PriArc. Printing the Past

Het verleden in druk Printing the Past. Architecture, Print Culture, and Uses of the Past in Modern Europe (PriArc) is an international, multidisciplinary research project funded by the Humanities in the European Research Area Program (HERA). Looking primarily at architectural debate from the 18th to early 20th century, we study the ways in which new notions of the past were negotiated and constructed through architecture. This negotiation took place not only in stone but on paper, not least in the illustrated press emerging from the 1830s onwards, spreading architectural texts and images to new audiences.

Ben's research within the Ghent University subproject 'Legitimization' focuses on Victor Hugo’s theory of architecture and more specifically Hugo’s conception of the city of Paris as the monumental locus of Civilization, Emancipation and Democracy.

For one thing, Hugo described Paris on several occasions as if it was an idea, containing universal truth as the symbolical, revolutionary site of Revelation for Mankind. To Hugo then, Paris is the driving force of worldwide Progress. For another, the French capital served to him as the testing ground for many of his critical reflections on the politics and aesthetics of architectural monuments and urban interventions. Also according to Hugo, Paris is the native city of his mind. I therefore raise the hypothesis that Hugo’s monumental Paris, indeed, overlaps this mental world of his, this obscure and at the same time megalomaniac metaphysical version of socialism, moulded into the petrified state of a city.

This doctoral thesis aims to expose the reciprocity between Hugo’s mental utopia of Humanity and the physical outlook of his version of Paris. This PhD-project also intends to expose the architectural and morphological qualities of Hugo’s Paris in scale models, supporting the possibility of a - literally - material glimpse into one of the greatest minds nineteenth-century France has known.