Reclaiming Context: Architectural Theory, Pedagogy and Practice since 1950

Esin Komez-Daglioglu

    Research output: ThesisDissertation (TU Delft)

    533 Downloads (Pure)


    Context is a crucial concept in architecture, despite the frequent ambiguity around its use. It is present in many architectural thoughts and discussions, while a critical discursive reflection is absent from contemporary architectural theory and practice. Situated within this schizophrenic condition in which the notion is both absent and present, this study aims at creating a historical and theoretical basis for a contemporary discussion on context. Discussions on context or alike notions had always existed in the field of architecture but the debate intensified and developed as a multi-layered body of knowledge in the 1950s, when various architects, theorists and teachers cultivated several perspectives on context as to address some of the ill effects of modern architectural orthodoxy and the destructive effects of post- war reconstructions. Despite being a topic of layered and productive debate in the post-war years, context lost popularity in the critical architectural discourse of the 1980s when it was absorbed by postmodern historicism and eclecticism, co-opted by traditionalists and conservationists, and consequentially attacked by the neo-avant-gardes for its blinkered understanding. This research presents a critical archaeology of the context debate, aiming to reclaim the notion by uncovering its erased, forgotten and abandoned dimensions. To do so, it challenges the governing paradigm of 1980s postmodern architecture by making inquiries into the history and genealogy of its particular trajectories with a criticism from within. Taking 1980 as a starting point, coinciding with the First Venice Architecture Biennale, the research traces the debate on context back to the 1950s through an in-depth study and interpretation of the ideas and works of Aldo Rossi, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown and Colin Rowe. This reverse chronology reveals that in the works of these protagonists the understanding of context has shifted from “place to memory”, from “spatial to iconographic” and from “layers to object”, where the former categories still hold the capacity to recover the notion as a critical concept that is intrinsic to the architectural design process. In brief, by drawing upon the vast resources available in different media, such as exhibitions, archival materials, student projects, publications, buildings, etc., the study constructs an outline of “the context thinking” as it was articulated in architectural culture in the period between 1950s and 1980s.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Delft University of Technology
    • Riedijk, M., Supervisor
    • Avermaete, Tom, Supervisor
    Award date2 Jun 2017
    Print ISBNs978-94-6186-812-1
    Publication statusPublished - 2017


    • context
    • contextualism
    • postmodern architecture
    • aldo rossi
    • robert venturi
    • denise scott brown
    • colin rowe


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