On the eve of May 1968, the seemingly monolithic character of the French Communist Party (PCF), which ran the risk of appearing authoritarian or totalitarian, was aesthetically softened by the idea of architecture as a mirror. This metaphor was well suited to the dualistic, dialectical, and divided mentality of the Cold War, which gradually gave way to an internal split between the hardline cold warriors of the PCF and the vanguard, which favored a thaw and aggiornamento (updating). This Italian term refers to the Western movement to redefine the global position of Marxism and communism, which ran parallel to ecumenical efforts to reassert the global position of the Church. This lecture will examine the commissioning of Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer to design the new PCF headquarters in Paris (1965–1980), the iconic concrete-and-mirrored-glass building that came to represent this aggiornamento.
But, “Does architecture speak politically?” This was a question that architects associated with the PCF, one of the foremost Western Communist parties of the twentieth century, were determined to answer. These architects had long had high political ambitions for architecture and there seemed to be a consensus among them that architecture was a language. Whether it could have a political meaning, an ideological use, be shared and serve as a common venture within the Left was still up for discussion.
Assistant Professor Vanessa Grossman will present a preview of her forthcoming book, A Concrete Alliance: Communism and Modern Architecture in Postwar France, in relation to her broader research and work as an architect and historian who has devoted herself to teaching, writing, and curating exhibitions in institutions and venues around the world.
Vanessa Grossman is an assistant professor of architectural history and theory at the University of Pennsylvania's Stuart Weitzman School of Design. Her work explores architecture's intersections with ideology, governments, and politics, such as affordable housing and climate change, with a particular focus on global practices in Cold War-era Europe and Latin America, and a general interest in the so-called Global South. She is the author of A Concrete Alliance: Communism and Modern Architecture in Postwar France (forthcoming 2024), Le PCF a changé! Niemeyer et le siège du Parti Communiste (2013), and A arquitetura e o urbanismo revisitados pela Internacional Situacionista (2006). Other books include the co-authored Oscar Niemeyer en France. Un exil créatif (2021) and the co-edited catalogues of and books related to the exhibitions she co-curated: Constructed Geographies: Paulo Mendes da Rocha (forthcoming 2024), Everyday Matters: Contemporary Approaches to Architecture (2021), and AUA, une architecture de l'engagement, 1960–1985 (2015). She has recently been appointed Exhibition Review Editor at the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (2023–2026) and she is a member of the editorial board of Manifest: A Journal of the Americas.
AIA CES: Submitted/Pending Approval
If you require any accessibility accommodation, such as live captioning, audio description, or a sign language interpreter, please email email@example.com. Please note, we require at least five (5) business days’ notice.