Colloquium
Writing Automobile Histories

Organizer: Chair of Prof. Avermaete
Date: Friday, 5 March 2021 to Friday, 5 March 2021
Time: 15.00 to 18.00
Location: Online
 

  1. Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour. Learning from Las Vegas Studio, Fall 1968. Students installing camera on car, 1968. 35mm color slide. Credit: Venturi, Scott Brown Collection, The Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania
  2. View of a street from a car windshield, United States, 1980s–1990s. Photograph by Aldo Rossi. Credit: Aldo Rossi fonds, Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA). Copyright Fondazione Aldo Rossi, Milan
  3. Ron Herron (Archigram), Instant City, Santa Monica and San Diego Freeway Intersection, 1969. Collage, photographic print, ink. Letrafilm on board, 8 * 10 inches. Copyright Ron Herron (Archigram). Courtesy of Simon Herron.

This colloquium is based upon the postdoctoral research that Marianna Charitonidou is undertaking at the Chair of the History and Theory of Urban Design, since September 2019. This postdoctoral project entitled “The Travelling Architect’s Eye: Photography and Automobile Vision”, is based on the hypothesis that the view from the car has established a new epistemology of the urban landscape and the territory at large. It explores the views from the car produced by architects and tries to better understand how this epistemological shift influenced architectural thinking and practice. It wants to comprehend how the automobile, since its invention, has reshaped our conceptions of space, revolutionizing the way architects perceive the city and contributing significantly to the transformation of the relationship between architecture and the city.

THEME OF THE COLLOQUIUM
The automobile reshaped our conceptions of space revolutionizing the way architects perceive the urban environment and contributing significantly to the transformation of the relationship between architecture and the city. No other factor changed the city so drastically during the twentieth century. Many architects and architectural critics and theorists have been attracted to ‘automobile vision’.

This colloquium aims to untie the specificity of car travel as a new episteme, addressing issues related to the emergence of the new perceptual regimes that emerged thanks to the automobile. Iain Borden (The Bartlett School of Architecture – UCL), Jae Emerling (College of Arts + Architecture University of North Carolina), and Martino Stierli (The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design The Museum of Modern Art) are invited to share approaches that can trigger new theoretical frameworks for tackling the automobile vision of architects and urban designers.

To fully grasp the multiple effects of the car on the way that architects approach the city, new historical perspectives and theoretical concepts seem to be required. In our Colloquium “Writing Automobile Histories” we want to explore such an alternative historiographic and theoretical vantage points.

SPEAKERS
Iain Borden, The Bartlett School of Architecture – UCL
Jae Emerling, College of Arts + Architecture University of North Carolina
Martino Stierli, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design The Museum of Modern Art


ABSTRACTS OF TALKS

Iain Borden, Driving Motopia: Reflections on Film and Other Methodologies

In Drive: Journeys through Films, Cities and Landscapes, Iain Borden explored different spaces, times and experiences of automobile driving, and particularly as these are represented in film. In this talk, he reflects back on some of the methodological and theoretical undercurrents to Drive – and in particular to the “Motopia” chapter on autobahns, autostrada, freeways and motorways. In parallel, he identifies some of the key challenges presented by this kind of research today.


Jae Emerling, Writing Automobile Histories
“Madroad Driving Men Ahead”: Photography, Theory, Visual Culture

Let us consider how the relation between photographic images and automobiles—travel, speed, parallax vision, divergent series, variation, trajectory—in the U.S. in the 1950s-1960s forces us to experiment with new aesthetic and epistemic modes of encountering spatial embodiment and temporal becoming. The images presented by Lee Friedlander taken from his car in the 1960s or Tony Smith’s experience of driving on the unfinished New Jersey Turnpike in the early 1950s motivate a rethinking of visual culture by encouraging us to create new theoretical concepts capable of creating with and alongside these images and the experiential intensities that pass through them. Here experience/experimentation is opposed to interpretation. Our focus should be on the singularities of intensive experience rather than the interpretation of images and histories. In other words, let us attempt to sketch an ontological and aesthetic mode of historiography wherein the images steaming across windshields and the baroque-mirrored complexity of the automobile present us less with contradiction and more with a new set of problematics, ones capable of instigating a new discussion between architecture, photography, historiography, and aesthetics, that is, image-intensities, forces-forms, past-futures that populate the practical past (history and becoming). Problematics are not questions that can be directly or simply answered. Instead, what we are after is studying how and why a problematic remains inexhaustible to possible solutions even as it forces us to think and thus alters the real conditions of our experience. One is forced to think and to experiment under these conditions, to touch an outside, to sense an encounter with an unforeseen and unimaginable alterity that only becomes visible, articulatable, and thinkable under certain material conditions.


Martino Stierli, The Mobile Gaze

The seminal treatise Learning from Las Vegas, written by architects Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour, became a point of hot contention in architectural debates even before its publication in 1972. The bitter polemic around the architect’s role and responsibility vis-à-vis society occluded for a considerable time the bold epistemological shift the authors presented for the analysis and representation of contemporary urban form. The authors proposed to see in the Las Vegas Strip of the 1960s the archetype of a newly evolving automobile-oriented urban form that increasingly dominated the image of the cities of the American West. For them, traditional conceptions of the city based on an idealized image of the medieval European town were no longer adequate to conceptualize the exurban landscape. In their view, this new urban form was predicated on the mobilized perception from the car driving on the highway at high speed. My presentation will discuss how the architects and their research team employed photography and the moving image in order to devise their theory of the perceptual form of the contemporary city, look at historical antecedents for their methodological proposition, and consider it in the theoretical context of intermedia relationships between architecture and film.



The colloquium is open to the public. Anyone can participate via the link:
https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87922968338?pwd=MlRYRWFlM0ZCQ09EUkYyUWNmYzlmZz09

15:00 - 18:00
15:00 -15:15 Introduction: Prof. Tom Avermaete ETH Zurich
15:15-15:30 Opening remarks: Dr. ir. Marianna Charitonidou ETH Zurich
15:30-16:00 Talk 1: Prof. Dr. Iain Borden, The Bartlett School of Architecture – UCL
16:00-16:15 Questions
16:15-16:45 Talk 2: Dr. Martino Stierli, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design The Museum of Modern Art
16:45-17:00 Questions
17:00-17:30 Talk 3: Prof. Dr. Jae Emerling, College of Arts + Architecture University of North Carolina
17:30-17:45 Questions
17:45-18:00 Concluding Debate

WORKSHOP
After the colloquium we will organize a methodological workshop in the afternoon (18.30 - 20.30 h) during which the speakers are invited to give a 10 mins feedback to the methodology that is employed in the postdoctoral project. At this occasion, we intend to have a more informal discussion on the challenges of writing automobile histories.

18:30 - 20:00
Prof. Dr. Jae Emerling, College of Arts + Architecture University of North Carolina
Prof. Dr. Iain Borden, The Bartlett School of Architecture – UCL
Dr. Martino Stierli, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design The Museum of Modern Art

This workshop requires registration. Register via e-mail to: marianna.charitonidou@gta.arch.ethz.ch.
Participants are limited to 20 (first-come-first-serve basis)


Contact
Dr. ir. Marianna Charitonidou
marianna.charitonidou@gta.arch.ethz.ch