Curating Architecture: On Exhibiting, Research and Criticism of Architecture

Architectural exhibitions have been important sites of testing, dissemination, and consensus building in the field. Just as much as the narrative of architectural modernism is hard to imagine without MoMA’s 1932 International Style exhibition, the early definitions of architectural postmodernism were deeply indebted to the first Venice Biennale of Architecture in 1980, titled The Presence of the Past. Equally importantly, the cultural exchange and competition during the Cold War played out in part on the grounds of international expositions and trade fairs, the early 1990s digital turn is unimaginable without its mesmerizing 1:1 installations, and architectural green-washing got its most in-depth critical review in Behind the Green Door at the 2014 Oslo Architecture Triennale. With the exception of a few narrowly focused studies (of the Eames’ exhibition work, the activities of the United Stated Information Agency, or of MoMA’s architecture program) and several recent critical re-enactments (such as the remaking of Italy, the New Domestic Landscape), architectural exhibition and curation have yet to receive the kind of historiographic treatment on par with anything in the art world.

The contemporary view of architectural exhibitions’ potential for disciplinary contribution varies among curators, who see them as platforms for atmospherics (Urbach), for contextualization (Zardini), for activism (Bergdoll) and for storytelling (Cohen). Although this seminar is designed to pay close attention to the ways in which such curatorial conceptions are reflected in specific curatorial works, its key assumption is that architectural exhibitions are a form of publishing of both architectural research and criticism; and thus a specific mode of producing reflections on the discipline, which provide an equally specific set of symptoms, lineages and historical traces that will allow us to reconstruct both the explicit and the unconscious political and cultural haunts of the field.

Through a series of case studies that start with the inaugural exhibitions of architectural modernism and end with the most recent Venice Biennale of Architecture, this seminar will examine the historical, political and institutional conditions in which specific exhibitions were conceived and mounted, their contribution to seminal disciplinary conversations and their critical reception. Curating Architecture will be run as a discussion class, its conclusions are open-ended. The course aims to both construct a sophisticated view of architectural curatorship and to use the history of architectural exhibitions as a datum for studying the changing disciplinary definitions and roles of research, criticism and curating. 

The final deliverable for the class will be a research paper, a publishable piece of criticism or a deeply researched and developed curatorial proposal. We will dedicate some class time to presenting and workshopping the final papers. Curating Architecture is open to advanced MArch, SMArch and PhD students, as well as advanced Undergrads. Class is limited to 12.