Abstract- Janine Marchessault & Michael Darroch

Anonymous History as Methodology: The Collaborations of Siegfried Giedion, Jaqueline Tyrwhitt, and the Explorations Group (1951-53)

The influence of architectural theory on the development of media studies has been largely overlooked (Pallasmaa 1996, Cavell 2002, Marchessault 2005). This paper belongs to a project to excavate the vital collaborations and experiments that developed during the landmark interdisciplinary Explorations Seminar held at the University of Toronto (1951-53). Funded by a Ford grant, the weekly seminar was organized by the little known English professor Marshall McLuhan, urban planner Jaqueline Tyrwhitt and anthropologist Edmund Carpenter. Their aim was to develop interdisciplinary methodologies using a ‘field’ approach to discern the new grammars and environments created by electronic communications technologies (with an emphasis on film, television, radio and computers). In a letter to his colleague in Political Science, Harold Innis, McLuhan noted the central inspiration for this “experiment in communication”: Siegfried Giedion’s two classics Space, Time and Architecture (1941) and Mechanization Takes Command (1948). (Letters 222)
This paper addresses Giedion’s influences on and collaborations with the Explorations Group, which included over twenty participants, mostly from North America. How did a particular methodology grow out of the seminar, using the environment and architecture as the framework for discerning the effects of media? In all his historical studies of architecture and everyday life, Giedion was committed to crossing the boundaries between science, technology and art as a means to engage with history as a living process of “manifold relations” (1948: 3). His ideas were familiar to McLuhan through Tyrwhitt who served as translator and editor of many of Giedion’s writings. Tyrwhitt developed her own approach to the communications media, seeing them as living spaces deeply connected to place. She saw the city, live television and urban places as laboratories for social and cultural transformation, and worked with Jane Jacobs to stop several destructive development projects in Toronto. Our paper seeks to redress the lack of recognition her important work has received in media and architectural studies.
This paper is based on a close examination of Giedion’s works, the Explorations Group’s papers and journal Explorations (1953-59) and original archival research into Tyrwhitt’s papers.