The Tenement: collective city dwelling before Modernism

Exploring collective dwelling at the Society of Architectural Historians Annual International Conference 2017

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The Tenement stands today as a model of long-lasting, viable and democratic type of urban dwelling, having survived decades of association with overcrowding and poverty. Multi-apartment urban residences, initially built speculatively to house working-class lodgers, are being reappraised for their durability and decorum, and for their expression of social diversity and urban density.

Glasgow is distinctive for the quality and spaciousness of its surviving tenements, but also holds lessons about the tragic impact of their demolition. The prevalence of the tenement flat in the housing cultures of American cities and Continental Europe holds the promising potential of comparative studies. Can one understand the historical Tenement as the outcome of cultural transfers between Europe and the US? As a form of social condenser in the industrial city? Or as a highly efficient expression of economic and construction parameters?

We invited papers that discuss the Tenement as architectural type and urban form, in its intended arrangement or subsequent use. Subjects may include general characteristics and local variations, impact on urban character, the dilemmas of their conservation and gentrification. The session will address the type’s global history and relevance, including technological and morphological characteristics but also engaging with various legislative structures, regulations, economic principles and patterns of inhabitation. Based on their historical circumstances, is it possible to associate the collective housing of Tenements with nascent ideologies and social practices? What were their original meanings and usages, and how have these changed through the passage of time? Today, when public housing is dwindling and modernist estates decline, might the example of the pre-modernist Tenement offer alternative strategies for a richer, more integrated urban life?

A paper session for the Society of Architectural Historians Annual International Conference, Glasgow 2017.

Papers: ‘Early Modern High-Rise Living and the Tenement Experience’ (Giovanna Guidicini, Glasgow School of Art), ‘The Berlin Block and the New Bourgeois Dwelling’ (Katharina Borsi, University of Nottingham), ‘The Chinese Tenement as a Contested Built Form in Colonial Hong Kong and Singapore’ (Cecilia Chu, University of Hong Kong), ‘Tenement Reform and the Invention of the Chicago Apartment, 1890-1915’ (Daniel Bluestone, Boston University) and ‘Dorothy Henderson, Tenements and Grassroots Action in Glasgow’, Ambrose Gillick (Glasgow School of Art).

Session Chairs: Irina Davidovici, ETH Zurich, and David Knight, Royal College of Art School of Architecture, London.


  • Collaboration with Dr. Irina Davidovici, ETH Zurich
  • Dates: 7-11 June 2017

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