In-progress Ph.D. presentations with Maria S. Giudici, Hamed Khosravi and Dubravka Vranic

PhD in-progress presentation 2011-2012
Thursday April 26 from 18.00 to 21.00 – J.J.P. Oud room
Thrid presentation session with Maria S. Giudici, Hamed Khosravi and Dubravka Vranic

18.00-19.00 Mahagonny must vanish: Rise and Fall of the Stalinallee

Maria S. Giudici

In the 1950s, East Berlin was transformed by the construction of a monumental axis that symbolized the reconstruction of a new socialist city after the ravages of WWII. The Stalinallee remains one of the most enigmatic ruins of our immediate past as it was quickly built and just as quickly it fell into critical obscurity when the age of prefabrication hailed by Khrushchev banished the florid socialist realism of the Stalin era. The Stalinallee failed to become a paradigm and remained an architectural hapax legomenon: anachronistic, typologically ambiguous and informed by a dubious ideological purpose, it does not really fit in a linear history of XX century architecture. However, when considered in its formal characters, the Stalinallee stands out for its refusal to accept the death of the traditional city and to yield to the open-ended configurations favoured by modernist composition, in which buildings do not engage with the space of the street. In doing so, it went against a figure that had been emerging since the industrial revolution: the ‘natural’ city. The Natural City rejects the architecture of the street in favour of a looser idea of environment hailed as a solution to the pressure of metropolitan life. Indeed, the Natural City could be just another name for urbanization.

But for Hermann Henselmann, one of the main designers of the Stalinallee, the only real ‘natural’ city is the capitalist metropolis as epitomized in Bertolt Brecht’s Mahagonny: non-sanitized, based on greed and unspeakable desires, the place of executions, obscenity, disorders. Not a place for placid pacified animals, but rather the place of the animal spirits which natural metaphors hide and make acceptable. For this reason he imagined the Stalinallee as a historically placed gesture: an artificial background for human, political activity.
The Natural City is post-ideological; but if politics is what defines humankind, the post-political subject is nothing but an animal –the real subject of biopolitics as the ultimate act of oikonomia. In the Natural City streets – the very topoi of urban conflict – should be substituted by neutral circulation. Under a liberating veneer, the rhetoric of the Natural City proposes the serenity of a society of happy animals; we could say that the Natural City is indeed the place of the End of History, a condition that the Stalinallee – albeit in a rather crude and awkward manner – rejected.

The present rereading of the Stalinallee, its failure and the theoretical outputs it did succeed to inspire, tries to disprove the cliché that charges technology with the death of the street, reversing a well-established commonplace. But if it is actually the rhetoric of nature, and not of technological development, that has tarnished the believability of the street as meaningful citymaking element, perhaps reconsidering the relationship between urban morphology and architectural typology could help us propose an alternative subject to the Animal the liberal (natural) city has constructed.

19.00-20.00 Camp of Faith: On the Islamic Political Theology and Urban Form

Hamed Khosravi

Following the general premises of the research on the theological foundations of contemporary cities in Iran (The Islamic Republic), the paper takes a provocative look at the issue of Islamic conceptions of the city as such. The intention is to avoid false preconceived assumptions, which are dominating the discourse. Instead, through a political understanding of urban space, the research tends to reconstruct the Islamic idea of the city in continuity with the spaces of sovereignty, which the city has developed.

Revisiting the theological (and thus political) origins of the idea of the city in the Islamic
ideology, the research proposes the following approach; first, by referring to the literary sources – including the text of the Quran, the Prophet’s quotes and early Islamic historical manuscripts – the paper investigates the emergence of an exclusive conception of the city, which is embodied in the deep meanings of the word ‘Medina’. Consequently, this method re-evaluates the (re)formation of the paradigm of inhabitable wall based on the ideological codes formulated in reconstruction of the idea of Medina in early Islamic cities. In this way the city will be seen neither as a morphological category, defined in contrast to the Western (Greco-Roman) type, nor as a mere constellation of the Friday mosque, Bazaar, and public bath surrounded by the “organic” neighbourhoods. The deep structure of the inhabitable wall, as an explicit political apparatus, will be revisited in the formation of different typologies such as mosques, caravanserais and the entire city.

Ultimately, the concept of the city as a camp of faith will be used as the key to interpret the very manifestation of Islamic ideology represented in the built environment. It will shape a theoretical/conceptual framework that can transcend itself as a historical archetype to the ideological spatial planning and development of contemporary cities in Iran (Islamic Republic). In fact, a paradoxical meaning is inherent in the idea of camp of faith; it insists on the concept of the camp as an absolute and pure paradigm of political space that defines borders between insiders and outsiders. On the other hand, it denotes faith as the decisive factor that goes beyond the limits of geography, race, and nationality. Indeed the term camp is used to enclose the territory of believers while their faith becomes a (geo)political apparatus, constantly marking the state of exception.

20.00-21.00 The Resistance of Architectural Form: the Emergence of Abstraction, Modern Architecture, and Autonomous Architecture

Dubravka Vranic

The Paper will unravel our idea of resistance of architectural form, tracing the origins of modern form as a logical outcom of the historical development of architecture. In this way, we will posit that modern architectural form is not only a naked form which came into being as the result of a radical break with history, but that it is deeply embedded within history and has evolved from the tradition of formalist thinking.

Just as for Plato the material world was the reflection of the world of ideas, we suppose that the development of architecture is intrinsically connected with the development of ideas and world views. This, we will trace the historical development of the concept of form from antiquity to modernity in relation to architecture. While in the ancient concept form was considered as a mere representation of nature, the modern concept of form cannot be separated by the subject that perceives and produces it. In this way the subject and all its artistic activities become autonomous: in this process, architecture started exploring its own specificity and its own language.

Le Corbusier’s sketch from Vers une architecture will be used as a heuristic device to illustrate the emergence of modern form. Inspired by the Map of Rome by Pirro Ligorio, Le Corbusier redraws the segment of this imaginative reconstruction of the ancient city and juxtaposes it with five primary geometrical bodies, abstracted from the buildings and monuments represented in it. Through this sketch we will narrate the story about the emergence of phenomenon of abstraction and mutually interdependent and concurrent emergence of modern forms of thought, architectural and urban form.

In the first part, the emergence of autonomous form will be traced in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, and in the post-Kantian 19th-century reflections developed by Herbart, Fiedler, Hildebrand, Schmarsow, Riegl and Wöllflin. Secondly, the work of the Viennese architects Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos will be illustrated through the metaphor of Stilhülse and Kern Secondly, we will trace the emergence of modern architectural form in the work of Viennese architects Otto Wagner and Adolf Loos using the metaphor of the liberation of the kernel from the stylistic hull. Thirdly, the relationship between subject and object, man and nature, will be read through the breakdown of baroque organicism and composition of autonomous entities in the work of Ledoux, Schinkel and Wagner. Finally, through Peter Eisenman’s Ph.D. dissertation on The Formal Basis of Modern Architecture we will explore the possibility of architectural formal autonomy as a form of resistance.