EVENT: ‘This Thing Called Theory’ Open Seminar Series. London, 30 May 2019

Architectural Association School of Architecture
AA PhD Programme & Architectural Humanities Research Association (AHRA)

The Barrel Vault, Architectural Association School of Architecture, 36 Bedford Square, London WC1B 3ES

Guest Speakers: Mark Cousins (AA), Lorens Holm (U Dundee, AHRA), Joel McKim (Birkbeck), Mark Morris (AA)

Stemming from the Architectural Humanities Research Association (AHRA) 2015 conference, the open seminar series ‘This Thing Called Theory’ continues to explore the status of theory in architecture, proposing theory as a form of architectural practice that opposes the instrumentalization of its use.

TTCT3 Theory and Histories.
For some time, many scholars in naming their projects on history – articles and books, lectures and course syllabuses – feel the necessity to use the plural ‘histories’. Or, more ostentatiously, they would employ terms relating to archaeology, subjectivity, posterity, synchronicity, anachronicity, prophecy, contextuality, contingency and multiplicity, … in conjunction with their projects on history.

Playing on the title of Manfredo Tafuri’s book Theories and History of Architecture, which over fifty years ago set the grounds for the making of a new historical “project” in architecture, the third annual This Thing Called Theory open seminar at the Architectural Association acknowledges that what is at play today is a proliferation of architectural history narratives, and of different ways of constructing, curating and communicating them.

This seems to be the year of the return of history in architecture. After modernism’s instrumental rejection of history, postmodernism’s playful and hollow appropriation of history, and the proclamation of its death by coding and parametricism, architectural history is returning to attention.

The Architectural Association this year is hosting a series of talks and debates on New Canonical History that explore different ways of making history. The intention to question issues of both authorship and audience of history in architectural discourse is echoed across the US and UK by the investigative, cluebased forensic approach used by Aggregate in the US to investigate material pasts near and remote, and by Forensic Architecture in the UK to expose the dramatically present.

In London, the Architecture Foundation recently presented Alternative Histories, an exhibition that invited current architectural practices to reinterpret well known historical projects in an exercise of architectural (self)reinvention. On the one hand, the reinterpretation of architecture by architecture bypasses the work of the historian, and presents a Beckettian impasse: nothing is really new, everything is new. On the other hand, the field of making architectural history has been opened up to the collector, the archivist, the curator, the editor.

By looking at and working with history from an ambiguous “outside”, This Thing Called Theory stake the claim for theory to perform the critical (destructive) role of questioning and challenging today’s many ‘new canonical’ histories. As they fill the past, again and anew, with the ‘the presence of the now’ (Walter Benjamin’s “Jetztzeit”), new histories are already affecting and performing new projects of architecture. This open seminar invites speakers who are educators, architects, theorists, design and media scholars to offer their alternative perspectives on new ‘histories’ of architecture in the making, and on the critical role that ‘theory’ would play in hinging the relevancy of history to architectural practice.

The full programme of the event is available here.

Event Organisers: Doreen Bernath and Teresa Stoppani



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