Submission deadline:

February 12, 2024

Radical Roof Gardens: Dream Spaces of Social Cohesion and Private Retreat

December 10-14, 2024
Call for Abstracts: Research Paper Session at the December 10-14, 2024 Docomomo Conference in Santiago, Chile
Deadline: February 12, 2024
Co-chairs: Joseph Watson, Belmont University, and Nathaniel Robert Walker, Catholic University of America
Of Le Corbusier’s famous “Five Points” for the creation of a modern architecture, perhaps the most suggestive of utopian possibility was the roof garden terrace. Whether serving as the largest communal space of the Unité d’Habitation in Marseilles or providing expansive vistas over an urban park at the Casa Curutchet in La Plata, roof gardens asserted modernism’s technological exuberance and commitment to new perspectives and liberating reforms in cities and landscapes. Ironically, perhaps, roof gardens were also the least novel of Le Corbusier’s modern elements. They have a deep and well-known antiquity stretching back, to cite two examples, to the Hanging Gardens of Babylon and the palace walks of King David in Jerusalem—spaces of imperial power, luxury, and sensuality. Roof gardens became a fixture of utopian visions from the Renaissance onwards; Filarete included them in Sforzinda, while Frank Lloyd Wright imagined filling a landscape with villas topped by gardens for both leisure and the landing of private aircraft. Roof gardens even flourished in reality during the 1800s and early 1900s, particularly in great cities like New York and London, where they were often discussed as ideal fusions of the urban and the rural. In these years, rooftop terraces had a dualistic existence as hedonistic   pleasure grounds atop hotels, department stores, and theaters for the rich, while also serving as women-led refuges of charity for the poor on model tenements and public libraries. The international reputation of these roof gardens, now largely forgotten, is attested to in the English-language name of a magnificent cabaret and restaurant that crowned the Cerro San Cristóbal in Santiago de Chile in the 1930s: “Roof Garden.”

This session invites abstracts for research papers on modern roof gardens, with a particular focus on the twentieth century. The organizers do not limit our call to examples in Latin America, but these are very welcome. Scholars such as Luis E. Carranza and Fernando Luiz Lara, in Modern Architecture in Latin America, and Valerie Fraser, in “Cannibalizing Le Corbusier,” have discussed roof gardens in these contexts, and the organizers aim to build upon their work. What promises did rooftop terraces make as spaces of social elevation and/or private retreat and which have they kept or broken? How have they performed and endured in different climates, with varying degrees of maintenance, as the viability of different plant species (native and non-native), structural integrity, and the potential for leaks have been persistent problems for centuries? How did roof gardens carry forward older dreams and aspirations—including, potentially, Indigenous or Aboriginal traditions—into the Modern Movement? What new meanings and objectives did they acquire? What might have been lost? How did they strengthen and/or problematize modernism’s historically complex relationships with energy and ecology? How did the radical potential of roof gardens help to resist, reinforce, or propose alternatives to pre-existing social, economic, and racial divisions? What, ultimately, were the outcomes of Le Corbusier’s dream of roof gardens as radical spaces of utopian potential for the Modern Movement in architecture?

More information can be found here.

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