The Berlage

Session Room K

The Emperor’s New Clothes

Laila Seewang

In 1871 Berlin became the capital of a unified Germany with the Prussian king becoming emperor of the new country. In the economic boom that followed, Berlin and its citizens would emerge from barbarity to civilization thanks to a scientific-technological transformation of the city. The physical work to produce a modern capital was visible to all: infrastructures inserted into and above the streets, new institutions and new architecture turned Berlin into a building site that lasted over two decades and resulted in a completely reformed streetscape by the turn of the century. The cultural work to produce a public citizen was less visible: a project undertaken by scientific investigations into public hygiene that spilled out into popular journals and daily practices. Dirty clothing was stripped away and façade embellishments were banished in order that these objects could be redressed in the invisible cloak of cleanliness, purity, and truth that merged scientific with moral narratives. But beyond their ontological reshaping, the street and the body were sites of identity transformation, emerging from their social entanglements to strive towards standardization. This talk will look at three technologies that make visible the process of making streets into The Street and people into bodies.

Laila Seewang is an architect and PhD candidate at the Institute for History and Theory of Architecture at the ETH, Zürich whose research centers on the role played by infrastructural projects in reflecting the political, social and economic forces that drive urban change.As an architect with an independent practice she has built a range of small projects built in the USA and Australia, and has previously worked for I.M.Pei in New York City and the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction in Zürich. She has taught at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, Cornell University, The Cooper Union, GSAPP Columbia University, and Princeton University. Her scholarly work has been published in Learning from Single Story Urbanism by Lars Muller, The New York Times, Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology and AA Files.   

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