SAH Blog


  • In the Yucatán, Land of Kukulkan

    By
    H. Allen Brooks Fellow Amber N. Wiley
     |
    Aug 11, 2014
    THOSE WHO BUILD HOUSES AND TEMPLES

    Essential
    to count the haab years or katun’oob
    that have passed since
    the great powerful men
    raised the walls of the ancient cities
    that we see now
    here in the province of the plains,
    all these cities scattered
    on the earth
    here and there, on high hills.
    Here in the cities, we try to give
    meaning to what we see today in the skies
    and what we know;
    for day to day
    at midday
    we see in the skies
    the signs told to us by
    the ancient people of this land,
    the ancient people of these villages
    here on our earth.
    Let us purify our hearts
    so at nightfall,
    and at midnight,
    from horizon to zenith
    we may read the face of the sky.
      HUA PAAGH’OOB YETEL PPUZ(OOB)

    Tz’u lam kaa[bet]
    u ppizil u xociil ua hayppel haab ua katum
    kin maan[aac]
    le u kinil uay te cahobaa leil
    h nucuuch chaac uincoob
    laitiob liiz u pa[ak] leil
    u uchben cahob
    helah c’ilic
    uay Peten H’Chakan,
    tu lacal lail cahoob ttittanoob
    yook lum
    uay helah
    taan c’ilic ttuuch
    men ttuuch yokol canal uitzoob.
    Lail eu talziic
    tu uay t cahoob c tz’iic
    u thanilbaal [baal] lail c’iliic hela
    baax c ohelma;
    tumen zazammal
    ci ilic t c chumuuc caan
    u chiculil bax alan ton
    tumen h uuchben uincoob
    uay t cabale,
    uay t lume.
    Ti c tz’iic u hahil c ool
    u tial caa paactac
    xocic u ba[al] yan t yiich
    lai caan yo[co]l akab bay tu c chum
    tu chumu[c] beyua tun chimil
    tan canza.

    Ancient Mayan poem from “The Songs of Dzitbalche.”  English translation and Mayan text from John Curl in Bilingual Review 26.2/3 (May 2001-Dec 2002).

    Mayan heritage in the Yucatán Peninsula is a living heritage. Mayan languages are living languages. It is because of this that I have titled this month’s blog post, “In the Yucatán, Land of Kukulkan.” Kukulkan is the Mayan feathered-serpent god, an equivalent to the Aztecs’ Quetzalcoatl. It is Kukulkan who is said to descend the stairs at Chichén Itzá on the spring and autumn equinoxes. In many ways, ancient and living Mayan cultures are omnipresent in the everyday aspects of life on the peninsula. The murals by Fernando Castro Pacheco in the Palacio de Gobierno in Mérida, as well as the exhibits in Palacio Cantón, which houses the Museo Regional de Antropología Yucatán, and in the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya all reinforce this impression. I took guided tours of Tulum, Coba, and Chichén Itzá and in both instances (I toured Tulum and Coba on one day) my tour guides referred to the ancient Mayans as their ancestors. This strengthened the idea that the inhabitants of the Yucatán today are of the same lineage of the ancient peoples of yesteryear, and that through storytelling, preservation, and contemporary custom, these bonds remain strong. One tour guide described how the Mayan calendar was cyclical, rotating and progressing along a trajectory, but always returning to its point of origin. An exhibit at Palacio Cantón entitled “To’on: Maayáa’onil Le K’iino’oba’” which is translated to “Mayas Contemporáneos” in Spanish and “The Maya of Today” in English opens with this idea:

    Maya life has always been – and continues to be – cyclical. This is a constant we could also say is part of human history, but in the case of Maya culture, it forms part of thinking that is anchored to a past, and connected to a future, that creates a present, living cycle of myth.[1]

    The “To’on” exhibit, while aesthetically and spatially disappointing, was a conceptual and thematic feat. Each section of the installation mixed traditional proverbs with images of contemporary Mayan culture, illuminating how and why the wisdom of ancestors transcends time.


    To’on exhibit board that discusses the tradition of building a house


    Image from To’on exhibit showing house building method


    Thatched roof house seen in stone carvings at Uxmal

    Climate and Geography

    One of the best advantages of traveling to various architectural sites is getting first-hand knowledge of differences in climate, geography, and natural resources available to the people who live and build in various regions. The tropical climate of the Yucatán was a stark contrast to mountainous Mexico City. The verdant Mayan jungle provided copious (and much needed) shade at sites like Coba and Uxmal. Tulum sits on the periphery of a dense forest of trees, high and mighty on a rocky cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. 


    Temple of the Wind at Tulum

    Cenotes, sinkholes that are abundant on the peninsula, offer fresh water to adventurous tourists and locals alike. These cenotes, naturally filtered through the earth, were sources of fresh water even for the ancient Maya. In some cases, cenotes were also used as places of sacrifice, like at Chichén Itzá.


    Tourists swimming in Cenote Ik Kil

    Ancient Mayans had access to both fresh water and salt water, and the latter was a source of sustenance for various sites since farming was not an option.  Sea salt was a staple trading commodity for the Mayans. Farming was difficult for Mayans because the ground consisted of limestone that rendered the land infertile. The solubility of the limestone partially accounted for the landscape of cenotes. The limestone was also a major construction material for important Mayan buildings and temples.

    Ancient Maya

    While on the peninsula I was able to visit Tulum, Coba, Chichén Itzá, and Uxmal. Uxmal is the only site I did not visit with a guide. I visited Tulum and Coba on the same day and enjoyed the opportunity to visit both sites, although Coba captured my imagination the most. It is a lesser-visited site than Tulum, but its situation in the midst of a dense jungle gives a feeling of greater integration into the landscape. There were moments when I didn’t see another human being in the complex, thanks to the thick curtain of trees. Additionally, the combination of partially restored and unrestored sites in Coba illustrated the amount of work and research involved in the reconstruction process. Traces of the reconstruction process were also evident at Chichén Itzá, where the Castillo was only partially reconstructed on certain sides.


    El Castillo at Chichén Itzá

    Central to my understanding of these sites and their evolution are the numerous, detailed Frederick Catherwood lithographs and the large scale, deeply intoxicating photography of Armando Salas Portugal. While most architectural historians may be familiar with Portugal’s images of Luis Barragán’s work, his documentation of Mayan sites is both so very poetic and scientific at the same time, evoking the inextricable relationship that the Mayan sites had with their surrounding landscapes.

    Querida Mérida

    I was immediately enamored of Mérida upon arrival. There is a vitality of life there that is truly exceptional. This city of about a million people shuts down major thoroughfares on a weekly basis for free street festivals, concerts, dancing, interactive shows, vendors, pedestrianism, and biking. I walked into something exciting provided by the city, without even trying several days in a row. 


    Songs in front of Catedral Mérida

    I walked and walked and walked in el centro in Mérida upon arrival. The architectural mix – Spanish colonial, Italianate, Art Deco – was colorful and vibrant. The focal point of the centro, Catedral Mérida (San Ildefonso), took my breath away. I decided then and there that I preferred this austere design to the excess of the baroque cathedral in Mexico City. The interior space of Catedral Mérida embodied the type of gravitas that the ancient Romans would have appreciated. This cathedral, like its counterpart in Mexico City, was built on the site of one of the most important pre-Hispanic edifices in the city, using the stones of former Mayan temples to build the foundation and walls.


    Interior of Catedral Mérida

    The legacy of Spaniards in the Yucatán is a bit more celebrated than it is in Mexico City. This is evident in the detailed attention paid to the restoration and maintenance of Museo Casa Montejo. Additionally, a major corridor in Mérida is named after the Spanish conquistador family Montejo, a surprising development since most of the Spanish colonial history I saw in Mexico City was restrained in comparison to the celebration of figures of Mexican revolution and independence. The Paseo de Montejo, mainly developed during the Porfirian era, is advertised in guidebooks as Mérida’s Champs-Élysées, portraying the grand aspirations of this peninsular city. Along Paseo de Montejo one can find testaments to the richness of Mérida’s past. The Palacio Cantón, already mentioned herein, was the house of Francisco Cantón Rosado, governor of the state of Yucatán from 1898 to 1902.


    Palacio Cantón

    So much about Mérida reminded me of New Orleans. The color palette of the buildings, the colonial past, the tight, grid-like layout of the historic center. Even the tropical climate and the insects that came with it. I arrived in Mérida during the rainy season, and one day I saw the streets of Mérida flood in a manner all too familiar to me after living three years in New Orleans. I was completely astounded. As it turned out, the kinship that I felt existed between the two cities was not a figment of my imagination, and in fact was felt amongst officials of the two cities as well. Mérida and New Orleans have been sister cities since 1990. The New Orleans airport offered direct flights to Mérida via Pan American World Airways as early as the mid-1940s, and in 2009 New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin and Mérida Cesar Bojorquez Zapata renewed their sister cities agreement. Anna Hartnell, scholar of contemporary literature, who organized a 2013 conference entitled “After Katrina: Transnational Perspectives on the Futures of the Gulf South” in which I participated, described the relationship between Mérida and New Orleans as such:

    Mérida, like Port au Prince, is architecturally reminiscent of New Orleans and, in turn, Havana. It boasts a high percentage of indigenous peoples – some say about 60% – who are proud of their distinctive culture and cuisine, eager to preserve their practices against a seemingly encroaching dominant Mexican culture. The culture here contrasts with that of New Orleans in marked ways, but the city’s embattled status, and the sense of abandonment that stalks some of the beautiful Spanish and French colonial buildings at the city’s core – despite the fact that Mérida, unlike New Orleans, is often promoted as a social and economic success story – is a reminder of the fact that so much of what seems to be unique to New Orleans are cultural traditions shared not just with the rest of the US but with its Latin and Caribbean neighbours.[2]

    The vibrant palette of architecture, the vivacity of life in the street, and the quirkiness of the city of Mérida truly is a testament to a “culture of feeling” that transcends national borders and is created between age-old trade routes and regional connections. 


    #pajaroscallejeros

    I found Mérida to be a surprisingly small town, given its metropolitan population of about one million people. On my last day in the city a friend of mine, who spent a month in Mérida this summer, asked me if I knew the secret behind the bird stencil graffiti all over the historic center. I told her I did not. I went on to ask my bed and breakfast hostess, who immediately pointed me to the artist Guillermo S. Quintana. As I prepared to catch a bus to Cancun, the city from whence my flight to Guatemala would depart, Guillermo walked into my bed and breakfast to introduce himself. My hostess had called and invited him over for some coffee and to speak to me briefly about his work, “#pajaroscallejeros.” Quintana considers his pieces to be urban interventions (a term that is a staple of current architecture school lexicon), adding another dimension to the everyday experience of the street. He has moved into a different phase of work, #pajaroscableados, stuffed cloth bird silhouettes hanging from electrical wires (much like sneakers in an urban neighborhood in the United States). While I did not have the opportunity to talk about his work in an in-depth manner, I do look forward to seeing how he progresses in leaving a unique imprint on the city. The ease with which I was introduced to Quintana, his willingness to stop by for coffee on a busy day, and the open dialogue about his work is the type of situation I could easily imagine happening in New Orleans as well.

    Logistics + Tackling Technology

    My time in the peninsula was partially spent doing the tangible work of this fellowship – organizing and editing my photographs from Mexico City to upload to SAHARA and brainstorming on how to organize my first SAH Blog post – would it be extremely academic, theoretical, logistical, reflective or all of the above? There’s really no blueprint to this thing, which is both freeing and decidedly challenging. So I went with option e.) All of the above

    As you are aware, I included in my previous blog a list of recommended readings that I was able to access online – academic journal articles that would supplement and illuminate the things I was learning on the road. Toting books would be too cumbersome for the many miles I was traveling. I have decided to continue including recommended readings that have helped me understand the many things I have seen and experienced.

    I have been introduced to a variety of gadgets over the last few months with which to document and navigate this journey. The first two that I learned in preparation for the trip were Google Maps and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. I admit I was late for the bus on both of those tools. Adobe has useful tutorials on getting started with the Lightroom software, so I spent an evening getting the basics down. Lightroom is a fantastic way to batch edit the many photographs I take, and even allows me to edit the metadata attached to each image as well. Google Maps allows me to list all the sites I visited over the course of the year. The H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship map is updated to include sites visited in and around Mexico City and the Yucatán Peninsula.


    H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Google Maps

    While on the road in Mexico a designer/curator and fellow former New Orleanian, Sergio H. Padilla, introduced me to the Galileo app for my iPhone. Galileo is an offline vector map that gathers information from various sources including Open Street Map, a community-driven wiki map. The map includes places of interest such as historic buildings, museums, coffee shops, restaurants, markets, etc. Padilla kept my Mexico City itinerary current in the twenty-first century with recent architectural projects, so we were able to find our way to various sites in Mexico City, including the Jumex and Soumaya museums. I have used Galileo consistently throughout my journey; the Mexico map I downloaded was invaluable for both Mexico City and the Yucatán Peninsula. 

    I am writing this from Guatemala, the second country I visit on this trip – I look forward to sharing more about this country – its architecture, urbanism, and culture – next month!

    H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Google Map

    Recommended reading:

    Wendy Ashmore and Jeremy A. Sabloff, “Spatial Orders in Maya Civic Plans,” Latin American Antiquity 13 no. 2 (June 2002): 201-215

    O. Hugo Benavides, “Working/Touring the Past: Latin American Identity and the Political Frustration of Heritage,” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 17 (2013): 245-260

    Kelli Carmean, Patricia A. McAnany, and Jeremy A. Sabloff, “People Who Lived in Stone Houses: Local Knowledge and Social Difference in the Classic Maya Puuc Region of Yucatán, Mexico,” Latin American Antiquity 22 no. 2 (June 2011): 143-158

    Ileana Cerón-Palma, Esther Sanyé-Mengual, Jordi Oliver-Solà, Juan-Ignacio Montero, Carmen Ponce-Caballero, and Joan Rieradevall, “Towards a Green Sustainable Strategy for Social Neighbourhoods in Latin America: Case from Social Housing in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico,” Habitat International 38 (2013): 47-56

    Marvin Cohodas, “Radial Pyramids and Radial-Associated Assemblages of the Central Maya Area,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 39 no. 3 (October 1980): 208-223

    Lawrence G. Desmond and Paul G. Bryan, “Recording Architecture at the Archeological Site of Uxmal, Mexico: A Historical and Contemporary View,” Photogrammetric Record 18 no. 102 (June 2003): 105-130

    William L. Fash, “Changing Perspectives on Maya Civilization,” Annual Review of Anthropology 23 (1994): 181-208

    Lindsay Jones, “Conquests of the Imagination: Maya-Mexican Polarity and the Story of Chichén Itzá,” American Anthropologist New Series 99 no. 2 (June 1997): 275-290

    George Kubler, “Serpent and Atlantean Columns: Symbols of Maya-Toltec Polity,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 40 no. 2 (May 1982): 93-115

    Stephanie Litka, “All the Maya of Coba: Managing Tourism in a Local Ejido,” Annals of Tourism Research 43 (2013): 50-369

    Grant Murray, “Constructing Paradise: The Impacts of Big Tourism in the Mexican Coastal Zone,” Coastal Management, 35 (2007): 339–355

    William M. Ringle, “On the Political Organization of Chichén Itzá,” Ancient Mesoamerica 15 no. 02 (July 2004): 167-218

    Rebecca Maria Torres and Janet D. Momsen, “Gringolandia: The Construction of a New Tourist Space in Mexico,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 95 no. 2 (2005): 314–335

    Dimitri Tselos, “Frank Lloyd Wright and World Architecture,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 28 no. 1 (March 1969): 58-72


    1 “Cyclical Time and the Bipartite World,” To’on: Maayáa’onil Le K’iino’oba’ Exhibit, Palacio Cantón.

    2 Anna Hartnell, “After Katrina: Transnational Perspectives on the Futures of the Gulf South,” http://blogs.bbk.ac.uk/afterkatrina/2013/12/

    Go comment!
  • “Nothing is Transmissible but Thought”: Le Corbusier’s Radiant Farm Made Real

    By
    Michelle Millar Fisher
     |
    Jul 31, 2014

    As a participant in the Graduate Student Lightening Talks at the 2014 SAH Annual Conference, I used my five-minute slot to sketch, per the title of my paper, the transmission of Le Corbusier’s “thoughts”—specifically, on his Radiant City as it was appropriated by young Californian architects between 1936-41. To my delight, Dr. Esra Akcan was the panel respondent. Her recent book, Architecture in Translation, was a touchstone as I prepared my dissertation proposal last fall. What follows is an abbreviated version of my talk and, I hope, the initial investigations that will form the second chapter of my dissertation.

    Shortly before his death in August 1965, Le Corbusier began to collate two decades of his writings, which resulted in Mise au point (1966). The architect outlines what Charles Jencks later characterized as the “tragic view” of his career, lamenting a life devoted to the study of housing that was, in Le Corbusier’s eyes, underappreciated by the French government and the wider public.[1] Shunned in the postwar rebuilding of Paris, Le Corbusier only ever partially achieved his Radiant City in the form of the controversial Unité d’Habitation housing block at Marseilles (1947-52). Reflecting on the fact that this was his first and only French governmental commission, granted at the age of sixty, the architect begins and ends Mise au point by noting that in the end “nothing is transmissible but thought, the fruit of our labors.”[2] This is a prescient epitaph given that Le Corbusier’s thoughts concerning standardized high-density housing and urban planning were often more influential than were any of his built projects.

    My dissertation focuses on the legacy of Le Corbusier’s unbuilt Radiant City plans (first pub. in 1935 as Ville Radieuse) through their piecemeal translation and realization by other architects and local administrations in California, Great Britain, and Poland.[3] Rejecting polarizing accounts repeated over the last five decades that fashion the architect as either a twentieth century visionary, or as a scapegoat for the perceived failures of the Modern Movement, I propose an alternative method of analyzing Le Corbusier’s legacy—through the work of others who chose to adapt, translate, and realize certain parts of this key urban planning project. I argue this approach offers a newly multifaceted reading of the project’s—and, to some degree, its author’s—contested place in the history of twentieth century architecture and urban planning. Prof. Akcan went further, offering provocations for my continuing research. In her response to my paper, she asked questions I will need to fully investigate in my dissertation chapter: “Where do these translations stand in the spectrum that may range from excessive domestication to abrupt intervention, from appropriating to foreignizing translations? How do the multiple agents that set them into motion differ from each other in their opinions about the translatability or untranslatability of architecture, in their ethical and political positions about how or whether to open themselves to what were hitherto foreign ideas? What were the tensions during these processes?”


    The Radiant City published as Ville Radieuse (1935) & included in Des Canons, Des Munitions? Merci! Les Logis … S.V.P. (1938)

    At SAH, I focused on the translation of one element of the larger Radiant City plan, the Radiant Farm, to the west coast of the United States between 1936-41. Le Corbusier’s unrealized rural plans were developed alongside “peasant-activist” Norbert Bézard during the architect’s association with French regional syndicalist groups in the 1930s, presented at CIAM 5 in Paris in 1937 and, along with the wider results of this international conference, were showcased in Corbusier’s Pavilion Des Temps Nouveaux that opened in July 1937 at the Paris International Exhibition. The Radiant Farm (and City) reflected the architect’s broader philosophical shift in urban planning proposals, from the radical, sky-high utopianism of the Ville Contemporaine (1922) and the Plan Voisin (1925) to a more humanist approach, a “second machine age.”[4]


    Le Corbusier. Des Canons, Des Munitions? Merci! Les Logis … S.V.P (1938)



    Leaf from Des Canons, Des Munitions? Merci! Les Logis … S.V.P (1938)

    Young Californian architects Vernon DeMars, and colleagues Garrett Eckbo and T.J. Kent, took up Le Corbusier’s exhortation in Des Canons, Des Munitions? Merci! Des Logis ... S.V.P. (1938) to turn from bombs to homes. Vernon DeMars identified the Radiant Farm as offering, if not an already-tested solution, a modern and avant-garde philosophy that he adapted in over forty projects for rural communities during his tenure as San Francisco district architect for the FSA, including Yuba City and Woodville (both in California, 1939-41), and the earlier Chandler, Arizona (1936-37). On farmland bought by the government, usually well outside existing town limits, FSA architects built tent platforms, single cabins, and ancillary community spaces. Weedpatch (1936), made famous by its inclusion in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939), was the first such camp, built south of Bakersfield, California, initially using tents, then wood frame houses to shelter the workers, with wood frame buildings for the communal facilities such as the post office and the local hall.[5]

    Where Le Corbusier was often politically and historically hamstrung, the locally governed Farm Securities Administration satellite offices were conducive to practical experimentation. In FSA Camp Chandler, a project that preceded DeMars’ formative travel to Europe, and in Yuba City, directly after his return, DeMars referenced the Radiant Farm as the inspiration for the internal logic of the farmhouses he built for Dust Bowl migrants. Indeed, DeMars later saw Yuba City as “our opportunity to do something that he [Corbusier] wasn’t able to build … [the Farm house and the Cooperative Farm] were things we were doing. I knew Corbu’s hadn’t been built … Supposing he were given this job, what would he do? He might have done this thing we did at Yuba City, I thought.”[6]


    FSA Chandler, illustrated in Elizabeth Mock’s/MoMA’s Built in USA: a survey of Contemporary American Architecture (1945)


    FSA Chandler, illustrated in Elizabeth Mock’s/MoMA’s Built in USA: a survey of Contemporary American Architecture (1945)

    Further—and to be explored in much greater depth in my dissertation chapter—the inaugural 1940 exhibition of the San Francisco-based planning group, Telesis, founded by, among others, FSA architects Vernon DeMars, T.J. Kent, Garrett Eckbo and Fran Violich after the FSA was disbanded was closely based on Le Corbusier’s Temps Nouveau Pavilion.[7]  DeMars returned from six months travel to Europe in the fall of 1938 with a copy of Des canons, des munitions, the catalogue for the 1937 pavilion, and explicitly based the Telesis exhibition—the foundation for the later San Francisco Department of Planning—on Le Corbusier’s conceptual framework for the 1937 pavilion.[8]


    Entry to the "A Space for Living" Telesis exhibition. Fran Violich Collection, Visual Resources Center, College of Environmental Design, UC Berkeley


    Day-care center at Woodville, Ca., by Vernon DeMars, from the Museum of Modern Art catalogue, Wartime Housing

    The Telesis exhibition demonstrated perhaps even more so than the FSA work that it wasn’t merely, or perhaps even primarily, form, I think, that DeMars was interested in in his one-sided dialogue with Le Corbusier—he could find those forms anywhere he looked. Instead, DeMars honed in on Le Corbusier’s validation of agrarian planning as a purposeful and CIAM-endorsed activity. He used Le Corbusier’s site-less utopian dream—the Radiant farm—to legitimize his own very real work as a young architect at the FSA. The FSA localized and radically adapted the utopian Radiant Farm, sensitizing Le Corbsuier’s untested cipher for CIAM-endorsed modern architecture to the needs of America’s displaced during a time of local and national crisis—and to the needs of a small group of young architects looking for meaning in their Depression-era work.

    In the recent MoMA exhibition on Le Corbusier (Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes, 2013), curators Jean Louis Cohen and Barry Bergdoll argued that Le Corbusier’s engagement with landscapes and geographies was, in contrast to the often-unforgiving stereotypes, subtle and precise. They connected their reconsideration of the architect to “the major realignment currently underway in the study of masters of modern architecture [as] one in which place, cultural specificity, and attention to landscape have displaced the idea of modern universals.”[9] Their impulse is not so new. In 1948, Lewis Mumford suggested that mid-century architecture in California was “universal” precisely because it allowed “regional adaptation and modifications.” MoMA's curatorial thesis was perhaps most compelling realized in the exhibition catalogue rather than the galleries. Its methodological provocation is relevant: how does displacing the idea of universals—not least the entrenched narratives that often suffocate analyses of Le Corbusier’s work—allow for a richer reading of landscapes and the built environment? I suggest that tracing the history of the reception of Le Corbusier’s ideas, and the way they were used by (often very anonymous) others is a process that recovers points of contact between Le Corbusier and architects working in a geographic location not usually foregrounded in Corbusian scholarship, and interrogates modern architecture’s “conviction about its own translatability.” In this way, we may reconsider the claims for universal applicability that have been made for Le Corbusier’s grand plans, in this case from the perspective of the “Radiant Farm made real.”[10]

    Michelle Millar Fisher is a doctoral candidate in Art History at the CUNY Graduate Center and a Curatorial Assistant in the Architecture + Design department at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Her research centers on social histories of architecture, contemporary art, museums, and pedagogy. She is currently at work co-editing a book on collaboration in the visual arts and architecture, to be published by Courtauld Books Online in early 2015.


    [1] See Charles Jencks, Le Corbusier and the Tragic View of Architecture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1973).

    [2] Le Corbusier. Mise au point. (Paris: Éditions Forces-vives, 1966).

    [3] Although never built, the Radiant City stemmed from Le Corbusier’s broader communications with and travel to Russia, beginning in 1928 and his “Reply to Moscow” of June 1930. However, the rural farm component was developed once he was fully immersed in French regional syndicalist journals Plans, Prelude and L’Homme Reel from 1931 to 1936, with issues devoted to Agrarian Reorganization plans and their implementation. Le Corbusier’s writings from all three of these syndicalist journals would become the foundation of the Radiant City, Village, and Farm published as Ville Radieuse in 1933, and Des Canons in 1938. Mary Caroline McLeod. Urbanism and Utopia: Le Corbusier from Regional Syndicalism to Vichy. (Princeton, NJ: Unpublished Dissertation, 1985). 213.

    [4] See McLeod, 111-115. Le Corbusier’s stance in the 1930s was not so much a rejection of technocracy and function as a humanizing of them and a rejection of the capitalist systems that underpinned them. Planning simply extended technocracy. As McLeod states, “the Plans members endorsed Taylorism and Fordism, but like their peers, they condemned the system that had engendered such methods.”

    [5] For a review of FSA origins see Suzanne B Reiss., comp. A Life In Architecture: Indian Dancing, Migrant Housing, Telesis, Design for Urban Living, Theater, Teaching. Oral History Transcript. (University of California, Berkeley: Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, 1989), 124 – 127. See also Greg Hise. "From Roadside Camps to Garden Homes: Housing and Community Planning for California's Migrant Workforce, 1935- 1941." Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, Gender, Class, and Shelter, no. 5 (1995): 243-58. Hise states that the FSA “planned and managed thirteen labor camps for California’s seasonal agricultural workers between 1936 and 1941.” 243. California was unique in the relief housing it provided because it not only built permanent farmsteads but addressed the needs of a laboring population that fluctuated in number depending on the season.

    [6] Reiss, 140. Chandler appeared as one of only two American examples in Alfred Roth’s 1940 Die Neu Architektur under the names of DeMars and Burton Cairns, and Chandler and Woodville in Elizabeth Mock’s 1945 Built in USA. In less than a decade Catherine Bauer Wurster, now a friend of DeMars’, had her call for modern American social housing answered.

    [7] Le Corbusier’s work became widely disseminated in the US through his 1935 lecture tour (concentrated on the East Coast, although he had intended to come to San Francisco), the discussion and publication of these travels and lectures in the architectural press, and an exhibition of his work at MoMA in the same year which later traveled to, among other places, the de Young Museum in San Francisco in October 1937. See Mardges Bacon. Le Corbusier in America: Travels in the Land of the Timid. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001). 29. See also Bacon appendix B for full lecture and exhibition tour details. Interestingly, the exhibition that preceded Le Corbusier’s at MoMA was Contemporary Architecture in California [MoMA Exh. #42c, September 30-October 24, 1935]. Recent Work of Le Corbusier, held between October 1 and 22, 1937 at SFMoMA originated at MoMA in New York in 1935 and traveled to a total of fourteen venues between 1935 and 38, including Yale and Wesleyan universities.

    [8] The Telesis exhibition, A Space for Living, was held at the San Francisco Museum of (Modern) Art, opening on June 29, 1940. It was the museum’s first architecture exhibition and projected a brighter future for the city under the slogan “progress intelligently planned” – the West Coast version of the syndicalist slogan action directe.

    [9] Jean Louis Cohen, Barry Bergdoll et al. Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2013), 20. “Le Corbusier was engaged not with the ways in which things are similar around the world but rather with the ways in which they are distinct, with layers of culture that resonate even in worlds in mutation from the forces of modernization.” Sarah Williams Goldhagen re-evaluated the work of Louis I. Kahn as “culturally contingent” and a “situated modernism.” Caroline Constant argues that Le Corbusier “carefully calibrated his building designs to their specific locales” despite his often militant tone. Cohen, Bergdoll, 21.

    [10] Influenced by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s The Politics of Translation (1998), scholar Esra Ackan has recently suggested translation in architecture as “a contested zone where geopolitical tensions and psychological anxieties are exposed,” arguing persuasively for translation as a productive methodology for “an architectural culture better equipped for a global future.” Ezra Akcan. Architecture in Translation: Germany, Turkey, & the Modern House. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012). 4. 

    Go comment!