Benjamin and Koolhaas: History's Afterlife


  • Frances Hsu Aalto University



Dialectical images are at the core of the methods suggested by two books written four decades apart yet published around the same time. The Arcades Project (first published as Das Passagen-Werk in 1981) and Delirious New York (1978) use images to critique established modes of historical interpretation. Each proposes a methodology of historical speculation based on the interpretation of fragmentary visual phenomena. Both construct alternative historical narratives about the impact of technology, mass culture and economy on the city. This essay contrasts and compares the similarities and differences between the respective authors’ treatments of the nineteenth century arcade and the Manhattan skyscraper to examine how the strategies and definitions suggested by Benjamin and Koolhaas address the function of images as tools for critical architectural analysis and knowledge. 

Author Biography

Frances Hsu, Aalto University

Frances Hsu teaches courses in architectural history, theory and criticism as well as advanced graduate research studios in housing and urbanism at Aalto University. She has taught at the Georgia Institute of Technology and Mississippi State University, and worked at the Office for Metropolitan Architecture in Rotterdam, Ben van Berkel in Amsterdam and Peter Eisenman in New York City. Her essays addressing the influence of French theory on architectural postmodernism with a focus on the work of Rem Koolhaas appear most recently in A Critical History of Modern Architecture 1960–2010, Spielraum, Walter Benjamin et l’ Architecture, JAE, Clog, and The Cambridge Architectural Journal (forthcoming). She received a B.S. Architecture from the University of Virginia, a Master of Architecture from Harvard University, and her Ph.D. from the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture at the ETH in Zürich.


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