Past Event

[POSTPONED] Collins/Kaufmann Forum: Vanessa Grossman, "Does Architecture Speak Politically? Party Headquarters and Aggiornamento in Paris"

May 2, 2024
6:30 PM - 8:00 PM
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930 Schermerhorn Hall

This event has been postponed.

In June 1980, when the second phase of the construction of the national headquarters of the French Communist Party (PCF) in Paris was completed, the concrete domed roof of the conference room was inaugurated. In attendance were prominent communist leaders and Oscar Niemeyer himself, the building’s architect, who had flown to the French capital for the occasion from a fading Cold War dictatorship in Brazil. The roof was the missing piece: the bulge that helped outline the hammer-and-sickle insignia. The latter was suggested in Niemeyer’s very first sketches of the plan and later confirmed by many, including the communist photographer and art and architecture critic Pierre Joly, who titled an article dedicated to the building in the magazine L’Œil in 1973: Niemeyer Plays with the Hammer and Sickle. 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, architects who had long held high political ambitions for architecture, were determined to answer.

This lecture will examine Oscar Niemeyer’s 1965 commission for this project, conceived in collaboration with French architects Paul Chemetov and Jean Deroche, members of the interdisciplinary cooperative Atelier d'urbanisme et d'architecture, and French designer Jean Prouvé, and how this iconic building pushed representation and image manipulation to the limit to signify the aggiornamento (updating) of communism. Aggiornamento was one of the mottos of the Second Vatican Council (1962–1965), used by bishops and the media in their call for renewal. Historians of French communism have also used the Italian term to point out the parallel, in the mid-1960s, between the Western movement to redefine the global position of Marxism and Communism and the ecumenical effort to reassert the global status of the Church. In this lecture, Vanessa Grossman will give a preview of her forthcoming book, A Concrete Alliance: Communism and Modern Architecture in Postwar France (Yale University Press, forthcoming 2024) in relation to her broader research and work as an architect and historian who teaches, writes, and curates exhibitions in institutions and venues around the world.

Vanessa Grossman is an architect, historian, and curator whose work explores architecture's intersections with ideology, governments, and politics, from housing to climate change, with a particular focus on global practices in Cold War-era Europe and Latin America, and a general interest in the 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), A arquitetura e o urbanismo revisitados pela Internacional Situacionista (2006) and of the introduction to Carlos Marighella’s Mini-manuel du guérillero urbain (2014, 2nd edition 2022). Other books include the co-authored Oscar Niemeyer en France. Un exil créatif (2021) and the co-edited publications 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, 19601985 (2015). She is Assistant Professor of the History and Theory of Architecture at the Stuart Weitzman School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania and was recently appointed Exhibition Review Editor (2023–2026) of the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (JSAH).