User Comfort, Functionality, and Sustainability as (Early?) Modern Architectural Concerns

Anne-Françoise Morel's picture
Call for Papers
September 20, 2019
United Kingdom
Subject Fields: 
Architecture and Architectural History, Early Modern History and Period Studies, Environmental History / Studies, Economic History / Studies

User Comfort, Functionality and Sustainability as (Early?) Modern Architectural Concerns User comfort, functionality and sustainability are predominant concerns of contemporary architecture, related to the complex physical and sensory interaction between the user and the building. They include aspects of thermal and acoustic comfort, a healthy indoor environment, accessibility, and siting. They also depend on the choice of construction techniques and materials as well as the availability of consumable resources. Whilst these issues are studied by historians in the fields of economy, philosophy, environmental studies, and cultural studies, they remain rather unexplored in the study of early modern architecture (16th-18th C.). They even seem to exist in opposition to the cultural concepts of representation prevalent in the study of architecture before Enlightenment (DeJean, 2010).

These concepts were not yet standards, let alone clearly defined, in early modern architectural design and theory, in which domestic amenity gave priority to social status over personal comfort. Yet, they played an increasingly relevant role in a period climatologically described as the Little Ice Age (1550-1720), during which technical innovations, practical experimentation, Newtonian physics and a developing culture of sensibility shaped attitudes to material culture (Mukherjee, 2014).
The aim of the session is to investigate how concerns regarding the built and natural environment operated as catalysts for innovative technological and architectural responses, and to demonstrate the connection between the well-known notions of status and representation and the new concepts of personal comfort and convenience.

Discussing the role of these topics in the early modern architectural discourse and design can bridge the perceived gap between what is often superficially considered a practically-driven, socially conscious modern period, and its architecturally unrestrained, environmentally carefree and user-unfriendly predecessor. On the contrary, this panel will show remarkable similarities in identifying and investigating architectural solutions aimed at user convenience. Furthermore we seek to cross the disciplinary poles of the technological and scientific versus the historical and humanistic, bringing to the fore how the complex relationship between people and the environment informs the construction of equally complex architectural responses.

We invite papers dealing with architectural design, theory and regulation using a broad spectrum of archival evidence and a targeted study of the treatise tradition of this period. We encourage first-hand investigation of existing architectures with regards to building techniques, materiality, spatiality, consumables and other measurable concerns. The panel welcomes applications considering different scales, from component level (furniture, systems) over room to building level set within the urban or rural environment


Submission Guidelines are to be found on the EAHN Website:

Proposals should be send to

Contact Info: 

Giovanna Guidicini, Glasgow School of Art
Anne-Françoise Morel, KU Leuven Department of Architecture

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