The Other Institution - on Critique and Emancipation

Seminar Architectural Criticism (052-0816-21)
Organizer: Chair of Prof. Stalder
Lecturers: Antje Stahl and Vera Sacchetti
Time: Fridays 15:45-17:30
Location: Zoom


Since the late 1960s, in the visual arts, it has become accepted practice among artists to fire critique at the institutions historically dedicated to them.

In one of many examples, Hans Haacke famously asked visitors of the Museum of Modern Art in his 1970 MoMA Poll whether they would vote again for Nelson Rockefeller as governor of the state of New York, knowing that he was in favor of the Vietnam War. The Rockefellers were among the founding members of MoMA and at that time served on the MoMA Board, the group of people that help steer the artistic direction of the institution. No wonder they requested to shut the Haacke show down shortly after the opening. Thanks to John Hightower, the museum director at the time, the "freedom of artistic expression" won – and so-called “institutional critique” was born, which to this day questions the conditions of art production and therefore art itself.

For the upcoming academic year 2021, we will take “institutional critique” as a starting point for our studies and aim to implement it within the ETH discourse.

Isn't architecture in crisis? Currently, we see more and more calls to halt and rethink the re-source extraction mentality that is the norm in construction, and architecture without context is called out as some kind of crime. Simultaneously, the criticism of the social power relations that traditional architectural practice still generates becomes louder and louder.

Questions like: Who builds for whom? Under what conditions? And with what means? are at the center of social debates that do not stop at the doors of the university. Even if the school repro-duces architecture’s production conditions in a context that can be described as "fictitious", this context can nonetheless allow a burning examination and potentially explosive change in the sta-tus quo. Finally, in recent years, academic teaching has increasingly come under scrutiny at ETH Zurich's D-Arch and gta: What kind of histories are being taught? What workload is ex-pected? Why is there such a lack of diversity among professors and students? How can publicly funded projects serve as many as possible? Academic teaching and the structures in which it takes place (such as the university campus) provide the ideal conditions for institutional critique in praxis and in situ.

The seminar "The Other Institution: On Critique and Emancipation" is designed for two semes-ters.

In the first semester, in Spring 2021, we will study selected examples of institutional critique as practiced in the visual arts (such as the abovementioned case of Hans Haacke), but also in ar-chitecture, with the goal of imparting a certain methodology of critique and to give students tools to uncover grievances and, under certain circumstances, to call for a different kind of institution. In a second step, we will then determine specific problematic issues – and work through them using classic journalistic formats such as interviews, archival research, profiles and other forms of presentation.


Antje Stahl