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AHA 2016 : Architecture’s Everyday Representations

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Call For Papers

AHA – ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY ASSOCIATION, FRANCE
THE JOURNAL OF THE ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY ASSOCIATION

The Architectural History Association of France is launching a blind peer-reviewed scholarly journal to be published online starting in Spring 2017. A changing team of two or three guest editors will initiate and oversee each of the journal’s thematic issues.
Proposals for articles will be analysed and selected by the editorial board, with input from relevant experts on each period or theme addressed. The selected texts will then be subjected to a blind scholarly review. Proposals for varia or articles on topics unrelated to the theme may be submitted at any time.

Architecture’s Everyday Representations

Authors/Guest Editors: Eric Monin and Nathalie Simonnot

Since the late nineteenth century a renewal of packaging techniques has accompanied the expansion and development of consumer society. The sanitary, practical and economic concerns at play in determining the evolution of packaging were soon joined by aesthetic considerations relating to the efficient representation of products’ provenance, character and quality.

In this context, the staging of goods in beautiful packages arrayed on boutique and, later, department store shelves constituted an important feature of the large-scale system of artifice and seduction set up from the Second Empire onwards. Very early on, architecture played a key role in the vast body of images that would be used to power a mercantile imaginary that could move the general public. It colonized boxes and tins, paper bags and all sorts of packaging, including derivative products for children, aimed at building the loyalty of young consumers and their parents.

The forward march of architecture, that began to dominate the space of consumption with a plethora of iconic representations, also marked other media developed for business and industry. Letterheads bearing invoices issued by commercial and industrial institutions are one such considerable and as of yet understudied body of material. In some cases, such as business cards of companies that were attached to the magnificence of their headquarters and factory views, architecture was a signature able to represent the reputation of a firm or the specificity of a brand linked to a region whose image was fixed by a few monuments. This phenomenon reappears with images printed on plastic shopping bags after World War II . A similar mechanism was at work at the time of universal exhibitions, during which the quality of a company appeared related to the image of its exhibition pavilion and the various iterations of its image on amount of supports .

This “architecture-philia” that becomes generalized just before the twentieth century thanks techniques of mechanical reproduction was to take many other forms. This is apparent in the production of construction sets, wallpaper patterns and postage stamps, as well as tens of thousands of postcards. The space occupied by images of architecture in our daily lives has not diminished since the late nineteenth century.

Whether in tourist products, in symbolic representations, in the background of illustrated books and comics, in travel guides or in images relating to brand identity, architecture undergoes a process of transference that ensures, either directly or indirectly, its promotion. The memory of the monument is preserved in the form of derivative products that vary according to modes and uses. These range from simple decorative objects to highly commercial products (snow globes, key chains, domestic items, accessories, etc.). Thus, “popular items (...) invade refrigerator doors and car windshields,” “symbolizing a standard and impersonal touristic consumption [that] back home, [will] introduce vacation time into daily life.” A kind of natural, immediate, proximity with architecture is thus established. An aura of deja vu confers on these images a clear legitimacy, reassuring familiarity.

This omnipresence of the image, already noted by Ernst Gombrich in the early 1960s, demonstrates how unique, localized and even ephemeral architecture prevails on a large scale in strategies of economic and commercial dissemination. The architectural image is manipulated, transformed or reappropriated to serve new discourses, at times far removed from the history of the building itself. What is the meaning of architecture once it is reduced to a miniature format, arranged in family photo albums, displayed in school textbooks, or associated with the Olympic rings?

Of course, while it is greatly impacted by the new means of production and distribution of the industrial age, this phenomenon of mediation concerns earlier periods as well. From antique vases to eighteenth century toiles de Jouy, architecture has appeared on a great number of material supports and in a wide variety of figurative modes. From Books of Hours to websites, architecture displayed the magnificence of a prince or established the reputation of companies. Beyond its at times spectacular built reality, the architectural representation conveys an image of greater or lesser accuracy, and thereby participates in the construction of a myth. This displacement of packaging to collective representation offers architecture the opportunity to bypass its constructed reality to reach an unalterable state that perpetuates the original form of a sometimes severely altered project. To focus on the diversity of architectural representations, is thus also to ask the question of the memory of built form and to consider the different ways to understand the trace of a work across time. At stake here is recognizing the wealth of architectural history’s sources by embracing the plurality of media that attests to a multiplicity of viewpoints.

The goal of this call for proposals is to analyse the modes of reception of architecture via the study of representations aimed at a large public of consumers. It concerns all historical periods and seeks to understand how architecture can be wrenched from its site by the force of figurative representation, in mastered and self-conscious processes (the construction of images and brands) as in the case of derivative products where architecture images are instrumentalized in the service of needs that displace the link with the original referent. Between an archaeology of the everyday object and the writing of cultural history based on a wide variety of media, this investigation of representations of buildings interrogates the writing of alternative histories of architecture and the constitution of new objects of study. With close attention to phenomena that are so commonplace that they can often escape the historian’s attention.

This call solicits analyses of different ways in which architecture is presented and illustrated for a broad consumer audience. Our aim is to further understanding of how, in any given historical period, architecture can be understood through appropriated images and branding.

Proposals for abstracts (2000 characters) and four key words, in French, English or Italian, must be submitted by 14 July 2016 to: e.monin@free.fr and simonnotnathalie@gmail.com

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