of Architecture
Institute for the History and Theory of Art and Architecture


Current research projects


Gottfried Semper (1803–79) ranks among the most outstanding spatial designers of the nineteenth century. To this day, his diverse theoretical writings not only continue to be of interest to the history of art and architecture, but also provide a lasting source of inspiration for architectural practice.
Semper’s magnum opus on architectural theory, «Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts; or, Practical Aesthetics» (1860/63), is at the center of the edition project. The two volumes remain compelling to this day for their approach to understanding architecture as a product of cultural practices. Semper’s broad interests cover research far beyond the usual boundaries of the history of architecture and art, from cultural history and linguistics to evolutionary theory and ethnology.
The project – a collaboration of ETH Zurich and the Università della Svizzera italiana, Mendrisio – offers a critical and commented edition in digital form of the various print editions of «Style» and the associated manuscripts. For the first time, the extensive body of texts and images is made available in its entirety in a scientifically verifiable form. Drafts, working copies and proofs (mostly at gta Archives, ETH Zurich) are transcribed critically and edited in a comparative approach together with the printed editions.
Due to extent and complexity of the material, the edition project is modularly structured in three stages. In the first two phases (2017–24), holdings will be critically edited and commented on that belong to the two volumes of «Style» published during Semper’s lifetime, as well as those of its direct precursor, Semper’s unpublished «Theory of Art Forms» (Kunstformenlehre); in a planned third phase (2025–28), the material related to the third volume of «Style» projected by Semper: The relevant manuscripts of his «Comparative Architecture» (Vergleichende Baulehre), his last public Zurich lecture «On Architectural Styles» (Ueber Baustyle, 1869), and a selection of his lectures given at ETH Zurich, which survive as student notes.
Diversity of material to be edited requires an innovative digital open-access presentation. A critical apparatus with commentary level links the edition to external materials and databases and makes Semper’s scientific and cultural context accessible. Complex textual layers are presented in a user-friendly way so that Semper’s conceptual universe can be experienced by both specialists and the generally interested. Linking and search processes that are not possible to such a high degree in conventional digital editions are made possible by the specifically adapted graph database (Neo4j). Thus, the Semper Edition is currently one of the most innovative projects in the field of digital editing in particular and digital humanities in general. 

Gottfried Semper: Style
Critical and Commented Edition


  • Responsible 
    • Prof. Dr. Philip Ursprung (ETH)
    • Prof. Dr. Sonja Hildebrand (USI)
  • Project leader
    • PD Dr. Michael Gnehm (USI, ETH)
  • Co-project leader
    • Dr. Elena Chestnova (USI)
  • Scientific collaborators
    • PD Dr. Felix Christen (USI) 
    • Dr. Dieter Weidmann (USI)
      Raphael Germann (USI) 
  • Student assistants
    • Franziska Beer (ETH)
  • Duration
    • 96 months
  • Beginning
    • January 2017
  • Funding sources
    • FNS, Divisione 1
  • Links 

Im Jahr 2014 ist in der Staatlichen Kunsthalle Karlsruhe eine spektakuläre Neubestimmung gelungen: Zwei Alben mit insgesamt 297 Zeichnungen können seither dem römischen Künstler, Architekten, Theoretiker, Antiquar und Antikenhändler Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) und seiner Werkstatt zugeordnet werden; bis dahin galten sie als Werke des Karlsruher Architekten Friedrich Weinbrenner (1766-1826). Zahlenmäßig handelt es sich bei dem Fund um die größte zusammenhängende Gruppe von Zeichnungen Piranesis und seines näheren Umfelds. Diese Entdeckung eröffnet die Chance auf eine umfassende Neubewertung des künstlerischen Werkes von Piranesi, das im Fokus des beantragten Projektes steht: Der Fund umfasst die gesamte typologische Breite im zeichnerischen Werk Piranesis - von den frühen capricci bis zu den archäologischen Darstellungen des Spätwerks. Höchst bedeutsam sind die zahlreichen Skizzen, die vor Ort entstandenen Zeichnungen nach der Antike, Abklatsche und anderen Typen von Zeichnungen, die nur höchst selten in Piranesis bisher bekanntem Oeuvre begegnen. Sie liegen hier in großer materialtechnischer Vielfalt vor. Die Zeichnungen weisen außerdem verschiedene Spuren früherer Benutzung und Montierung auf, die vollkommen erhalten sind und die Einblicke in Piranesis Werkstattpraxis erlauben. Teilweise können diese Spuren auf die Benutzung der Blätter als Unterrichtsmaterial in der Karlsruher Bauschule zurückgeführt werden, der Weinbrenner von 1800 bis 1825 vorstand. Er war es vermutlich auch, der die Zeichnungen am Ende seines Romaufenthaltes (1792-1797) in der Werkstatt Piranesis erwarb, sie mit nach Karlsruhe brachte und sie in die heutigen Alben montieren ließ. Die Breite des Bestands reicht geographisch weit über Karlsruhe hinaus: Gegendrucke und Kopien von Karlsruher Blättern befinden sich in den Nachlässen von Architekten des 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts, die heute in internationalen Sammlungen bewahrt werden (London, New York, Besançon, Dessau). Sie bezeugen die große internationale Verbreitung und den Einfluss von Piranesis Zeichnungen, der jetzt neu zu bewerten ist. Das interdisziplinäre Forschungsprojekt, an dem Kunsthistoriker und Restauratoren beteiligt sind, wird die komplexen Zusammenhänge offenlegen, in denen die Karlsruher Zeichnungen entstanden sind. Schlüsselfragen betreffen die Autorschaft Piranesis bzw. der Mitarbeiter seiner Werkstatt, Typus, Funktion und Technik der Zeichnungen, die Werkstattpraxis sowie die Benutzungsspuren und die Konservierung; darüber hinaus wird nach Piranesis Bedeutung für die zeitgenössische römische Graphik- und Buchproduktion gefragt, auch im Hinblick auf ihre weiträumige Verbreitung. Das methodisch innovative Forschungsprojekt wird erstmals die Karlsruher Alben in Piranesis Werk einbetten und deren Bedeutung für die europäische Kunstgeschichte sichtbar machen.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi and his Workshop: Two newly identified Albums at Karlsruhe

  • Responsible
    • Prof. Dr. Christoph Frank 
  • Collaborator
    • Bénédicte​ Maronnie
  • Duration
    • 24 months
  • Beginning
    • January 2018
  • Funding sources
    • FNS, Divisione 1 
  • Links




The aim of this project is to compile a catalogue, in seven volumes, of the medieval churches, numbering about 120 in all, that remain in Rome or are recorded in the sources, in order to complete the Corpus Cosmatorum II: Die Kirchen der Stadt Rom im Mittelalter (1050-1300) (see SNSF project 101212_124424), undertaken under the direction of Professor Peter Cornelius Claussen at the University of Zurich since 2002. 

The research examines the architecture and liturgical arrangement of medieval churches in Rome (11th-13th century), devoting particular attention to the art of marble decoration and its relations with antiquity. While the majority of Rome’s medieval churches were replaced by Baroque rebuilding or lost their original furnishings, the study of surviving fragments, as well as the textual and figurative sources, enables us to reconstruct a rich and varied image of the distinctive art of Rome, known as “Cosmatesque”. Each building in the dynamics between the factions occupied a specific position of self-representation of the curia, the aristocracy, the commune or the orders, which depended on strong signs and clear distinctions. Reflecting also the critical fortune and the history of restoration, these "biographies" of the churches of Rome constitute an element of our present history of ideas.

At this stage of the project, the completion and publication of the sixth volume, begun in 2018 and dedicated to the two apostolic basilicas of St. Paul's Outside the Walls and St. Peter's in the Vatican (project 10FI13_170405) as well as the start of research for the seventh volume are planned. This volume, destined to be the final volume of the Corpus, will include about forty churches, starting with P, with S. Pancrazio, and ending with the end of the alphabet. The monuments covered will include important medieval buildings, such as the basilica of S. Prassede, the complex of the SS. Quattro Coronati, the churches of S. Saba, S. Sebastiano fuori le mura, S. Stefano rotondo, SS. Vincenzo e Anastasio and, of course, the papal chapel located in the Lateran Palace, better known as Sancta Sanctorum, that is one of the late 13th century spaces that has best preserved all the splendour and magnificence of the marble, mosaic and pictorial decorations. Moreover, we expect that our study of the lesser-known churches of this volume will lead to unexpected discoveries and bring to light previously unknown or unrecognized works, based on a solid study of written sources and intensive on-site inspections.

The Churches of Rome in the Middle Ages (1050-1300)
Corpus Cosmatorum II, vol. 6: San Paolo fuori le mura and San Pietro in Vaticano; vol. 7: P–Z (S. Pancrazio – S. Zenone) 


  • Responsible
    • Prof. Dr. Daniela Mondini
  • Co-responsible
    • Prof. Dr. Carola Jäggi, Universität Zürich
  • Collaborators
    • Dr. Almuth Klein (USI)
    • Giorgia Pollio-Rossi (USI)
    • Angela Yorck von Wartenburg (UZH)
    • Dr. Biancamaria Hermanin de Reichenfeld (UZH)
  • External collaborators
    • Prof. Dr. emer Sible de Blaauw (Radboud University Nijmegen)
    • Prof. Nicola Camerlenghi (Dartmouth College)
    • Prof. Dr. emer. Peter Cornelius Claussen (UZH)
    • Dr. Michael Schmitz (Bibliotheca Hertziana)​
    • Darko Senekovic (Zurich)
  • Duration
    • 48 months
  • Beginning
    • April 2021
  • Funding sources
    • FNS, Divisione 1
  • Links 

The legacy of the historian André Corboz (1928–2012) spans five decades. Affiliated with architecture schools from the late 1960s onwards, Corboz established himself as a historian of architecture and urbanism, teaching first at the Université de Montréal (1967–1980), then as a tenured professor for the history of urbanism at ETH Zurich (1980–1993). For reasons to be found both in the idiosyncrasies of his person and his intellect, this self-trained art historian is at the same time one of the great unknown figures of his field, and this despite the considerable impact he and his writings have had. This is the premise for the project that will present a comprehensive look into the intellectual cosmos of Corboz as a singular academic, while discussing key elements of his innovative and transdisciplinary thinking as a resource in relation to today’s architectural and urbanistic theory and practice. 

The project consists of two closely related sub-projects: an exhibition at the Teatro dell'architettura (4 November 2022 - 5 February 2023) and a website where contents of the exhibition will be permanently and sustainably presented in a systematic and organised form. In addition, the website will offer structured access to the Fondo Corboz, one of the most significant and important holdings of the Academy of architecture Library (25.000 books and a substantial archive that goes with it). Revealing insights into Corboz’s unique form of knowledge production, the website will be designed for future expansion, allowing content to be added. 

The breadth of his thinking indisputably situates Corboz among the critical positions on the postmodern urban landscape. The transdisciplinary and open nature of his inquiries is a potential for this project. Therefore, the exhibition will address the broader context that informed his thinking, as well as the cultural shifts to which he in turn reacted. A physical context in this regard is the urbanized territory, the mutations of which provided the premise for the commentary formulated by Corboz. As historian he likewise contributed towards a critical interpretation of the institutions and the cultures of planning. Against this disciplinary background, the exhibition will serve as a space to exchange ideas on the contemporary territory and its governance.


Territory as Palimpsest: The legacy of André Corboz 


  • Responsible
    • Prof. Dr. Sonja Hildebrand
  • Project leader
    • Dr. André Bideau
  • Scientific collaborators
    • Dr. Anna Bernardi
    • MSc. arch. Frida Grahn
      MSc. arch. Lucia Pennati
  • Project partner
    • Dr. Elena Cogato Lanza (EPFL)
      Dr. Elisabetta Zonca (USI)
  • Duration
    • 30 months
  • Beginning
    • September 2020
  • Funding sources
    • Cattedra Borromini (USI)
    • Ernst Göhner Stiftung
    • Other third party funding