The Origins of Architecture,
Nature and Myth:
A Fraught Relationship?

University of York

Respondent: Cara Rachele, ETH Zurich

Marc-Antoine Laugier, Frontispiece to the Essai sur l’Architecture, engraving by Jean-Jacques Aliamet after a drawing by Charles-Joseph-Dominique Eisen, 1755, Cornell University Rare Book and Manuscript Collections, Ithaca (image supplied electronically by ArtStor).

Since its beginnings, constructions of architecture’s origins have played a crucial role for the discursive formation of architectural theory as a discipline and a system of thought. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this has led numerous architects, architectural theorists, and writers to explore notions of architecture’s origins in their work. One of architecture’s most prominent origin myths, which has been retrospectively canonised as the only one of its kind to survive from classical antiquity, was delivered by the Roman military engineer and architect Vitruvius in his treatise De Architectura (c. 30-15 B.C.). Vitruvius’s founding myth constructs the invention of architecture as a result of the ‘community of man’, which emerged in the wake of a kind of ‘civilising catastrophe’, represented by a raging forest fire. My paper offers a critical re-examination of architecture’s founding myths by taking Vitruvius’s myth as a starting point for my inquiry. I draw on Roland Barthes’ and Massimo Cacciari’s work on mythologies in order to interrogate the ways in which architecture’s origins have been imagined and rendered through the framework of mythical speech. Doing this allows me to explore the complexities and idiosyncrasies inherent in constructions of the origins of architecture, especially those relating to representations of nature and the ‘natural.’ My paper gives particular attention to notions of complexity and multiplicity, and the ways in which these have often been systematically glossed over or excised from discussions of the origins of architecture. I explore the complex relationships between architecture and nature in order to dislodge the theoretical hegemony of canonical representations of the origins of architecture, such as the ones articulated by Vitruvius and Leon Battista Alberti. With this paper, I hope to shed new light on the ways in which notions of the origins of architecture have been deployed to guarantee and uphold certain assumptions about architecture as a discipline.


Istanbul in the 1740s:
Architecture and Transculturation

Sapienza University of Rome

Respondent: Gül Kale, Carleton University

Nuruosmaniye Mosque (1748-1755) seen from the North. From Descrizione Topografica dello Stato Presente di Costantinopoli by Cosimo Comidas de Carbognano (Kozmas Gomidas Kömürciyan), 1794.

With the advent of the so-called Ottoman Baroque, Istanbul witnessed a unique and rapid process of renewal of its architectural idiom which completely changed the silhouette of imperial capital. Hitherto, this unprecedented phenomenon of transculturation has been insistingly interpretated as the outcome of the longstanding Franco-Ottoman relations. However, most aspects of the architectural production of the period such as the new decorative vocabulary, unique planimetric experimentations, typological inventions, etc. demonstrate a more direct relationship with the Italian cultural sphere rather than what has been pointed out till now. To complete the picture offered by the previous scholarship, this dissertation aimed to explore the genesis of the Ottoman Baroque with a brand-new attention to its ties with Italy especially at the very initial stage. The methodological approach which was adopted also differed from the previously established patterns. On one hand, the main typological novelties were questioned with particular emphasis on significant case studies pointing out at specific Western European models. On the other hand, an in-depth analysis of the single elements composing the column order (such as capitals, shafts, bases, pedestals, and entablatures) interrogated the limits and the nature of the new architectural repertoire with the objective of retracing its possible origins. The presentation at DocTalks will try to give a panorama on this peculiar field of Architectural History and Cross-cultural Studies with a quick overview of the dissertation.

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