MAS Context Fall Talks 2023

John Szot: Roman Mixtapes

September 26, 2023 at 6PM

Lecture by New York City- and Portland-based architect John Szot with a response by Jonathan Solomon. The lecture took place at the Society of Architectural Historians.


“We ought in some sort to imitate the bees; and just as they in their wanderings to and fro, sip the flowers, then arrange their spoil and distribute it among the combs, and transform the juices into a single flavor...”
—Macrobius c. 400 (from the Latin in “Saturnalia”)

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Terme di Caracalla, Rome. © John Szot.

Consider the medieval practice of re-employing the shattered pieces of ancient Roman buildings in Christian churches: what is on the surface a practical act of recycling inevitably raises interesting questions about the nature of the result. The medieval churches of Rome are enigmatic and complex due to their mismatched columns and imperfect masonry, leading some archeologists to attribute the use of pagan building components as a deliberate tactic for reinforcing the authority of the parish via nostalgia for the past. At an experiential level, the churches hover between the immaculate portrait of space and form they imply and the disheveled reality of their mixed symbolism and oblique references. In this way, these churches are similar to music genres like hip-hop that borrow samples from other music; while they can be decoded on a piecemeal basis, they are also rich compositions, cosmopolitan, and unique in their own right.

Jonathan Solomon, architect and cofounder of Preservation Futures, served as a respondent to the talk.

This lecture was a partner program of the 2023 Chicago Architecture Biennial.

Thanks to the Society of Architectural Historians for hosting this program.

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Basilica di Santo Stefano Rotondo, Rome. © John Szot.

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Four floor plans of the Basilica di San Giorgio in Velabro (left to right): G. Fontana (1855), F. Cicconetti (c. 1860), C. Bunsen (1842). Wikipedia Commons.

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Cappella di San Zeno, Basilica di Santa Prassede (Photo by John Szot); Portrait in the Chiese di Santa Maria in Trivio (artist unknown, photo by John Szot); album cover of Three Feet High and Rising, De La Soul (Tommy Boy Records).