ETH Zurich Studio Caruso Semester Readings (2011-2021)
20 May, 2021
The Reading Circle Performance
The images show the covers of the text collections of Studio Caruso, chair for architecture and construction at the DARCH of ETH Zurich, led by Prof. Adam Caruso. Since 2011, these textbooks have been compiled and printed at the beginning of each semester with reference to the semester’s topic. Here, the marked positions exemplarily show the representation of female authors up to the present day. In 2019, in addition to raising the visibility of female authors, an attempt was made to challenge the common format of Close Reading as a method to discuss the texts with the transdisciplinary experimental teaching format of a Reading Circle Performance.
The Reading Circle at Studio Caruso uses artistic performance as a methodological approach in architecture teaching, with the aim of discussing texts in a new way. The idea for this came about as part of an exchange of ideas with Helen Thomas in February 2019 and myself. Helen thought about how it is possible to promote the expressive skills and thus the standing of women in architecture, while I, as a research assistant at Studio Caruso, was inspired by the content of a Hauptseminar at the University of Bern on the subject of text formats and artistic production of theory and took up the task of thinking about the reorganization of the Reading Circle. Supported by Helen’s encouragement, the idea solidified to think about an approach that can strengthen the expressive possibilities of young adults and sharpen their arguments.
Performance as an artistic practice should therefore be tested for its applicability in mediating architecture. Basically, it was assumed that the performance in its structure as a situational and action-orientated artistic methodology emphasises the artistic event while including the human body, objects and space. In relation to the proposed project, the first question that came up was how a text that is closely related to a semester topic in architecture can be analysed and contextualized using a performative practice.
The staging or the embodiment of a classic lesson’s content – here the text – by means of performance is at the same time an investigation of how the body and the space surrounding the body – we are also talking about the digital space with regard to the times of the pandemic – can become a central subject of research if body knowledge is generated through sensory experiences and thus an expansion of the concept of knowledge takes place. Suddenly, insights of an intuitive, sensual and subjective nature become possible, which do not arise through the purely cognitive process of reading and in the present case can have a direct effect on the architecture production, the student projects. In groups of three to four, selected artistic positions were studied to get prepared, which each presented specific contents in different ways. For example, references such as Andrea Fraser’s Museum Highlights or Martha Rosler’s Kitchen Semiotics were concise examples. These artist’s methods were examined and interpreted for a representation of the text content, followed by lively discussions. In this way, important elements in the development of architectural projects were created within this performative text-work, which supplemented the work with other references, discussions, and construction sites.
The assumption that a text generates specific knowledge through an artistic-performative examination and subsequently releases specific skills or options for action is supported by the results of the Reading Circle Performances, which were created in the context of the architectural studio in the past semesters. The performance experiment, beyond the limits of close reading, brought about a deep understanding of the content read, promoted a lively culture of discussion, and allowed individual perspectives and foci to emerge and be implemented in architectural projects. In addition to exciting results in design projects, promoting the students’ ability to criticize and express themselves was a terrific result of the experiment, which can be expanded and further developed.