Research Project
Building Identity: Character in Architectural Debate and Design, 1750-1850

Research Project
Prof. Dr. Maarten Delbeke, Dr. Sigrid De Jong, Dr. Nikos Magouliotis, Dominik Müller

Funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation

Supervised by Maarten Delbeke and Sigrid de Jong

Research group:
Dr. Sigrid de Jong
Dr. Nikos Magouliotis
Dominik Müller

The four-year project ‘Building Identity: Character in Architectural Debate and Design, 1750-1850’, started on October 1st 2022. It focuses on the uses and meaning of the notion of ‘character’ in architectural criticism and practice in the period 1750-1850.

In architectural discourse, ‘character’ denotes the capacity of buildings to give expression to a quality or emotion, and thereby enter into a meaningful relationship with their public. Still used in architectural criticism today, albeit often casually, ‘character’ was a topic of intense exploration and debate in European architectural criticism and practice in the period 1750-1850. Our project aims to produce a critical history of the uses and meaning of ‘character’ in that period, in order to understand why it became so important, and why it still persists today. We analyse writings on character in architecture against the background of key developments during the Enlightenment and combine close readings with historical research, in three connected projects: Sigrid de Jong works on character and personhood, focusing on female agency in architecture, Nikos Magouliotis on character, national identity and the rural, focusing on Swiss vernacular architecture, and Dominik Müller on character, style and nation, focusing on Gothic architecture. Our project will be presented at conferences and in journals, and result in a monograph and one doctoral thesis, as well as an anthology of texts and a database.

Image: William Marlow, View of the Wilderness at Kew, 1763, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1925, public domain,