Porsenna's tomb is a monstrous, incommensurable object of wonder that haunted the Western architectural imaginary from the Renaissance to the Enlightenment. Against the backdrop of architecture's interaction with archaeology, this lecture treats various reconstitutions of the fabled Etruscan royal monument. The cryptic description left us by Pliny the Elder (after Varro) prompted architects from Antonio da Sangallo the Younger to Jean-Jacques Lequeu to evoke an impossibly colossal structure premised on the repetitive logic of stacked geometric elements.
To take Pliny at his word was to confront the engineering of something that contradicted the Vitruvian mantra of solidity, utility, and beauty. It is arguably with the visionary architects of the late 18th century—and, especially, Étienne-Louis Boullée and his students—that this contradiction found its most emblematic expression. Erika Naginski, professor of architectural history, speculates on why this might have been so, that is, on how it came to be that this ancient megalomaniacal architecture resurfaced in the context of absolutism's demise.
This event is co-organized by the Harvard University Committee on the Arts, the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and the Harvard University Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Opening Remarks by: Drew Faust President of Harvard University Lincoln Professor of History Introduction by: Mohsen Mostafavi Dean and Alexander and Victoria Wiley Professor of Design Presentations by: Robin Kelsey, “Camera Angle: Revisiting Maya Lin’s Vietnam Veterans” Dean of Arts and Humanities Faculty of Arts and Sciences and Shirley Carter Burden Professor of Photography, Harvard University Sarah Lewis, “The Future Perfect: Race and Monuments in the United States” Assistant Professor of History of Art and Architecture and African and African American Studies, Harvard University Jennifer Roberts, “Trying to Remember” Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Professor of the Humanities , Harvard University Krzysztof Wodiczko, “Let the Monument Speak” Professor in Residence, Art, Design & the Public Domain, Harvard University Graduate School of Design Following their presentations, participants will engage in a panel discussion and will be joined by: Homi K. Bhabha Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities in the Department of English, the Director of the Humanities Center and the Senior Advisor on the Humanities to the President and Provost at Harvard University Erika Naginski Professor of Architectural History and Director of Doctoral Programs, Harvard University Graduate School of Design
In the five hundred years since the publication of Thomas More’s Of A Republic’s Best State and of the New Island of Utopia (1516), the project of imagining an ideal society has emerged as simultaneously regenerative and devastating on multiple fronts: for the concept of the polity, for the composition of social fabrics, and, most relevant from the vantage of the design disciplines, for the formation of buildings, cities, and territories. This year’s Cambridge Talks, now in its tenth edition, aims to provide a spectrum of exemplary instances of utopia’s modern guise.
In the main conference panels, we bring together speakers to address the rivalry between those utopian endeavors that organize space mainly through social relations and production, and those whose expansive impulse searches out some form of technical mastery over spatial configuration. In other words, utopia can be understood as either embodied or totalizing, bound or unbound. By taking examples from the 19th and 20th centuries, the case studies presented here—from communes and plantations to infrastructural projects and global ecologies—exhibit various attempts to imagine social conditions alongside spatial ones. A concluding discussion will touch upon the philosophical and theoretical ramifications of utopia today.
April 14, 3 PM – 6 PM
Ana Miljački, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Sonja Dümpelmann, Harvard University
April 15, 9 AM – 5 PM
Panel 1: Embodied Utopia
Luis Casteñeda, Syracuse University
Joyce Chaplin, Harvard University
Erika Naginski, Harvard University
Respondent: Catherine Ingraham, Pratt Institute
Panel 2: Total Utopia
Daniel Barber, University of Pennsylvania
Sara Pritchard, Cornell Univesity
Abby Spinak, Charles Warren Center, Harvard University
Respondent: John May, Harvard University
Damian White, Rhode Island School of Design
Discussants: K. Michael Hays and Neil Brenner, Harvard University
NOW? is an occasional series of conversations about ideas, images, words, things, drawings, places, designs. NOW? is also a specific temporal moment--of thought and action--caught between the present and possible futures.
James Sloss Ackerman is the doyen of the international community of historians of Renaissance architecture. He is one of the scholars to have created the modern history of architecture, founded on a systematic approach and making use of a critical examination of all written and visual sources. His work has had a considerable influence on both historians of architecture and architects themselves. In his field, he has written two of the most important monographs of the century that has just closed, dedicated to Michelangelo and Andrea Palladio.
Erika Naginski is Associate Professor of Architectural History. She is a historian of European art and architecture (17th to 19th centuries) whose research interests focus on Enlightenment aesthetics, theories of public space, cultural memory and historic preservation, and the critical traditions of art history.
Mohsen Mostafavi, an architect and educator, is the Dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Design and the Alexander and Victoria Wiley Professor of Design.