Substances of Modernity

Materials and their Meanings in Swiss and Mexican Architecture

Substance of Modernities

Hotel Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico. Photo: Charlotte Matter

Project directors: Prof. Dr. Tristan Weddigen (Institute of Art History of the University of Zurich), Prof. Dr. Peter Krieger (Instituto de Investigaciones Estética of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)

Researchers: Charlotte Matter MA (Institute of Art History of the University of Zurich), Fabiola Hernández Flores MA (Instituto de Investigaciones Estética of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)

Funding: EPFL Seed Money 2015 Call for Projects with Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru

Project website:

Short description:

This common research initiative analyses materials and their meanings in modern and contemporary architecture in Switzerland and Mexico. By addressing a question of common interest and exchanging perspectives, the project seeks to strengthen an existing dialogue between UZH and UNAM. The topic centers around the notion of regionalism in relation to the use of materials in modern and contemporary architecture, questioning their aesthetic, symbolic and political meaning by taking into account both the local context and a global perspective. The research will focus on the relationship between existing and new materials, between local and imported materials, focusing on transhistorical and transcultural aspects. More specifically, we ask, for instance, how existing structures can serve as building material, raising questions around the notion of sustainability, but also on how to deal with preservation issues of the modernist heritage. Further fields of questions include the analysis of specific building materials with regards to identity politics, asking how the appropriation of new materials served to assert modernity on a broader social and political level, how combining them with traditional techniques and local materials fulfilled the function of constructing identity through architecture. Addressing different forms of regionalism and local adaptations, the project will also consider the relevance of the global trade of raw materials. The notion of exchange lies at the core of the project, which aims at creating a dialogue through different perspectives on a common field of interest, based on site visits of researchers from Switzerland and Mexico in the respective other country, making possible the study of objects on site, access to archive and research material, as well as meetings with local experts.