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Chicago Schools: Large-scale Dissemination and Reception


The Chicago school of architecture is the theme of this symposium publication, yet, is this theme not a Gordian knot of history that one can only tighten and never unwind? Since the 1960s, many architec- tural historians have felt frustrated when interpreting the meaningof the term “Chicago school” because it seemed fragmented and too ambiguous. However, would this seemingly troubling ambiguity not be a significant and all the more interesting phenomenon to study? How does such a world of parallel variants and alternatives come into existence? Is history shaped by just one or by multiple simultaneous authors, and by the changing tastes of their audiences? In this lec- ture, I attempt to answer exactly these questions. The lecture revisits the meaning of the term Chicago school in the public discourse, and it proposes a new theory to interpret questions of ambiguity, poly- semy, and semantic change. How did writers and readers shape the meaning of the Chicago school? And why did the term persist and prevail undisturbed by historical breaks? In light of the new theory, it can be concluded that the Chicago school did not rise to fame because someone in the nineteenth century foresaw the future, but because large-scale dissemination and reception transforms individual creativity into collective strategy.

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