Skip to main content


Fellow María González Pendás presents Holy Modern: East, West, and the Constructs of Empire in Spain

Fellows, SOF Fellows

September 11, 2018

Fellow María González Pendás presents "Holy Modern: East, West, and the Constructs of Empire in Fascist Spain"

Tuesday, September 25, 2018; 6:30PM
Room 832, 8th Floor, Schermerhorn Hall
Columbia University

An opaque and hovering concrete cube that opened to an interior of richly ornamented patios, the building was readily celebrated as the “the jewel” of the fair, exemplar of a refined modernism unlike much of the technological kitsch taking over the grounds of the 1964 Worlds' Fair in New York. The reception of the architecture that the dictatorial regime of Francisco Franco brought into the world scene in 1964 echoed the praise stirred by the Spanish pavilion at Expo 58 in Brussels, a gridded structure of steel and glass likewise applauded as an “unexpected gem of architecture.” Despite the formal and material discrepancies between the two buildings, both were quintessentially modern—and seemingly at odds with the fascist regime they were called to represent. As the Italian Bruno Zevi put it in 1958: “The Spanish Pavilion makes one wonder: maybe this country is no longer fascist? Or, is Franco now tired and allows artists an unusual freedom?”

Fascism was of course alive and well, and architecture continued to be as crucial an instrument for its production as it had been in the 1930s across Europe. Only now the world stage was shifting under Cold War dynamics and with it the ideological configurations, images, and techniques of fascism. In this talk, I will chronicle how architects, State officials, and intellectuals worked together to redefine the cultural narrative and aesthetic register of fascism at mid-century in Spain, a project aimed at securing the regime a place within the modernizing and modernist West all the while retaining, and in many ways reinforcing the myth of empire and religious essentialism that was at the core of the Spanish radical right. The historian and Secretary of Censorship Florentino Pérez-Embid coined this two-sided ideal most fittingly as “Westernization in the means, Hispanization in the ends.” This talk will focus on the architectural strategy that Pérez-Embid proposed to project, namely, the re-inscription of the country’s Islamic past into an abstract and modernized representation of Catholicism. With this synthesis, architecture was called to perform the Spanish Reconquista and western modernization in the very same aesthetic breadth and, in doing so, to transfer a colonial campaign then definitely waning in North Africa to the realm of cultural politics. Beginning with a series of historical revisions on the architecture of Al-Andalus and the Mudejar style between 1944 and 1952 and concluding with the 1958 and 1964 pavilions, this talk follows Spanish architects in navigating the East/West, Islam/modern divide as a predicament to the regime’s imperial imagination—and a Western scene in welcoming this agenda within its ranks.​

María González Pendás teaches and writes in modern architectural history, with an emphasis on the politics of modernism in the second half of the twentieth century across the Iberian World. Her research reflects on the dislocations of architects’ ideologies, representation, and regimes of power; the role of language and silence in modernism and technocracy; the politics and aesthetics of labor; the intersection of architecture with processes of secularization; and the aesthetics, techniques, and buildings of fascist modes government. González Pendás received her Ph.D. in Architecture History and Theory from Columbia University in New York City, was previously trained as an architect in the Polytechnic University in Madrid, and is currently a Mellon Research Fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at Columbia University. Her academic work has received the support of the Fulbright Commission, the Temple Hoyne Buell Center, the Graham Foundation, and the Caja Madrid Foundation.​

Collins/Kaufmann events are free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served. We look forward to seeing you there.