PH.D Program in Architecture Current Research

Forms of Function: Self-Culture, Geometry, and Octagon Architecture in Antebellum America

Irene Cheng

This dissertation explores the relationship between interest in ideal architectural geometries and radical reform movements in the United States during the first half of the nineteenth century. Focusing on the example of octagon buildings, I argue that numerous antebellum Americans, from Thomas Jefferson to Orson Fowler, saw geometrically distinct architecture as a tool to cultivate new kinds of private “selves”--stronger, healthier, more rational subjectivities capable of negotiating and transforming an emergent capitalist and democratic society. Octagon architecture was imagined as a kind of private utopia—the individualistic counterpart to the era’s myriad radical communes and colonies, as well as its prisons, hospitals, and other emerging typologies for reforming human subjects. Long dismissed by most architectural historians as follies, this dissertation investigates antebellum octagon buildings as a cipher through which to unravel relationships between ideas about individual subjectivity, architecture, and radical reform at a critical period in U.S. history.

Building a Continent: Modern Architecture and the Construction of Latin America in the 1950

Patricio Del Real

My dissertation examines the idea of Latin America as a symbolic transnational territory constructed through Modern architecture in the 1950s. I start from a simple formulation: if there is a Latin-American Architecture, as manifested in countless uses of the term, there must be a “place” called Latin America. I search for this place by examining three architectural exhibitions that occurred in the 1950s: (1) the architecture section of the 1953 Bienal de São Paulo, Brazil; (2) Latin American Architecture since 1945, organized by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 1955, and (3) Arquitectura Panamericana, prepared by the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, Mexico, in 1957. My premise is that Latin America was assembled through iconographic images of Modern architectural projects in a dynamic exchange with actual buildings. As an institutional site for the production of cultural images the museum was central to the construction of Latin America during the early years of the Cold War. I aim to challenge the now-customary confrontation between Latin America and the United States by revealing the museum as a site that facilitated two-way exchanges and negotiations by creating a cosmopolitan citizen.

Dwight Perkins Architect: Civic Representation and Social Reform in Chicago during the Progressive Era, 1893-1933

Jennifer Gray

Chicago architect Dwight Perkins was a pivotal figure in the progressive social and political reforms that were especially strong in the Midwestern United States during the opening decades of the twentieth century. He held several municipal appointments, lobbied successfully for the passage of conservation legislation, and had personal and professional connections with prominent local reformers such as Jane Addams, the founder of Hull House settlement, John Dewey, a pragmatist philosopher and pedagogue, Charles Zueblin, a leader in the City Beautiful Movement, and Jens Jensen, a landscape architect. My contention is that this milieu shared a set of socio-political ideals that revolved around the goal of fostering a mutually responsible social democracy in place of laissez faire individualism and that the realization of this goal took on architectural form through Perkins' designs for new social centers, namely: settlement houses, public schools, playgrounds, parks and recreation facilities. Perkins and his compatriots envisioned these spaces as loci of democratic exchange, and when grouped together they operated as a town planning formula for creating self-governing democratic communities. This dissertation seeks to explore: 1) the substance of the social reforms desired by Perkins and his fellow progressives, which touched on issues such as assimilation, the role of public education in molding citizens, the importance of group recreation and nature study in promoting democratic behavior, as well as an emphasis on health, hygiene, safety, and efficiency; 2) the way in which Perkins' social centers institutionalized certain middle-class values, especially with regards to gender roles and economic class; 3) the way Perkins' realized and symbolized these agendas in his architectural designs, particularly through his use of materials, his development of new plan types, and his creation of hybrid architectural forms that often incorporated historical motifs.

The Informal as a Project: Self-Help Housing in Peru, 1955-1986

Helen Gyger

On the cover of its August 1963 issue, Architectural Design presented a striking view of the city of Lima, with its "barriadas" or squatter settlements squarely dominating the foreground. By juxtaposing modernist mass-housing projects with barriadas and aided self-help housing schemes, the magazine positioned these heretofore marginal practices as equally viable solutions warranting serious consideration. This dissertation examines the emergence of such projects as a solution to the provision of low-cost housing in Peru,1955-1986 . The period opens with the arrival in Peru of John F. C. Turner, whose writings advocating self-determination through the provision of self-built shelter had a significant impact internationally, and ends with Hernando de Soto's neoliberal manifesto El otro sendero: La revolución informal, promoting the dynamism of informal housing, trade, and transport as key drivers of economic growth. The dissertation focuses on three intersecting areas: the social and political conditions which made Peru a fertile site for innovation in low-cost housing; the influences within architectural culture leading to these alternative approaches; and the context in which international development agencies came to embrace these projects in furtherance of their larger goals. In the process the dissertation aims to undertake a critical reexamination of self-help housing strategies, reassessing their potential in contemporary practice.

Organization and Abstraction: The Architecture of SOM from 1936 to 1956

Hyun Tae Jung

How did a large-scale architectural practice begin and become successful in the United States in the mid-twentieth century? By investigating, at once historically and iconographically, the firm of SOM (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill), the dissertation explores the trajectory of 'corporate architecture.' It focuses on the firm's early history from 1936 to 1956, during which SOM grew from a small design firm to a large architecture-engineering firm.

SOM went through drastic transformations in organization and design in its early years. In the late 1930s, the small architecture office was highly influenced by industrial design. During World War II at the town of Oak Ridge, TN, for the Manhattan Project, the firm fully employed modern design idioms and developed a new organizational structure drawn from collaboration with the 'military-industrial complex.' After the war, the firm became known as both the dominant producer of corporate architecture and an efficient organizer of large-scale projects.

Over the years, SOM has had a critical impact on the prosperity and the dominance of modern architecture in America. However, a critical analysis of its history has not been done. The dissertation illustrates how by combining flexible organizational structures with an efficient design production, SOM was able to produce post-war office spaces that were repetitive yet organic.

Wilderness Nation: Building Canada's Railway Landscapes, 1884-1929

Elsa Lam

Central to Canadian identity is a national consciousness of inhabiting a country of vast wilderness landscapes. This thesis explores the role of the Canadian Pacific Railway in constructing these wilderness ideals during a crucial period of national expansion, economic growth, and cultural development. In alignment with federal projects of cultural nationalism, the transcontinental railway promoted land-grant sales and tourism by representing Canadian landscapes as untouched wildernesses to be at turns tamed by agriculture, preserved as scenic locales, or assimilated to a folk heritage. Part 1 examines the railway's ready-made farm program of1884-1889 , which envisioned the redemption of sprawling Prairie wilderness areas through agriculture. Part 2 examines a tourism program initiated in 1887, in which luxury hotels were constructed in locations seen as exhibiting the scenic properties of sublime wilderness. Part 3 examines CPR festivals initiated from1925-1929 , in which Natives were assimilated to images of untouched wilderness settings belonging to a distant past. This thesis questions how both the railway infrastructure itself and its landscapes came to be constructing as aesthetic objects, relating to landscape traditions in Europe and North America, and contributing to the conceptualization of wilderness as an integral part of cultural nationalism.

How the 'Savage Mind' Became the Artificial Mind: Or, Some Strange Ways Architecture and Design Made Use of the Social Sciences, 1880-1985

Ginger Nolan

This dissertation examines how architects and designers in Europe and the U.S. drew upon theories of the 'savage mind' in their efforts to systematize processes of design, creativity, and the imagination. While it is well-known that European avant-gardes often used artifacts from small-scale societies as figurative models to imitate, there is scant scholarship accounting for how the alleged thought processes of so-called primitives were translated into new design methodologies. Wishing to identify relationships that supposedly linked designed things to larger contexts of signification, many designers turned to anthropological studies of small-scale societies and psychological accounts of human development, assuming that these offered pared-down or unadulterated versions of how societies construct systems of thought linking designed objects to beliefs and social practices.

The 'savage mind' and the 'modern mind' are both invented categories that are crucial, I argue, to the perpetual development of modernity. Given the spectral quality of la pensée sauvage—that it has no objectified existence and thus crops up in all manner of times, places, and discourses—it has functioned like a cipher shuttling between un-like things and thoughts and transforming their relations. Indeed, it is precisely with the purpose of transforming such relations that the 'savage mind' is and continues to be (re-) invented. This dissertation will focus on four case studies, beginning with how and why ethnographic studies of 'primitives' and magic were useful in formulating new pedagogical methods at the Public Industrial Arts School of Philadelphia (c. 1880-1905) and concluding with the entwined interests in third-world development, child development, and artificial intelligence on the part of designers and researchers in the Media Arts and Sciences at M.I.T. (c. 1969-1985).

Expo 67; or the Architecture of Late Modernity

Inderbir Singh Riar

This dissertation explores the visionary architecture of Expo 67. In particular, the thesis studies the how the official theme of the Universal and International Exhibition - "Man and His World" - was deliberately conceived as an urbanistic ensemble, notably through its parsing into massive pavilions dedicated to fields such as "Man the Producer", "Man the Explorer", and "Man the Provider". Like the nineteenth-century precedents of Paxton's Crystal Palace or Dutert's Galerie des Machines, the theme pavilions continued the modernizing project of world's fairs to situate spatially the relations between "man" and his objects. Yet, taken together, the pavilions were seen as ways to thoroughly re-draw or, better, re-map the "world"; their architecture would be the ultimate medium to convey what the Expo 67 organising committee had envisioned as the first fair "opposed to both corporations and nations". The technics of long-span construction, especially the use of space frames, was instrumental to realising this extra-national project. These structures, which included Moshe Safdie's celebrated Habitat 67 housing complex, gave contour to a growing belief among architects in notions of "flexibility" and "indeterminacy" - concepts central to three intertwined conditions impacting the programming and realisation of Expo 67: first, a Canadian architecture culture favourably disposed to discourses of systems building and systems theory; second, an international discussion on the "megastructure", whose viability was given proof by the architecture of the fair; and third, an emergent social context popularised as "the open society","post-industrial society", or "the knowledge society".

Inventing the public: modern mass housing and the colonial complex in postwar Singapore and Hong Kong, 1949-63

Eunice Seng

The dissertation is a historical and theoretical analysis of modern mass housing in Singapore and Hong Kong after the Second World War prior to the establishment of a full-fledged public housing program. The comparative study examines the aesthetic and technological extension of the colonial apparatus in which the intersection of architects, housing design, media and politics transformed the postwar landscapes of the Asian colonial city-state. The immediate years following World War II was a period of political, economic and urban restructuring in Singapore and Hong Kong. New housing types and urban configurations were built in Singapore in response to the immediate crisis of post-war population boom and post-fire housing shortage. Designed by British architects and British-trained Straits Chinese in the Colonial Office, the new housing types paralleled the public housing experiments in the west. During this transitional period, housing provision revealed developments in the notion of the public, the public sector and public space in the two crown colonies, despite adopting different philosophies, approaches and planning practices in their public housing programs from the 1960s. From the onset, the modern housing estate was imbued with British social ideals - propagated by figures like Ebenezer Howard and Patrick Abercrombie - such as an undifferentiated mass population with a collective public life who would enjoy the public provision of green open spaces and amenities. The modern flat embodied imported notions of civility and public behavior. Never before were the predominantly Chinese population so visibly housed and the divisions between their public and private lives so clearly delineated. Heralded in governmental annual reports and professional publications like the RIBA journal and Far East Builder as testimonials to the continuing dominion of the Empire, modern mass housing bore economic, technological as well as political import for the colonial governments and the succeeding local governments. Educating the populace on the spaces and objects in the modern home and the appropriate conduct of modern living became a parallel project to resettlement and town planning. Apropos, this dissertation will also offer a cross-cultural perspective on the development and deployment of modern mass housing from the machine aesthetic of the first freestanding block to the first housing estates in these cities and how developments in the sphere of public housing provision realigned social relations and the collective identity of a largely immigrant population.