Plenary speakers

Kathleen James-Chakraborty

Kathleen James-ChakrabortyKathleen James-Chakraborty has been Professor of Art History at University College Dublin since 2007. A graduate of Yale, James-Chakraborty earned her doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania. She has taught at the University of California Berkeley, where she reached the rank of full professor, at the Ruhr University Bochum, where she was a Mercator guest professor, and at the Yale School of Architecture, where she was the Vincent Scully Visiting Professor of Architectural History.

In 2019 she received the Gold Medal in the Humanities from the Royal Irish Academy. She organised the fourth international conference of the European Architectural History Network, held in Dublin Castle on 2-4 June 2016. James-Chakraborty’s books include Erich Mendelsohn and the Architecture of German Modernism (Cambridge, 1997), German Architecture for a Mass Audience (Routledge, 2000) Architecture since 1400 (Minnesota, 2014; Guangxi, 2017), and Modernism as Memory; Building Identity in the Federal Republic of Germany (Minnesota, 2018), which was shortlisted for the Alice Davis Hitchcock Medallion. She is the editor of India in Art in Ireland (Routledge, 2016) and Bauhaus Culture from Weimar to the Cold War (Minnesota, 2006).

Her articles have appeared in German Politics and Society, the Journal of Architectural Education, the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, and New German Critique. She has contributed to the catalogues of exhibitions held at the Barbican (London), Folkwang Museum (Essen), the German Architectural Museum (Frankfurt), the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, the Martin Gropius Bau (Berlin), the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Architecture Biennale (Venice), as well as more than a dozen edited books.

Black Lives Matter: A View from Europe

Black Lives Matters began in the United States, where it has included the dismantlement of commemorations of the Confederacy, a breakaway state established to preserve slavery.  In Europe it has sparked discussions of local monuments as well as drawn unprecedented attention to the way in which the slave trade and slave labour funded the construction of cities and country estates. This now needs to be acknowledged in public space.  The challenge presents an appropriate moment to remember the ties that bind commemorative structures on both sides of the Atlantic and the impact that tributes to European nationalism have had on diverse strands of modern American architecture.

These connections provide a back story for the newly discovered relevance, and at time effectiveness, of representational sculpture, which they integrated into built forms that appeared to embed regimes of all stripes in their local landscapes.  Abstract counter-monuments often proved effective in addressing the Holocaust. Substituting the human figure for the shards of a shattered past that have long been juxtaposed in German memoryscapes with visions of a utopian future, may possibly provide a means of acknowledging the pain that runs through the cities that many of us inhabit.  This in turn may prove to be an important step on the way to building the more equitable future for which we attempt to prepare the way as we work to decolonize our curricula.

Miles Glendinning

Miles GlendinningMiles Glendinning is Director of the Scottish Centre for Conservation Studies and Professor of Architectural Conservation at the University of Edinburgh.

He has published extensively on modernist and contemporary architecture and housing, and on Scottish historic architecture in general: his books include the award-winning Tower Block (with Stefan Muthesius) and The Conservation Movement. His current research is focused on the international history of mass housing, and he has just published the first comprehensive global overview of this topic: Mass Housing: Modern Architecture and State Power, a Global History (Bloomsbury Academic Press, February 2021). Other planned books include a history of public housing in Hong Kong (Routledge; likely publication 2023) and a history of postwar housing in London.

Mass housing: ‘national character’ and modern state power in architecture

This lecture focuses on the issue of national identity in architecture – one with obvious present-day resonances.  Contrary to the politicised exploitation of the supposed ‘national character’ of elite historic architecture, or of ‘traditional vernacular building’, by 20th-and 21st-century nationalist regimes and governments, it instead approaches the subject from a more practical and low-key viewpoint, concerned with what modern societies actually built themselves, and how that directly related to their state organisation – and asks whether we can talk of ‘national character’, or local character, in this very different context.  The key factor underlying this approach is the entry of the 20th-century state itself into the heart of the process of organising the built environment.

The older nationalist historiography had simply appropriated traditional architectural history and pressed it into the service of the state.  But in this lecture, we instead focus on the building activity of the 20th-century state itself – as the initiator and controller of a growing range of public building programmes, at a national and local level.  In the process, the ‘national’ inevitably shoots back into full view – but in a more elementally geographical way, defined contextually by its relationship to wider geopolitical forces on the one hand, and to the intense forces of localism on the other.

The lecture explores this argument by looking specifically in more detail at one of the most emblematic of these building programmes – the state-supported modernist mass housing for lower-income groups that mushroomed in many developed countries in the 20th century. It argues that modernist mass housing is not a phenomenon of driving, suffocating homogeneity but of ‘multiple modernities’: a global landscape of riotously colourful variety and complexity, responding both to the diversity of the 20th century and early 21st century state, and to the countless permutations of modernist architecture.


Caroline Van Eck

Caroline van EckCaroline van Eck studied art history at the Ecole du Louvre in Paris, and classics and philosophy at Leiden University.

In 1994 she obtained her PhD in aesthetics (cum laude) at the University of Amsterdam. She has taught at the Universities of Amsterdam, Groningen and Leiden, where she was appointed Professor of Art and Architectural History in 2006. She has been a Visiting Fellow at the Warburg Institute and the Paul Mellon Centre for British Art at Yale University, and a Visiting Professor in Ghent, Yale and York. In September 2016 she took up her appointment as Professor of Art History at Cambridge, and in 2017 she gave the Slade Lectures in Oxford on Piranesi’s late candelabra: ‘The Material Presence of Absent Antiquities: Collecting Excessive Objects and the Revival of the Past’.

Her main research interests are art and architectural history and theory of the eighteenth century and early nineteenth century; classical reception; the anthropology of art; Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Gottfried Semper and Aby Warburg. Recent publications include Classical Rhetoric and the Arts in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Art, Agency and Living Presence. From the Animated Image to the Excessive Object (Munich and Leiden: Walter De Gruyter/Leiden University Press, 2015); ‘Art Works that Refuse to Behave: Agency, Excess and Material Presence in Canova and Manet’, New Literary History, 46 (2015), pp. 409-34; ‘The Hôtel de Beauharnais in Paris: Egypt, Rome, and the dynamics of cultural transformation’, in: K. von Stackelberg and E. Macaulay-Lewis (eds.), Housing the Romans (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016);’The Primal Scene of Architecture: Gottfried Semper and Alfred Gell on the Origins of Art, Style and Agency’, Revue Germanique Internationale 26 (2017), and  Restoring Antiquity in a Globalizing World: Piranesi’s Late Work and the Genesis of the Empire Style(Munich: DKV, 2019).

In 2014 she received the Prix Descartes-Huygens, awarded by the Académie des Sciences, the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres in France and the Dutch Royal Academy of Sciences; in 2015 she was made a Chevalier of the Ordre National du Mérite, and in the same year she received the Grand Prix du Rayonnement de la Littérature et Culture Françaises, awarded by the Académie Française. In 2016 she received a honorary doctorate from the University of Neuchâtel.

Piranesi Semper Warburg: Three Views on the Trajectories of Architecture through Time

At first sight Piranesi, Semper and Warburg have nothing to do with each other. Semper hardly, if ever, mentioned Piranesi. In Warburg’s vast collections of images there was no etching by Piranesi; nor was his interest in Semper very extensive. Yet when looking a little longer, it turns out they do have much in common, and their shared interests have much to say, in my view, about the present state, or predicament, of architectural history. Put in the most brief terms, what they have in common are their attempts to think, or in the case of Piranesi, to figure, the history of buildings, artefacts and images as a trajectory of objects through time. In that sense they all break with the dominant mode of doing history in their times, which is to produce narratives that connect events, actions and the lives of persons.

Their shared rejection of historical narrative as the main vehicle of historcal enquiry led to the development of three new approaches to the history of images, of architecture, and of artefacts in general, that are object-based, and focus on understanding the trajectories of artefacts through time and space, whether they are buildings, tapestries, or objects that carry images, with all the loops, returns, exiles and dead ends of these trajectories. In that respect, as I hope to show here, they have much to tell us today, now that there appears an increasing divide between architectural history, mainly practised by architects and other designers on side, and art history and other artefactual disciplines, such as archaeology or anthropology or heritage studies on the other.