International Conference
Once upon a Time: Manfredo Tafuri and the Crisis of Architectural History

Organizer: Chair of Prof. Lampugnani
Date: Friday, 6 March 2015 to Saturday, 7 March 2015
Location: Cabaret Voltaire, Zurich

Against the background of a general revision and critical reflection of the history of architecture in its relation to theory and criticism, this conference aims at opening up a space of discussion on the contemporary nature and condition of architectural history. We propose to do so by referring to the legacy of Italian historian and theoretician Manfredo Tafuri (1935–1994), who may be seen as one of the most influential thinkers of the relationship between the history and theory of architecture of the contemporary period.

Architecture is a shifting and elusive object whose nature remains difficult to define. It relates not only to buildings and projects, but also to written and oral sources, and is deeply embedded in social, economical and political contexts. For this reason, architectural history seems to be predestinated to be interdisciplinary and calls for a multitude of historical narratives. Furthermore, the relatively weak disciplinary condition of architectural history leans on a long tradition of partial and subjective histories that have often been written by architects themselves. This leads to the question whether an "objective" history of architecture is possible, and to what extent architectural history is fundamentally linked to changing architectural trends. But while both “general” history and the history of art have performed a critical reframing of their claim for objectivity and have underscored the implicit theory and ideology beyond every form of historical narrative, architectural history, by contrast, has widely escaped such a critical reframing. And while in particular art history has reflected upon the history of theories that framed its discourse – the history of style, iconology, phenomenology, to name but a few –, this kind of reflection seems to be yet missing for the history of architecture.

The work of Manfredo Tafuri is an interesting starting point for such a reflection on the nature of the history of architecture. Tafuri’s position was mainly based on a questioning of what he called “operational critique”, which was put in the service of a particular architectural tendency. By contrast, he defined his own critical take as progetto storico, as a performative and self-reflexive questioning of the history of architecture. His work was strongly influenced by historical materialism, thus highlighting the socio-economic and political conditions in which architecture is embedded. We propose to understand Tafuri as a critical agent, for questioning both his own theory of history and the nature of architectural history today. We propose to do so in reference to cultural models underlying our current position, in particular the resurgence of Marxism and historical materialism in contemporary architecture. By undertaking a critical reevaluation of Tafuri's legacy from a contemporary perspective, we not only aim to point at the inherent aporias in the Italian historian's thinking, but also want to contribute towards a theoretical framing of the discipline of architectural history.

Conception and Organization:
Dr. Andri Gerber, Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture, ETH Zurich
Prof. Dr. Martino Stierli, Institute of Art History, University of Zurich


Dr. Andri Gerber