Architecture in the Age of Pandemics. From Tuberculosis to COVID-19
A Lecture by Beatriz Colomina
Education programme developed with the sponsorship of the Banco Santander Foundation
Architecture and medicine have always been closely linked. Theories about body and mind traverse architectural discourse, turning the figure of the architect into a kind of doctor, the client into a patient. Every era has its different conditions, each one requiring its own architecture. Thus, the peak of bacterial diseases in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such as tuberculosis, gave rise to modern architecture, to white buildings detached from the “wet ground where illness incubates”, in the words of Le Corbusier. The discovery of streptomycin put an end to this period and in the post-war years care shifted towards psychological problems. The architect was no longer just seen as a doctor and was also perceived as a psychiatrist, while the home no longer constituted a medical device to prevent illness but also provided psychological comfort and “nervous health”. The twenty-first century has ushered in an era of neurological disorders: depression, Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), burnout syndrome, allergies and environmental hypersensibility. Yet pandemics have also returned: with COVID-19 we have witnessed a virus that has completely remodelled architecture and urban planning and has, once again, highlighted structural inequalities of race, class and gender, raising the question on the extent to which, as a consequence, it can reshape architecture and urbanistic discourse and practice.
Beatriz Colomina is an architect and professor of the History and Theory of Architecture at Princeton University’s School of Architecture in New Jersey, where she directs the interdisciplinary programme Media and Modernity. Her work centres on the crossroads between architecture, art, sexuality and medicine, and her publications most notably include Domesticity at War (MIT Press, 2007), Privacy and Publicity: Modern Architecture as Mass Media (MIT Press, 1994), Clip/Stamp/Fold: The Radical Architecture of Little Magazines 196X-197X (ACTAR, 2010), Manifesto Architecture: The Ghost of Mies (Sternberg, 2014) and X-Ray Architecture (Lars Müller Publishers, 2019). She has also curated a number of exhibitions, for instance Clip/Stamp/Fold (Storefront for Art and Architecture, New York, 2006), Playboy Architecture, 1953–1979 (NAiM | Bureau Europa, Maastricht, 2012), Radical Pedagogies (Mostra Internazionale di Architettura, Venice, 2014) and Sick Architecture (CIVA, Brussels, 2022), as well as the Third Istanbul Design Biennial (2016), with Mark Wigley.