Architecture, as the architect Aldo Rossi has argued, is simultaneously a site, event, and sign. It is both structure in the traditional sense of the word, as well as the process by which that building is deployed. Inherent to this definition is the process of mediation. In this exhibition, buildings and spaces are understood as a set of activities, products, and attitudes that complement and complete the design and meaning of specific sites. Within this framework architecture can be thought of as a process of reception, representation, use, spectacularization, and commodification, as meaning is mediated by the rhetorical strategies of diverse media.
Through a series of case studies, students in a graduate seminar in architectural history (Arch #6805, "The History Practicum") reflected upon the built environment, its construction, and mediation. They sought to unveil the means by which the viewer was conditioned to see and interpret. In the process they made visible the various cultural mechanisms that are responsible for constructing the image, myth, and meaning of individual buildings, specific sites, entire cities, and landscapes.
The students chose items in the Kroch Rare and Manuscripts Collection (KRMC) that placed the topic of architectural tourism within the broader context of architectural historiography as well as contemporary politics, culture and society while simultaneously representing the strengths of the collection housed at Cornell University. Within this context they understood tourism to be both an instrument through which sites are experienced, as well as a cultural force that has profoundly shaped them. Tourism was considered to be simultaneously a cultural product and producer of culture. Not surprisingly, the material represented in the web exhibition, comes from various places and time periods.
The exhibition begins with material acquired by A. D. White during his 1889 trip to Egypt. As Cornell's first president White was particularly interested in the pedagogical value of material he purchased for the university. While White and Willard Fiske, the University's first librarian who journeyed together to Egypt, purportedly traveled for health reasons, their academic collecting was privileged. The photographs and artifacts they acquired were intended to foster an interest in and understanding of Egypt back home in Ithaca. Despite their seemingly lofty goals, White and Fiske, followed a highly prescribed tour of Egypt - relying heavily on the directives of guidebooks, traveling up the Nile in a boat operated by Thomas Cook, purchasing photographs produced for tourists.
A destination that was more popular than Egypt, and which attracted White and Fiske, as well as countless other tourists, was Italy. Italy provides a wonderful case study for archi-tourism. Its sites were well documented by postcards, photographs, and travel guidebooks such as the Baedecker - which in many ways defined the genre. Advising tourists on what to see, eat, and purchase, these books provided instrumental instruction for when and how to engage in architecture. A number of Cornell students journeyed to Italy as a part of their Cornell education. Landscape architect Edward Lawson was one such student. He sketched and photographs the sites that he visited. And in many ways, his trip provides the fulfillment of A. D. White's vision of having students become familiar with foreign sites.
While 19th-century mass media such as photography, postcards and guidebooks provided a stalwart way in which sites were experienced, the foundations of touristic description were established centuries before. Religious missionaries who traversed oceans to explore, document, and presumably convert New World communities, sent home some of the first Western reports of foreign places and peoples. Missionaries to the New World combined religious pedagogy with ethnography to understand the vast new landscapes they encountered. This methodology was applied other locations as well. As missionaries visited sites as far flung as China, their texts and images provided foundational stereotypes about the cultures they encountered.
The discourse of Art and Architectural History has long celebrated the sublime qualities of the picturesque. An analysis of the tourist promotion of the upstate New York landscape along the Erie Canal corridor during the 19th and early 20th century shows that the picturesque sublime was promoted hand in hand with the newly industrialized landscape. Waterfalls and factories were featured within the same photographic frame and in the process visitors were encouraged to visit and meditate on both. This more nuanced understanding of tourism to the region complicates our understanding of what many consider to be a familiar space.
Similarly photographers and painters carefully constructed views of landscapes that would eventually become national parks such as Yellowstone in order to win the support of Congress, which legalized the park's creation. In this case, mass media was used to transform landscape views into desirable American destinations before those landscapes had been legally defined as desirable. Here, media, politics, and landscape merge in unparalleled fashion.
Worlds Fairs have long been touted as one of the most important archi-tourist destinations of the 19th and 20th centuries. It is at these sites that architectural display and experimentation took place before the eyes of thousands of enraptured tourists. What is not so readily apparent is the way in which these sites, and their architectural creations, were carefully and profoundly mediated for the public. Architectural photography was curtailed and controlled. From Paris to Chicago and Buffalo, the role of photography in constructing anticipation, understanding, and memory of fair architecture is profoundly significant.
Menus provide a glimpse into a kind of virtual tourist geography - the spaces and places that people wanted to occupy, and the spaces and places restaurants thought that people might want to visit. During the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s, increased prosperity and opportunities to travel in cars, on trains, steamships, and planes meant that traveling and tourism were on the mind. Restaurants took advantage of this flourishing opportunity and desire by creating menus that dramatically celebrated exotic as well as profane destinations. Using various tricks, menus encouraged the reader/eater to become involved in the trip. Colorful graphics lured the reader, unfamiliar foods reinforced themes, and interactive menus (some of which could be sent as post cards) allowed readers to appear to have traveled to new destinations.
All told, these various case studies how architecture and tourism have often developed hand in hand - facilitating each others development and presence within the popular imagination. While landscapes and sites can exist or be constructed and designed from scratch, it is their mediation that allows them to be consumed by tourists. As the case studies in this web exhibition show, mediation, whether in the form of literary accounts, photographs, souvenirs, maps, or menus, emerge as an essential architectural material within the realm of archi-tourism.
Not surprisingly, we are indebted to a number of individuals who helped ensure that this exhibit came to fruition. Aditya Gosh patiently modified his web designs to accommodate our changing whims. Ken Williams shared his understanding of web design with Aditya. Katherine Reagan, Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts and Assistant Director for Collections in Cornell's Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, enthusiastically supported the project from the start and shared her knowledge of KRMC items. Elaine Engst, Director of KRMC and University Archivist, provided much needed advice and answered questions about the Cornell material. The staff of KRMC deftly dealt with our many requests. Rhea Garen aptly photographed the items selected by the students. And Mark Cruvellier, Architecture Department chair, provided the necessary financial support for our endeavors. Many thanks to all.
Enjoy!-Prof. D. Medina Lasansky
Participants in the seminar came from four different programs at Cornell University. The participants included:
Pete Levins (BArch and B.S. History of Architecture and Urban Development dual degree program, '12), firstname.lastname@example.org
Margot Lystra (MA/PhD program, History of Architecture and Urban Development), email@example.com
Whitten Overby (MA/PhD program, History of Architecture and Urban Development), firstname.lastname@example.org
Jimena Rosés-Sierra (MA in Design History, Theory and Criticism, Design and Environmental Analysis), email@example.com
Annie Schentag (MA/PhD program, History of Architecture and Urban Development), firstname.lastname@example.org
Scott Whitham (Masters of Professional Studies, Landscape Architecture), email@example.com
William McLeod, engraving from Harper's New York and Erie Railroad Guide, 1851, Kroch Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections (KRMC), Cornell University Library.
White, F. Letter to A. D. White. 18 December 1888. 01/02/02. Box 57. Kroch Division of Rare and Manuscript Collection (KRMC), Cornell University Library.
Abdullah Frerès, Ascension de Pyramide No8, ca. 1885, 13/1/1165, box 18, Willard Fiske Collection, Kroch Division of Rare and Manuscript Collection (KRMC), Cornell University Library.