Gottfried Semper (1803–1879) is considered to be one of the most significant architects of the 19th century. The path of his life led him from his native Hamburg to Dresden – through Paris, Italy and Greece –, from Dresden to London and finally to Zurich and Vienna, opening up broad intellectual and cultural horizons along the way. He received international acclaim for his built works as well as for his writings already in his lifetime, and his influence extends to the present day. His theoretical writings, extending to many hundreds of pages, have left a particularly important mark on the history of art and architecture in the past 150 years.
Semper’s main theoretical work, Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts, or Practical Aesthetics (1860/63), stands at the centre of this project. His Style fascinates its readers until today with its ambitious attempt to understand architecture as a product of cultural practices. The breadth of his writings necessarily entailed that his investigations extended far over the boundaries of architectural and art history into the domains of other disciplines, including the history of culture and language, evolutionary biology, and anthropology.
The aim of this project – a collaboration between ETH Zurich and the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI), Mendrisio – is to produce a critical and commented edition of draft and published versions of Semper’s Style in digital form. This will make the whole of the extensive illustrative and textual content of the work accessible online for the first time creating a reliable and verifiable resource for researchers and the general public. Semper’s ample preparatory materials (notes, drafts, proofs, and drawings kept in the gta Archives, ETH Zurich) will be analysed by the means of text critique and will form a key part of the edition. Furthermore, the edition will highlight the differences between distinct print editions. The extent and complexity of the manuscript holdings will demand a full twelve years to complete the research and editorial work, conceived in three stages. The first of these (2017–20) will critically edit the material relating to the first volume of Style. The following two four-year stages of the project are dependent on a positive evaluation by the SNSF after each stage.