Brown Bag Lecture
'In the Alpine Laboratory"


Sep
13
2011

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  • Host Department: Institute for the Humanities
  • Date: 09/13/2011
  • Time: 12:30PM - 2:00PM

  • Location: 202 S. Thayer St, Room 1022, Ann Arbor, MI

  • Description: What compelled French architect, theorist and enthusiastic mountaineer Eugène Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc to write an exhaustive text on the geological formation of Mont Blanc in 1876? What would inspire a restoration architect to consider, in excruciatingly tedious detail, the natural creation of glaciers and moraines? In the opening paragraphs of the book, Viollet reveals that being on the slopes of Mont Blanc is like being in a laboratory in which one can observe the “gigantic operations” of the natural world. Viollet’s text is one of the earliest examples of the use of the laboratory paradigm in architectural discourse, and this lecture will examine the operations of this paradigm in Viollet’s experimental theories.
    These ruminations on Viollet’s work in the alpine laboratory are the establishing shot for Amy Catania Kulper’s book, Immanent Natures: The Laboratory as Paradigm for Architecture’s Experimental Practices. Central to her research is the concept of ‘immanent natures’ – a compensatory process of representation that seeks to identify the various manifestations of metaphysics, and its transcendental categories, within the immediacy of the scientific paradigm. Thus, as an opening salvo, Viollet’s alpine laboratory establishes a number of themes for the book. It raises questions of boundaries, both literal and figurative, from the contested geopolitical territory of Mont Blanc to the disputed limits of disciplinary knowledge. It elucidates the human appropriation of the natural world’s generative capacities, examining the scientific conceit of ex nihilo creation and the modern cosmogonies it propagated. It is a locus that captures the elision of human history and natural history, and mimics their operations as formalized experiences and incrementalized natural processes that together fuel modern architectural production.
    In Viollet’s alpine laboratory, we witness the reckoning of the emancipated knowledge of the scientist with the practical wisdom of the architect.

    Amy Catania Kulper is an assistant professor of architecture at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning. For the 2010-2011 academic year, she was the Steelcase Research professor at the University’s Humanities Institute where she was working on the manuscript for a book titled Immanent Natures: The Laboratory as Paradigm for Architecture’s Experimental Practices. Amy serves on the editorial board for the Journal of Architectural Education, where she is the Design Editor designate. Her publications have appeared as chapters in Experiments: Architecture Between Sciences and the Arts edited by Ákos Morávansky and Albert Kirchengast; Intimate Metropolis: Urban Subjects in the Modern City edited by Diana Periton and Vittoria di Palma; and Visions of the Industrial Age: Modernity and the Anxiety of Representation in European Culture, 1830-1914, edited by Amy Woodson-Boulton and Minsoo Kang. Her articles appear in Journal of Architecture and Candide: Journal of Architectural Knowledge, and Field: Journal for Architecture. Amy is a three-time recipient of the Donna M. Salzer Award for teaching excellence at the University of Michigan. Her current research explores the conceptualization of the natural world in the context of a discipline whose divided institutional legacy frames the natural either as an applied science or a fine art. Her questions are lodged in this artificial distinction, and emanate from a desire to craft alternative narratives for the influences of science and scientism on architectural discourse.