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Jean-Louis Cohen, New York University Institute of Fine Arts

February 4, 2009 at 5:00 pm - 6:30 pm

First trained as an architect, Jean-Louis Cohen subsequently earned a doctorate from the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales. In 1994 New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts awarded him the architectural history chair created for Henry-Russell Hitchcock and later occupied by Reyner Banham and Richard Pommer. Cohen stopped teaching between 1979 and 1983 to expand and manage France’s government research funds for architectural history, theory, and technology.

An articulate writer, popular lecturer, commentator for the French media, and leader of research teams, Cohen has greatly contributed to expanding the knowledge and understanding of Western architecture and urbanism in the first half of the 20th century. His initial expertise on Soviet avant-garde architecture led him to study Le Corbusier’s personal and theoretical effect in the Soviet Union as well as the career of French modernist and pro-Soviet architect Andre Lurcat.

Cohen’s studies of cosmopolitan aspects of French architecture are also groundbreaking; with Hartmut Frank he directed a team that compared policies implemented by the Germans in Alsace-Lorraine in 1940–44 and by the French in the Baden and Saar regions in 1945–50. In addition he has analyzed the French infatuation with Italian architecture in the 1970s. The Centre Georges Pompidou entrusted him with the architecture section for its Paris-Moscow exhibit and named him scientific adviser for the mammoth 1987 retrospective “L’Aventure Le Corbusier.” Although Cohen has organized shows on behalf of the Pavilion de l’Arsenal and Les Annees 30 for the Musee des Monuments Francais, his best-known curatorial endeavor remains “Scenes of the World to Come: European Architecture and the American Challenge, 1893–1960,” a spectacular display of artifacts related to Europe’s fascination with American architecture, organized by the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. The premise of the exhibition, as Cohen defined it, was that European architects and engineers were intrigued by the iron-and-steel structure that supported the classicizing facades of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. The following decades witnessed an ongoing interaction between European architectural practice and thinking and the contemporary American profession as the skyscraper and mass production reshaped urban environments.

Overall, Cohen’s intent has been to explore how the complementary, and at times contradictory, social, and aesthetic concepts of modernism, modernity, and modernization have affected the built environment on an international scale and to place these currents into a broader political and cultural context. Cohen has served on the editorial boards of Architecture, Mouvement, Continuite, Cas abella, and Des ign Book Review. He sits on the boards of the Fondation Le Corbusier and the Canadian Centre for Architecture and is the only non-American member of the Council for Architecture.


February 4, 2009
5:00 pm - 6:30 pm