Symposium explores how to ‘exhibit’ architecture

How do you “exhibit” something as large and complex as a building or a city? How do you “present” something as elusive as an architectural experience that unfolds in space and time? Museum curators, students, scholars, and practicing architects from around the world will address these questions at a Yale School of Architecture symposium in October.

“Exhibiting Architecture: A Paradox?” will explore how architecture has pushed exhibition practice, and how exhibitions have in turn shaped the discipline of architecture. The symposium will take place Thursday-Saturday, Oct. 3-5 in Hastings Hall, Paul Rudolph Hall, 180 York St.

“I often find that stories are told only through major cultural centers, such as the Museum of Modern Art,” says Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen, associate professor of architecture and the organizer of the symposium. “The shows we’re looking at are not your large survey exhibitions, but smaller and more experimental in nature, often conceived by architects for alternative spaces." 

While the main focus of the sessions will be on 20th-century developments, the symposium will also look at 19th-century foundations and 21st-century ideas about how architecture is made, experienced, and discussed. “This symposium is more about exhibitions used as a laboratory for ideas, not about pictures on a wall,” said Pelkonen.

On Oct. 3, at 6:30 p.m., architect Philippe Rahm will present the first keynote address and the annual Paul Rudolph Lecture. A second keynote lecture by Barry Bergdoll, professor of architectural history at Columbia University and former Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at MoMA, will take place on Oct. 4 at 6:30 p.m. Mirko Zardini, director of the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, will offer concluding remarks on Oct. 5. The complete program can be found on the School of Architecture’s website.

According to Pelkonen, the symposium is the midpoint in an arc that began with a course at Yale and will culminate in a book that includes student research. “It is a great opportunity for students to participate in a larger project,” said Pelkonen, “It gives them a life beyond the seminar.”

Pelkonen taught the class “Exhibiting Architecture” in 2012 with Kevin Repp, curator of modern European books and manuscripts at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. Students traced the legacy of radical architecture exhibitions throughout the 20th century. They researched primary source materials — exhibition catalogues, modern prints, letters, and posters — while conducting research on exhibition installations and concepts by radical architecture collaboratives, such as Italian Superstudio, London-based Archigram, and Finnish architect Reima Pietila [a shoudl have umlaut].

Pelkonen anticipates that the symposium will highlight the latest scholarship in the field. “A number of mini essays for the book might come out of the papers,” she said, noting that the receptions and networking events will also yield new ideas. “It’s wonderful to bring everyone together,” she added.

The deadline for registration for “Exhibiting Architecture: A Paradox?” is Friday, Sept. 27. The symposium, which is free and open to the public, is supported by the J. Irwin Miller Endowment Fund, the Paul Rudolph Lectureship Fund, and the George Morris Woodruff, Class of 1857, Memorial Lectureship Fund.