Jean-Louis Cohen

Sheldon H. Solow Professor in the History of Architecture

Habilitation à diriger des recherches, École des hautes études en sciences sociales, Paris, 1992.

The research I have undertaken in the past decades builds upon my double identity of architect and historian, exploring theory and design from 1900 to the present day and is organically interwoven with the production of exhibitions and other cultural programs. In terms of national areas, I have studied French, German, Italian, Russian, North-American and North-African architecture, focusing on cities such as Paris, Berlin, Moscow, New York, Algiers and Casablanca. As a rule, my work tends to consider precise historical situations within the framework of the cultural transfers that relate two national scenes – or more. Hence the attention I have devoted to the French-Italian, and the German-French relationships, to colonial situations, and to the interaction between Russia and the West. The monographs I have devoted to such major modern architects as Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe always engage particularly revealing aspects of their trajectory, inscribed in political and social situations.

The projects more typical of my problematic always situate the buildings within the cities or the landscapes to which they belong and with which they interact, and articulate architecture, urban design, and industrial design, as well as the theoretical discourse produced by these disciplines and their historiography. I have thus interpreted the pervasive presence of the American ideal in late nineteenth- and twentieth-century European architecture as a complex pattern, which has been one of the determining matrixes of modernity. Also, I have recast the representation of historical time, by proposing to see in the Second World War neither a hiatus, nor a stasis in architectural production, but a decisive body of experience and innovation, leading to the final victory of Modernism worldwide. As a result of all these investigations, I have proposed an alternative vision of architecture’s relation with politics and with national cultures, in which territories considered as marginal have been put in the center. In several of my books, I have built the framework of a new narrative on the strategies of modernization in architecture and urban design, in which the traditional focus on Europe and North American has been enlarged. 

Research pursued on the field, at the contact of buildings, cities, and protagonists, as well as in the archives, has also led me to meet programs of historic preservation at the scale of the edifice or of entire cities, and to work as a consultant for NGOs engaged on this front, as well as with UNESCO, in Russia, France, and Morocco.

One of my long-standing forms of scholarly practice has dealt with museums and exhibitions on architecture and its history. Between 1997 to 2003 I created, on behalf of the French Minister of Culture, the Cité de l'architecture et du patrimoine, a museum, research and exhibition center, which opened in 2007 in the Paris Palais de Chaillot. During that period, I directed both the Institut français d'architecture and the Musée des monuments français, the main components of the Cité, developing their cultural programs and their archives. I have curated numerous exhibitions including The Lost Vanguard, at the Museum of Modern Art (2007); Alger, paysage urbain et architectures 1800-2000 (2003), and Auguste Perret et la poétique du béton armé (2000), both at the Institut français d’architecture; Scenes of the World to Come and Architecture in Uniform at the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and other institutions in France and Italy (1995 and 2011); Paris-Moscou (1979) and the centennial show L'aventure Le Corbusier (1987), both at the Centre Georges Pompidou; Le Corbusier, tainy tvorchestva, at the Pushkin Museum of Art in Moscow (2012), and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm (2013); Interférences – architecture, Allemagne, France at the Musée d’art moderne et contemporain in Strasbourg, and the Deutsches Architekturmuseum in Frankfurt (2013-14); in 2015, I curated Une architecture de l'engagement: L'AUA (1960-1985)at the Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine; my show Le Corbusier, an Atlas of Modern Landscapes, was up at the Museum of Modern Art in 2013 and in Barcelona and Madrid in 2014. During the same year, I was curator of the French pavilion at the fourteenth Architecture Biennial in Venice, for which I have received the special mention of the jury.

My bibliography includes more than forty books published in many countries and translated in several languages. The most significant are: France (2015, in the series Modern Architectures in History); Le Corbusier: an Atlas of Modern Landscapes (2013); Interférences / Interferenzen: architecture, Allemagne, France 1800-2000 (2013, with Hartmut Frank); The Future of Architecture. Since 1889 (2012); Architecture in Uniform; Designing and Building for WWII (2011), which received the Grand Prix du livre of the Académie d’architecture, the Art Book Prize, and the Alice Davis Hitchcock Book Award of the Society of Architectural Historians; New York (2008); Mies van der Rohe (1994, revised in 2007); Liquid Stone, New Architecture in Concrete (2006, with G. Martin Moeller, Jr.); Le Corbusier, la planète comme chantier (2005, revised in 2015). Alger, paysage urbain et architectures 1800-2000 (2003, with Nabila Oulebsir and Youcef Kanoun); Casablanca, Colonial Myths and Architectural Ventures (2002, with Monique Eleb); Les Années 30, l'architecture et les arts de l'espace entre industrie et nostalgie (1997). Scenes of the World to Come; European Architecture and the American Challenge 1893-1960 (1995), which received the Grand Prix du livre of the Académie d’architecture; L'architecture d'André Lurçat (1894-1970); l'autocritique d'un moderne (1995). Des fortifs au périf, Paris: les seuils de la ville (1992, with André Lortie); Le Corbusier and the Mystique of the USSR. Theories and Projects for Moscow, 1928-1936 (1992). I have also written or co-authored a number of television programs, and am a frequent host on public radio in Europe.

These publications have sometimes resulted from the support of institutions, as I have been a senior research fellow at the National Gallery of Art’s Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts (1987), and a Getty scholar at the Getty Research Institute (1992-93, and 2009). I was a fellow of the John S. Guggenheim Foundation for 2013. In addition to the awards relative to the books, I have received the Medal for architectural analysis of Académie d'architecture in Paris (2003), the Schelling Architekturtheorie Preis from the Schelling Foundation in Karlsruhe, the leading such European distinction (2010), and the Premio Argan from the Italian Associazione Nazionale Centri Storici Artistici (2015). I was appointed an officer in the order of Arts and Letters by France’s Ministry of Culture.

Several institutions have admitted me among their members, from the Akademie der Künste, in Berlin, the Russian Academy of Architecture, in Moscow, the Accademia di San Luca, in Rome, to the Académie d’architecture in Paris. In realm of museums, I serve on the Trustees’ committee for architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art; the program committee of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, after having been on its board for twelve years; on the scientific committee of the Centro internazionale di studi di architettura Andrea Palladio in Vicenza; and on the expert committee of the Fondation Le Corbusier in Paris. I belong to the editorial boards of Rassegna di architettura e urbanistica (Rome), Future Anterior (New York), Les Cahiers de la recherche architecturale (Paris), Thresholds (Cambridge, Mass.), The Journal of Architecture (London), CLARA (Brussels), et al. Also, I frequently take part in juries of architectural competitions.

After having directed from 1990 to 2005 the first ever doctoral program in architecture in France – and supervised 41 defended dissertations, and in addition to my engagement at the Institute of Fine Arts, where I have so far supervised 25 defended dissertations, I remain engaged in the mentoring of PhD and habilitation theses in Europe, and of research dealing with my fields of expertise, in universities such as Columbia, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. I chair the program committee of the Berlage Institute in Delft. I have been invited by the Collège de France in Paris to hold a chair during the summers of 2014, 2015, and 2017. In 2017, I will hold the Borromini chair at the Università della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano.

Research Interests

Nineteenth and Twentieth Century architecture and urbanism in Germany, France, Italy, Russia and North America. Contemporary issues in architecture, town planning and landscape design.

Sample courses

Problems of Interpretation in Architectural History
The Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright
Machine to Architecture (Architecture since 1945)
The Rise of the Skyscraper : one Century of Theories and Designs
Los Angeles: Urban Landscape and Architectural Creativity

Selected publications

France (Reaktion: London, 2015); published in French as L'Architecture au XXe siècle en France; modernité et continuité (Hazan: Paris, 2014). Review in Critique d’Art.
Paris London (Infolio: Gollion; Institut national d'histoire de l'art: Paris, 2015); ed. with Dana Arnold.
La Coupure entre architectes et intellectuels, ou les enseignements de l’italophilie (Mardaga: Brussels, 2015); revised edition of the 1984 book.
Le Corbusier: la planète comme chantier (Paris, Textuel, 2015); revised edition of the 2005 book. Review in Les Inrocks and La Croix.
Joseph Gire. A construção do Rio de Janeiro moderno (Rio de Janeiro: Villegagnon, Casa da Palavra, 2014); with Roberto Cabot and Jean Gire.
New York, réguler pour innover: les années Bloomberg (Parenthèses: Marseille, 2014);  ed., with Ariella Masboungi.
Metropolen 1850-1950; Mythen – Bilder – Entwürfe / mythes – images – projets (Deutscher Kunstverlag: Berlin, 2013); ed., with Hartmut Frank.
The Future of Architecture. Since 1889 (Phaidon: London, New York, 2012); parallel publication in French. Reviews in Arquitectura Viva, De Architect, La Stampa, The Observer, The Financial Times, Icon, Métropolitiques, The Architect’s Newspaper, Les Échos, NRC, Archiscopie, Archined, and AMC.
Le Corbusier i mistika SSSR, teorii i proekty dlya Moskvy 1928-1936 (Art-Volkhonka, Moscow, 2012); translation of the 1987 French ed., published in the US in 1992.
Manières de penser Ronchamp. Hommage à Michel W. Kagan (Éditions de la Villette: Paris, 2011).
Portrait de ville: New York (Cité de l’architecture et du patrimoine: Paris, 2010).
France ou Allemagne ? Un livre inécrit de Le Corbusier (Éditions de la Maison des sciences de l’homme: Paris, 2009); German ed. Frankreich oder Deutschland? Ein ungeschriebenes Buch von Le Corbusier (Deutscher Kunstverlag, Berlin), 2012.
New York (Citadelles & Mazenod: Paris, 2008). Review in Le Monde, on France Culture, and in other media.
Mies van der Rohe (Hazan: Paris, 2007; German and English eds: Birkhäuser: Basel, Berlin, Boston, 2007; Spanish ed.: Akal, 2007).
Above Paris, the Aerial Survey of Roger Henrard (Princeton Architectural Press: New York, 2006; French ed.: Dominique Carré: Paris, 2006).
Le Corbusier, la planète comme chantier (Textuel: Paris, 2005).
Urban Textures: Yves Lion (Birkhäuser: Basel, Berlin, Boston, 2005).
Le Corbusier, un lyrisme pour l'architecture de l'âge de la machine (Taschen: Cologne, 2004; Dutch, English, German, Italian, Russian, Spanish and other eds.).
Une cité à Chaillot, avant-première (Éditions de l'Imprimeur: Paris, 2001); ed., with Claude Eveno).
Casablanca, Colonial Myths and Architectural Ventures (The Monacelli Press: New York, 2002); with Monique Eleb.
André Lurçat (1894-1970), autocritique d'un moderne (Pierre Mardaga: Liege, 1995; Italian ed.: Electa: Milan, 1998).
Américanisme et modernité, l'idéal américain dans l'architecture (Flammarion: Paris, 1993): ed., with Hubert Damisch.
Le Corbusier and the Mystique of the USSR (Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1992).

Selected honors

Chevalier des Arts & Lettres, Ministère de la culture, France.
Member of the Accademia di San Luca, Rome and of the Russian Academy of Architecture.
Grand Prix of the Academie d'Architecture, Paris, for the best architectural book, 1996.