Architecture's Return to Surrealism (EAHN 2018)

Wouter Van Acker's picture
Call for Papers
September 30, 2017
Subject Fields: 
Architecture and Architectural History, Art, Art History & Visual Studies

Architecture’s Return to Surrealism
Session organized at the Fifth International Meeting of EAHN, National Library of Estonia, Tallinn 2018, June 13–16

The deadline for abstracts (300 words) is 30 September 2017.

Abstracts to be sent directly to the session's organizers:
Wouter Van Acker (Université Libre de Bruxelles) and Stefaan Vervoort (Ghent University)

In 1978, coinciding with the exhibition “Dada and Surrealism Reviewed” in the Hayward Gallery, Dalibor Veseley edited a double issue of Architectural Design on surrealism and architecture. The issue mined manifold connections between modernist architecture and surrealism, and it marked a penchant for surrealism among postmodern architects. It included, among others, essays by Rem Koolhaas and Bernard Tschumi referencing key ideas of Salvador Dali and the playwright and surrealist Antonin Artaud, respectively. In hindsight, such links seem ubiquitous in postmodern architecture. John Hejduk’s Masques call upon a self-proclaimed "medieval surrealism"; Aldo Rossi’s images are indebted to the metaphysical paintings of Giorgio de Chirico; designs by Oswald Mathias Ungers include René Magritte’s bowler man and doll-in-doll motif; and Peter Eisenman's work deals with psychoanalysis, automatism and the links between perception and representation.
Surprisingly, this reuptake of surrealism in 1970s and '80s architecture has seen scant attention in the historiography. While most essays in Surrealism and Architecture (2005), edited by Thomas Mical, examine how surrealist thought, critiques and techniques affected architectural practices of the modernist avant-garde, Neil Spiller’s Architecture and Surrealism (2016) maps out routes of congruence between surrealist thought and the contemporary, ‘surreal worlds' drawn up by advanced digital fabrication techniques and computer visualization. Still, surrealist tendencies in postmodern architecture warrant an inspection of their own, which accounts for the secondary nature of these tendencies with regard to modernist interplays of surrealism and architecture. As Michael Hays notes in Architecture’s Desire (2010), many of the architects above do not simply replay modernism, but they home in on its limits through an extreme reflexivity and a deep understanding of its forms, references and ideologies. Yet, what does such secondariness or lateness imply for the referential framework of surrealism in these works?
This session aims to explore how the reanimation of surrealism in architecture can be interpreted historically at this tangled, asynchronous juncture of the modern and the postmodern. It sets forth to investigate how surrealist strategies, both visual (e.g. collage, analogy, scalar play) and discursive (e.g. Jungian, Freudian or Lacanian), allowed formulating a critical project for architecture in reaction to a neoliberal economy that produces its own dreams, needs and desires. We call for contributions that explore this topic through case studies or thematic papers, focusing on the work produced by late avant-garde architects active in the 1970s and '80s.