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Rootless / Senza radici

“Studi e ricerche di storia dell'architettura”. Journal of the Italian Association of Architectural Historians. N. 16, 2025

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Published on Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Abstract

In this beautiful spring, when the Italian seas become crowded with migrants in search of a land to build on ­­– and not all of them survive – we propose to discuss the relationship between architecture and roots: whether they are understood in ideal, metaphorical terms; or in material, practical ones, referring to the complex but often original and fruitful experience of architecture made far from one’s own homeland.  

Announcement

Studi e ricerche di storia dell’architettura Journal

Studi e ricerche di storia dell’architettura is the open-access journal of the Italian Association of Architectural Historians (AISTARCH). Founded in 2017, SRSA publishes biannual issues, it is indexed in ERIH PLUS and recognized as a “Classe A” journal by ANVUR (http://www.aistarch.org/rivista.php). Official languages are Italian and English, but in exceptional cases we also accept papers written in other major European languages.

SRSA welcomes contributions that deal with the history of architecture in the broadest terms, without chronological or geographical limitations. We are looking for essays dedicated to projects and processes of construction – but also of use, reuse, and transformation – of spaces, buildings, and entire urban complexes, whether made of stone or paper, real or merely imagined, as long as they are investigated in their historical dimension, with critical awareness and concern for the peculiarities of each context. Case studies are welcome, especially if aimed at discussing methodological or historiographical issues, in a perspective open to comparison and cross-disciplinary exchange. Priority will be given to manuscripts marked by originality, a problem-oriented approach and that offer food for thought that goes beyond academic boundaries and raises questions that challenge us not only as researchers but also, and above all, as citizens of the world.

Argument

In this beautiful spring, when the Italian seas become crowded with migrants in search of a land to build on ­­– and not all of them survive – we propose to discuss the relationship between architecture and roots: whether they are understood in ideal, metaphorical terms; or in material, practical ones, referring to the complex but often original and fruitful experience of architecture made far from one’s own homeland.  

Here are a few hints that can be freely developed :

  1. Ever since history of architecture developed into a recognisable field of study, the idea that architectural traditions are conditioned by local issues has been widely accepted. Indeed, the fact that building cultures are at least partly influenced by environmental factors – natural, physical, no less than social, political, economic – is rather self-evident. In this respect, architecture defines a field of activity (and a language) that is deeply rooted in a specific context, and therefore difficult to export: the resounding failure of Bernini’s trip to France seems to be a vivid reminder of this. Yet we know that ideas do circulate, and that even architectural artefacts can sometimes become ‘portable’, with consequences that have been described as potentially explosive for the contexts affected by such transfers (Payne 2013). But isn’t it true that the mobility of people and their knowledge is a factor of renewal no less explosive than the portability of buildings and their representations?
  2. The fact is that, since the time of Apollodorus of Damascus, there has been a proliferation of rootlessarchitects and builders: masters who made their fortunes far from their homeland, coming to terms with building practices, tastes, and functional needs very different from their own. The examples are countless: among others, the magistri comacini and the Italian Renaissance masters called to the other side of the Alps, the Ticinese architects working in St. Petersburg and the many Europeans who emigrated to America at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries (Ottenheym 2014; Medvedkova 2017). We are thus confronted with an apparent paradox: traditional building cultures tend to see themselves as the fruit of alleged local identities, yet it often happens that foreigners, trained elsewhere, play a leading role within them precisely because of their alien – and as such highly valued – know-how. But is this really a paradox, or do we have here a proof of the composite nature of local cultures? What is certain is that the issue raises many questions: how has the experience of rootlessness been dealt with over the centuries by architects settling in a world other than their own? How did their country-born colleagues perceive their foreignness in the local context? How – and through what mediation – did the craftsmen called upon to translate their ideas into practice assimilate and reinterpret their proposals? All of these issues involve problems of architectural language, labor relations, construction techniques, but also questions of patronage, professional status and, more generally, social customs. 
  1. Although it is always dangerous to generalise, some features associated with the experience of rootlessness seem to recur: among them is the need for the rootless to adapt to the world in which they move, which involves understanding it, learning its language, assimilating its customs, at least in part. These undertakings are not without consequences. If it is true that those who speak only their own language know none, it is not surprising that the rootless – by necessity polyglots – are often among the brightest and most aware interpreters of the culture of their time (Burke 2017). Of course, some distinctions should be made. The case of expatriates who left their homeland of their own free will to seek their fortune abroad is very different from that of refugees who were forced into exile under threat of death: thus, in the last century, the architects of colonialism, on the one hand, and the racially or politically persecuted, on the other, seem to embody rather opposite living (and working) conditions. Even centuries earlier, however, an architect like Aristotele Fioravanti, forced by his achievements in Russia never to return to his homeland, had little in common with a Domenico Fontana, who – although working in contexts and climates quite different from those of his youth – would probably have found it difficult to recognise himself as rootless. Is it legitimate to assume that the fashioning of individual identities can be reflected in the work of an architect, or a generation of architects? To what extent can biographical experience become the key to understanding an architectural work? Is it possible – as it has been done in other fields of study such as art history or literature (Rella 2004; Tatti 2021) – to trace the outlines of an architecture of exile, or of nostalgia?
  1. The paths of people who move from place to place are often more difficult to trace than those of people who are born, live and die in the shadow of a single bell tower; and perhaps this is why the former are often overlooked as eccentric compared to the latter. But is this impression of eccentricity due to the actual oddness of such paths, or rather to the limitations of ourcultural geographies, which are often determined by the accessibility of archives, the affiliation of researchers to a particular university, their dependence on this or that source of funding? In fact, we know that there is nothing random about the paths of those who leave their country: they follow routes that have already been mapped out, relying on networks of relationships and exchanges that have been tried and tested, sometimes repeated from generation to generation. Cultural systems – like cities – are porous and interdependent structures: the dynamism of the rootless invites us to study them as such, considering the connective tissue that radiates from each centre to many peripheries and vice versa (Castelnuovo - Ginzburg 2019). How did the magistri comacini choose their destinations? What made Domenico Trezzini move to Denmark and later come into contact with Peter the Great? Was it only the call of Taliesin that made Paolo Soleri leave Italy? What influence do family, “national”, ethnic or political solidarities have on the steps of architects on their way to leave their country? What is the role of international competition between patrons, who are often very concerned about the undertakings of their rivals and ready to do anything to emulate them? 
  1. From a certain point of view, the relationship between the architectural sphere and the female half of the world, at least before the French Revolution, was also marked by a peculiar form of rootlessness: that of leaving the paternal household to settle under someone else’s roof. In fact, it was only when they married or became nuns that women acquired the status (and the income) to pursue patronage projects that were occasionally no less ambitious than those of their husbands. Sometimes this estrangement from the family of origin meant changing town, country, language, and habits: this was particularly true for princesses of sovereign rank, who were by definition foreigners in the countries they ruled alongside their husbands (Frommel - Dumas 2013; Chatenet - De Jonge 2014). Is it a coincidence that many of these princesses, while pursuing their own patronage projects, played a crucial role as cultural mediators, importing from abroad customs, ideas, and solutions hitherto unknown in their adopted countries and thus contributing (often more than their spouses, who were tied to the tradition in which they were born) to the renewal of their architectural tastes? Is it possible to observe the effects of similar trends at other social levels?
  1. Perhaps the period in which the rootless metaphor seems less appropriate to describe the work of architects and clients who move between two or more countries is precisely the one in which we live: for a European architect to build in Japan, and vice versa for a Japanese to design in Europe, it is no longer (or much less so than in the past) a matter of cultural displacement. When did this new and somewhat unprecedented constellation emerge? To what extent have the slogans of the International Style contributed to it, and how far has the globalisation of labor relations, brought about by the World Wide Web, been the real turning point in this story? What is certain is that the de-localisation of architectural languages and practices has not eliminated the difficulty of building without roots, but has shifted it to different layers than in the past (Lozanovska 2016; Lozanovska 2019). These include the conflict between imported models and traditional lifestyles; the rapid obsolescence – both in material and functional terms – of buildings that have never really been assimilated into the local culture; the exploitation of more or less forced labor on large multiethnic construction sites, such as those for the World Cup stadiums in Qatar, which have been hit by a dramatic number of work-related deaths. Indeed, today the rhetoric of rootlessness has certainly not abandoned the imagery of contemporary art and architecture: Stranieri Ovunque/Foreigners Everywhere is the title of the last Venice Biennale, which – according to its curator Adriano Perosa – is dedicated to the multiform, pervasive, irredeemable condition of estrangement that represents one of the most typical consequences of the crisis of Western modernity (Stranieri Ovunque 2024). It is another declination of our topic, more emotional and existential; but, after all, architecture seems to be made up of these facets too.

Editor in chief

Marco Folin, Università di Genova, Full professor in History of Architecture

Terms and deadlines

Authors are invited to submit an abstract (max 1,000 words/7,000 characters) together with a concise bibliography, 5 keywords and a short CV to direzione.srsa@gmail.com 

before June 16, 2024.

Please indicate in the subject line: Call 16 - Rootless.

If the proposal is accepted, the author will be asked to write a text of 20,000-50,000 characters (3,000-7,500 words), including spaces and footnotes, accompanied by 10-12 images, carefully following the journal’s guidelines.

The texts will be double-blind peer-reviewed and the final decision on each publication will be made by the Editor-in-Chief, who may also seek the advice of other experts.

  • Deadline for abstract submission: June 16, 2024 
  • Notification of abstract acceptance or refusal: June 23, 2024 
  • Deadline for paper submission: October 16, 2024

Bibliography

  • P. Burke, Exiles and expatriates in the history of knowledge, 1500-2000, Waltham Ma, Brandeis University Press, 2017
  • E. Castelnuovo - C. Ginzburg, Centro e periferia nella storia dell’arte italiana, Milano, Officina libraria, 2019  [1979]
  • M. Chatenet - K. De Jonge eds., Le prince, la princesse et leurs logisManières d’habiter dans l’élite aristocratique européenne, 1400-1700, Paris, Picard, 2014
  • S. Frommel - J. Dumas eds., Bâtir au féminin? Traditions et stratégies en Europe et dans l’Empire ottoman, Paris, Picard, 2013
  • M. Lozanovska ed., Ethno-Architecture and the Politics of Migration, New York, Routledge, 2016
  • M. Lozanovska, Migrant housingArchitecture, dwelling, migration, New York, Routledge, 2019 
  • O. Medvedkova, Les Européens, ces architectes qui ont bâti l’Europe (1450-1950), Bruxelles, Peter Lang, 2017
  • K. Ottenheym ed., Architects without bordersMigration of architects and architectural ideas in Europe, 1400-1700, Mantova, Il Rio Arte, 2014
  • A. Payne ed., Dalmatia and the Mediterranean. Portable Archaeology and the Poetics of Influence, Leiden-Boston, Brill, 2013
  • F. Rella, Dall’esilioLa creazione artistica come testimonianza, Milano, Feltrinelli, 2004
  • Stranieri Ovunque: Biennale arte 2024, Venezia, La Biennale di Venezia, 2024
  • S. Tatti, Esuli: scrittori e scrittrici dall’antichità a oggi, Roma, Carocci, 2021

Date(s)

  • Sunday, June 16, 2024

Keywords

  • architectural history, urban history, exile

Information source

  • Marco Folin
    courriel : direzione [dot] srsa [at] gmail [dot] com

License

CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Rootless / Senza radici », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Wednesday, May 22, 2024, https://doi.org/10.58079/11pe0

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