21 September 2021

Renaissance Dreamgirl: Excavating Polia From the Fragmented Landscape of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499)

McGill University

Respondent: Cara Rachele (ETH Zurich)

An obsession with the authority of ancient voices— imagined as echoes travelling through time and space by way of architectural, artistic, and literary fragments— is pervasive in the architectural discourse of the Early Modern period. My talk will focus on the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, an incunabula printed in Venice in 1499 and a paragon of this fascination. The book is structured in two parts; the first is narrated by Poliphilo, who falls asleep inside of a dream and finds himself immersed in a baroque landscape of fragmented ruins. The plot follows his search for Polia whose feminine, first-person voice fills the second book. Poliphilo’s encounters with the ruins [and Polia] are situated as a sequence of increasingly ordered terrestrial conditions that juxtapose disordered human experience with an idealized and unchanging celestial order. The male body and female voice are positioned as interlocutors between chaos and order; the ability to garner knowledge from the ancients vis-à-vis the ruined landscape positions each character as an architect over their built [dream] world.

In this talk, I consider the bricolage of architectural elements in the HP as excavation sites. The fragmented textual and visual languages of the work are mined for clues about the transmutative, philosophical, and practical powers of ruins as they were understood in relation to the violent act of ordering the world in this era. I focus primarily on the spatial constraints of Polia whose visceral and affective presence exerts great agency over both architecture and the male body throughout the text. I argue that her character functions as a metaphor for the presumed authority of the increasingly distant ancients (so too, influential but physically absent from ruined artefacts).

* * *

“Ada Louise Huxtable, Special to the New York Times.” Reporting on Architecture for Leisure From the East, 1965-1969

Politecnico di Torino

Respondent: Damjan Kokalevski (TU Munich)

The proposed paper expands on the journalistic impressions on the forms of architecture for leisure that North American architecture critic Ada Louise Huxtable experienced and disseminated after a series of investigative journeys to the Middle East and beyond the Iron Curtain in the late Sixties. Besides observing the forms and content of her New York Times communications, the text questions the implications of her perspective as an “architecturally-aware tourist” and a “touring architecture critic” writing for one of the most influential newspapers, reading these frequently light-hearted accounts as sites of mediation within the geopolitical framework of the Cold War.
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