Lecture 11. Around the World in Several Miniatures, a Few Souvenirs, and One Replica

The case-studies in this lecture will investigate how miniatures, souvenirs, and replicas work as architectural technologies of communication and movement. The objects under investigation here all point to movement and or transportation in some form or the other. Contrary to the primary function of architecture as an inhabitable space or form of shelter, miniatures and souvenirs are often scaled down versions of an original that are used as fetishes or objects of sentimental value. Replicas while they can be built to architectural scale derive their value less from their utility as inhabitable spaces and more as referents for an original. This lecture looks at the phenomenon of reproducing architecture either at a smaller scale as portable objects or at a 1:1 scale to physically recreate buildings that are geographically distant. For example, the mingqi houses of Han China and the miniatures of Nyarit and Chan Chan cultures of South America were portable devices that “travelled” symbolically between the realms of the living and the dead and possibly to the afterlife beyond. The courtyard house miniatures of Seljuq Persia too were meant to be given (possibly as New Year gifts) and were portable representations of slightly illicit activities such as drinking and playing music in Islamic Persia. And the souvenirs of the Eiffel Tower were meant to be portable mementos –often worn on the human body—that circulated in spaces where the “original” could not have been. Even in the case of “fixed” architectural representations such as the tiangong logue—there were aspects of movement as the miniatures were meant to represent an idealized place (Pure Land) that was elsewhere and the miniatures were used as a means of meditation that would transport (transcendentally) devotees to this higher realm of consciousness. Similarly, with the replica of the Eiffel Tower in China—the ideas regarding French culture and lifestyle travel from one part of the world to another and “visiting” the replica of the Eiffel Tower in China becomes a surrogate for travelling to Paris. Objects such as the mingqi from Han China and the architectural miniatures from the Nyarit and Chan Chan cultures of South America were meant to communicate information of the living world in the afterlife of the dead. The miniaturized representations of Buddhism’s Pure Land in the tiangong logue were meant to communicate aspects of religious transcendence and the heavenly kingdom. Similarly, courtyard house miniatures from Seljuq Persia were representations of the musical and celebratory rituals that took place in covert spaces away from the eyes and surveillance of the ruling clergy at the time. In terms of contemporary architecture, the technological feats of icons such as the Eiffel Tower were communicated through small size souvenirs as well as full-scale replicas. In sum, this lecture looks at the history of architectural reproduction for mass audiences and the various forms of portable architecture from ancient times to the present.


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