Quick Links

Ph.D. dissertations in-progress

Jason Crow

Animate Matters: Hierurgy and Stone in Twelfth-Century Artisanship

“The conceptualization of a church as a light-filled volume predicates the history of gothic architecture. This attitude toward medieval architecture privileges form and structure at the expense of materiality. Otto von Simson and Erwin Panofsky pioneered this interpretation of twelfth-century architecture in their work on the Abbot Suger’s (1081-1151) renovations of St-Denis. More recent medieval scholarship in architecture questions the sophistication of Suger but largely continues similar formal and iconographic interpretations of the gothic. My doctoral research proposes an alternate material approach to the gothic. It suggests that the matter, particularly the stone and glass of the twelfth-century cathedral, tell us something different than the traditional interpretation of scholars like von Simson or Panofsky.

Study of changes in the epistemology of matter offers a new approach to the history of architecture. Consideration of materials used in the construction of buildings is almost exclusively transhistorical. As a result, scholars give little attention to the local, instrumental, and practical networks surrounding the matter that makes buildings. In the case of my research, recent object-oriented scholarship in the history of sciences inspires the methodology. This scholarship presents two difficulties for the architectural historian. The prior research generally avoids studies earlier than the fifteenth century, and underestimates the influence of theology on the development of science. Focusing my research on twelfth-century lapidary knowledge forces a confrontation between the proto-scientific and theology. The research therefore consists of finding and interpreting textual evidence of the understanding of change, stone, and craft in scientific and theological discourse as it relates to the production of architecture. These twelfth-century discourses reveal how the creation of medieval churches ritually re-enacted the body of Christ. Literally, these twelfth-century buildings repeated God’s creation of Christ as stone.

Nathalie Desrosiers

Le théâtre des machines : images du fer et imaginaire industriel au XIXième siècle

Situé à la croisée d'un intérêt pour l’architecture industrielle et les symboles des «forces anonymes du monde» dans le paysage, mon projet de recherche propose une étude de l’imaginaire entourant les Grands établissements sidérurgiques français à travers les représentations picturales commandées par les industriels, l’État et les éditeurs entre 1830 et 1890. Nouvel univers de formes et de mouvement, la conquête industrielle du fer suscite au XIXième siècle la curiosité, la fascination en même temps qu'elle alimente les critiques. Vecteur du machinisme, l'usine sidérurgique incarne à la fois le progrès et une rupture avec le monde de production traditionnelle. Comment ces bouleversements sont-ils représentés et négociés par l’image ?

L’histoire de l’industrie en France a peu traité de ces portraits d’usine. C’est pourtant à travers le regard d’artistes comme François-Ignace Bonhommé (1809-1881) que se forme une première représentation de la grande industrie. Témoignage singulier du «Métallandromaque» et des merveilles du monde souterrain, l’image seule permet un contact direct avec la nouvelle réalité industrielle. Omniprésente dans la presse illustrée, cette iconographie offre de véritables narrations de la modernité industrielle. Glorification du commanditaire, célébration d’un événement, valorisation du travail de l’ouvrier et intention didactique sont autant de buts prisés par ces illustrations. Mais, sont-elles aussi le lieu de la propagande, de la manipulation idéologique et symbolique ? À travers cette production picturale, quel regard porte-t-on au XIXième siècle sur ces nouveaux établissements sidérurgiques ?

Représenter l’usine au XIXième siècle n'est pas un « acte neutre». Là, où auparavant seuls les ouvriers, maîtres de forge et quelques dignitaires obtenaient le droit d’entrer, l’artiste montre pour la première fois au public les activités reliées à la puissance industrielle française. En exécutant les commandes picturales des entreprises, le peintre du fer se démarque nettement des autres artistes : il est le témoin privilégié des mutations de l’industrie. Alors que la croissance industrielle et les changements furent extraordinaires en France, l’artiste définit dès le début du XIXième siècle de nouveaux codes picturaux pour dévoiler le spectacle de la forge. Offrant une vision héroïque et élogieuse des usines, les images commandées s’inscrivent dans la lignée des premières formes de propagande industrielle. Mais, l’iconographie laisse deviner beaucoup plus qu’une simple propagande : elle est aussi révélatrice des positions ambivalentes face à l’essor industriel. Malgré la commande, les artistes intègrent dans leur vocabulaire artistique leurs réticences, questionnements et visions du monde industriel. Progressivement, l’œuvre commandée s’imprègne d’une symbolique picturale qui compense les désillusions et inventent des solutions alternatives. Avec l’image commandée de la sidérurgie n’y a-t-il pas une forme d’édification, une construction imaginaire de la totalité des paysages industriels ?

L’intérêt aujourd’hui d’investiguer ces images, non répertoriées jusqu’à ce jour, réside dans leur puissance révélatrice : informatives, elles sont des témoignages remarquables de la technologie et de l’économie françaises du XIXième siècle ; narratives, elles sont des livres ouverts sur l’histoire des perceptions vis-à-vis le monde industriel. En ce sens, ma recherche a pour but de rassembler sous la forme d’un catalogue une part significative des images de la sidérurgie et d’en faire une lecture détaillée des mécanismes et codifications picturales, afin de mettre en évidence le langage complexe et influent de la révolution industrielle qui s’inscrit au cœur même de l’iconographie du fer.

Negin Djavaherian

From Classical Persian Mystical Poetry to Architectural Creation through Peter Brook’s Theatre

The Conference of the Birds by Attar (12th century mystical poet), a masterpiece of the classical Persian mystical poetry, symbolically illustrates the human quest for truth in form of a journey of birds searching for a mythical king. Through sacrifice and self-denial, a few faithful birds in their death become the king they sought and discover the truth within themselves; the death is not the end, but a beginning of a new life. The liberation from the material world during their spiritual voyage creates emptiness and silence in the narrative, offering moments of inner realization, self-confrontation as well as shared understanding. The silent moments permeate through the story dissolving dimensions and creating an infinite depth in the poem.

This mystical narrative was one of the main sources of inspiration for Peter Brook (born 21 March 1925), who adapted this poem for a theatre. Although the poem is ancient, its essence, according to Brook, is an art of modernity. “In The Conference of the Birds, you go between the everyday world, the world as we are, all the time, and the world of what can happen to us if we mobilize, if we galvanize ourselves in a certain way.” Brook in his modern and unconventional approach to theatre focused on the expression of silence: by creating an empty space, the spectators are invited to fill a void and participate in the theatrical event.

The research attempts to explore the connection between the notions of time and space in The Conference of the Birds and in contemporary architecture. To unravel this relationship, the study investigates the unconventional ideas of Brook’s theatre and his modern interpretation of this poem. The thesis traces themes, modes, and movements in Brook’s theatre that create emptiness and silence in the space and enhance the audience involvement and participation in the process of creation. Through an analysis of Brook’s theatrical elements in connection with the poem, the thesis investigates the themes of silence and emptiness and techniques of representation in context of contemporary architecture which could heighten the experience of an observer exploring the architectural space. This could also bring insight into a process of creation by architectural group, a journey that unifies all individuals in a single desire—the desire for the architectural event to transpire.

Maria Elisa Navarro Morales

Since language reflects the way man approaches the world, the connotation of the meaning of architecture as language has also changed over time. Preoccupation for language and interpretation can be traced back to at least the biblical exegesis, and in the Bible we can find the two main ideas that have remained as the common thread of the discussion in regards to the problem of language: fist the question of the original language spoken by God before the confusion of the tongues, and second Babel itself and how the different languages that originated relate to each other and to the primordial language. This discussion takes a particular turn in the Baroque milieu where antiquity was ‘invented’ more than it was discovered, and this invention in turn led to new sigh-lines on the present and future. The problem of language and translation in the baroque established a logic of relation between the past and the present, and between different tongues and traditions which were splitting apart under nationalism and religious conflict.

The relationship between these concerns and architecture during the seventeenth century can be better understood when looking at the work of Juan Caramuel de Lobkowitz (1606-1682), “Architectura Civil Recta y Oblicua…” (1678). His legacy Oblique architecture, or an architecture that accounts for the imperfection of the created world, represents and original yet complex concept that has not been understood under the bigger scope of his work, and under the idea that the material world is essentially different from the intellectual one. Caramuel saw the world as a book with its words, it grammar and its profound sense; what really interested Caramuel was the profound sense of words, that its put forward in his constant search for etymologies, and on the other hand by the grammatical or terminological synopsis that serve as an introduction to his work.

Caramuel's grammatical understanding of the world lead him to propose important theories that are considered his legacy in different fields. In the particular case of architectural theory, his ideas on architecture in general and his Oblique architecture particularly constitute his most important contribution. This research is intended to offer an interpretation of “Architectura Civil Recta y Oblicua…” from the perspective of the relationship between architecture and language in the seventeenth century as a tool to understand better our contemporary position in regards to this topic.

Kurt Espersen-Peters

Ruskin's Material Nature: Architecture, Geology, Myth. (Working Title)

This thesis is an examination of John Ruskin’s material approach to Nature, a Nature that structures his interpretation of architecture, geology, and mineralogy. I will be looking at his somatic approach to ‘reading’ architectural and geological form and its exegesis into written form, particularly in the evolution of his private Nature-mythology.

Gül Kale

Multicultural Interactions in Istanbul; Early Seventeenth Century Writings on an Ottoman Architect as a Path to Human Knowledge

Architecture as knowledge has the capacity to mediate between different cultures and ideas by engaging humanity on common grounds sharing the same poetic and ethical concerns. Starting with ancient times, philosophy and architecture went hand in hand in their love for the knowledge of universe and desire to make the world a better place for humans. I believe that architecture can open the ground for human interaction built on mutual understandings. I will investigate the architectural phenomenon in Istanbul in the seventeenth century, which can allow understanding the dialogue between different cultures in the city. Such an inquiry may reveal the mostly neglected mutual interactions of diverse societies through examining cross-cultural exchanges of ideas. Traces of human conditions that we encounter in historical narratives are where imagination dwells and leads to a journey of self-inquiry in relation to the world and one’s place within it. I argue that such traces of interactions in history can be accessible through the intellectual history of humanity and architectural history of ideas within poetic encounters rather than direct formal comparisons of historical buildings. I aim at having a close reading of the chief architect Mehmed Agha’s biography, entitled “Risale- i Mimariyye” (Treatise on Architecture) written by his close friend Cafer Efendi. Risale seems to be the first and maybe the last attempt in the Ottoman architectural history in trying to theorize architecture by giving it an intellectual framework that is composed of science of geometry, science of music, astronomy, and arithmetic. The writings hint at many connections between architecture and liberal knowledge. I intend to interpret the text by emphasizing how architecture became a language to transmit human conditions by embracing all forms of stories from various cultures. The seventeenth century writings on the life of the chief architect Mehmed Agha indicate the poetical and ethical concerns of an architect to create a beautiful place in harmony with cosmos within its own boundaries. His search for a measure and basis in architecture by embracing stories combined from different cultures becomes significant as a way to understand human limits of creation in a traditional world and how he responded to his era’s demands through his deeds. Furthermore, the text opens up questions for the role of architects in a society. Both in Mimar Sinan’s autobiographies and in Cafer Efendi’s risale on Mehmed Aga, the image of the architect combines within itself various characters.

Cameron Macdonell

Crypto-Gothic Architecture

This project explores theoretical conditions by which nineteenth-century Gothic ghost stories and Gothic-revival ecclesiastical architecture conspire to bury the cryptic in such a way as to be paradoxically present and absent—present as absence. Derridean literary theory forwards the house as the archetypal structure of the ghost story, in that the ghost’s haunting is most uncanny when juxtaposed in spaces familiar and secure to the intended reader. The question that orchestrates my thesis is to ask how church architecture, as the familiar and secure House of God, might facilitate similar experiences of the uncanny. More precisely, I question how domestic Gothic might infiltrate the House of God without being physically present, a family crypt that is there and nowhere.

Derrida’s theory of the crypt argues that three things are irrevocably the same as the crypt—death, topoi and the cipher. This project is thrice intersected. Death addresses the organization of patronymic company towns in nineteenth-century Ontario—Kingsville, Walkerville, etc.—as pertaining to issues of physical and spiritual health through the spatial arrangements of industrial, domestic and religious architectures. It also considers church architecture, first as a bodily metaphor that takes literal dimensions with the rise of Eucharistic practices in the nineteenth century, and second as a body whose bilateral asymmetry might open a discourse into bodily health and the promise of death. Topoi addresses the commonplaces of Gothic literature and the ways in which Ralph Adams Cram (1863-1942), a Gothic ghost storyteller, manipulated the genre to include cryptic spaces where the house and the House of God fold into each other. It then addresses the commonplaces of liturgical function in the Anglican Church and the ways in which Ralph Adams Cram, also a Gothic-revival church architect, manipulated the ritual structure at St. Mary’s Church (1902-04) in Walkerville, Ontario, to conceal and simultaneously confess a haunting Walker family secret. Cipher, finally, addresses a tiny aperture of the Walkerville edifice (a pocket between the liturgical space of the church proper and the domestic space of the rectory), and it uses that liminal feature to open a general theory of haunted, crypto-Gothic churches, with their concealing ciphers and their confessional possibilities of decipherment.

Dana Margalith

Between the Continuous and the Fragmented – A Phenomenological Reading of the Late Architecture of Louis Kahn

As M. Ponty says in its most profound sense, beauty is said to engender an experience of positive reflection in regards to the meaning of one's "Being" within life. This state, I would claim, is a search for ones fragile identity, lying between ones individuality and the need for a sense of belonging. The Industrial Revolution and the influence of the machine, on one hand, and the political revolution of Democracy, and the awareness of man's freedom, on the other hand, reduce this totality of human Being. Functional architectural expressions, dedicated to ideology and reason, dominate the capacity of wonder, dream and desires; chaotic and subjective architectural expressions, reject any sense of continuity and promote the foundation of otherness and alienation.

How can spaces and places create a feeling of belonding yet encourage diversity and ambiguity? How can boundaries and limits embrace contradictions and promote freedom? How can architecture separate and define, yet link and unite environments to a higher order? How can the gap between the standardized and the fragmented be closed by architecture? In a world where no architectural enclosures are created, and where fragmentation of cities and communities abolish any sense of belonging, the definition of the self and the other are at risk. Architecture allowing self expression in bounded structures, addressing common and expressional grounding of meanings, should, therefore, be studied.

This dissertation aims to address the role of architecture as linking between that which is and that which is not, between reason and dream, between the communal and individual through a phenomenological reading of Louis Kahn's late architecture. This will be addressed as part of the broader contextual debate regarding the relevance of a common image in modern era, as came forth through the discussions of Joseph Hudnut, Walter Curt Behrendt, the CIAM meetings and through the ideas of assembly promoted by architects Aldo Van Eyck, Le Corbusier and Peter Smithson, after World War II, to which Kahn responded. The means in which a common image could be achieved will be tested in comparison to aesthetic formal theories popular at that time, methods of composition and com-partition of historical types in the Beaux Arts, according to which Kahn was educated, and in relation to postmodern theories which ironically mock the existing and any ground of belonging. The polemics within the avant-garde regarding the role of art and architecture as a consumable commodity, making use of the existing on one hand, and as a critical tool, shocking and evoking reality, to allow exposure of real meaning, on the other hand, will be discussed.

At last, a phenomenological reading of Kahn's late projects will be offered. The importance of a continuous traditional and environmental yet open experience, based on a united yet fragmented sensual bodily experience of perception, will be learnt.

Tsz Yan Ng

The 1867 Paris Exposition Universelle - A panoramic device for the inquiry of 19th C. experimental architecture and landscape.

The Paris 1867 Exposition Universelle held on the Champ de Mars from the 1st of April to the end of October was one of the most phenomenal events staged for the Second Empire. Set against France’s prosperity through advancement in manufacturing and corresponding development in commerce, Paris was to host the largest and the most comprehensive Industrial Exposition thus far, thematically titled Art and Industry. In an attempt to explicate the myriad aspects of the exposition, its raison d’être, its modus operandi, and its lasting impact, this thesis examines the Exposition under two interrelated premises;

1-that the picturesque park, together with the exhibition Palais sited at the center of the Champ de Mars, is a landscape charged with historical and referential significance, and
2-that the experience of that landscape was media through an intricate series of panoramic views, both inside and out of the exhibition ground, to strategically frame and underline the motives of the organizers and on a wider scope, the agendas of the Second Empire.

The aim of the thesis is to trace the interdependent relationships of the grouping system for display, its roots within the tradition of natural history classification, and the spatial delineation of the Palais with its siting context.

Peter Olshavsky

An Architectural Adventure in ’Pataphysics

Hornstrumpot! We shall not have succeeded in demolishing everything unless we demolish the ruins as well. But the only way I can see of doing that is to use them to put up a lot of fine, well-designed buildings.

-Père Ubu (Ubu enchaîné)

Alfred Jarry (1873-1907) is widely recognized for the infamous staging of Ubu Roi, though arguably his most profound work is his “science” of ’Pataphysics detailed in Gestes et opinions du Docteur Faustroll, pataphysicien (1911). “Pataphysics,” as Père Ubu declared in Ubu Cocu, “is a science that we have personally invented, and for which a great need has been widely felt.” This “science of imaginary solutions” attempts to construct “a universe which can be - and perhaps should be,” where the exception is law.

Accordingly, this thesis looks to further unpack the notion of ’Pataphysics while demonstrating the centrality of the machine to the pataphysical cosmos. It will situate the pataphysical machine properly within the milieu of the fin-de-siècle and as a progeny of the Romantic tradition. These absurd and erotic constructions couched in a twisting of science and logic theatrically engage in a search for the absolute through the “merdre” of the world. The intent is then to examine the patamachine as a critical analog for understanding the status of the machine in architectural discourse. It is my contention that they offer a fuller interpretation of the early Modernist conception of the machine; one that opens dimensions often overlooked. The machine was always more than mere form or function, in short, it was pataphysical.

Jonathan Powers

I am investigating the function of utopia as a place-based representation of the ideal. In particular, I am trying to understand how the concept of utopia co-evolved with our current educational system by examining some of the striking resonances which exist between certain Renaissance and Baroque architectural theories, utopianists, and educational innovators.

Lori Riva-Wu

Devising Motion: Domenico Fontana’s Project for Raising the Obelisk

In 1586, architect Domenico Fontana (1543-1607) designed and choreographed a machine to raise and transport four of the Egyptian obelisks of Rome. Traditionally, the moving of the obelisks has been interpreted as an exhibition of Fontana’s mechanical knowledge or a means to parade Sixtus V’s authority over the urban development of Rome. As conduttore of Pope Sixtus V’s ideologically-charged building program, Fontana removed the million-tonne stones from their ancient sites and relocated them to align with the pilgrimage churches. For Sixtus V, the newly consecrated obelisks were symbols of the Christian triumph over pagan idolatry. Fontana himself would memorialize this ritual, mechanical “exorcism” in his treatise on the modern method for raising obelisks, Della Trasportatione dell’Obelisco Vaticano (Rome, 1590). The text is a descriptive and pragmatic narrative enhanced by the magical and Hermetic illustrations by Natale Bonifacio (c.1537-1592).

My thesis considers Fontana’s device or impresa within the greater context of contemporaneous discourse around the raising of the obelisks, including that of engineer Camillo Agrippa (c.1535- c.1598), cosmographer Egnazio Danti (1536-1586), papal physician and metallurgist Michele Mercati (1541-1593) and mechanical philosopher Filippo Pigafetta (1503-1633). Agrippa, who had devised his own scheme for moving the obelisk prior to Fontana, illustrates a preoccupation with the theory of movement in his writings, while Danti’s unexplored role in the conception of the project shows an understanding of the obelisk as gnomonic architecture. Mercati’s De gli Obelischi (1589) traces the historical meanings of the obelisks, revealing firsthand how they were mythologized in the Renaissance, and connected to Egyptian science, astrology and magic. His genealogy provides the key to explaining the importance of alchemical metaphor to the process of moving. Finally, Pigafetta’s account of Fontana’s project and the fascination with the transportation of the obelisks, in his Discorso (1588), aligns Fontana with developments in late sixteenth-century mechanics. The texts by these four authors illustrate the cultural and metaphysical implications behind the relocation of the obelisks. They reveal that endeavor within a constellation of liturgical, alchemical and cosmological meanings related to the act of moving.