Last week Sage, publishers of Space and Culture, sent me a form email with tips for spreading the word about my recently published article. I’ve never been keen on self-promotion — the most I ever do to self-promote is post my work here — but I figured I could at least post my article abstract, in hopes of making it accessible to the handful of people who are interested in poetry, architecture, pedagogy, libraries, reading, materiality, Alvar Aalto, George E.. Woodberry, and Roland Barthes — and what they’ve got to do with one another. Here ’tis:
The 2006 renovation of Harvard University’s Woodberry Poetry Room, one of few American designs by the noted Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, sparked an international controversy over the means and ends of architectural preservation. Arching over these debates about architectural heritage, the responsibility of the Harvard administration, the quality of Fixler’s renovation, and so on, were larger, often unarticulated, questions about what constitutes a poetic text or an architectural work, whether they have definitive forms, and what their responsibilities are to the people who use them. I explain how the different constituents invested in this specific project bring to the table different understandings of the purpose of the room and its preservation, and the distinction between the physical design and the “institution” and collection it houses. I argue that the controversy over the recent renovation reflects disagreement regarding the fluidity or fixity of the architectural “object” and the poetic text—disagreements informed by theoretical and pragmatic debates in librarianship, pedagogy, media and literary studies, and architectural preservation.