Rotterdam Study Abroad Seminar: Exhibiting Architecture – The Agency of Display

“What does it mean to exhibit architecture?”

Exhibitions are an integral part of the history of architecture. While architecture entered the gallery during the Enlightenment, first in London around 1760, and later in Paris and Berlin, a significant step was taken in the early twentieth century when Philip Johnson, meeting Alfred H. Barr Jr., the first director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, suggested “why not include architecture”; marking the creation of the first collection of architecture within an art museum.  In the late 1970s, architecture entered the Venice Biennale a decision that soon gave rise to the multiplication of architecture Biennials and Triennials and other large-scale exhibitions, expanding even further the ‘exhibitionary’ complex within the discipline.

Yet, as it is well known, exhibiting architecture is a paradoxical act of radical deracination. It is difficult not to say impossible to present architecture within the space of the gallery without representing or translating it into simulacra and other forms of representation – into drawings, models, prints, photographs, digital format, films, books and other objects.

This seminar invites students to explore the historical and theoretical conditions but also the political and institutional contexts under which architecture exhibitions are produced and consumed. Looking at exhibiting architecture beyond mere representation and starting from the hypothesis that architects, through the act of “exhibiting”, exert different forms of agency on and beyond the building site, this seminar will explore how exhibitions have been a critical site for exchange and competition, spatial experimentation, research, performance and protest as well as the construction of national identities.

Through a close reading of some of the most seminal texts with regards to the theory and history of exhibiting architecture we will study specific historical and contemporary examples of architecture exhibitions. We will see how during the cold war, cultural exchanges and competitions played out at international exhibitions. We will look at the questions of the curator as an author and creative figure while exploring new ways of displaying narratives (through timelines, dioramas and panoramas) and scrutinize the means and motivations behind architecture’s inclusion into the museum. We will also investigate the rise of “activist” exhibitions and the inclusion of performance as a new means of interacting with the built environment.

Each week, lectures and reading analysis, followed by practical exercises and visits, will allow us to move through different agencies of display. In parallel, students will be asked to produce a curatorial project that will be presented during our last session. The evaluation will be based on student’s active participation to the course (30%) and their final project and presentation (70%).

This course will include the participation of guest lecturers Véronique Patteeuw and Marina Otero Verzier.

Enrolment in this course was pre-selected via early lottery. It is limited to students enrolled in the GSD Rotterdam Study Abroad Program.

Enrollment in this course was pre-selected via early lottery. It is limited to students enrolled in the GSD Rotterdam Study Abroad Program.