SNSF-Research Project
Gottfried Semper: Style. Digital Edition

SNSF-Research Project
Project responsibility: Philip Ursprung (ETH Zurich), Sonja Hildebrand (USI, Mendrisio)
Project lead: Michael Gnehm (USI / ETH), co-project lead Digital Humanities: Elena Chestnova (USI)

➔➔ S E M P E RE D I T I O N
▬▬The digital edition of Gottfried Semper's Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts (1860/63) presents the work for the first time in a critical version. It includes materials relating to the published volumes of Style up to the second edition (1878/79) as well as to the preliminary stages and planned sequels: the manuscripts of Theory of Art Forms (1856), those of Comparative Architecture (1849–70), which can be attributed to the unfinished third volume of Style, as well as selected Lectures (1861–71) from Semper's teaching activities at ETH, which survive as student notes.

▬▬The architect of the Swiss Federal Polytechnic (1864) in Zurich Gottfried Semper (1803–79) ranks among the most outstanding spatial designers and theoreticians of the nineteenth century. His career took him from his native Hamburg via Paris, Italy and Greece to Dresden, from there to London and finally to Zurich and Vienna. Semper’s broad intellectual and cultural horizon was already apparent in his first major publication, Preliminary Observations on Painted Architecture and Sculpture of the Ancients (Vorläufige Bemerkungen über bemalte Architectur und Plastik bei den Alten, 1834). He gained international renown with the Dresden Court Theatre (1841) at the latest. To this day, his diverse theoretical writings not only continue to be of interest to the history of art and architecture, but also provide a lasting source of inspiration for architectural practice.
▬▬Semper’s magnum opus on architectural theory, Style in the Technical and Tectonic Arts; or, Practical Aesthetics (1860/63), is at the center of the edition project. The two volumes remain compelling to this day for their approach to understanding architecture as a product of cultural practices. Semper’s broad interests cover research far beyond the usual boundaries of the history of architecture and art, from cultural history and linguistics to evolutionary theory and ethnology.
▬▬The project – a collaboration of ETH Zurich and the Università della Svizzera italiana (USI), Mendrisio – offers a critical and commented edition in digital form of the various print editions of Style and the associated manuscripts. For the first time, the extensive body of texts and images is made available in its entirety in a scientifically verifiable form. Drafts, working copies and proofs (mostly at gta Archives, ETH Zurich) are transcribed critically and edited in a comparative approach together with the printed editions.
▬▬Due to extent and complexity of the material, the edition project is modularly structured in three stages. In the first two phases (2017–24), holdings will be critically edited and commented on that belong to the two volumes of Style published during Semper’s lifetime, as well as those of its direct precursor, Semper’s unpublished Theory of Art Forms (Kunstformenlehre); in a planned third phase (2025–28), the material related to the third volume of Style projected by Semper: The relevant manuscripts of his Comparative Architecture (Vergleichende Baulehre), his last public Zurich lecture On Architectural Styles (Ueber Baustyle, 1869), and a selection of his Lectures given at ETH Zurich, which survive as student notes.
▬▬The digital edition is a follow-up to the research project on Gottfried Semper’s London exile, that resulted in the edited volume Architectural History and Globalized Knowledge (Mendrisio: Mendrisio Academy Press; Zurich: gta Verlag, 2021) and the critical and commented edition of Semper’s London Writings 1850–1855 (Zurich: gta Verlag, 2021).
▬▬Diversity of material to be edited requires an innovative digital open-access presentation. A critical apparatus with commentary level links the edition to external materials and databases and makes Semper’s scientific and cultural context accessible. Complex textual layers are presented in a user-friendly way so that Semper’s conceptual universe can be experienced by both specialists and the generally interested. Linking and search processes that are not possible to such a high degree in conventional digital editions are made possible by the specifically adapted graph database (Neo4j). Thus, the Semper Edition is currently one of the most innovative projects in the field of digital editing in particular and digital humanities in general. ➔ VIDEO ︙ Elena Chestnova (USI), “Modelling Manuscripts: the Example of the Semper Edition”, Digital Visual Media and Metadata, DHCH 2021, Istituto Svizzero Rome (ISR), 9 June 2021.


Project responsibility: Philip Ursprung (ETH), Sonja Hildebrand (USI)
Scientific collaborators: Elena Chestnova (USI), Bernhard Metz (USI), Raphael Germann (USI), Michael Gnehm (USI / ETH), Dieter Weidmann (USI)
Graphic Design: Nadine Wüthrich, Reinhard Schmidt
IT Development: Scientific IT Services (SIS), ETH Zurich – Swen Vermeul, Antti Luomi
Student assistants: Fiona Wiesner (ETH)

Scientific collaborators: Carmen Aus der Au, Felix Christen, Tanja Kevic
IT Development: Cezary Czernecki
Student assistants: Patricia Bachmann, Franziska Beer, Céline Berberat, Laura Ferreira dos Santos, Sara Finzi-Longo, Marc Lehmann, Xuehan Li


23 March 2022 Sonja Hildebrand (USI) and Elena Chestnova (USI), “Gottfried Semper, Der Stil”, Kunstwissenschaftliche Forschungen im digitalen Zeitalter, XXXVI Congress of German Art History, University of Stuttgart, 1:00-2:45 p.m.
20 November 2021 LA CASA COME UN VESTITO: Sciaredo Talks in Lugano.
5 November 2021 Nadine Wüthrich receives the Josef Müller-Brockmann Award.


▬▬Chestnova, Elena (USI) and Swen Vermeul (ETH), “Semper-Edition”, Zeitschrift für schweizerische Archäologie und Kunstgeschichte 77, no. 2/3, 2020, 139–52. ▬PDF 
▬▬Chestnova, Elena (USI), Material Theories: Locating Artefacts and People in Gottfried Semper’s Writings, London and New York: Routledge, 2022.
▬▬Gnehm, Michael (USI / ETH), “Gottfried Semper: Hüllen, Masken und Realität”, Tec21 148, No. 7, 11 March 2022, 35–7. ▬PDF 
▬▬Gnehm, Michael (USI / ETH), Stumme Poesie. Architektur und Sprache bei Gottfried Semper, Zurich: gta Verlag, 2004.
▬▬Gnehm, Michael (USI / ETH) and Sonja Hildebrand (USI) (eds.), Architectural History and Globalized Knowledge: Gottfried Semper in London, Mendrisio: Mendrisio Academy Press; Zurich: gta Verlag, 2021. ▬PDF
▬▬Hildebrand, Sonja (USI), Gottfried Semper: Architekt und Revolutionär, Darmstadt: wbg Theiss, 2020.
▬▬Mallgrave, Harry F., Gottfried Semper: Ein Architekt des 19. Jahrhunderts, trans. Joseph Imorde and Michael Gnehm (USI / ETH), Zurich: gta Verlag, 2001.
▬▬Nerdinger, Winfried and Werner Oechslin (eds.), Gottfried Semper 1803–1879: Architektur und Wissenschaft, Munich [etc.]: Prestel; Zurich: gta Verlag, 2003.
▬▬Semper, Gottfried, London Writings 1850–1855, eds. Michael Gnehm (USI / ETH), Sonja Hildebrand (USI) and Dieter Weidmann (USI), Zurich: gta Verlag, 2021. ▬PDF


Michael Gnehm