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Symposium Series


For sixteen years (1999-2015) the Architectural History Department at SCAD hosted a series of international biennial symposia to bring leading scholars to Savannah as a resource for students, faculty and the wider community.  Each symposium addressed a topic relevant to both Savannah architectural and urban heritage and to other parts of the world and other periods in history.  The series has been discontinued for the present time.

9th Savannah Symposium: The Architecture of Trade 9th Symposium cover image
Feb. 5-7, 2015
Directed by Patrick Haughey and Robin Williams

Click here for the symposium website

This year, the Savannah Symposium investigates the Architecture of Trade and features more than 50 papers from around the world and a keynote presentation by Nasser Rabbat, Ph.D., director of the Aga Khan Program in Islamic Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

City cultures, landscapes and architectures are inextricable from the force of trade, economics and the pursuit of goods throughout the long history of human habitation. Such cities as Amsterdam, Hong Kong, Istanbul, London, Mumbai and thousands of others along rivers, lakes and oceans have shaped and been shaped by global trade for centuries, if not millennia. While buildings have their own economies, such as the cost of labor, financing and material resources, they also tell a compelling story of how human beings interact through exchange across time and around the world.

The city of Savannah, beyond its famous squares, is home to the fourth-largest port in the U.S. Global trade is a force that has influenced Savannah’s architecture and economy for nearly 300 years.

8th Savannah Symposium: Modernities Across Time and Space8th symposium logo 2
Feb. 7-9, 2013
Directed by Patrick Haughey and Daves Rossell

Click here for the symposium website

The art historian T. J. Clark spoke for many scholars when he declared modernity marked a special historical transition when “the pursuit of a projected future — of goods, pleasures, freedoms, forms of control over nature, or infinities of information” overcame tradition and ritual. He distinguished the last 500 years against all previous time, and the west against the rest of the world. But such a bold assertion has opened itself to diverse interpretations. Is there a single modernity? If so, how was it created, disseminated and adopted? Or, alternately, are there actually multiple modernities? How can we appreciate the diversity of different cultures and different times?

The 8th Savannah Symposium features papers investigating modernity and/or modernities in the broadest and most critical terms. Studies address architecture, landscape and the imagined environment as well as empirical, methodological and theoretical approaches. The significance of the split-level house in mid-20th-century suburbanization is discussed as are postcolonial reinterpretations of world architecture. There are papers that investigate attempts to assert modernity, as suggested by the origins of the very word “modern” deriving from the Latin modernus from modo, “just now,” (marking a 5th-century desire to distinguish the Christian era from the Pagan era) as well as discussions of cultural hybridity where modernity is actively negotiated. Some studies focus on particular sites or examples of modern architecture while others interpret who determined the modernity, when and where it occurred, and how it was presented and promoted.

7th Savannah Symposium: The Spirituality of Place
Feb. 17-19, 2011
Directed by Thomas Gensheimer and Jeffrey Eley

Click here for the symposium website.

Throughout history spirituality has been a major force in shaping the built environment.  From ancient Mesopotamian ziggurats to European cathedrals, cities have served as centers of sacred practices and religion.  The connection between spirituality and place, however, has not been the exclusive preserve of religious institutions.  The co-mingling of sacred and secular realms in urban contexts often reflected the combined spiritual and temporal authority of priest kings, popes and monarchs and even facilitated the deification of mortal rulers, as with some Roman emperors.  With the increasing secularization of the modern world, concepts of spirituality have broadened and diversified, allowing purely secular situations to be perceived as spiritual and for the emergence of increasingly heterogeneous and personal concepts of spirituality to supplant traditional religion.

Savannah exemplifies the full range of meanings behind the concept of spirituality of place.  With Georgia conceived as a charitable colony providing a safe haven for continental European Protestants, Savannah played a fundamental role in the introduction of various religious groups to North America – Jews, Lutherans, Methodists, African Baptists.  The idealistic egalitarianism allowing for the acceptance of all religions (except Catholicism at first) instilled a spirit of peaceful co-existence and toleration of diversity throughout the city’s history that also included remaining Native Americans and African slaves.  The legacy of these different groups is understood through the rich histories of Savannah and urban fabric of the city.  In more recent times, Savannah and surrounding historical sites have become themselves “spiritual” places that serve those who seek a more secularized pilgrimage experience connected with their cultural and historical heritage.

GHC-logo_1This project is supported by the Georgia Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities and through appropriations from the Georgia General Assembly.

6th Savannah Symposium: World Heritage and National Registers in Perspective
Feb. 19-21, 2009
Directed by Celeste Guichard and Thomas Gensheimer

Symposium Website

The 6th Savannah Symposium: World Heritage and National Registers in Perspective explored the architectural and spatial elements of cultural properties on the World Heritage and National Register lists and topics related to heritage designations as a factor in furthering the study of the built environment globally and locally.  24 speakers from nine countries addressed a wide range of issues concerning heritage interpretation, preservation and planning.  The symposium highlighted three keynote speakers: Zahi Hawass, renowed Egyptologist and Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt; Ronald Lewcock, international conservator and professor at the University of Queensland; and Harold Kalman, prominent Canadian architectural historian and member of the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

This project is supported by the Georgia Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities and through appropriations from the Georgia General Assembly.

5th Savannah Symposium: Building in the Public Realmarch_5thSym_website
Feb. 8-10, 2007
Directed by David Gobel and Celeste Guichard

The theme for this symposium was “Building in the Public Realm,” allowing consideration not only of the various manners in which architecture and space are and have been constructed for use outside of private contexts, but also of how various “publics” are formed, transformed, sustained and even elided through public buildings.  Approximately 40 speakers from around the nation and abroad presented papers in sessions devoted to issues of building in the public realm. Keynote speakers were Tom Hanchett, staff historian at the Levine Museum of the New South in Charlotte, N.C.; Christopher Mead, dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico and professor in the departments of art history and architecture; and Jo Noero, internationally acclaimed architect from Johannesburg, South Africa.

arch_4thSym_website_14th Savannah Symposium: Architecture and Regionalism
Feb. 24-26, 2005
Directed by Daves Rossell and Thomas Gensheimer

For many architectural historians, architecture is inevitably regional. While globalizing trends alter or create entirely new regions, regional identities remain. The symposium explored the ways in which regionalism has been – and continues to be – defined and redefined. What are regional architectural traditions and how are they defined? Can regions be defined through architecture? How do regional spaces shape social identity? What constitutes a regional boundary in space or time? How have popular adoptions of regional form muddied the understanding of region? Is there a regional and time-bound character to popular forms as well? What are some contested identities of regions? How have regional traditions of architecture and cultural landscape been interpreted by artists, authors and scholars?

arch_3rdSymp_website_13rd Savannah Symposium: Commemoration and the City
Feb. 20-22, 2003
Directed by Daves Rossell and David Gobel

Assyrian kings planted trees from conquered lands in their garden parks; Muslims took sites, forms and materials for buildings such as the Dome of the Rock, the Suleymaniye and the Great Mosque of Qairowan; Venetian crusaders carted away precious statues and relics from Constantinople to adorn their palace church; German excavators carried away entire buildings from the Ancient Near East; contemporary theme parks and entertainment complexes create simulacra of foreign and historical monuments. Do clear distinctions exist between commemoration, appropriation and fabrication? This symposium investigated examples of commemorative acts and objects that are appropriated from one city by another.

The 2nd Savannah Symposium: Authenticity in Architecture
Feb. 15-17, 2001arch_2ndSymp_cropped
Directed by David Gobel and Robin Williams

Western society at the end of the 20th century is obsessed with authenticity. Ours is a “culture of authenticity,” according to Charles Taylor. “To thine own self be true,” has become the motto of a society in search of the authentic self. It is not surprising, therefore, to hear the incessant refrain of “authenticity” applied to contemporary architectural criticism. In the architecture columns of the New York Times, Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times, authenticity has replaced the Vitruvian triad of firmness, commodity and delight as the primary standard of judgment. Likewise, when debates arise regarding the appropriateness of a “modern” versus an “historical” building design for a community, the question often becomes, “Which is more authentic?” Savannah is a city beset with problems of architectural authenticity. Its historic architecture and city plan are admired not only by architects, planners, preservationists and historians, but also by tourists and residents. All seem to be continually searching for “authentic Savannah.” Some fear that Savannah is in danger of losing its historic authenticity with the continued introduction of new buildings. Still others fear that imitating anything from the past is inauthentic. The Second Savannah Symposium will bring more than 45 historians, architects, planners, preservationists and humanities scholars from around the globe to explore these questions in a wide range of sessions, tours, keynote addresses and a colloquium. The keynote address was given by James Howard Kunstler, author of “The Geography of Nowhere.”

arch_1stSymp_croppedThe Savannah Symposium on the City Square
Feb. 25-27, 1999
Directed by David Gobel and Robin Williams
The Oglethorpe plan for Savannah is universally admired as a unique contribution to the history of city planning. Admiration for its rational grid plan and neighborhood squares, however, has not been matched by serious, scholarly attention. City squares in general constitute an important but neglected topic. Specific city squares have received attention recently in several controversial cases of urban renewal. The redevelopment of Times Square in New York, Paternoster Square in London, and several projects in Berlin come readily to mind. Still, no major symposium has been held on the general subject of the city square in recent years. Cities around the globe are entering a phase of newfound incomprehensibility. The megalopolis at the end of the millennium has no edge and no center; placelessness is its hallmark. As virtual space threatens urban space, critical discourse and historical investigation on the subject of the city square have never been so important. Savannah is a natural location for a scholarly symposium on this subject, while the recently formed architectural history department at SCAD is a natural host.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Renee Muller permalink
    April 29, 2010 10:00 pm

    Tom Gensheimer is a genius.


  2. June 29, 2013 7:59 am

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