Loading...

PH.D Program in Architecture Current Research

Architecture, Technocracy, Silence: Building Discourse in Franquista Spain

María González Pendas

This dissertation examines the emergence of a distinct form of architectural culture in Spain during the Franquista regime (1939-1975), and draws connections between the modernization of architecture and the ideological and institutional evolution of the dictatorship. Throughout its thirty six year span, the fascist Sate led by Francisco Franco transitioned from a military autarky to a technocratic state of sorts, all the while retaining the ultraconservative, Catholic, and authoritarian values that were essential to its inception. Opus Dei cadres who came to control the governing and cultural apparatus of the regime led this particular process of reactionary modernization. This dissertation reveals ways in wich buildings, architects and ideas about the built environment participated of this shifting scenario, arguing that the intersection of aesthetics and politics assumed the paradoxical discursive form of silence. If architects undermined the symbolic aspirations of their designs by means of abstraction and the formal and technical tropes proper to modernism, there was also a foreclosure of critical discourse and an emphasis on building as disciplinary domain. Through a series of analysis of buildings that remain silenced in the history of architecture—or emptied out of their ideological significance and that include the Tarragona Government Building and the National Pavilion for Expo'58—I make them speak of the politics of Franquismo, of the architecture culture they encompassed, and of the ways in which silence was instrumental to both. The apparent depoliticization of architecture by way of technological and formalist detours is hardly a local phenomenon. With Franquista Spain as case study, this dissertation adds to the lasting disciplinary debate on the role of, and ultimately the need for a critical ethos as a means of confronting the political agency of architecture.

The Psychotechnical Architect: Perception, Vocation, and the Laboratory Cultures of Modernism, 1914-1945

James D. Graham

Technological rationalization has often been held as one of the defining characteristics of architectural modernism, as the engine of industrial modernity was fueled by a quantitative sense of Arbeitskraft through which labor power was rendered knowable, abstract, and exchangeable. But this caloric understanding of the urban worker was frequently shadowed by an interest in perceptual rationalization as well. If Taylorist empiricism implied an architecture of efficient work, where did that leave the figure of the architect? Could design and experience be rethought as kinds of work, and rendered similarly empirical? Such was the promise of Hugo Münsterberg's invention of "psychotechnics" in 1914—a parascientific discipline that blended industrial management with perceptual psychology, creating data from phenomena and human capacities that had previously resisted quantification. Psychotechnics promised a vocational bureaucracy through which to judge not just architecture, but architects (with aspiring students finding themselves on both sides of the scientific apparatus, as researchers and as subjects of inquiry).

From its naming in 1914 through the close of the Second World War, a number of architects took interest in this since forgotten field, which held the significant possibilities for new directions in design pedagogy, architectural practice, urban planning, and more generally understanding the interface between human subjects and the spaces and systems of the industrialized city (whether communist or capitalist). In the search for a modernism beyond the formal precepts of the "modern movement," the architectural laboratory became the central scene of action, grounding architectural production in new models of research that redefined architecture's status as a discipline. Following a number of attempts at psychotechnical architectures through the United States, Germany, and the Soviet Union—by figures such as Hugo Münsterberg, Hanns Riedel, Hannes Meyer, Walter Moede, Nikolai Ladovsky, Pavel Rudik, Frank Gilbreth, and László Moholy-Nagy—my research traces the contours of an evolving discourse of expertise, aptitude, and spatial sensibility as the discipline of architecture remade itself on simultaneously aesthetic and political grounds.

Modernity’s Body, 1850-1930: The Architecture of Norm and Type in East Central Europe and German Africa

Hollyamber Kennedy

At the 1930 World Energy Conference in Berlin, the architect Herman Sörgel unveiled his technological vision for Atlantropa—a new Mitteleuropa, a 'postnational' state represented by an infrastructural map that linked the 'arid' lands of Africa and the Middle East to the industrial centers of Central Europe.  Under the banner of an 'efficient' hydroelectric colonialism, an expanded Germany would absorb the 'surplus populations' and raw materials of the African continent and the Middle East.  For Sörgel, it was a matter of risk management: Threated by American capital to the west, and "the Yellow Menace" to the east, Atlantropa would draw its power along an extended north south span that stretched "from pole to pole," dissolving the Westphalian border system in a flood of synthetic light.  It would be, Sörgel argued, a modern electrical deluge: "Instead of dividing walls: binding power lines! Only a common interlinking with a high-voltage network achieves a European Union."   Drawing on the work of Phillip Sarasin and Roberto Esposito, I argue that Sörgel's map conceptualized the immunitary principle at the core of sovereign power—the problem of the conservatio vitae first expressed in Hobbesian legal theory—as an infrastructural practice.

As such, Sörgel's presciently postcolonial 'world building' exercise stands as a key example of what I identify in this dissertation as a 'border discourse' central to the development of architectural modernism in Central and East Central Europe.  I argue that this development, which emerged within a statistical paradigm of risk and optimization, was intimately linked to Germany's colonization project across the African continent, and took shape as a network of aesthetic languages focused on the body—both as a discrete unit and as a representation of the 'body politic,' or, in liberal governmental terms, the population.  This network, and its role in configuring the heuristic of the modern body as a medium for visualizing both disease and political belonging, is the focus of my study.  Following the work of Gottfried Semper, Robert Koch, Max Weber, Hermann Muthesius, and Sörgel, this dissertation tracks the 'typed' and ultimately 'normed' body as it travels through and is altered by the disciplines and techniques of architectural standardization, infrastructural systems building, ethnographic display and public health management.  It opens in London, on the eve of the Great Exhibition of 1851, and concludes in 1930 at the World Energy Conference in Berlin.  Over the course of five chapters, it suggests an alternative archeology of architectural modernism that draws together new housing types, public hygiene and environmental reform, transnational dams and electrical systems, quarantine camps and bodily-oriented curatorial methodologies.

Exporting Zionism: Architectural Modernism in Israeli-African Technical Cooperation, 1958-1973*

Ayala Levin

(Photo Credit: Harold Rubin, for Arieh Sharon and Eldar Sharon in collaboration with Egboramy, University of Ife Library Building (1966-1975). Source: Arieh Sharon Archive. Courtesy of Ms. Yael Aloni.)

This dissertation explores Israeli architectural and construction aid in the first decades of sub-Saharan African states independence. In the Cold War competition over development, Israel distinguished its aid by alleging a postcolonial status, similar geography, and a shared history of racial oppression to alleviate fears of neocolonial infiltration. I critically examine how Israel presented itself as a model for rapid development more applicable to African states than the West, and how the architects involved negotiated their professional practice in relation to the Israeli Foreign Ministry agendas, the African commissioners' expectations, and the international disciplinary discourse on modern architecture. I argue that while architectural modernism was promoted in the West as the International Style, Israeli architects translated it to the African context by imbuing it with nation-building qualities such as national cohesion, labor mobilization, skill acquisition and population dispersal. Based on their labor-Zionism settler-colonial experience, as well as criticisms of the mass construction undertaken in Israel in its first decade, the architects diverged from authoritarian "high modernism" to accommodate the needs of weak governments.

Focusing on prestigious governmental and educational buildings such as the Sierra Leone parliament, Ife University in Nigeria, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ethiopia, this study brings to the fore the performative capacities of these buildings in relation to the national and international audiences they addressed as vehicles of governance and markers of a desired modernity. In other words, this study charts the international political and economic mechanisms that facilitated these projects, and the national infrastructure they were supposed to catalyze and sustain. Cutting across North-South and East-West dichotomies, the study of this modality of transnational exchange sheds new light on processes of modernization and globalization and exposes their diverse cultural and political underpinnings.

* This research is supported by the International Dissertation Research Fellowship of the Social Science Research Council, and the Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life at Columbia University.

Working title: Feminism in American Architecture, 1968-2000

Andrea J. Merrett

My project – an examination of the impact of feminism on American architecture from the late1960s through the 1990s – explores the ferment that shook architecture during these pivotal decades. Second-wave feminism emerged out of the turmoil of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and was well established as a movement by the time women in architecture began organizing associations and conferences in early 1970s. From early concerns about improving their numbers and status in the profession, feminist architects and architecture scholars expanded the knowledge of women’s involvement in the built environment, and challenged the boundaries of the discipline. The 1990s saw a proliferation of scholarship and academic conferences which, reflecting a broader shift towards theory in architecture and feminism, took up gender and discourse analysis. Through careful archival work, supported by extensive interviews, I seek to uncover the history of the feminist movement in architecture and assess its present-day legacies.

Savage Mind to Savage Machine: Techniques and Disciplines of Creativity, 1880-1985

Ginger Nolan

This project reexamines histories of modernist design by proposing to view them through a theory of "semiotic apartheids", traces of which can first be detected in early strains of European liberal political philosophy and epistemology, eventually manifesting themselves through the putative binary of conscious versus unconscious processes of production. In the twentieth century, the categories of conscious and unconscious thought became pivotal to formulating new semiotic and aesthetic technologies, such that a peculiar association between technics and "savage thought" (the latter identified with unconscious creativity) came to underlie new methods of artistic production in Western Europe and the United States. Nolan argues that class inequalities under capitalism have been linked to the ongoing formulation of these two distinct—albeit tacit—constructs of epistemic subjectivity: one whose creative intellectual processes are believed to constitute personal property, and one whose creative intellectual processes—because these are deemed rote or unconscious—are not regarded as the property of those who wield them. This is despite the fact that the unconscious psyche or, the "Savage Mind," was, at the same time, repeatedly invoked by modernist designers in their efforts to formulate creative technologies that tended towards digital modes of production.

Nolan examines how modernist design has implicitly constituted itself as aesthetic processes through which unconscious, magical creativity becomes consciously systematized and reified as technological, scientific forms of production. The dissertation is structured around four disciplinary paradigms of design— industrial design, architecture, environmental design, and media arts—and asks how and why each of these sub-disciplines invoked "savage thought" to develop new methods of creativity. Designers in fact hoped to discover in magical thought specific intellectual mechanisms for linking designed things to larger contexts of signification, a search that dovetailed with early endeavors in the field of Artificial Intelligence to devise computational languages and environments. The Savage Mind thus lies at the heart of new media technologies, even while intellectual property in those technologies remains the purview of a techno-scientific elite.