MAS Context Fall Talks 2019

Joshua G. Stein and Paulette Singley

October 17, 2019 at 6PM

Lecture by architect Joshua G. Stein and architectural historian Paulette Singley moderated by Sam Jacob. The lecture took place at the Charnley-Persky House, home of the Society of Architectural Historians.


Trajan’s Hollow / How to Read Architecture

Joshua G. Stein and Paulette Singley debated the role of historical inquiry within contemporary design practice as discussed in their recent books: Trajan’s Hollow and How to Read Architecture: An Introduction to Interpreting the Built Environment respectively. Architect Sam Jacob was the respondent.

Trajan’s Column, which is one of the great monuments of Roman antiquity, has been obsessively documented over the centuries by historians and archaeologists, and admired by tourists and Romans alike. Trajan’s Hollow exposes, and renders material, qualities of the Column neglected amidst all this attention. Sparked by Piranesi’s renowned engravings of the Column and the perennial tension between classical geometry and picturesque ruin, Stein’s research traces―and ultimately reconstructs as architecture―the missing monument, one overlooked by these competing ideals. This book reconstitutes the chiseled, eroding interior of the Column and reclaims its progeny―casts and copies of the original produced over two thousand years. Charting the Column’s extraction and its reproduction networks from the marble quarries of Carrara to the plaster diaspora of Paris, Trajan’s Hollow proposes a new ethos of scanning and replication, saturating digital technologies with an expansive material awareness to amplify the projective capacity of historical inquiry.

How to Read Architecture is based on the fundamental premise that reading and interpreting architecture is something we already do, and that close observation matters. This book enhances this skill so that given an unfamiliar building, you will have the tools to understand it and to be inspired by it. Author Paulette Singley encourages you to misread, closely read, conventionally read, and unconventionally read architecture to stimulate your creative process.

This book explores three essential ways to help you understand architecture: reading a building from the outside-in, from the inside-out, and from the position of out-and-out, or formal, architecture. This book erodes boundaries between the frequently compartmentalized fields of interior design, landscape design, and building design with chapters exploring concepts of terroir, scenography, criticality, atmosphere, tectonics, inhabitation, type, form, and enclosure. Using examples and case studies that span a wide range of historical and global precedents, Singley addresses the complex interaction among the ways a building engages its context, addresses its performative exigencies, and operates as an autonomous aesthetic object.

Copies of Trajan’s Hollow and the How to Read Architecture were available for purchase thanks to the Graham Foundation bookstore.

Video shot by Ben Kolak of Scrappers Film Group.

This lecture was a partner program of the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial.

Cab partner program logo
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Colonna Trajana by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, 1748 – 1751. Public domain.