Fischer von Erlach to Banister Fletcher: Writing Islam into the World’s Architectural History
Professor of Islamic and Iranian Art and Architecture, The Courtauld Institute of Art, University of London
Focusing on Fischer von Erlach and his book Entwurf einer historischen Architektur … (Vienna 1721), this talk asks a “what if” question: what if von Erlach’s approach toward a universal history, in which peoples beyond Europe and their architectural cultures were featured, were to become the dominant narrative. The picture book and its associated texts give us a glimpse into the ways the age of rational knowledge, of Enlightenment, was in fact predicated upon that emergent discourse whereby not all cultural worlds and histories outside Europe were as marginalized as they became in the aftermath of that same age, with its virulently growing imperial, colonial and Orientalist perspectives and powers. Banister Fletcher’s (father and son) A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method precisely encapsulates the effects of those historical processes that unfolded from late eighteenth through nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries, and that produced knowledge about the world in the shadow of European supremacy. In contrast to Fletcher’s image of a unitary source of all human/architectural/cultural progress—from the Greeks to the Americans as captured in his (in)famous “Tree of Architecture,” we may have been working now with a von Erlach imaginary in which dense woods bore multiple and competitive historical trajectories. Where then would the peoples of Islam, and their architectural cultures fit in these altered models of history?
Sussan Babaie is Professor of Islamic and Iranian Arts at The Courtauld, University of London. A Safavid specialist, with a wider interest in trans-Asian art (from Aleppo to Isfahan to Beijing), Sussan’s publications have explored architecture and urbanity, visual representations of sexuality, sensory experiences of things and spaces, and notions of transculturality. A trained graphic designer, she also writes on modern and contemporary Iranian arts with a view towards the role of history. Among her publications are Isfahan and Its Palaces: Statecraft, Shi‘ism and the Architecture of Conviviality in Early Modern Iran (2008, PB 2018), and several co-authored books and articles including Slaves of the Shah: New Elites of Safavid Iran (2004, PB 2017), and with Talinn Grigor, of Persian Kingship and Architecture: Strategies of Power in Iran from the Achaemenids to the Pahlavis (2014). Sussan was President of the Historians of Islamic Art Association (2017-19) and is the incoming President (2022-24) of the Association for the Study of Persianate Societies.
Spaceship in the Desert
Assistant Professor in Anthropology, Director of Undergraduate Studies, Rice University
In 2006, Abu Dhabi launched an ambitious project to construct the world’s first “zero-carbon” city: Masdar City. This talk investigates the construction of renewable energy and clean technology infrastructures in oil-rich Abu Dhabi, as the era of abundant oil supplies slowly comes to an end. It explores the production of Masdar City in Abu Dhabi, and shows how the Masdar City project was instrumental for economic diversification in the United Arab Emirates, helping generate a “green” brand image. At the same time, it demonstrates how the renewable energy and clean technology infrastructures of Masdar City fueled an aspiration for the manageability of ecological problems, where business models and design solutions would contain and resolve climate change and energy scarcity without surrendering hope for increasing productivity and technological complexity. By focusing on iconic renewable energy and clean technology initiatives, this talk responds to the debates on whether Masdar City and its multiple infrastructures were successes or failures, and examines the potential of evolving projects.
Gökçe Günel is Assistant Professor in Anthropology at Rice University. Her latest book Spaceship in the Desert: Energy, Climate Change and Urban Design in Abu Dhabi (Duke University Press, 2019) focuses on the construction of renewable energy and clean technology infrastructures in the United Arab Emirates, more specifically concentrating on the Masdar City project. Dr. Günel finished her PhD in Anthropology at Cornell, and held positions at the University of Arizona and Columbia University. Her articles have been published in a wide-range of journals including Engineering Studies, Public Culture, Anthropological Quarterly, Avery Review, PoLAR, Log, e-flux, and South Atlantic Quarterly. In collaboration with Saiba Varma and Chika Watanabe, Dr. Günel co-authored "A Manifesto for Patchwork Ethnography” (2020).