Down in Mississippi, seminar week HS 2016
ETH Zürich D-ARCH, Joint Seminar Week, 22-29 October 2016
Prof. Dr. Alexander Lehnerer and Prof. Dr. Philip Ursprung
“One who knows the Mississippi… will promptly aver — not aloud, but to himself — that ten thousand River Commissions, with the mines of the world at their back cannot tame that lawless stream, cannot curb it or confine it, cannot say to it, Go here, or Go there, and make it obey; cannot save a shore which it has sentenced; cannot bar its path with an obstruction which it will not tear down, dance over, and laugh at.”—Mark Twain
The Mississippi cuts the United States in half. It marks the land, its economy and history like few other natural phenomena, yet it is difficult to represent. We can follow its contours on the map, we can imagine its atmosphere due to the writings of Mark Twain and films such as Jim Jarmusch’s Down by Law. But it also belongs to the repressed areas of the Collective Imagination, since it has seen some of the darkest and most violent chapters of American history, namely the battles of the civil war, racial segregation, poverty and natural disasters. How can we depict this phenomenon? What is the role of the narrative in order to structure and represent what we perceive? How can the eyes and words of a group of architecture students and their teachers cope with the complexity of the subject matter?
Our seminar week consists of a series of encounters with the Mississippi. In the week before the presidential elections, we will follow the river from Memphis to New Orleans as closely as possible, walking, talking, canoeing, fishing, camping, and writing. We will listen to music and to reverends, learn about infrastructure and pollution, meet with activists and scholars. Every morning, Finn Canonica, editor-in-chief of Das Magazin, will give a lesson about writing. The students will learn about narration and reporting methods, take notes during the day and discuss them in the evenings. The results will be published in Das Magazin.