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Steven Lauritano, Yale University, Art History

Schinkel and Spolia: On the Circulation of Architectural Remnants

This dissertation explores the shifting attitudes toward architectural spoliation and the search for alternative spolia-inspired practices in nineteenth-century Berlin, with a special focus on the work of Karl Friedrich Schinkel.  Drawing on Schinkel’s built work, travel journals, sketchbooks and correspondence, together with material from contemporary periodicals such as the Architektoniches Skizzenbuch, the Architektonisches Album and the Allgemeine Bauzeitung, the project aims to uncover an architectural ethics of re-cycling and re-use.  With the resurgent interest in building remnants, “Überbleibsel” and “Bruchstücke”, nineteenth-century archaeologists, collectors and designers vigorously debated the proper procedures for handling these precious fragments, as well as their ideal destinations.  As this discussion progressed, it quickly became clear that the type of monumental-scale architectural spoliation admired by Schinkel on his Italian journeys was no longer tenable.  In response to the changing patterns of architectural remnant circulation, Schinkel experimented with different modes of material citation and spolia-inspired effects. 

It is my hope that a new focus on these activities might offer a means of deciphering the eclectic impulse that emerged in Schinkel’s work and that of his students.  When not dismissed outright, this architectural eclecticism of the later-nineteenth-century is typically summed-up as a paper-based process, a mingling of building components and ornamental motifs, culled from various printed volumes.  Schinkel’s spolia fascination, however, suggests an alternative genealogy, based in matter, a kind of architecture in which the façade becomes a complex framework of possible exchanges and substitutions, with the architectural remnant serving as the chief form of currency.  The more Schinkel’s project is considered in such terms, the more its historiographic dimensions come through, and this speaks to the dissertation’s overarching goal: to understand how the buildings erected under Schinkel’s guidance emerged not only as functional enclosures and objects of aesthetic appreciation, but also as experiments in an alternative historiography, as assemblies of spatialized historical quanta, through which the patterns and geometries of an historical understanding begin to acquire physical form.