The View from the Car: Autopia as a New Perceptual Regime

  • Dates: 16 Sep – 15 Oct, 2021
  • Location: Zurich, Switzerland
  • Address: Baubibliothek ETH Zürich, Stefano-Franscini-Platz 5, 8093 Zürich
  • Contact: Dr. ir. Marianna Charitonidou
  • Email:

Exhibition  from 15 September to 15 October 2021 at the Baubibliothek ETH ZürichStefano-Franscini-Platz 5, 8093 Zürich
Curated by Dr. ir. Marianna Charitonidou in collaboration with Fredi Fischli and Niels Olsen

 The exhibition aims to render explicit the impact of the car on the way we perceive architecture and the city. The view from the car changed architecture fundamentally. Despite the fact that the visions around the automobile have been fundamental to western culture, especially during the modernist and postmodernist era, nowadays, within the context of the debates around the sustainable future of cities, its role is questioned or at least transformed. This makes the questions addressed through the exhibition even more topical given that the current situation could be characterized as a turning point in regards how we perceive the “car”.

Through the visual juxtaposition of photographs taken throughout the twentieth century from the car while travelling or in relation to the car, it provides an overview of the role of car-based photography in the reinvention of architectural and urban design strategies. Through the display of photographs taken by architects such as Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi, Alison and Peter Smithson, Sigfried Giedion, Heinrich Helfenstein, Erling Mandelmann, and André Muelhaupt-Buehler among others, the exhibition presents how the perception of urban and non-urban landscapes from the car triggered new representational regimes. Apart from photographs, the exhibition also includes diagrams and drawings that aimed to address the role of automobile for our understanding of architectural and urban artefacts. Nowadays, we are situated within a context that corresponds to a shift regarding what we could call automobile vision. Within the current context, which is characterized by the questioning of the role of the car, the relationship between the automobile and architecture is topical.

The exhibition brings together materials from various archives such as the gta Archives, Fondation Le Corbusier, Kevin Lynch archives at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Institute Archives and Special Collections, Smithson Family Collection, Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown Collection, Architectural Archives, University of Pennsylvania among other. The exhibition aims to establish a cross-cultural and transdisciplinary dialogue regarding the epistemological mutations related to the new perceptual and representational regimes that emerged thanks to the role of the automobile in our experience of urban and non-urban landscapes. Its objective is to convey visually the effect that automobile vision had on architectural and urban design methods.

The exhibition is related to the postdoctoral research project that Dr. ir. Marianna Charitonidou completed at the Chair of the History and Theory of Urban Design of the Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture (gta) of ETH Zurich. Among the articles she published in the framework of this project are “Autopia as new perceptual regime: mobilized gaze and architectural design”, published in City, Territory and Architecture, and “E-Road Network and Urbanization: A Reinterpretation of the Trans-European Petroleumscape”, published in Urban, Planning and Transport Research. She also taught the seminar The City Represented - The View from the Car and organised the colloquium Writing Automobile Histories.


SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
1365 N. Astor Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610