The Berlage

Session Room B

Opération Béton

Sarah Nichols

This talk borrows the title of Jean-Luc Godard’s first film and only documentary, shot in the mid 1950s while he was working on the site of a massive Alpine hydropower project: La Grande Dixence, a 285m high gravity dam in a remote valley in western Switzerland. Godard’s attitude towards concrete will be used as an entry point to open a new perspective on that most common of building materials as an actor in its own right. From concrete’s first encounters with the laboratory in the 19th century through to its large-scale deployment in the Postwar period, this talk will be will a history of the concrete in architecture rather than architecture in concrete. It is about how concrete has been designed and redesigned in a reflexive relationship with some of the key concerns of the modern era—normality, predictability, permanence, and flow, to name a few. Using concrete in Switzerland as a case study, the talk will touch on some of these reflexive relationships as well as open up a series of more general questions about the importance of material inquiry for architecture and architectural history today.

Sarah Nichols is doctoral fellow and lecturer at the Institute for History & Theory of Architecture (gta) at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zurich) where she is working on a history of concrete in Switzerland. Sarah works independently as an architect, most recently on houses in Germany's Black Forest, together with Nils Havelka, and in Kerikeri, New Zealand. She holds an Advanced Master of Architecture from the Berlage Institute in Rotterdam and a Bachelor of Science in Architecture from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

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