Michael Gnehm

SNSF-Research Project

Gottfried Semper: Style. Digital Edition

Project responsibility: Philip Ursprung (ETH Zurich), Sonja Hildebrand (USI, Mendrisio)
Project lead: Michael Gnehm (USI / ETH), co-project lead Digital Humanities: Elena Chestnova (USI)

▬▬The architect of the Swiss Federal Polytechnic (1864) in Zurich – since 1911 ETH – Gottfried Semper (1803–79), ranks among the most outstanding spatial designers of the nineteenth century. His career brought him from his native Hamburg via Paris, Italy and Greece to Dresden, from there to London, and finally to Zurich and Vienna, opening up broad intellectual and cultural horizons along the way. Semper had caused a sensation with his first major publication, Preliminary Observations on Painted Architecture and Sculpture of the Ancients (Vorläufige Bemerkungen über bemalte Architectur und Plastik bei den Alten, 1834), and received international renown with the Dresden Court Theatre (1841) at the latest. His influence continues to this day, not least due to his diverse theoretical writings, which have had a lasting impact on the history of art and architecture over the past 160 years.
▬▬Semper’s magnum opus on architectural theory, Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts; or, Practical Aesthetics (1860/63), stands at the centre of the project. The two volumes fascinate their readers until today with its ambitious attempt to understand architecture as a product of cultural practices. The breadth of Semper’s interests includes research far beyond usual boundaries of architectural and art history into the domains of other disciplines such as cultural history and linguistics, theory of evolution and ethnology.
▬▬The project – a collaboration of ETH Zurich and the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI), Mendrisio – offers a critical and commented edition of draft and published versions of Semper’s Style in digital form. This will make the whole of the extensive illustrative and textual content of the work accessible online for the first time, creating a reliable and verifiable resource for researchers and the general public. Semper’s ample preparatory materials (notes, drafts, proofs and drawings kept mostly at the gta Archives, ETH Zurich) will be critically transcribed and edited in a comparative approach together with the printed editions.
▬▬Given the extent and complexity of the material, the edition project is organized in a modular structure that comprises three four-year stages. The first two of these (2017–24) will see the critical editing and commenting of the holdings relating to the two published volumes of Style and its immediate precursor, the unpublished manuscript of Semper’s “Theory of Art Forms” (“Kunstformenlehre”).
▬▬Pending funding approval, the material to be seen in the context of Semper’s planned third volume of Style will be edited during a third phase (2025–28): the relevant manuscripts of his “Comparative Architecture” (“Vergleichende Baulehre”), his last public Zurich lecture On Architectural Styles (Ueber Baustyle, 1869), and a selection of his lectures held at ETH Zurich, which survive in the form of student’s notes.
▬▬The digital edition is a follow-up to the research project on Gottfried Semper’s London exile, that resulted in the edited volume Architectural History and Globalized Knowledge (Mendrisio: Mendrisio Academy Press; Zurich: gta Verlag, 2021) and the critical and commented edition of Semper’s London Writings 1850–1855 (Zurich: gta Verlag, 2021).

▬▬Chestnova, Elena (USI) and Swen Vermeul (ETH), “Semper-Edition”, Zeitschrift für schweizerische Archäologie und Kunstgeschichte 77, no. 2/3, 2020, 139–52. ▬PDF 
▬▬Chestnova, Elena (USI), “Modelling Manuscripts: the Example of the Semper Edition”, Digital Visual Media and Metadata, DHCH 2021, Istituto Svizzero Rome (ISR), 9 June 2021. ▬VIDEO


Project responsibility: Philip Ursprung (ETH), Sonja Hildebrand (USI)
Scientific collaborators: Elena Chestnova (USI), Felix Christen (USI), Raphael Germann (USI), Michael Gnehm (USI / ETH), Dieter Weidmann (USI)
Graphic Design: Nadine Wüthrich, Reinhard Schmidt
IT Development: Scientific IT Services (SIS), ETH Zurich – Swen Vermeul, Antti Luomi
Student assistants: Céline Berberat (ETH), Xuehan Li (ETH)

Scientific collaborators: Carmen Aus der Au, Tanja Kevic
IT Development: Cezary Czernecki
Student assistants: Patricia Bachmann, Laura Ferreira dos Santos, Sara Finzi-Longo, Marc Lehmann




23 March 2022 Sonja Hildebrand (USI) and Elena Chestnova (USI), “Gottfried Semper, Der Stil”, Kunstwissenschaftliche Forschungen im digitalen Zeitalter, XXXVI Congress of German Art History, University of Stuttgart, 1:00-2:45 p.m.
20 November 2021 LA CASA COME UN VESTITO: Sciaredo Talks in Lugano.
5 November 2021 Nadine Wüthrich receives the Josef Müller-Brockmann Award.


▬▬Chestnova, Elena (USI) and Swen Vermeul (ETH), “Semper-Edition”, Zeitschrift für schweizerische Archäologie und Kunstgeschichte 77, no. 2/3, 2020, 139–52. ▬PDF 
▬▬Chestnova, Elena (USI), Material Theories: Locating Artefacts and People in Gottfried Semper’s Writings, London and New York: Routledge, 2022.
▬▬Gnehm, Michael (USI / ETH), “Gottfried Semper: Hüllen, Masken und Realität”, Tec21 148, No. 7, 11 March 2022, 35–7. ▬PDF 
▬▬Gnehm, Michael (USI / ETH), Stumme Poesie. Architektur und Sprache bei Gottfried Semper, Zurich: gta Verlag, 2004.
▬▬Gnehm, Michael (USI / ETH) and Sonja Hildebrand (USI) (eds.), Architectural History and Globalized Knowledge: Gottfried Semper in London, Mendrisio: Mendrisio Academy Press; Zurich: gta Verlag, 2021. ▬PDF
▬▬Hildebrand, Sonja (USI), Gottfried Semper: Architekt und Revolutionär, Darmstadt: wbg Theiss, 2020.
▬▬Mallgrave, Harry F., Gottfried Semper: Ein Architekt des 19. Jahrhunderts, trans. Joseph Imorde and Michael Gnehm (USI / ETH), Zurich: gta Verlag, 2001.
▬▬Nerdinger, Winfried and Werner Oechslin (eds.), Gottfried Semper 1803–1879: Architektur und Wissenschaft, Munich [etc.]: Prestel; Zurich: gta Verlag, 2003.
▬▬Semper, Gottfried, London Writings 1850–1855, eds. Michael Gnehm (USI / ETH), Sonja Hildebrand (USI) and Dieter Weidmann (USI), Zurich: gta Verlag, 2021. ▬PDF


Michael Gnehm