Reconciling Poetics and Ethics in Architecture




A Cabinet of Curious Things Including: a box, a book, a pair of eyes, a suit, a plant, a nipple, a panorama, a cake, and one large nose. Slightly Revised Edition

Exhibition of the History & Theory of Architecture Graduate Studio 2007 of the post-professional MArch program.

August 27 to September 15, 2007
Room 114 (Exhibition Room), Macdonald-Harrington Building
Monday to Friday, 9h00-17:00
Vernissage: Thursday, September 13, 19h30-21h00

70 Architects

Organized to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the History and Theory of Architecture Master’s and Doctoral program at McGill University, the exhibition will feature the work of 70 Canadian and international architects.

September 20 to October 21, 2007
Design Centre, Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)
Centre de design, 1440 rue Sanguinet
Vernissage: Wednesday, September 19, 2007, 18h00

Drawing from Ideas, Building from Books: Architectural Treatises in the McGill University Library
Curated by Jennifer Carter and Yelda Nasifoglu

September 1 to November 30, 2007
McLennan Library Building Lobby
McGill University

In Book 1 of De Architectura Libri Decem (published C. 20 B.C.E.), the Roman Augustan architect and engineer, Marcus Vitruvius Pollio (active 1st century B.C.E.), wrote that there are three domains of architecture: 1. The art of building; 2. the making of timepieces; 3. the construction of machinery. In his time, the figure of the architect was necessarily well-versed in a wide number of subjects that have, in the modern world, become specialized disciplines unto themselves, and it is therefore not surprising to learn that the topics under the classical architect’s purview ranged from a thoughtful meditation on the education of the architect to the selection of a healthy site, from a consideration of the role of the elements and constellations to the properties of materials and their uses, from how to design the well-proportioned ornament to how to construct time-pieces, hydraulics, and instruments of war.

For centuries, Vitruvius’ Ten Books of Architecture provided builders, historians, and theoreticians with the only extant texts on architecture from classical antiquity. The holistic range of subjects that this first historian and theoretician of architecture addressed remained at the core of architectural thinking and discourse when writers such as Leon Battista Alberti (De re aedificatoria, 1452, first printed in 1485), Francesco di Giorgio (Trattato di architettura, c. 1470, unpublished), and Sebastiano Serlio (Architettura, 1537), produced the first generation of Renaissance treatises beginning in the mid-fifteenth century.

Drawing from Ideas, Building from Books draws together the exceptional collection of architectural treatises housed in the Division of Rare Books and Special Collections of McLennan Library, and explores some of the key ideas that these treatises articulate. Collectors and patrons of the McGill University Libraries have generously donated many of the treatises on display, notably those in the Blackader-Lauterman Collection of Rare Books, housed in the Rare Books and Special Collections Division. Architectural treatises from the Renaissance to the 18th century are at the core of the Blackader-Lauterman Collection, which includes several early sixteenth-century editions of Vitruvius, as well as treatises by Alberti, Serlio, Palladio, Scamozzi, Vignola, du Cerceau, Blondel, Perrault, and Ledoux. Created in memory of the late Canadian architect Captain Gordon Home Blackader (McGill, B.Arch, 1906) and Montreal sculptress Dinah Lauterman, this renowned collection owes its existence to two private endowments established shortly after the First World War and in 1947 respectively, and has grown substantially by further donations and purchases to become a key component of one of the finest university-based rare book collections in Canada.

While this is ostensibly an exhibition of architectural treatises, it is also a display of how humans have imagined and configured their world over time. Thus collectively, the architectural treatises shown here are not only testaments of building philosophies and practices that have shaped the development of Western architecture for two millennia, but in a much larger sense they impart profound notions about cultural attitudes with regard to cosmology, anatomy, religion, social theory, geography, history, and politics, and as such they bear testament to major changes in social thought.

Under the separate headings of Foundations; Visionary Images and Utopian Planning; Devices of Wonder, Machines of War; and Ephemeral Architecture, this exhibition constitutes a vertical and thematic investigation of architectural praxis and theory across time, revealing insights that are not merely those of the architect, but of a larger cultural order. These treatises serve to give meaning to our actions as individuals and collectively as humans, tracing the shift from the animistic and anthropomorphic world of Vitruvius and Platonic cosmology, to the technology-driven climate of our own cultural moment. From a contemporary perspective, it is striking to note the large conception that authors have traditionally accorded the subject of architecture, and the richness and depth of ideas that these texts express as critical to the act of dwelling and making, and it is precisely for these reasons that they are being exhibited here: as a rejoinder to the urgent need for a continuing ethics and poetics in architectural practice.

Drawing from Ideas, Building from Books: Architectural Treatises in the McGill University Library has been curated by Jennifer Carter and Yelda Nasifoglu, in collaboration with the librarians of the Rare Books and Special Collections Division, to whom the curators would like to express their gratitude. The exhibition was conceived to compliment the international conference, “Reconciling Poetics and Ethics in Architecture,” hosted by the History and Theory of Architecture program in the McGill University School of Architecture, 13 – 15 September, 2007.