Happening Now: Historiography in the Making

If we were to accept that “history” is contingent upon the depth and breadth of one’s point of view, where would the writing of history begin? What would it aim for? What would be its evidence? How would the validity of its iconic examples be established and their value quantified? History writing is traditionally the domain of the historian, but some architectural histories have been written by architects, to accompany a specific project or to help elucidate a distinctive approach to design. The year 2016 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publications of two influential books of this kind, Complexity and Contradiction by Robert Venturi and L’architettura della citta (The Architecture of the City) by Aldo Rossi.

Instead of proposing conclusive answers to the above questions, as the historian does, the aim of Happening Now is to heighten and amplify these uncertainties as we suppose only a practitioner has license to do. By highlighting a selection of objects in the Special Collections of Frances Loeb Library at Harvard Graduate School of Design, Happening Now places viewers in a position of immediacy to those artifacts and to some potential narratives about them, in order to invite unforeseen and perhaps wholly imagined historical possibilities: invented definitions, fabricated affinities, experimental and counterfactual chronologies, and speculative additions to the collection.

By reconfiguring the spatial and social confines of object, archive, and observer, Happening Now, aims to briefly suspend—and thereby make tangible—conventional structures that normally intervene in the relationship of the observer to the significant object and, by extension, to history itself.

Curated by Shantel Blakely (A.B. ’91), Public Programs Manager, and Collin Gardner (MArch ’14), Research Associate.

Happening Now is held in conjunction with “Anachronometrics,” the final installment of the Symposium on Architecture: All That is Solid,” organized by Iñaki Ábalos, Professor in Residence of Architecture.