Basel Study Abroad Seminar: Islands: The Career of a Metaphor

From Karl Ehn’s Karl Marx Hof to Le Corbusier’s Unité d’Habitation, housing in classical modernity formed self-sufficient ideal worlds. These were characterized by a rupture with the historical city in type, aesthetic and program. In part consciously deployed, in part an outcome of difference, the island is a metaphor in numerous 20th-century architectural concepts. Within the postmodern present the island surfaces likewise, evidenced in gated communities, redeveloped brownfield sites and cultural hubs. Here rupture achieves another significance. The splintering of consumer culture and the transformation of urban publics make difference operative. As demonstrated in the physical transformation of cities and particularly in the performance of contemporary architecture, difference has entered the symbolic economy of Post-Fordism. Instigating its own spatial logic, it entertains a distinct relationship to power.

This seminar investigates the island metaphor on the basis of authors, discourses and works. Not only will we address the spatial logic of related design strategies, but also the contexts that produce architectural ideas: By which forces was the metaphor conditioned? Toward which purpose and public was the island geared? And, what is to be said in general concerning the spaces and actors that produce, reflect and consume architecture in various historic contexts? Readings will constitute the focus of the course.

Corresponding with the broad approach to the topic, these texts will grant various perspectives onto architecture and urbanism in an age of rampant difference. Our discussions will be complemented with excursions, lectures and case studies, individually presented by seminar participants.