Submission deadline:

September 15, 2023

Building Identity: Architecture’s Material Significations

June 23-28, 2024

36th CIHA Congress, Lyon, France, with the theme: Matter, Materiality
June 23-28, 2024

Deadline for abstract submissions: September 15, 2023

Ariane Varela Braga, Académie De France À Rome-Villa Médicis
Jonathan Foote, Aarhus School of Architecture

How do building materials shape identity? Building materials have the power to transform the urban landscape and nourish human imagination. Beyond technical factors and availability, materials are loaded with significations. They carry associations that constantly evolve through changing historical, socio-cultural, economic and technical conditions.

Material identity, the correlation between materials and groups, geographies or histories, frequently runs parallel to power relations in architecture. The Roman marble trade is a wellknown case of building materials in service of imperial power, laying a blueprint for materials to act in concert with colonial hegemonies. Beyond identifying with their place of extraction or production, building materials can also assume abstract values such as modernity or progress, as when copper was promoted by Anaconda Mining Company as a ‘Friend of Freedom’ by having been used to clad the Statue of Liberty.

Moreover, materials such as granite, in close relation with local geology, have been pivotal in strengthening the project of nation-building, as during the National Romanticism of Nordic countries in the late 19th-century. Examples abound when considering building materials in defining inter-cultural relations, often with shifting cultural agencies, as in the use of imported Dutch clay tiles by Ottoman royalty in 18th-century Istanbul. Materials can also become a place of cultural hybridisation, as when brick was used to associate the 19th century concept of the mudejár with a specific kind of Spanish architecture of the 13th and 16th centuries.

Such relations tell a story of contaminations and exchanges, of technical and cultural transfers. Cultural identity is not understood as a static entity – a signifier and a signified – but as affective and provisional, a process of negotiation, channelled through national, ethnic, and even highly personal histories.

This panel considers building materials as elements that participate in the shaping and representation of such identities from the early modern period to the 20th–century. More broadly, it is interested in how material identity is constructed vis-à-vis political and social relations, and how building materials have been used to assert, subvert or maintain such connections.

The organizers aim for productive art historical discussions on materiality and identity as applied to the history of architecture. The issue of identity in architecture has been traditionally addressed through the notion of style. The organizers would like to challenge this view and ask: What does it mean to think about cultural identity and architecture through the optics of building materials? What historiographical and methodological approach does it imply?

The organizers invite papers that deal with case studies and theoretical-methodological aspects involving
topical themes such as:
– how architects and societies construct identity around building materials
– what practices or mechanisms are employed to construct such identities
– discourses and narratives motivating their perceived cultural and utilitarian employment
– activation, appropriation, transformation of meanings of specific materials across time and places
– creative opportunities which importing and exporting building materials afford
– materials as contested and potent symbols for cultural appropriation and shared identity
– historiographical interpretations of materials and cultural identity

Applicants should submit their proposal here.
Conference website and full Call for Papers for the Congress may be found here in French and English.

Share this post

News from the field

On the Traces of Misery

“Miserabilia” investigates spaces and spectres of misery in the imagination and reality of the contemporary Italian urban context. The main objective is the definition of tools for the recognition and investigation of the tangible and intangible manifestations of...