Things of Modernity

Seminar History, Criticism and Theory of Architecture (052-0814-21)
Organizer: Chair of Prof. Stalder
Lecturers: Davide Spina
Time: Thursday, 17.45-19.30


Architectural histories focussing on the discipline’s ‘heroes’, ‘styles’ and ‘canonical buildings’ miss the complexity of a practice embedded in, and actively contributing to, the global process of modernisation. For the factors that have transformed architecture worldwide in the last two hundred years have been less individual figures, formal accomplishments or singular buildings, than new technologies, organisational models and professional alignments. One way of grasping these processes, and by extension better understanding architecture’s central role in the continual unfolding of modernity, is to shift our attention from the discipline’s internal discourse to what buildings are actually made of. In other words, to think of architecture as an assemblage of technical objects (in the case of the HIL building, for instance, a concrete frame, metal cladding panels, glass panes, neon lights, elevators, air-conditioning machines, ventilation ducts, radiators, partitions, studded rubber tiles, and so on). From this standpoint, modern buildings appear as ensembles of things. But what is a ‘thing’? And how do such ‘things’ change the way we conceive of buildings, of ourselves and of others?

This course will unpack the agency of a wide range of devices, gadgets and apparatuses in the design of buildings, the experience of the city and the mediation of social relations in the modern era. Throughout the course, we will do so by tracing the positioning and function of discrete artefacts within broader networks of human, material and legal stakeholders. Parallel to that, we will survey a broad literature on the ontological, epistemological and social politics of things and matter more in general. Readings will include key texts in architectural history, semiotics, material culture studies, actor-network theory, and the recent field of ‘new materialism’. Students successfully completing the course will be in a position to consider ways of applying these conceptual apparatuses to architecture and to read buildings from an object-oriented perspective.

Video Guest Lecture Christian Sumi: LA DÉESSE / 15.04.2021


4 March - Group 1 - Devices Giedion, Sigfried. The Mechanization of Cleaning: The Vacuum Cleaner 
4 March - Group 2 - Gadgets Banham, Reyner. A Home is not a House 
4 March - Group 3 - Dispositifs Ponte, Alessandra. Müllschlucker. Die Domestizierung des Abfalls 
4 March - Group 4 - Elements Stalder, Laurent. An Elementary Proposition 

11 March - Group 1 - Myths Barthes, Roland. Mythologies 
11 March - Group 2 - Systems Baudrillard, Jean. The System of Objects 
11 March - Group 3 - Commodities Perec, Georges. Things: A Story of the Sixties 
11 March - Group 4 - Stuff Miller, Daniel. Theories of Things 

18 March - Group 1 - Actants Latour, Bruno. The Berlin Key or How to Do Words with Things 
18 March - Group 2 - Matter Otter, Chris. Locating Matter: The Place of Materiality in Urban History 
18 March - Group 3 - Things Bennett, Jane. The Force of Things: Steps toward an Ecology of Matter 
18 March - Group 4 - Non-Things Flusser, Vilém. Tho Non-Thing 1 


Davide Spina