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Shannon Lecture Series with Inderbir Singh Riar: “Expo 67: Some Notes on Architecture, Nationhood, and Late Modernity”

November 17, 2017 at 2:30 PM

Location:Multi-Media Lab (room 482), Discovery Centre, MacOdrum Library MacOdrum Library
Key Contact:Paul Litt
Contact Phone:613-520-2828

This lecture will take place in the Multi-Media Lab (room 482), Discovery Centre, MacOdrum Library starting at 2:30PM followed by a reception in the History Lounge (433 Paterson Hall).

Co-sponsored by the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism


Expo 67 produced both continuations of and crises in the emancipatory project of modernism.  Like universal exhibitions before it, Expo 67 stood to mediate relations between aesthetics and technics, between peoples and things, through its most visionary architecture.  Resulting theories of design, especially attempts to derive enormous structures from complex geometries, carried a modernist conviction of long duration: namely, an abiding technological determinism shaping dreams of a new global citizen.  At the very same moment, this universalism was fraught with ambiguity: to embrace techno-science inevitably meant facing the aftershock of global war and the present terror of nuclear holocaust.  The tension animated attempts at advancing a novel “cellular architecture”, which the Expo 67 authorities would promote as the lasting contribution of the fair.  Confronting the functionalist inheritance of the Modern Movement, architects embraced bio-mechanical metaphors and models to discover primal forms capable of engendering “open” concepts of society and space.  Such ideas and ideals informed efforts like the breathtaking Man the Producer theme pavilion – a key subject of this lecture – with its remarkable tetrahedra epitomising the optimism of large-scale thinking in the 1960s.  To pioneering Montreal architects responsible for the Expo 67 theme Man and His World (a paean to contemporary humanism inspired by UNESCO and the celebrated Family of Man photography exhibition, among other sources), these works (deliberately situated alongside heroic examples recuperated from the nineteenth century) meant rejecting the most enduring symbols of world exhibitions: the nation-state and its symbolic architecture.  Theirs was a vision of late modernity, a moment, not fully marked by mass culture and media, during which nationalisms could still be channelled, via architecture, into alternative kinds of political belonging free of narrow self-interest, conflict, and inequity.  The utopian hope would be fleeting, promised, after all, in a short-lived spectacle unfolding across temporary fairgrounds removed from any difficulties of the city, politics, and history.

About Professor Inderbir Singh Riar

Inderbir Singh Riar profile picture in front of a buildingInderbir Singh Riar is an architectural historian.  He explores ways in which architects have imagined the modern metropolis as producing ideal citizenries.  This work has taken several forms including an extensive look at Toulouse-Le Mirail, the consequential French ville nouvelle built in the 1960s (a study undertaken in collaboration with the Paris-based photographer Mark Lyon and supported by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts).  Recent research examines ideologies of “reconstruction” in West Germany and how cities were seen as sites of democratic sentiment in the aftermath of war, occupation, and fascism.  A larger interest in postwar architecture culture informs Riar’s current book project on the intellectual program and experimental architecture of Expo 67 (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2019).  Along with his scholarly activity, Riar serves on the Board of Directors of the Diefenbunker, Canada’s Cold War Museum in Carp, Ontario.

Please contact Paul Litt at ideally at least two weeks in advance of this event, and at the very least one week in advance, should you wish to request interpretation services.

two hands representing sign language usage