The Medium and the Message: Re-evaluating Form and Meaning in European Architecture c. 1400-1950
Dates: Friday 1 July – Saturday 2 July 2016
Location: The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, The University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B152TS
Convenors: Dr David Hemsoll (University of Birmingham) and Professor Anthony Geraghty (University of York)
About the Conference: All buildings – whether polite, vernacular or somewhere in between – were initially informed by some kind of presiding idea or set of ideas. Some of these ideas presumed an audience (and are therefore part of the building’s rhetoric and essential to its intended ‘meaning’), while others did not (in being part, for example, of a production process, or allied with social and cultural contexts, and no more than that). All such ideas should concern the architectural historian, but the most engaging and historically resonant may well belong to the first category and also be ones that can be inferred and recovered from the buildings themselves. The architectural historian may also profit from a keener understanding of how the ideas initially underpinning a building may, in time, have become modified, or even eclipsed by associations of very different kinds.
The conference will investigate the ways in which ideas are conveyed by the physical and visual medium of architectural form. It will include case studies which will move us beyond explanations of architecture that borrow too liberally from literature and theory, and will thereby deepen our understanding both of the medium of architecture and of the construction and operation of architectural ‘meaning’. Moreover, by establishing or re-exploring the intellectual foundations sustaining the designs of certain key buildings, and by examining the ways in which they informed the physical realities of the buildings themselves, we hope to reinvigorate and enrich our understanding of significant moments in European architectural history.
We welcome papers that directly explore the relationship between message and medium through detailed historical case studies which directly address the agency of architecture itself in the conveying of meaning. Papers could tackle, for example, Filippo Brunelleschi’s innovative ‘Renaissance’ style of architecture; Inigo Jones’s Italianate classicism; Francesco Borromini’s departures from classical proprieties; complex stereotomy in French architecture of the early modern period; the new language and meanings of English Palladianism; the rarefied classicism of John Soane or Karl Friedrich Schinkel; form and association in the concrete architecture of Le Corbusier. In general, therefore, they will examine architecture’s expressive potential, through such topics as the materiality of buildings, the visual logic and implications of built form or the evocation (or not) of the historical past, and in relation to particular people, periods and places.
Applications to present papers: Papers should be of 20 minutes in length (followed by 5 or 10 minutes of questions). If you wish to apply, please write to Professor Anthony Geraghty (email@example.com with the subject line Medium and Message), giving the subject and a brief synopsis (250 words) of your proposed topic. Please also specify your title and full name and your institutional affiliation (if any). The deadline for the submission of proposals is 1 April 2016, and we aim to have a decision on the acceptance of papers within 4 weeks of that date.
Student applicants: Ten grants each of £30 are being offered by the Society of Architectural Historians Great Britain to registered students based outside Birmingham, to cover the £10 conference fee and to help defray costs; these will be awarded strictly on a ‘first come first served’ basis, and, to apply, you should contact David Hemsoll (firstname.lastname@example.org) before 8 June heading your message ‘student request for conference support’.
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