within early twentieth-century Australia. Here a “series of influential scientific and medical writers boosted a vision of virile whites defeating the sickness and neurasthenia in the tropics”. Previously positioned as a “hot bed of disease”, tropical Australia now became the “staging ground” for a “higher type” of white Australian – a distinctive “tropical type […] a new race, bred of sun and soil” (Evans 2007: 173-175). The aim of this paper is to consider the strategies developed in the first half of the twentieth century that permitted the acclimatisation of the white man and his architecture to tropical Australia. A particular focus will be the correlation between an emerging discourse on a tropical architecture in northern Australia and the writings of Anton Breinl, Rapheal Cilento and Jack Elkington, directors of the Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine. Demonstrating the Institute’s interest in theories of racial segregation and eugenics in addition to preventative medicine and hygiene (Anderson 2002), the paper suggests these writings offer an alternative “Rationale” for the tropical architecture of twentieth-century Australia revealing a logic which extends beyond the instrumental concerns of comfort and amelioration to consider more broadly theories of race, culture, politics and place.

 

S13.4 Health, Hygiene and Sanitation in Colonial India

Iain Jackson Liverpool University, UK

Using guidebooks, pamphlets and government reports this paper will investigate British notions of health, sanitation and hygiene in India with respect to city infrastructure and housing, focusing on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Nearly all colonial planning, housing and large infrastructure projects were concerned, if not obsessed, with providing “clean” and “healthy” solutions for their European residents. Of course, notions of cleanliness are far from fixed or absolute. Whilst scientists and the medical profession looked for cures to the many diseases and ailments that afflicted the European populations in the Tropics, running in parallel was a belief that the built fabric and wider city planning also had a significant impact on the health of its visitors and occupants. It is this kinship that tropical architecture and tropical medicine share that I want to investigate. Moving beyond the mere separation of local and European dwellings, what other tangible attempts were made to improve sanitation, hygiene and health? The annual public health and sanitation reports for all the major cities and provinces of India provide an acute picture of the correlation between disease, sanitation and city infrastructure. Is there any connection with the outbreak of disease, perceptions of filth and attempts to prevent such an occurrence? In addition to the citywide governmental approach what of the domestic arrangement and smallscale adjustments to residences? What practical tips and advice were dispensed to those about to embark to India from Britain and how were British notions of domesticity tempered to suit the Indian conditions? Again, within publications devoted to health a chapter is frequently included on “the house”. It is through these two extremes of scale that this paper hopes to contribute to the historicizing of the tropical architecture canon and to explore the connection between health and architecture in the tropics.

 

S13.5 Climate, Disaster, Shelter: Architecture, Humanitarianism, and the Problem of the Tropics

Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi New York University, USA

This paper presents a little-studied history of exchange between architectural practice and humanitarian intervention, predicated upon a technology and rhetoric around climate formulated between actors in Europe and the tropical zones in the second half of the twentieth century. Materially, humanitarian activity during and after the Cold War left a vast global footprint, with planned spaces and designed artifacts responding to tropical environments at local levels. Rhetorically, an abstracted notion of climate masked international development agendas inherent in this activity, embedding them within an architectural discourse around environmental disaster in the tropics that contributed to broad anxieties of the period. Culturally, congregations from the early 1950s to the present in the legacy of “tropical architecture” consistently directed a professional architectural gaze upon issues of hygiene and biopolitics in the global South, providing urgent claims for a discipline flirting with postmodernism. These constructions will be examined in three episodes, beginning in the 1990s with an international workshop convened by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to study cold climate architecture, moving to research endeavors by academic, private sector, and United Nations actors in the 1970s in tropical sites, and finally, studying delays, perversions, and other descendant practices and discourses in twenty-first- century camps for “climate refugees”. Drawing evidence from archival and oral history research in Geneva, Nairobi, Oxford, and along the border of Somalia, this paper traces events, genealogies and a wide network of figures through hard and soft architectural exchange. It examines the configuration of a space around the empirical and conceptual problem of tropical climate as translated through the European problem of humanitarian intervention.

                       

Tectonics of Paranoia: The Matshed System Within the First Fabrication of Hong Kong

Christopher Cowell, GSAPP, Columbia University, USA

The matshed was the earliest building system used in the construction of colonial Hong Kong from 1841. Seeming to arise from indigenous southern Chinese construction, this bamboo-framed, palm-leaf-roofed, and woven-cane-walled entity had started life as an endlessly adaptable construction kit suited to the pragmatic needs of both the Anglo-Indian military and Anglo-Chinese commerce. Rapidly deployable, it transformed into almost every building typology conceivable: from the storage of troops (the barracks), to the storage of cotton (the godown); and from the place of mammon (the market bazaar), to the place of worship (the colonial ‘mat church’). However, following the ‘Hongkong Fever’ of 1843, more solidly constructed buildings were demanded as being both safer and more morally respectable. The matshed, therefore, began to acquire a dubious character. It turned into an object of paranoia: as if a progenitor of disease, criminality and conflagration. Subsequently, the matshed became an anachronism, the dated component of a founding mythology. The physical state that urban Hong Kong had been a mere three years before was now viewed through the collective memory lens of European residents with some incredulity. And yet, the matshed stubbornly endured.

This paper will trace the environmental politics of this early set of transformations and how they fed into a founding narrative used by a split community unsure of the island’s permanent viability as a British possession. Sitting chronologically between two significant architectural theoretical models of neoclassical rationalism and tectonic romanticism: respectively Marc-Antoine Laugier’s primitive hut (Essai sur l’Architecture, 1753) and Gottfried Semper’s Caribbean hut (Der Stil, 1860-63), the subtropical Hong Kong matshed was a significant device of European colonial encounter that both absorbed and contributed to the shift between these models, from origin myth to degenerate present.

 

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