City as a Geofact

Aga Khan Program Lecture:
City as a Geofact
Todd Reisz, Architect and Writer, Amsterdam



a naturally formed stone sometimes mistaken for a man-made artifact

Flint or or Paleolithic spearhead? 

Geofact, a portmanteau from geology and artifact, plays the phantom in archaeology. It is an object that, unremarkable in appearance, obscures any division between the “natural” and the “man-made.”

For the archeologist, the geofact is a handheld totem that wards off professional bravado. Like forgery in the art market, its presence induces doubt. Its potential lies in testing, even extinguishing, universal theories of human history.

Archeologists pursue structures that manifest the passage of time. So do architects. What might architecture learn from the other arch- profession?

What kind of cautionary tale, for example, might the geofact impart for reading a city, in determining when (and where) its architecture begins? Can prehistory rise to something more than just the preamble of history? Might it give “time immemorial” its memory back?

An emergence of prehistory can shape the way we inscribe architecture on human history, the twin flanks of which have always been migration and settlement.

To start, let’s address the history of a city not yet built.

Todd Reisz is an architect and writer. His recent book is Showpiece City: How Architecture Made Dubai (Stanford University Press, 2020). He lives in Amsterdam.