Survey of World Architecture 3 Arch 73201, Fall 2019 Instructor: Prof. Cesare Birignani
Research Project #2 Issued: Friday, Oct. 31 Due: Friday, Nov. 22
This is the second of two writing/research projects, each of which will require that you use well established, fundamental methods of historical research in order to understand the physical, social, and symbolic construction of space, analyze form for meaning, and come to terms with change over time.
Project’s goals: To consider the “spatial imaginary” of an exhibition; to consider the role of architecture in the contemporary discourse on exhibiting culture. Research methods: Ethnographic fieldwork (i.e., a scientific study and recording of culture); library research as need be.
Site: Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Historical background: On November 1st, 2011, the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened the new galleries for the “Art of Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia.” Located on the museum’s second floor and organized in a series of rooms that overlook an enclosed courtyard, the galleries feature works of art dating from the 7th to the 19th century, reflecting the diversity, complexity, and interconnectedness of the many cultures represented in the Islamic world. Grouped according to region, the works of art evoke, in the words of former MET Director Thomas P. Campbell, “the plurality of the Islamic tradition and the vast crossfertilization of ideas and artistic forms that has shaped our shared cultural heritage.”
I encourage you to focus on two galleries: the Damascus Room (gallery no. 461), a reception chamber from an upper-class home in Ottoman Syria; and especially the Moroccan Court (gallery no. 456), located close to the entrance of the galleries and flanked by screen walls. The landscape architect Achva B. Stein (a former faculty member at the Spitzer School of Architecture) curated the exhibition. To build the Moroccan Court the MET hired fourteen Moroccan craftsmen to (re)create a courtyard space in a style that borrowed from the Alhambra palace in Granada, Spain. The craftsmen worked in traditions well known to them and with familiar materials, such as ceramic tile, marble, and stucco. The project and installation were to reflect a relationship of educational exchange between the Arab lands and the United States that was otherwise (and to this day) not often portrayed by popular media.
1. Read and consider:
Edward Said, Orientalism (1978; New York: Vintage Books, 1979), introduction.
Stephen Greenblatt, “Resonance and Wonder,” in Exhibiting Cultures: The Poetics and Politics of Museum Display, ed. Ivan Karp and Steven D. Lavine (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1991): 42-56.
For background on the construction and installation of the Moroccan Court, read the New York Times article, “History’s Hands.” For all galleries in the exhibit, feel free to consult the Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History, an excellent resource, with background information.
In addition: Read and refer to material written by or about your character, consulting at least one primary source and at least one secondary source. This research is intended to help you ground your character’s response to the exhibit in historical evidence.
2. Visit the “Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia, and Later South Asia” exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Take notes, photographs, make sketches or recordings. If you choose to analyze the Moroccan Court, be sure to watch the video describing the construction process. In either case, observe the exhibit and the space surrounding it. Where is it located within the entire exhibition space of the New Galleries? What architectural artifacts have been included in the exhibition? How are they displayed? How are objects arranged in space? Do you think anything has been excluded? Do you think there is an agenda at play? How does one interact within the space?
3. Interpret and respond in character. Calling on the assigned readings by Said and Greenblatt, describe your character’s response to the exhibition. Be sure to write in the first person. Feel free to discuss one or two galleries but remember to discuss them in relationship to the full exhibit. Consider materials used (and not used), context (of the original and the exhibit), and construction (method and labor).
a) What is the spatial imaginary presented in the exhibition? How is architecture used to exhibit culture? Is cultural imperialism a concept that could be applied here? Is Orientalism a concept that applies here? Or is ‘hybridity’ an appropriate model? How does the exhibition address the question of the ‘other’?
b) Can Greenblatt’s dialectic of resonance and wonder be brought to bear on this exhibition? Under what category would this exhibition fall? Resonance or wonder? Does either one, or both, make sense to your character? Does the recreated courtyard further the designer’s and the museum’s intention of facilitating exchange between the U.S. and Arab lands?
Format: Your paper must be about 4-5 pages long, not including drawings or other images, and be written in the first-person (your character’s voice) rather than third-person. The paper should be typed, with 1-inch margins all around. Use 12-point, double-spaced type for the body of the text and 10-point, single-spaced type for footnotes. You may illustrate your paper with sketches and photographs, appended in an additional page.
Illustrations: You should illustrate your paper with sketches and photographs. Images should not be inserted in the text but appended in an additional page.
Academic honesty: All work must be your own. Cite all your sources according to the Chicago Manual of Style. Copying material (including from the Internet) and submitting it as your own without proper acknowledgment of your sources is plagiarism.

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