Learning from... Niagara Falls

Talk, in English, Paul Desmarais Theatre, 23 April 2009

Architectural historian Barbara Penner traces the evolution of Niagara Falls – from its 19th-century honeymoon tourism to its state of post-industrial kitsch to its recent rebirth as a honeymoon destination.

The photographer Alec Soth, whose work is the starting point for this lecture, compellingly portrays a ruined post-industrial landscape of love in his series Niagara (2006). The iconography of love took on architectural form in the 1960s and ‘70s, resulting in countless strip motels whose heart-shaped whirlpool baths perfectly exemplified the “heightened symbolism” that Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown saw as fundamental to pleasure-zone architecture.

Barbara Penner is a Lecturer in Architectural History at the Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. She is the author of the forthcoming Newlyweds on Tour: Honeymooning in Nineteenth-Century America (UPNE, 2009).

The Learning from… series takes its title from Learning from Las Vegas (1972), Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour’s vastly influential publication, which analysed the commercial strips and architectural symbolism of Las Vegas in order to understand urban sprawl. In this spirit, the series brings together experts to explore specific urban conditions and their relevance to the future development of cities.

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