In a complex interplay with available means—including technologies, machinery, capital and labour—material constraints impact buildings. Taking construction materials such as cement, concrete, steel or aluminium, as well as auxiliary materials (e.g. timber for formwork or scaffolding) as starting points for an investigation, and inquiring how these informed, challenged and reoriented architectural practice, we are going to nuance our understanding of the built environment.
Rather than focusing broadly on material qualities or supply chains, the seminar shall investigate how materials have constrained various (human) actors in building processes. More intriguing than the straightforward impact of different groups of actors (clients, builders, authorities) on the material outcomes of building processes are cases in which construction materials eluded the actors; for instance, when particular physical or chemical qualities, the lack of specific construction materials or the lack of skill or knowledge forced these various actors to seek different solutions or to deal with the failure of their attempts. This interest in (the resistance of) matter is not limited to planning and actual construction but also seeks to address questions of maintenance and decay of materials. In other words, we intend to inquire how construction materials constrained building processes as well as the material afterlife of sites – while perhaps simultaneously enabling completely different, unpredicted outcomes.
To address how local design and building practices in a variety of local settings were influenced and complicated or conflicted by regional and global processes of industrialisation of construction activities (and related branches of production such as metal processing), the temporal scope of the seminar is set on the (late) 19th century and the long 20th century. We are going to engage with transnational connections between European/ non-European locations, including, for instance, trans-imperial links during the colonial period (e.g. through multinational contractors) or the attempt to overcome entrenched material dependencies with the former metropoles in the post-independence period. The analyses may address aspects related to the human agency, such as logistics of (long-haul) transportation of materials, standardisation, bureaucracy, corruption etc. or areas of material constraints beyond the human agency, such as decay.
Through the interdisciplinary composition of the teaching team, we want to ensure that approaches from architectural and urban history remain in dialogue with global history, economic geography and STS to add to the complex perspectives on (architectural) materiality.
The block seminar invites students to work individually and in groups on literature and case studies, which will be presented (15 minutes presentations) and discussed during the seminar's two final meetings. Apart from the themes mentioned above, participants are strongly encouraged to propose their own research questions and case studies.
Alonso, Pedro, and Hugo Palmarola, eds. Flying Panels: How Concrete Panels Changed the World. Stockholm, [Santiago de Chile], Berlin: ArkDes ; Ediciones UC ; DOM Publishers, 2019.
Forty, Adrian Concrete and Culture: A Material History. 1st pbk. ed. London: Reaktion Books, 2016.
Slaton, Amy E. Reinforced Concrete and the Modernization of American Building: 1900-1930. Johns Hopkins Studies in the History of Technology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 2001.
Slaton, Amy, ed. New Materials: Towards a History of Consistency. Ann Arbor, MI: Lever Press, 2020. https://doi.org/10.3998/mpub.11675425.
Wall, Christine. An Architecture of Parts: Architects, Building Workers and Industrialisation in Britain 1940 - 1970. 1st ed. Routledge, 2016.