This session takes its title and theme from a 1942 article by English architectural historian John Summerson, who called on practicing architects to face ‘the real-life adventures which are looming ahead’ instead of trying ‘to fly level with the poet-innovator Le Corbusier.’ To render architecture ‘effective in English life’, he argued, would be the role of qualified teams of ‘salaried architects’ working for local and central authorities or commercial undertakings. Their ‘departmental architecture’ would be responsible for lifting the average quality of everyday building practice, for the benefit of all – while providing a profession chronically seeking to secure its place in society with ‘those three essential things for any born architect – bread, butter, and the opportunity to build.’ Coincidentally, the following year saw the publication of Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead, whose protagonist-architect epitomised the ‘prime mover’, the individualistic creative hero who singlehandedly conquered his place in history.
Seemingly following Rand’s drive, the canon of western contemporary architecture has overlooked Summerson’s everyday, ‘salaried’ architecture, however overwhelming it may have turned out to be in our built environment, praising instead the solo designer and his groundbreaking work. It seems to have been in ‘departmental architecture’ that the social role of the architect – both his place in social hierarchies and his contribution for social betterment – was primarily tested and consolidated since the aftermath of World War I. Yet the work of county, city and ministerial architects, heads of department in welfare commissions, guilds and cooperatives, is seldom discussed as such: its specificity as the product of institutional initiatives and agents, as the outcome of negotiation between individual and collective agendas, remains little explored, even when celebrating the few public-designed projects that are part of the canon.
What is, then, the specificity of this ‘Bread & Butter’ architecture? What is its place in architectural history studies, and how should we approach it? What does it tell us about the dissemination and hampering of architectural trends, or the architectural culture within institutions and agencies? Is it relevant in today’s context of swift downplaying of institutional agency in the spatial accommodation of everyday needs? Are we prepared to bypass the still-prevalent notion of the architect-artist, the prime mover, and look at the circumstances of those who played their part in inconspicuous offices and unexciting departments? We welcome papers that address these and other questions prompted by the theme, focusing on the period from the post-WWI, when many public initiatives were put in place, to the late 1960s, when established hierarchies were challenged and the architect’s place in society again changed.
Ricardo Agarez, Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London
Nelson Mota, Department of Architecture, Delft University of Technology
Session at EAHN 2014 (European Architectural History Network Third International Meeting), Turin, Italy, June 19-21, 2014.
Deadline for Submissions: 30 September 2013
For more information and submission, http://www.eahn2014.polito.it/
Send comments and questions to H-Net
Webstaff. H-Net reproduces announcements that have been submitted to us as a
free service to the academic community. If you are interested in an announcement
listed here, please contact the organizers or patrons directly. Though we strive
to provide accurate information, H-Net cannot accept responsibility for the text of
announcements appearing in this service. (Administration)