Study Abroad Seminar: Islands: The Career of a Metaphor

Either consciously deployed or a product of difference, the island was a recurring phenomenon in 20th-century urban environments. Based on its own organizational logic, it entertains a distinct relationship to power. It can be identified either as the expression of an intentional community or as an instrument of discipline and control: both a product and a symptom. For Modernity the island was a metaphor of hope. From 1920s Rotterdam to postwar Europe, the avantgarde authored self-sufficient worlds where morphological and social cohesion idealised the habitat. An everyday utopia, housing sought a rupture with the historical city in type, aesthetic and program.

Is it a coincidence that a metaphor of multiple islands for West Berlin, conjured by a group of architects around O.M.Ungers, has been revisited in the past years? The ,,Green Archipelago“ addressed issues of habitation, identity and place in 1977, during an era of urban failure and professional uncertainty that would eventually lead to the reterritorialization of architecture. Within the postmodern present the island has resurfaced in a new light. It has become operative in an age of rampant difference. As demonstrated in the physical transformation of cities and in the performance of contemporary architecture, ,,themed“ difference enters the symbolic economy of Post-Fordism. With the splintering of consumer culture, islands gain significance as iconic cultural hubs, redeveloped brownfield sites, gated communities or enclaves of individualised hedonism.

Against a historical and socioeconomic backdrop, the seminar will address authors, discourses and works. Not only will we investigate the spatial logic of design strategies, but also how various contexts have nurtured spatial metaphors. By which forces is insularity conditioned and toward which urban public is it geared? Corresponding with the broad range of the course, the semester engages with readings from various fields. In an ongoing conversation, these texts will grant different perspectives onto architecture, its publics and its consumption. Mandatory readings will be complemented by lectures, Rotterdam excursions and student presentations. The findings will be reworked toward a final group presentation.