Call for papers – Architecture and Clothing. Anthropological Perspectives, from Semper to Rudofsky


“The beginnings of architecture coincide with the beginnings of textiles”, Gottfried Semper wrote in Der Stil (1860-1863): he considered the woven walls of the tent, which enclose a space and at the same time dress it, to be the original form of human habitat, and “dressing” (Bekleidung), as the first principle of architecture, before construction. Far from being limited to a function of protection, concealment or even decoration, dressing as Semper sees it brings together clothing and architecture, based on a common need to clothe and “mask”, i.e. a desire to deny reality and materiality in order to achieve a new dimension of existence, which obeys laws of theatricality and suggestion. This commonality of functions, he suggests, is verified by the shared etymology of the terms “Wand” (wall) and “Gewand” (garment).

Although Semper’s theses on the common origin of clothing and architecture have been the subject of renewed interest in the field of architectural and decorative theory for several decades, they have received little attention in the historiography of fashion and clothing. Yet their very content calls for an interdisciplinary dialogue: born in the second half of the 19th century, in a new field of research at the crossroads of art history and anthropology, Semper’s theories set the study of architecture and clothing in the context of a wider, even global, history of art, which was challenging traditional hierarchies and opening up to different techniques and materials as well as to new cultural horizons. The “Architecture and Clothing” conference plans to follow those suggestions.

The current revival of Semper’s reflections on the links between clothing and architecture calls for a reappraisal of their historiographic and theoretical context: the second half of the 19th century, when the connections between textiles and architecture were given unprecedented importance in the numerous “ornamental grammars” published at the time, which were no less interdisciplinary and inventive in their methodologies. Within that vast new field, the works of Owen Jones, Alois Riegl and Jules Bourgoin sought to establish the logical rules of a universal aesthetic, common to all media. Based on the hypothesis of a “Kunstwollen” (Riegl) or a “desire for ornament” (Jones) common to the whole human race, they addressed the issues of weaving, adornment and tattooing, as well as architectural ornamentation, yet did not include clothing as such, a paradox that begs explanation. Beyond the question of ornament, there is more to connect clothing and architecture: the philosopher of technology Ernst Kapp defined clothing as “a portable dwelling”, and echoes of that analogical intuition can be found in the work of Bernard Rudofsky, a specialist in vernacular architecture and author of groundbreaking works on the evolutionary logic of modern clothing, centred on the issue of its ergonomics (Are Clothes Modern? An Essay on Contemporary Apparel, 1947).

Such interdisciplinary dialogues, from Semper to Rudofsky, bringing together clothing and architecture in the perspective of an anthropological history of art, will be at the centre of our one-day conference.

Suggested avenues of study include the following:

  • Ornament and decoration

What role does clothing play in architectural debates on ornament (and vice versa)? How does the anthropological perspective influence these debates? How do analogies or genealogical relationships between clothing and architecture contribute to rethinking ornamentality in both fields? 

  • Dressing

How should we think about the relationship between clothing and dressing? What is architecture-as-clothing? How is the clothing metaphor used in architectural debates? Under what conditions may the concept of dressing be used in the theory of fashion and clothing? 

  • Space 

What new thoughts about space emerge when clothing and architecture come together? How can a garment define a space? How does it foster new relationships between quantifiable space, lived space and suggested space? 

  • Envelopes

How can we think about the relationship between the individual envelope of clothing and the collective envelope of architecture? What different relationships between the interior and exterior can be observed in both cases? How do the functions of separation and protection vary?

  • Habitat

How are clothing (“habit”), habitus and dwelling (“habitat”) related? What can architectural theories of ‘inhabitation’ such as Bachelard’s contribute to the theory of clothing? How does the question of habitability play out in the intersecting fields of clothing and architecture?

The conference is open to all disciplines. Although the historical perspective will focus on the 19th and 20th centuries, proposals relating to other periods may of course be submitted.

It will be held on 2 February 2022 in situ on Campus Condorcet or remotely, depending on current health regulations. Paper proposals should include a title and abstract (c. 250 words, in French or English), a brief bio-bibliography and contact information. They should be sent before 15 September 2021 to the following address: sartoria.contact@gmail.com 

The organising committee will respond to proposals during the first half of October 2021. Financial support may be offered to participants to cover travel and accommodation costs where possible.

Organising committee, under the scientific committee of Campus Condorcet: Camille Napolitano (École pratique des hautes études ED-472, Histara EA-7347), and the Sartoria association: Émilie Hammen (Institut Français de la Mode), Adrian Kammarti, Camille Kovalevsky, Khémaïs Ben Lakhdar Rezgui (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne ED-441, HiCSA EA-4100, Institut Français de la Mode), Gabrielle Smith (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne ED-441, HiCSA EA-4100, Institut Français de la Mode, École du Louvre).

The event is supported by Campus Condorcet.

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