Architecture of Life Reader

Diller Scofidio + Renfro_hand holding modelIn Spring 2016, the Arts + Design Initiative, in partnership with the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, presented a series of lectures as part of the Big Ideas course co-taught by Shannon Jackson, Associate Vice Chancellor for the Arts and Design, and Nicholas de Monchaux, Associate Professor of Architecture.

Using  BAMPFA’s first exhibition at its location as a springboard for conversation, the Thinking Across the Arts and Design at Berkeley: The Architecture of Life public talks offered a wide and broad investigation into a range of art works, objects, performances, and ideas that intersect with this resonant theme.

On January 27th, Charles Renfro of the design studio Diller Scofidio+Renfro will speak about the new BAMPFA building in the first presentation of the UC Berkeley Big Ideas course inspired by the BAMPFA exhibition Architecture of Life. For more the relationship between architecture and the museum see George Teyssot’s The Mutant Body of Architecture and Brian O’Doherty, Beyond the White Cube.

In the Big Ideas conversation Soundscapes on February 3rd, Nicholas Mathew will discuss French composer Olivier Messiaen’s Des canyons aux etoiles (From the Canyons to the Stars) (1974) with Shannon Jackson. A large twelve-movement orchestral work notable for its use of modern instrument techniques, Des canyons aux etoiles is a tribute to the breathtaking beauty of the landscape of the American Southwest, with accompanying photography by Deborah O’Grady. For additional context for the discussion see: 

On February 10th, BAMPFA Director Lawrence Rinder will speak about “Architecture of Life”, the inaugural exhibition in the new BAMPFA. Preview the conversation with Rinder’s catalogue introduction to the exhibition and these theoretical texts on the conceptual turns in visual art and environmental objects in the museum:

UC Berkeley Architecture Associate Professor, Nicholas de Monchaux, will tease out the connections between Architecture and Life on February 17th. For more on our experience of the built environmental and how we move in and through these “productions of space” see Michel De Certeau’s “Spatial Stories” and Stephen Jay Gould’s “The Spandrels of San Marco and Panglossian Paradigm“.

On February 24th, Anthropologist Adam Nilsen from UC Berkley’s Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology will speak on April 6th on the history of ethnological museums with a focus on the educational experience of its visitors. For more about the Hearst museum and objects of ethnography, see Jacknis, “The Museum Prehistory: Phoebe Hearst Museum”, Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett, “Objects of Ethnography” and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “What Does One Want to Learn In Museums?”

On March 2nd, The famed “tricksters” of the art world, the Yes Men, will discuss their political actions against and within corporations and intergovernmental organizations, simultaneously reflecting on the aesthetics of activism as a force for social justice. For more on the social turn in art and activism, see Claire Bishop’s “The Social Turn: Collaboration and Its Discontents” and Shannon Jackson’s “Social Turns: In Theory and Across the Arts.”

Performer and Director, Sean San José, will discuss the politics of performance as part of the urban experience in the Bay Area on March 9th. Speaking with Shannon Jackson and Nicholas de Monchaux, this lecture and conversation will explore themes of gentrification and community engaged theater. For context on the transformation of American cities, see Jane Jacobs’ “The Death of Life of Great American Cities“.

On March 16th, dancer/choreographer Trajal Harrell discusses his latest work, The Ghost of Montpellier (being performed at Cal Performances March 18 and 19) with Performance Studies PhD Candidates Kate Mattingly and Megan Hoetger. The three will discuss Harrell’s innovative career as a choreographer who mixes dance forms that draw from an array of cultures. For a brief history of dance and the museum and Harrell’s work, see:

On March 30th, UC Berkeley Professor of Psychology, Lucia Jacobs, will talk about the connections between life, space, nature, and neuroscience, with Associate Professor Nicholas de Monchaux. For more on the nature of place, see: Juhanii Palassmaa’s “The Eyes of the Skin“.

On April 6th, famed Japanese architect, Sou Fujimoto and Nicolas de Monchaux will discuss how architecture and life are intimately connected, focusing particularly on how architecture functions as a place to imagine our collective future. For context for the discussion, see Reyner Banham’s, “A Black Box: The Secret Profession of Architecture“.

On April 13th, UC Berkeley Professors Mel Chen and Julia Bryan-Wilson will discuss the relationship amongst scientific, linguistic, and artistic objects, focusing in particular on how BAMPFA’s inaugural exhibition, “The Architecture of Life,” incarnates a ‘new materialism.’ For more information, see the forthcoming special issue of October exploring new materialisms.


On April 20th, Sculptor and UC Berkeley alum Bruce Beasley and dancer/choreographer Lisa Wymore will discuss Dancing the Rondo Series project, an interactive performance piece commissioned for the Berkeley Dance Project. They will be in dialogue with Associate Vice Chancellor for the Arts and Design, Shannon Jackson.