Building Insights: Architectural modalities between Craftsmanship and the City. 1857-1934 and the 2020s
The wider objective of this research is to explore the links between disciplinary knowledge in architecture and its cultural contexts, and provide critical tools that are sensitive to these tacit relations which often escape scrutiny. In doing this, it attempts to bridge two major areas of architectural discourse; namely ‘Architecture and the City’ and ‘Architecture and Craftsmanship’. By weaving together these different strands of architectural thinking, it aims to trace conceptual shifts, transformations and ruptures in the ways architects have theorized the ability of architecture to be “attuned” to its surrounding society; and address pressing questions that we, as makers, architects and citizens, face today.
The ‘Building Insights’ research project examines the links between craft, architecture and the city through the question of housing, as a matter of civic engagement. This it does by crossing two different approaches: a historical inquiry in the transition from the 19th to the 20th century, and an empirical research in contemporary practice. The ‘historical’ approach focuses on architectural debates in the city of Vienna, in the period between the “Ringstrasse” project on the one hand, and “Red Vienna” on the other. At the same time, this centralized discourse is read next to selected episodes drawn from the former ‘peripheries’ of the Habsburg Empire. On the other hand, the ‘empirical’ approach is carried out through the ethnographic study of three contemporary practices: the crafts-collaborative ‘Boulouki’ (of which I am a founding a member), the architectural office of Jan de Vylder and Inge Vinck and the Architekturzentrum Wien, provide us with three case studies to examine the implicit connections between craftsmanship, architecture and the city, in the context of the 21st century.
Tasks and Methodology
Even if the pairs of ‘architecture and the city’ and ‘architecture and craftsmanship’ have been widely discussed in architectural research, it striking how little attention has been given in continuities and resonances between the threefields. Based on this observation, this project begins with an overview of the literature that may connect craft, architecture and the city, focusing on the developments that took place in Vienna, in the passage from the 19th to the 20th century. In this direction, the research will also turn to the archives of the Wiener Werkstatte and the Viennese Secession, the Wien Museum and the Albertina collections. Bibliographical and archival investigations will be combined with field research on selected settings of the Ringstrasse and the Vienna Superblocks, as well as urban events of the periphery, drawing from the principles of Histoire Croisée. Indeed, while pursuing a historization of both the objects and categories of analysis, this research “calls for a reconsideration of the way history can combine empirical and reflexive concerns into a dynamic and flexible approach.” In such a spirit, the research in three contemporary practices (AJDVIV, AzW, BLK) draws from the methodological directions of focused ethnography and autoethnography: by means of intensive engagement and critical (self)observation, it is traces the intersection of autobiographical and ethnographic narratives, attempting to integrate an awareness of the asymmetrical power relations that permeate modern historiographical and ethnographic practices.
The practice–based secondment takes place at the architectural office of Jan de Vylder and Inge Vinck and at this moment, my attention is focused on a group of six residential projects realized during the last decade. All of these works deal with the provision of new homes for selected families in the city of Ghent, as part of a program called “Kavel” administered by the “Ghent Urban Development Corporation.” The rhetorical secondment will take place at Architekturzentrum Wien in autumn 2021 and it will engage with the new permanent collection which will open on the 21st of October, under the title “Hot Questions – Cold Storage.”
Dissemination and Communication
The progress of the ‘Building Insights’ research project will be regularly discussed within the “Henri Van de Velde” Research Group of the University of Antwerp, as well as in presentations organized by the TACK Network. The findings of the practice-based secondment at ADJVIV and the rhetorical secondment at AzW will be presented in the form of articles on the “Kavel” projects and the “Hot Questions – Cold Storage” exhibition respectively; while research outcomes will be disseminated through selected publications in peer-reviewed journals and participation in conferences. Snapshots of the research will be communicated through various media (such as the TACK Instagram channel) reaching highly diverse audiences also through events organized by Boulouki. The completion of the research will be marked by the submission of a doctoral thesis at the University of Antwerp.
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