Acting Institutions: Agents, Actors, and Authorities in Modern Architecture (between the 1890s and 1930s)

By placing styles, buildings and their authors at the centre of research, architectural history became a supposedly linear representation of the built environment. The monographic narrative is overt evidence of the established approach, which emphasises individual, mostly prominent architects, art schools, leading clients, and art-historically outstanding projects and objects. However, this depicts only a limited part of history.
Shedding light to institutional actors who were necessarily involved in the architectural production illuminates the diversity of interest and final outputs. And it can also explain the diversity of architectural production. For example, around 1910, two courthouse buildings
were erected in Vienna by the same architects, the civil servant Moritz Kramsall and the freelance Alfred Keller, for the same client, the Ministry for Public Works, and their stylistic appearance could not have been more opposite: one deals with the most recent
achievements of modernity (the famous bolt construction of Otto Wagner’s Postal Savings Bank), while the other still follows a late historicist conception (motifs of the so-called old German Renaissance). To understand this formal contrast, the conference needs to ask about the motivations of the involved elements, the state as client and its authorities as executive bodies.

Striving for a comprehensive image of modern architecture, this conference shifts the perspective from the widely acknowledged masters and their work to the “invisible” group of unnoticed actors who, nevertheless, decisively contributed to the outcomes of modern architecture. Beyond the conventional agents, the conference emphasises the role of institutions, interest groups, and individual actors in their historical meaning of networks of power. Taking institutions into account does not lead to a counter-narrative, but to an inclusive social field that was the genuine ground for setting priorities, interests, and legal agenda. With this conference Acting Institutions, organizers intend to open up the historical gaze beyond the dominant actors and redraw the boundaries of scholarship. The organizers replace coherence with complexity.

Organizers invite proposals for a 20-minute presentation in English to be sent in one text document to richard.kurdiovsky@oeaw.ac.at including:

  • title and abstract of 400 words maximum
    name of the author with current affiliation, contact details and a short biographical note
    (maximum 200 words).

Deadline for submission: 10 June 2022, acceptance notification by 10 July 2022.

The conference will take place on November 10 – 11, 2022 at the Institute for Habsburg and Balkan Studies of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Vienna. For Sat., 12th of November 2022, a full-day excursion in Vienna and to Brno will be organised as an optional
complement to the conference. Pro rata reimbursement of travel expenses is provided for.

More information about the conference and topics for submission can be found in the full call for papers here.

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