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A history of references

The attitudes to history evident in the work of specific architects, historical and contemporary, form our focus here. We want to look back, but with a mind to the present and future, to understand how history has been used today and in history. Referencing, quoting, copying, stealing, rejecting—these are all ways of dealing with what came before us, and we’re interested in how architects take a position in relation to the past in order to produce work that’s relevant for their time.

A history of references

The attitudes to history evident in the work of specific architects, historical and contemporary, form our focus here. We want to look back, but with a mind to the present and future, to understand how history has been used today and in history. Referencing, quoting, copying, stealing, rejecting—these are all ways of dealing with what came before us, and we’re interested in how architects take a position in relation to the past in order to produce work that’s relevant for their time.

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History of Architecture and Design 1890–1939

A course by the Open University

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Between 1975 and 1982, The Open University broadcast a series of televised courses on the genealogy of the modern movement: A305, History of Architecture and Design 1890–1939. Through twenty-four programs aired on BBC 2, the course team aimed to offer students and viewers a critical understanding of the intentions and views of the world that fuelled the modern movement, and to present some of the alternative traditions that flourished alongside it. The course nevertheless avoided the more dismissive positions of its contemporaries, while engaging political issues of its day such postwar urban planning and the housing question.

Our exhibition The University Is Now on Air: Broadcasting Modern Architecture offers a close reading of A305 as a pioneering case study in the use of mass media for mass education. Over the course of the exhibition, we are revisiting the twenty-four broadcasts of the course by publishing one episode per week (more or less), to invite reflection on the timeliness of authoring new histories and what it means to disseminate these histories in an always-particular moment in time.

This week’s episode, television broadcast 4, “Industrial Architecture: AEG and Fagus Factories,” is presented by Tim Benton. It was produced by the BBC/Open University and aired 15 March 1975, on BBC2. The course guide offers this synopsis:

In television broadcast, the industrial buildings designed by Peter Behrens for the AEG (General Electrical Company of Germany) in Berlin are compared with those of the almost exactly contemporaneous Fagus shoe-last factory, designed by Walter Gropius for Karl Benscheidt, in Alfeld-an-der-Leine. Both were built just before the First World War. […] The Fagus factory is often referred to as the first really ‘modern’ building, while the AEG buildings, at first sight, appear to have a markedly classical aesthetic.

Here’s our broadcast schedule, which recreates the order originally intended by team course leader Tim Benton and primary BBC producer Nick Levinson:

17 Nov
What is Architecture? An Architect At Work
24 Nov
The Universal International Exhibition, Paris 1900
The International Exhibition of Decorative Arts, Paris 1925
1 Dec
Charles Rennie Mackintosh: Hill House
8 Dec
Industrial Architecture: AEG and Fagus Factories
15 Dec
Frank Lloyd Wright: The Robie House
R. M. Schindler: The Lovell Beach House
5 Jan
Erich Mendelsohn: The Einstein Tower
12 Jan
Adolf Loos
19 Jan
The Bauhaus at Weimar, 1919-1923
26 Jan
Berlin Siedlungen
The Weissenhof Siedlung, Stuttgart, 1927
2 Feb
Hans Scharoun
9 Feb
Le Corbusier: Villa Savoye
16 Feb
English Flats of the Thirties
English Houses of the Thirties
23 Feb
Wood or Metal? English Furniture in the Thirties
2 Mar
Edwin Lutyens: Deanery Gardens
9 Mar
The London Underground
16 Mar
Moderne and Modernistic
The Other Tradition
23 Mar
Mechanical Services in the Cinema
29 Mar
The Semi-Detached House
The Housing Question

Tune in every week through 29 March 2018 for a new instalment. The A305 television broadcasts were part of a broader body of work which included broadcasting supplements, radio programs, a radiovision booklet, anthologies, and other course materials. Visit the exhibition page of The University Is Now on Air: Broadcasting Modern Architecture to learn more about this project and the A305 course.

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