[Originally posted on 10 August 2016 – copyrighted]
25-28 JULY 2018
The fact that buildings are so strongly associated with various power holding empires, nation-states and other forms of civilization is widely recognized in the study of both the history of people and their buildings. From Pericles’s Acropolis to Niemeyer’s Brasilia, architecture has long been associated with political figures and institutions. Buildings such as the British Parliament, the Russian Kremlin, and the U.S. Capitol stand out not just as iconic architecture, but also as representative of the politics, institutions, and culture of the nation. The connection between architecture and politics is evident, yet precisely how are political concepts captured in the form and function of buildings?
A strong link between the buildings and the political philosophies of a nation-state or other ruling body is the building’s use. We know that buildings serve the establishment and maintenance of a governing body, but do they contribute to maintaining a particular ideological belief system? Or is the connection more explicit, such as a wall, literally dividing two peoples whose belief system itself remains autonomous from association with buildings?
Taking the stance that buildings hold both deterministic effect and autonomous disassociation, how do architects and politicians act? Considering the contemporary context, to what extent should architects design public structures intended to capture the social and political ethos of the people? Do architects have an obligation to address the socio-political in their work? Is this kind of moral obligation misplaced? Is it rather that the work of architects is already tacitly, inextricably part of the political process? And to what extent?
On the other hand, do rulers utilize building to achieve their political goals and ideals? Is building fundamental to realizing ideological goals or a mere part of the process? Are there styles or typologies particularly conducive to establishing and maintaining power? Is the association of contemporary democracy with classical Greek and Roman architecture appropriate or warranted? And is the style’s reverence intrinsic or learned? Could the Romanesque not equally as well serve the same purpose?
Assuming that buildings are already intrinsically enmeshed within the governing body’s authority, can a single building work against that same authority? Can a building undermine an entire regime? Some may argue that the Berlin Wall marked the end of the Communist rule over Eastern Germany, but how much weight can a building hold on the integrity of a governing body? How effective, for instance, are efforts to rebuild Iraq? Considering that American contractors are building structures programmatically and aesthetically at odds with the resident socio-political climate, the very act of building in Iraq may be taken as an offense to the Iraqi nation-state. Although not all instances of international exchange are as contentious as this one, can architecture be incompatible with particular political concepts or systems?
The intent of this interdisciplinary conference is to gather a group of philosophers, architects, urban planners, and critics to consider these questions regarding building’s service to political ideologies, governing authorities, and socio-political contexts.
The event will be held in one of the most iconic and representative projects of the International Style of 20th century modern public architecture: Walter Netsch Jr.’s United States Air Force Academy – a premier education facility – in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The conference itself will be held in the latest addition to the Academy: the new Center for Leadership and Character Development—a 45 million dollar addition designed by SOM that remains true to Netsch’s original vision. The stunning new addition breathes new life into a pristinely preserved Modernist campus, a detailed analysis of which is featured here in the Journal of the American Institute of Architects.
In addition to the conference, presenters and participants will have the opportunity to extensively tour the academy, including the well-known Academy Chapel with its four distinct worship spaces.
Full consideration will be given to all proposals (500-700 words) received by 15 January 2018; acceptances announced no later than 12 February 2018. Send your proposal as an attachment prepared for blind review to isparchitecture[at]gmail.com.