The inaugural meeting of the European Architectural History Network was held at the beautiful Portuguese city of Guimaraes between 17 and 20 June and fulfilled the organisation’s mission to create a vibrant new forum for the study of the complexity and variety of European architecture.
The conference was hosted by Jorge Correia of the University of Minho and his team of ‘sweet, cute and smiling’ student assistants. A diversity of nations (and continents) was represented among the speakers although they were united, as Antoine Picon of Harvard Graduate School of Design remarked, by their shared difficulties with the English Language. Highlights included Paolo Varela Gomes of the University of Coimbra discussing the reception of Portuguese architecture and its relationship to different forms of imperialism, New York University Professor Marvin Trachtenberg’s magisterial reading of the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence as an expression of the city’s military confidence at the beginning of the fourteenth century, and a session on “Architectures of the Suburb” jointly chaired by Andrew Ballantyne (Newcastle University) and Elizabeth McKellar (Open University) which ranged from the Palladian Veneto to contemporary Mumbai.
However, the star of the show in every imaginable way was Denise Scott Brown. Despite her advanced years she held the conference spellbound with her subverting of revisionist modernist hagiography and her insistence that the praising of the delights of autonomous architecture should be balanced with a profound respect for social needs and contexts.
Other provocative images evoked included that of the isolated Irish monastic site of Clonmacnoise as a new Jerusalem (Jenifer Ni Ghradaigh, University College Cork), an analysis of the urban space of renaissance Mantua (Janet White, University of Nevada – Las Vegas) the documenting of pioneering Czech panel costruction (Kimberley Elman Zarecor, Iowa State University) and a study of the Swedish social experiment in mid-twentieth century Vallingby (Lucy Creagh, Columbia University).
CiA staffer Eamonn Canniffe contributed a paper to the well attended session “Architecture in Nineteenth Century Photographs” chaired by Micheline Nilsen (Indiana University South Bend) which covered amateur and professional photographers and academic and tourist audiences for the then new medium. His abiding memory of the conference, though, was of Denise Scott Brown fulfilling her wish to talk to Portuguese students shaded under a tree in the garden of the Vila Flor Cultural Centre.
The next meeting will take place in Brussels in 2012. The Call For Session Proposals is here.