Summer Institute
Visualizing the Architecture Competition as “Contact Zone”

Veranstalter: Professur Avermaete
Datum: Mittwoch, 4. September 2019 bis Dienstag, 10. September 2019
Ort: ETH Zürich, Hönggerberg, gta Ausstellungen

Summer School: Visualizing the Architecture Competition as “Contact Zone”

This international summer school investigates the “contact zone” as a new methodological tool to better understand the globalness of architecture production. Appropriating the term from literature, in the context of colonial studies scholar Mary Louise Pratt defined contact zones as “social spaces where cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other, often in highly asymmetrical ways.” Therefore students will analyze how intense cross-cultural encounters with the culture of architecture have produced both friction and – in Pratt’s words – “exhilarating moments of wonder, revelation, mutual understanding and new wisdom.”

We will start by examining the different meanings that has been attributed to the concept of the contact zone through an analysis of those disciplines within which the term was first used. Next, we will explore the potential of this concept for the field of architecture. Particular emphasis will be placed on understanding the different mechanisms that are at play within a particular contact zone, by posing questions such as: What makes an architectural contact zone possible? How does it come into being? Who has access to it, and doesn’t? What power relations are at stake within a contact zone? In what way are common interests communicated and negotiated, and, in that way, produce new architectural knowledge?

To offer students hands-on experience, this theoretical model will be tested through the contact zone of the architecture competition. Our case study is the Shinkenchiku Residential Design Competition, an international housing ideas competition that originated in Japan in 1965 and has since been running on a yearly basis. What sets this competition apart from other idea competitions is that it operates with a single-judge system. Besides being responsible for setting the competition theme, the judge has the autonomy to choose independently who the named winners are. Notable architects who have served as judges for the Shinkenchiku Residential Design Competition include Kenzo Tange, Arata Isozaki, Richard Meier, Peter Cook, Toyo Ito, Rem Koolhaas, Jacques Herzog, and Kazuyo Sejima. In all, forty-four editions of the competition that have taken place to date, and the judge has always generously reflected on the results, thus making this particular competition an emblematic example of a collective production of knowledge.

During the Summer School, students will be asked to critically assess one edition of the Shinkenchiku Residential Design Competition (1965–2019). They will be invited to explore the multiple actors and stakeholders (sponsor, judge, architects, media, public) involved in that edition of the competition, as well as trace the travelling of the competition theme across different architectural cultures. Specialized staff of the ETH Baubibliothek (Architecture and Civil Engineering Library) will organize two workshops to help students get started with their research activities. During the course, these staff members will also offer further assistance in gathering materials from various architectural sources that can help to demonstrate the effects and aftereffects of the selected competition edition.

In addition to theorizing the notion of the contact zone for the field of architecture, students will also be challenged to visualize it. In collaboration with staff from the gta Exhibitions, each student will develop his or her own exhibition concept that clearly expresses how the architecture competition functions as an open arena for debate between different cultures of architecture. By foregrounding the multiple contacts that take place in this kind of cross-cultural encounter, and how these encounters produced new architectural knowledge, their exhibition concept should directly contribute to a more intertwined explanation of architectural history.

Chair of the History and Theory of Urban Design (Prof. Avermaete), Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture (gta), ETH Zurich

Dr. Cathelijne Nuijsink, Prof. Dr. Tom Avermaete

From September 4, 2019 (9:00) to September 10, 2019 (6:00)

ETH Zurich, Hönggerberg, Department of Architecture, gta Foyer HIL D

For one full week, students will use the gta Exhibitions space as their studio space to explore different visualization techniques in a very hands-on manner. Mornings are reserved for theoretical inquiry: in-class literature readings, collective mind-mapping exercises, and group discussions. Afternoon sessions are workshop-style: students will gather research materials in the library, develop their conceptual model, and creatively use the exhibition space to visualize, in their own way, the architectural contact zone of the competition.


€100 per person (100 CHF for ETH students).
The fee does not cover accommodation, meals, travel costs to and from Zurich, or the cost of local transport.


Assessment will be based on the innovative aspect of the visualization concept crafted during the week, as well as the representational qualities of final exhibition contribution. Particular attention will be be paid to the excellence of the presentations in depicting an intertwined history of architecture, i.e. in showing not only the competition results in an innovative way, but also visualizing how the competition (theme) resonated across multiple cultures of architecture before, during, and after the competition.

Students are strongly encouraged to experiment with a visualization technique of their own choice (e.g., collage, diagrams, photography, film).

The Summer School will culminate in a final exhibition and discussion at the gta Exhibitions venue on Tuesday September 10, 2019.

Students are awarded two ECTS credits upon completion of the Summer School.

Target Group
This intensive seven-day summer school is open to both students of ETH Zurich and international students (maximum 15 students), and will be entirely taught in English.

The target group is upper-level Bachelor’s and Master’s students with a strong interest in research through design. Students are expected to participate in all the research exercises, workshops, and group discussions, and play a proactive role in the visualization of the theoretical concept offered.

Application by July 15, 2019 by submitting the following documents as one PDF file (max. 5 MB) via email to
• Curriculum vitae: max. two pages (incl. language skills)
• Letter of motivation: Why do you want to participate?
Name the PDF document > Summer School_2019_Family Name_First Name<
Email with subject > Application ETH Summer School 2019 <
Selection Process
A maximum of 15 applicants will be selected to participate in this Summer School.

All successful applicants will receive admission notification by July 20, 2019 via email and will have to confirm participation within three days. After you have confirmed your participation, you will receive the invoice. Should applicants fail to confirm within three days, the open places will be allocated to others on the waiting list.


Dr. Cathelijne Nuijsink