UK Construction History Conference

IMG_1907You could get used to that, right?  Cambridge University’s Queens College hosted the UK’s first (!) national conference on Construction History last week.  I attended it largely as an ambassador from the US (a loftier title than I really deserve), but also because this was the site of the 2006 Congress, and as you can see it’s a place that deserves repeated visits.  That’s the “mathematical bridge” to the right, itself a key piece of historic construction, with Powell and Moya’s more recent Fitzpatrick Hall to the left.

The conference was, as these things are, fascinating.  Topics ranged from fishing shacks in northern Spain to historic mortar composition to oil platforms in the North Sea–as always, it was hard to pick between sessions, let alone centuries.  Two keynotes–by Richard Harris and Mark Wilson-Jones–looked at dendrochronology in dating timber roof construction and at Greek and Roman construction.  Wilson-Jones went through his utterly convincing explanation of the Pantheon’s double pediments, which was a fantastic high-wire act to see in person, even for those of us who had read the original argument (he attributes them to a…erm…supply chain-driven on-site decision, and can back it up with details of brick joints that support a very non-standard but very believable chronology).

There were about 100 attendees, from throughout northern Europe (and two others from the States).  All in all, encouraging, especially as there was real enthusiasm for 5ICCH in Chicago next year.  We’re hoping that the mix includes the brilliant European scholarship on evidence last weekend, as well as the (equally brilliant) work being done in the U.S.  These things are always mixers in the best way–you never know what language you’ll hear next to you at meals.  This was–surprisingly–the first actual National Conference in the UK, though there is a long history of regional ones, and the interest and attendance make it likely that they’ll adopt the US model of biennial meetings.

IMG_1909Speaking of which, the instigators of the four previous Congresses and I met afterwards to coordinate plans for Chicago.  I don’t get to hang out with rock stars very often, but an afternoon with Robert Carvais, Werner Lorenz, James Campbell, and Santiago Huerta seemed historic enough to merit documentation.  “We look like Supertramp,” noted one of my colleagues.   We’re certainly grateful that they’ve been willing to share their considerable experiences in getting previous Congresses put together so successfully–and to help spread the word.  They’ve all set very high bars, and we’re hoping Chicago lives up to Madrid, Cambridge, Cottbus, and Paris.

A fantastic weekend, great to be in the company of such diverse, intense scholarship and conversation.

Oh, and there was some of this:


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