As a young boy growing up in Essex, England, boredom would often draw Anthony Vidler out of his house and onto his bicycle for long rides through the countryside. The flat, unoccupied land would every so often give way to a crumbling ruin or an historic church, and Vidler would frequently stop to sketch them, a hobby that quickly turned into something more.
“I was very good at drawing, so I decided very early on to become an architect,” Vidler said.
Then, at age 15, Vidler traveled to Italy on a school trip and returned home captivated by the buildings in Venice, more determined than ever to make architecture his life’s work. This fall, he’ll join the Brown faculty with an appointment at the Cogut Center for the Humanities and as professor of history of art and architecture, continuing the work he’s now been doing for more than five decades.
“There are a lot of people here who I have followed over the years,” Vidler said. “I couldn’t imagine a more supportive, lively, friendly, amusing, and intellectually active group of colleagues. So I already feel totally at home. I’ve been very warmly welcomed.”
Vidler began his academic career in the United States in the Architecture School at Princeton University, where he would spend his first 27 years as a faculty member. He moved to the University of California-Los Angeles in 1993 to chair the Department of Art History. He returned to the East Coast in 2002 to serve as dean of the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at Cooper Union, the position he held when he accepted the appointment at Brown.
Vidler, whose specialization is in modern and contemporary architecture and urbanism from the Enlightenment to the present, earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture from Cambridge University, later earning a Ph.D. from the Technical University of Delft in the Netherlands. Moving to the United States to take up his position at Princeton, Vidler combined his teaching with a small consulting practice in New York, working with the administration of then-Mayor John Lindsay to repurpose abandoned buildings for use by community organizations, such as drug rehabilitation centers and job training centers. It was work that resonated strongly with Vidler.
“I’m very much community-oriented, socially involved, and engaged as an architect,” Vidler said.
But the work ran out after a few years and Vidler decided to turn full-time to scholarship and research. In addition to his university appointments, Vidler also found himself drawn to exhibition curation as another means of research.
“Architecture is usually presented as big glossy photographs of the final product, and I like to present architecture as a process of design and thinking about space and the way people use space,“ he said. “I like to find all the little sketches, the bits of sketches on little table napkins, that were made during the process of design.”
Vidler’s past works include installation of the permanent exhibition of the work of Claude-Nicolas Ledoux in the Royal Salt Works of Arc-et-Senans in Franche-Comté, France, as well as curating the exhibition “Ledoux et les Lumières” at Arc-et-Senans for the European Year of Enlightenment. For the last several years, Vidler has been working on various projects involving the archives of renowned architect James Stirling, who was a critic at Cambridge when Vidler was a student there. Vidler's retrospective exhibition of Stirling's work has been on view at the Yale Center for British Art, the Tate Britain, and the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, Germany.
Vidler said his experience in curating allows him to bring a multidimensional perspective to the classroom. “When teaching history of architecture, I look at the cultural role, social conditions, the economics, and politics. As a trained architect, I take students through a very careful analysis of the spatial organization, the three-dimensional form and the place of the building in history.”
Vidler’s intellectual and scholarly interests go beyond architecture to include the wider cultural dimensions of urban life, and he hopes to bring some of those to Brown through multidisciplinary seminars organized through his affiliation with the Cogut Center. He has already developed a seminar for the fall which will examine the cultural history of Paris in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as represented in poetry, movies, and other media.
Vidler plans to teach both undergraduate and graduate classes in the humanities program and the history of art and architecture, and said he looks forward to bringing his expertise to a growing department that is adding, in addition to Vidler, two other faculty for the coming academic year.
“I’m very excited to be a part of that,” Vidler said.