SAH Blog

  • Guatemalan Western Highlands and Lake Atitlán

    Brooks Fellow Amber N. Wiley
    Oct 9, 2014

    Landscape of loss. German Guatemalans. Sensational cemetery. Underwater wonderland.

    When I laid my head down in my Quetzaltenango hostel I had to laugh. I was lying down in a location I did not know existed just a month prior. This city was not on my itinerary, not even on my radar. I ended up in Quetzaltenango, called “Xela,” by residents, thanks to Lonely Planet and some tourist shuttle agency fliers. My original plan was to visit the Petén Department —Flores and Tikal—during my second month in Guatemala. I opted for a location closer to Antigua after learning how long the bus ride would take. Riding the buses through the mountainous terrain of Guatemala was by far my least favorite part of my time there. This major struggle, full of twists and turns which made me nauseated, re-directed my path to discover places I had never heard of previously.

    Figure 1
    Google Maps snapshot of Guatemalan sites visited in August and September.

    I spent approximately two weeks in Xela, and two weeks in San Pedro La Laguna at Lake Atitlán. The Quetzaltenango and Sololá municipal departments, in which Xela and San Pedro are located, make up part of the Western Highlands region of Guatemala. While numerous and diverse Maya people live in this region, the three ethnic groups I came into contact with the most were the K’iche’, Tz’utujil, and Ladino populations. This ethnic information is important historically and geographically, as the culture and built environment of the Western Highlands is inscribed on the landscape, and very much related to the various ethnic communities that reside in the region.

    The stories the landscape tells – they are powerful and disconcerting. As geographers Michael K. Steinberg and Matthew J. Taylor note:

    Guatemala conjures up both exotic and disturbing images: past and present Maya cultures, Maya ruins, volcanoes and lakes, military dictatorships, and grave human rights violations. Researchers and travelers alike are drawn to Guatemala's beauty and diversity. Yet Guatemala confounds and often repels those who seek to delve deeper into what the landscape means and what it is telling us [emphasis added].[1]

    Steinberg and Taylor identified and recorded landmarks and memorials referencing the Guatemalan Civil War in the Western Highlands. They discovered that three main bodies sought to commemorate the war in the “postconfict landscape” – the Catholic Church, the military, and the government. The siting, location, and subject matter of the memorials illustrated that the wounds of the war were still very the fresh and open. Additionally, these memorials were often ephemeral and understated, easily overlooked. The majority of the massacres during the civil war took place in the ethnically diverse Mayan Western Highlands. As cultural anthropologist Benjamin Michael Willett noted in his dissertation “Ethnic Tourism and Indigenous Activism: Power and Social Change in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala,”

    The period of la violencia was tragic and the effects that it has had on the Indian communities are devastating – ranging from the total destruction of some four hundred villages and municipal centers to periodic sweeps, repression, and violent killings of tens of thousands of Mayas.[2]

    Evidence of these atrocities in the landscape, however, is not readily apparent. Steinberg led a collaborative GIS mapping effort to bring light to this invisible landscape, and the visuals are astounding.

    Figure 2
    Maps comparing the location of indigenous Maya populations with massacre sites during the Guatemalan Civil War. Source: M. K. Steinberg et al., “Mapping Massacres: GIS and State Terror in Guatemala,” Geoforum 37 (2006): 62-68.

    Quetzalteco Exceptionalism

    Lonely Planet’s description of Quetzaltenango is not the most flattering piece of prose I have ever read (especially in comparison to the overview of Antigua), but it was this sentence that captured my imagination and left me intrigued:

    The Guatemalan “layering” effect is at work in the city center – once the Spanish moved out, the Germans moved in and their architecture gives the zone a somber, even Gothic, feel.[3]

    Somber, Gothic, German architecture in Guatemala? I spent a month in extravagant Spanish Baroque Antigua, and I needed to see how this side of architectural expression came to life in the Xela.

    Quetzaltenango is the Nahuatl (Aztec) name for the town, meaning “place of the Quetzal bird.” The conquistador Pedro de Alvarado called the city Quetzaltenango after conquering the city for Spain. The Nahuatl were some of his allies in conquest. The town was previously known by indigenous Maya Mam and K’iche’ populations as Xelajú Noj, or “Under the Ten Mountains.” Today the city residents and most Guatemaltecos call it Xela – an act of resistance. The indigenous presence and political power in Xela is stronger than in Guatemala City or Antigua because there is a sizable and influential urban K’iche’ Maya population. As historian Greg Grandin notes:

    K’iche’ elites helped to bring the railroad to Quetzaltenango, built public buildings and monuments, established patriotic beauty contests, and gave nationalists speeches. By hitching national fulfillment to cultural renewal, K’iche’s justified their position of community authority to the local and national ladino state. Conversely, by linking ethnic improvement to the advancement of the nation, they legitimized to other Mayans their continued political power. [4]

    On my first Sunday in Xela I walked to the Parque Centro América and stumbled across public speeches given by young ladies running for Pequeña Flor de Xela. They averaged around 10 years old, and they were captivating! The content of their speeches and their stage presence was impeccable. They covered topics like the importance of Mayan history and the need to keep the indigenous culture alive. Historian Betsy Ogburn Konefal states in her article “Defending the Pueblo: Indigenous Identity and Struggles for Social Justice in Guatemala, 1970 to 1980” that this tradition of “consciousness-raising” started in the 1970s with young reina contestants, and that they used their time on stage with a public audience to “urge spectators to embrace indigenous identity and take pride in la raza.” [5]

    Figure 3
    La Municipalidad in Parque Centro América.

    The Xela and Guatemala flags were strewn all over the park before the week was out in anticipation of Guatemalan independence activities on September 15. Flags on the Municipalidad, on the Corinthian columns in the park, and on the Casa de la Cultura. The architectural eclecticism of the Xela Parque Centro is noteworthy. It felt nothing like the other cities I had visited in Latin America.

    Figure 4
    Catedral Metropolitana de Los Altos (Catedral del Espiritu Santo) in Xela. Original sixteenth century façade sits in front of newer, more muted and stark late nineteenth/early twentieth century edifice.

    Figure 5
    Catedral Metropolitana de Los Altos.

    The cultural layers of Xela are fascinating, but fly below the radar for most tourists seeking to learn about Guatemala’s architectural heritage. This might change if ground is gained with the “Route of the Agroindustry and the Architecture Victoriana” that is on the tentative UNESCO World Heritage List for Guatemala. The route, submitted to UNESCO by the Guatemalan Ministry of Culture and Sports, is “constituted by a series of rail stations, buildings of offices, hotels and built residences between the last three decades of the XIX century and the first half of the XX century, to support the development of the export agroindustry that was implemented during that time in Guatemala.”[6] Xela, in addition to its Maya and Spanish roots, had a strong late nineteenth and twentieth century German presence. The Germans came in the late nineteenth century to participate in the coffee industry and contributed significantly to the architectural heritage of Xela. If the idea of what represents “authentic” Guatemalan culture expands, then Xela would place higher on the tourist map. Xela has an urban K’iche’ population, Spanish and German eclecticism, agroindustry and trade, and even more, one of the most strikingly beautiful cemeteries I have ever seen.

    Cementerio General

    The general cemetery in Xela took my breath away. I lived in New Orleans for three years, and visited and documented some of our most spectacular cemeteries there. Xela had something that the New Orleans cemeteries did not have – vivacity in color. This fact alone brought liveliness to the city of the dead. I went to the cementerio general on a Sunday, and the necropolis was full of life. It was how I imagined Mount Auburn in Boston at the height of the Victorian era – complete with people who passed time in the cemetery for both recreational and commemorative purposes. Xela’s general cemetery was not only a place of quiet respite, but also a place of action. Families are the primary caretakers of the plots. Young and old, men and women wielded axes and machetes to chop the undergrowth, procured water from the countless fountains to wash the memorials, and planted fresh flowers in and around the plots.

    Figure 6
    A German plot in the general cemetery.

    There is not much written about the cementerio general in Xela, which is a shame because it is a wondrous place. It is also a testament to the deep social stratification of the city, from grand shrines of city elites to a mass grave, as well as the ethnic diversity – I came across two different German plots. There is every kind of revival shrine in the cemetery – Greek, Egyptian, Gothic – and some fiercely modern designs that speak to changing tastes over the past century.

    Figure 7
    View in the general cemetery.

    Troubled Water: Lake Atitlán

    My time at Lake Atitlán was focused on appreciating and attempting to understand the natural landscape. Lake Atitlán is a caldera lake that was formed 84 thousand years ago. I spent most of my time at the lake in the town of San Pedro La Laguna. There was not much public information regarding the history of the lake. I visited the tiny Museo Tzu’nun Ya’ which had rare historic images of San Pedro La Laguna before the invasion of concrete block structures. The museum also had beautiful interior murals, and a whole room dedicated to the geophysical properties of the lake. Since the majority of the display was in Spanish and the Tz’utujil language, it was difficult to grasp the history of geology displayed in the museum.

    Figure 8
    “Callejon de ranchos (Path with thatched houses),” Pedro Rafael Gonzalez Chavajay, 1999. This oil painting by Tz’utujil Maya artist depicts the traditional thatched houses with steeply pitched roof of the San Pedro La Laguna.

    Figure 9
    View of contemporary San Pedro La Laguna from main cathedral.

    One of the most recent and fascinating finds at Lake Atitlán is the submerged Mayan city Samabaj, the “Mayan Atlantis.” Samabaj was a sacred pilgrimage site located on an island in the lake, and was lost when the lake waters rose for reasons still unknown to archaeologists. This site, discovered in 1996 by local diver Roberto Samayoa, was submerged around 250 AD. Lead site archaeologist Sonia Medrano reported that her team found six ceremonial monuments and four altars as well as houses for about 150 people in the ruins of the underwater city.[7]

    “La Atlántida Maya,” National Geographic Channel

    This discovery is related to another phenomenon that is currently affecting the lake and the communities around it. The city of Samabaj is a reminder that Lake Atitlán is not a static entity – it grows and wanes, has cycles, and changes as the climate and the earth’s crust changes. The lake has risen dramatically in the last decade, submerging lakeside buildings constructed to take advantage of the beautiful views. Author Joyce Maynard writes about this problem in her New York Times article “Paradise Lost.” Maynard mentions the wisdom of a shaman candle seller, who imparted ancient knowledge to explain the changes in the lake: “To the Mayan people, everything is about cycles.” Maynard continues this thought by proclaiming, “Rain comes down. Plants grow up. The lake rises. The lake falls. The lake rises again.”[8] Lake Atitlán is also on the World Heritage Tentative list for UNESCO, and was submitted Ministry of Culture and Sports in 2002, the same year as the “Agroindustry Route.”[9]

    Figure 10
    Submerged structure in Lake Atitlán.

    I spent time at Lake Atitlán developing a collage series utilizing magazines collected in Guatemala. The series had a number of different themes, from self-reflection, to active visualization of goals, to organizing random thoughts on architecture and design, to highlighting the mystical powers of women. My final collage for Guatemala is central to my thoughts about the trip. In that collage I reconsidered the “dangerous and poor” Guatemalan narrative projected by various tourist and travel agencies, and contrasted that with the images of Guatemala that left a strong impression on me. The messages that the world circulates about the country do not do it justice. Es un país pequeño con un corazón grande, hermoso.

    Figure 11
    “Dear Guatemala, Thank you for everything.”


    H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Google Map

    Recommended Reading:

    Wallace W. Atwood, “Lake Atitlán,” Geological Society of America Bulletin 44 no. 3 (1933): 661-668

    Max Paul Friedman, “Private Memory, Public Records, and Contested Terrain: Weighing Oral Testimony in the Deportation of Germans from Latin America during World War II,” Oral History Review 27 no. 1 (Winter/Spring 2000): 1-15

    Greg Grandin, “Can the Subaltern Be Seen? Photography and the Affects of Nationalism,” Hispanic American Historical Review 84 no. 1 (February 2004): 83-111

    Greg Grandin, “Everyday Forms of State Decomposition: Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, 1954,” Bulletin of Latin American Research 19 no. 3 (July 2000): 303-320

    Leah Alexandra Huff, “Sacred Sustenance: Maize, Storytelling, and a Maya Sense of Place,” Journal of Latin American Geography 5 no. 1 (2006): 79-96

    Marga Jann and Stephen Platt, “Philanthropic Architecture: Nongovernmental Development Projects in Latin America,” Journal of Architectural Education 62 no. 4 (2009): 82-91

    Betsy Ogburn Konefal, “Defending the Pueblo: Indigenous Identity and Struggles for Social Justice in Guatemala, 1970 to 1980,” Social Justice 30 no. 3, The Intersection of Ideologies of Violence (2003): 32-47

    W. George Lovell, “The Archive That Never Was: State Terror and Historical Memory in Guatemala,” Geographical Review 103 no. 2 (April 2013): 199-209

    Sidney D. Markman, “The Plaza Mayor of Guatemala City,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 25 no. 3 (October 1966): 181-196

    Mario Roberto Morales, “Scenes of Lake Atitlán,” Literary Review 41 no.1 (Fall 1997): 5-19

    Sandra L. Orellana, The Tz’utujil Mayas: Continuity and Change 1250-1630 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984)

    Elisabet Dueholm Rasch, “Representing Mayas: Indigenous Authorities and Citizenship Demands in Guatemala,” Social Analysis 55 no. 3 (Winter 2011): 54-73

    Blake D. Ratner and Alberto Rivera Gutierrez, “Reasserting Community: The Social Challenge of Wastewater Management in Panajachel, Guatemala,” Human Organization 63 no. 1 (Spring 2004): 47-56

    Catherine Rendón, “Temples of Tribute and Illusion,” Américas 54 no. 4 (July/August 2002): 16-23

    B. G. Smith and D. Ley, “Sustainable Tourism and Clean Water Project for Two Guatemalan Communities: A Case Study,” Desalination 248 (2009): 225-232

    Jeffrey S. Smith, “The Highlands of Contemporary Guatemala,” Focus On Geography 49 no. 1 (Summer 2006): 16-26

    Michael K. Steinberg, Carrie Height, Rosemary Mosher, and Mathew Bampton, “Mapping Massacres: GIS and State Terror in Guatemala,” Geoforum 37 (2006): 62-68

    Michael K. Steinberg and Matthew J. Taylor, “Public Memory and Political Power in Guatemala's Postconflict Landscape,” Geographical Review 93 no. 4 (October 2003): 449-468

    Matthew Tegelberg, “Framing Maya Culture: Tourism, Representation and the Case of Quetzaltenango,” Tourist Studies 13 no. 1 (2013): 81-98

    James W. Vallance, Lee Siebert, William I. Rose Jr., Jorge Raul Girón,

    and Norman G. Banks, “Edifice Collapse and Related Hazards in Guatemala,”

     Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 66 (1995): 337-355

    Daniel Winterbottom, “Garbage to Garden: Developing a Safe, Nurturing and Therapeutic Environment for the Children of the Garbage Pickers Utilizing an Academic Design/Build Service Learning Model,” Children, Youth and

    Environments 18 no. 1 Children and Disasters (2008): 435-455


    [1] Michael K. Steinberg and Matthew J. Taylor, “Public Memory and Political Power in Guatemala's Postconflict Landscape,” Geographical Review 93 no. 4 (October 2003): 450.

    [2] Benjamin Michael Willett, “Ethnic Tourism and Indigenous Activism: Power and Social Change in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala,” (PhD diss., University of Iowa, 2007), 13.

    [3] Lonely Planet, “Introducing Quetzaltenango” 

    [4] Greg Grandin, “Can the Subaltern Be Seen? Photography and the Affects of Nationalism,” Hispanic American Historical Review 84 no. 1 (February 2004): 91

    [5] Betsy Ogburn Konefal, “Defending the Pueblo: Indigenous Identity and Struggles for Social Justice in Guatemala, 1970 to 1980,” Social Justice 30 no. 3, The Intersection of Ideologies of Violence (2003): 36

    [6] UNESCO, “Route of the Agroindustry and the Architecture Victoriana”

    [7] Sarah Grainger, “Divers probe Mayan ruins submerged in Guatemala lake,” Reuters October 30, 2009 

    [8] Joyce Maynard, “Paradise Lost,” New York Times May 20, 2012

    [9] UNESCO, “Protected area of Lake Atitlán: multiple use,”


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  • Croatia at the Crossroads of Time and Space Report

    Ana Mitrovici
    Oct 9, 2014

    By Study Tour Fellow Ana Mitrovici

    Sarajevo  Tuesday, August 19

    Officially the start of the trip, participants arrived according to their own schedules, enjoying a few hours of leisure time before our welcome dinner at the Hotel Europe in the heart of the old town. Our arrival and stay in Sarajevo coincided with the Sarajevo film festival, giving the city a lively immediacy. I took the opportunity to explore the winding streets filled with shops in the Stari Grad, or old quarter, and familiarize myself with my new surroundings.

    A lively side street in the old town of Sarajevo.


    Carpets and lanterns in one of the many shops in the old quarter.

    In the evening we gathered together in the lobby before dinner, getting to know each other or greeting friends from past trips. At dinner, our trip leader and lecturer, Boris Srdar, and SAH 1st Vice President, Ken Oshima, gave us an introduction to complicated and intertwining histories of the regions we would visit on our tour. Over a buffet dinner, we had the chance to enjoy some first previews of local recipes we would later seek out with enthusiasm over the next few days.

    Sarajevo – Wednesday, August 20

    We began the first morning bright and early with energy and excitement. We boarded the bus and headed through the crowded streets of Sarajevo to our first stop, a scenic overlook of the city. In order to get our bearings and familiarize ourselves with the layout of the city, the group took turns peering over the edge, seeing our first few glimpses of some of the significant sites we would visit later that day. With our guide Zijo Jusufovic, we headed to our next brief stop, the Vraca Memorial Museum begun in 1980 as a site commemorating lives lost in the Second World War. Today the park no longer represents a central site of the city, but rather a modern ruin with lush green overgrowth wrapped in the melancholic atmosphere of all forgotten landscapes.

    Our guide Zijo alerting us about the overlook’s edge and our view.

    Exploring the Vraca Memorial site. 

    We boarded again and headed outside of the city to visit the site of the Sarajevo Tunnel, located near Sarajevo’s airport. We entered through its northern entrance, a house now converted into a museum with objects from the war period. The tunnel was first built between 1992 and 1995 as a way to bring supplies into the city of Sarajevo during its siege. Without question among the most somber moments of the trip, we watched a video with archival war footage and climbed down through a twenty-five meter portion of the tunnel that remains open to the public today.

    The Sarajevo Tunnel Museum entrance and site.

    After a short refreshment break at the Hotel Casa Grande, the group returned to the city to visit the Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, formerly known as the Museum of Revolution and designed by Edo Šmidihen, Radovan Horvat and Boris Magaš between 1958-1963. Today the museum continues to hold exhibitions and has a library and archive.

    Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    The group visiting an exhibit with a view of the interior of the Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    The group boarded the bus and headed towards the National and University Library, passing the Olympic Stadium and home of the 1984 Olympics. We enjoyed a photo opportunity at the Library, first built in 1894 by Karel Parik and Ciril Iveković. The library was destroyed during the siege of Sarajevo, resulting in immense losses to its collection and completely rebuilt and restored beginning in 1997 based on original architectural plans.

    Details from the Library’s cupola, architectural plans, and the exquisite stained glass ceiling.

    Everyone together in the Library.

    The day was packed with sites and we continued our first day with a walking tour of Sarajevo. Our first stop was the Old Serbian Orthodox Church (St. Michael and Gabriel) with foundations dating back to the Middle-Ages.  After a delicious and energizing lunch in the old quarter where we helped ourselves to more local cuisine, we continued along the busy streets on foot to the old quarter where we visited the courtyard of the Morica Han, once an inn for travelers beginning in the 16th century. We made our way to the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque, built in the 16th century and financed by the Ottoman official of the same name who had then governed Bosnia. We visited the Kuršumli Madrasa, also known as the Gazi Hurev-beg Madrasa, also begun by the governor in 1537 as a school that remains in operation to this today.

    The Gazi Husrev-Bey Mosque, 16th century, exterior view.

    The Gazi- Husrev Madrasa, 16th century, exterior view. 

    Interior view of the madrasa with ground plan.

    Next we visited the Jewish museum and synagogue, built in 1581. The synagogue is a beautiful building with a softly lit stone interior, and we took our time exploring its quiet galleries. An enormous bound book suspended overhead from a long chain contains the names of the 12,000 victims who died in the Holocaust and stands as a reminder of the site’s significance but as a testament of its past, present, and future community.

    View from the gallery in the synagogue.

    Book with the names of the lives lost in the Holocaust.

    We then made a few short stops to a variety of works from different historical periods, first a contemporary structure, the Bosnian Center, then a residential apartment building dating from the post-war period, and finally the Despić House, a merchant’s house built in the late 19th century important for its cross-cultural interior that features a ground floor in the Ottoman style and an upper floor in the Austro-Hungarian style. The last official stop of the day was the street corner opposite the Latin Bridge and the infamous site of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. As it happened, this year marked the one hundred year anniversary of the event.

    Exterior view of the Despić House.

    A view of the Museum, and our guide near the Latin Bridge, marking the site of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.

    While some returned to the hotels to refresh and prepare for dinner, a number of us powered through to see the immaculately restored Central Post Office designed by the architect Josip Vancas. We took in the space and Boris explained more about secession-style architecture.  The night was capped off with a traditional (and I should add very generously portioned) meal at the restaurant Mala Basta where we shared in wonderful conversation and delightful cuisine. We returned to our hotel ready to rest up for the next busy day ahead.

    Sarajevo/Mostar/Dubrovnik – Thursday, August 21 

    We began with an early morning wake-up and a day full of travel as we headed for one of the highlights of the tour, the UNESCO world-heritage site of Mostar, or Stari Most bridge and the surrounding area that had once served as an important node along trade routes. On the way we enjoyed the scenic views and made a quick stop at the restaurant Zdrava Voda, well-known for its cuisine. There, we marveled at the method of roasting lamb on spits powered by watermills.

    The restaurant Zrava Voda and the stream that powers their lamb roasting spits.

    Our first stop for the day was an exquisite Turkish House in Mostar (Biščevića kuća) where we had the opportunity to learn more about the house’s design and history, the functions of its many rooms and the customs and traditions of its former owners.  Its main gates opened to a beautiful pebbled courtyard with a refreshing fountain. Inside the house, one room rested on pillars and overlooked the courtyard while the men’s receiving room gave even more impressive views above the Neretva River.

    The entrance and inner courtyard of the Turkish House.

    Details of the garden fountain and our guide explaining the customary coffee rituals of the house.

    Our next stop was the magnificent Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque dating to the 17th century, a beautifully decorated mosque situated near the Neretva River. We visited the mosque’s interior and its courtyard.

    Entrance to the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque, 17th century and interior. 

    After some photo opportunities, our guide showed us the way to the most magnificent views of Mostar Bridge, first built in the 16th century and boasting a span of 28 meters and a height of 20 meters. The bridge was destroyed in 1993 and its reconstruction completed in 2004. Following our viewing of the bridge, we crossed it at our own pace, stopping along the way at the many shops and taking in the views from either side of the bridge.

    The Mostar Bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    We were reminded just how powerful the forces of nature can be when we were caught in a strong downpour following lunch and ran for the cover of our coach bus. We headed for the Archeological Museum of Narona in Vid, enjoying the scenery and drying off. Arriving in Vid, we explored the museum at our own pace and considered the juxtaposition of ancient material with the contemporary designs of the museum structure proper, built in 2007 by the architect Goran Rako. We continued a lively discussion on the bus, where we shared our personal impressions with respect to the design of the building and how well it integrated and related to the ancient material it housed. We headed for Dubrovnik and were rewarded for our fortitude in the face of inclement weather with views of several spectacular rainbows.

    Exterior façade of the Archaeological Museum of Narona, Goran Rako, 2007.

    Interior, remains are the in situ Roman temple, the so-called Augusteum.

    We arrived in Dubrovnik and snapped pictures of the impressive fortress walls as our coach made its way through the narrow road to our hotels for check-in. Once settled, some ventured out in to the town for dinner or rested from the long day. I took the opportunity to explore the town and lose myself amid the winding streets of the old town, taking in the spectacular sunset and running into a group of musicians singing traditional music in a café. I chose dinner at the wonderfully busy Pupo, where, in a serendipitous moment, I was seated just behind friends from our tour. We enjoyed a wonderful seafood dinner and the experience of dining on a narrow street so characteristic of Dubrovnik.  

    Dubrovnik’s harbor at sunset.

    Dubrovnik – Friday, August 22

    With a full day planned in Dubrovnik, our day began bright and early as we headed towards the old town, through its winding streets and towards Stradun Street, the main artery of old Dubrovnik and the preferred thoroughfare for strolling by locals in the cool evenings.

    View down Stradun in the early morning before the crowds of visitors gather.

     We made a quick stop at the church of the patron saint of the Dubrovnik, St. Blaise, whose church is constructed in the baroque style dating from the early 18th century. We found our way down to the famous Pile Bay, (and now immortalized in HBO’s Game of Thrones) for views of Fort Bokar and Fort Lovrijenac. The pace picked up began a walk of the old defense walls of Dubrovnik and enjoyed spectacular views of the sea, impressive fortifications, and the coastline.

    The 18th century church of St. Blaise, patron of Dubrovnik.

    The group making its way down to Pile Bay for views towards the sea.

    We returned for a discussion of the rebuilding of the harbor structure, known today as the Arsenal Tavern and City Café, envisioned by the architects Mladen Kauzlaric and Stjepan Gombos in 1932. We navigated through the crowds and made our way to the so-called Rector’s Palace, built with Gothic and Renaissance elements in its last incarnation following a fire in the 15th century. Now a museum, we explored the Palace at our own pace and then continued on the14th century Franciscan monastery that boasts one of the oldest (if not the oldest) pharmacy still in operation today.

    View towards the interior courtyard of the Franciscan monastery.

    We broke for lunch at the charming terrace restaurant Kapon, tucked away in a quiet area away from the crowds. We rested and refreshed ourselves in the shade and I learned the hard way that if I accidentally order too much seafood (if that’s possible) it’s not actually a problem at all because I can always find friends happy to lift my burden! We wrapped up the afternoon with a visit to Dubrovnik’s cathedral of the Assumption, whose foundations have been traced to the 6th century and the Dominican monastery established in the 13th century.

    Interior courtyard views of the Dominican monastery, 13th century.

    After another event filled day we headed for Gruz harbor to begin the embarkation process where we learned all about safety procedures aboard the Corinthian, our home for the next seven nights. In the evening before dinner we were treated to a lovely performance by the Klapa Poklisari. Klapa is a form of traditional music from Dalmatia that may include both instrumental and a cappella singing, and which, in 2012 came under the protection of UNESCO as an example of intangible cultural heritage. 

    Dubrovnik/Cavtat, Croatia and Kotor, Montenegro – Saturday, August 23

    The morning began with a drive to the small town of Cavtat, a town once founded by Greek colonists in the 6th century BCE, about ten miles from Dubrovnik. Enjoying the quiet seaside promenade along the harbor we climbed up to visit the Račić Family Mausoleum by way of a sloping path through a shady grove of trees. Surrounded by a small cemetery overlooking the bay, the Račić Mausoleum is the work of 20th century Croatian artist Ivan Mestrović and includes representations of allegories and decorative elements on both the exterior and interior.


    The Račić Mausoleum, exterior and interior views.

    After taking some time for pictures inside the domed space, we returned to the harbor for a look at the Church of St. Nicholas, a small Baroque church whose charming stairs offered the opportunity for a discussion of alternative non-axial spaces in designs for public use.

    The small church of St. Nicholas, with its “waterfall” staircase.

    We returned to our coach for the scenic overlook of Sivi Soko, where we appreciated the breathtaking views of Konavle valley. We then headed back to Gruz Harbor and prepared ourselves for our first adventure sailing with the Corinthian to Kotor, Montenegro. Aboard we attended our first lecture by our tour leader Boris Srdar, entitled “History of Dubrovnik, Pearl of the Adriatic.” Following lunch, I took in the beautiful views from the top deck of our ship as we sailed to Kotor’s Bay, or Boka Kotorska.

    Enjoying the view at Sivi Soko.

    We arrived in Kotor, a UNESCO world heritage site and began the second half of our day with our guide Miro. We entered through the so-called Sea Gate and walked into the old town, stopping at the Arms Square and the main square of the town.

    The Sea Gate of Kotor.

    From Armory Square, we made a stop at the Beskuca Palace to see its façade, a building featuring a sculpted Gothic portal that once likely belonged to another family, the Bizanti.

    The Gothic portal at the Beskuca Palace.

    With Miro leading the way, we continued through Flour Square, so-called because of the many flour storage areas that were once found there to get a view of the Pima Palace, featuring an impressive arcaded façade and loggia.

    The façade of the Pima Palace.

    We made a brief stop at the town’s lapidarium, where the oldest artifacts from the area are held, including a portrait of the Roman Emperor Domitian, and then headed to see the Church of Sveti Luka (St. Luke), dating from the 12th century with Romanesque and Byzantine elements, and the Catholic Church of St. Mary, dating from the 13th century.  We concluded the tour with a look at the Drago Palace, an aristocratic home from the 14th and 15th centuries built over an earlier 12th century structure and a visit to the stunning St. Tryphon Cathedral, rising up against the impressive mountains.

    The Cathedral of St. Tryphon.

    We returned to our ship for a bit of free time and had the fortunate opportunity to watch the annual festival of Boka Bay celebrating the end of summer known as the Bokelijska Noc from the deck of the ship. The celebration carried on with music, floats in the bay and fireworks. We said good-bye to lovely Kotor and set off for our next stop, the island of Korcula.

    Festivities along the bay of Kotor.

    Korcula – Sunday, August 24

    We arrived in Korcula in the morning and met our guide, Stanka. We headed to the old town, which is laid in a herringbone pattern and preserves a distinct Venetian presence in the architecture. Our first stop was the Cathedral of St. Mark (Sveti Marko), built with both Gothic and Renaissance elements in the 15th century. St. Mark serves as an interesting case study because it is built with non-parallel walls, causing the ceiling to appear to slant. We spent some time in the cathedral’s accompanying square, from which we viewed the house that is believed to have once belonged to the family of Marco Polo and planned to open in the near future as a museum.

    The façade of the Cathedral of St. Mark.

    In St. Mark’s Square we also visited the Town Museum, housing much of the town’s historical material dating back as far as antiquity when both Illyrians and later, Greek colonists established themselves on the island. The museum was originally built as a palace in the 15th century and preserved a traditional kitchen. According to custom these were typically located on the top floor of houses to minimize damage caused by kitchen fires. Next we took a look at the historic Bishop’s Palace and treasury, the site of the bishop’s palace since beginning in the 14th century featuring a long and distinct balcony on its main façade.

    The Bishop’s palace, façade.

    Our final stop with our guide was a look at the Church of All Saints, and an introduction to the history of the All Saints Brotherhood, the oldest brotherhood on the island and the Icon Museum, featuring a number of exquisite Byzantine icons as well as other icons brought back by sailors from the Mediterranean in the 17th and 18th centuries.

    Following our visit to the old town, we embarked our coach for a visit to the Milina-Bire Winery where our host, Frano, welcomed us into his beautiful home and vineyard. We eagerly sampled the house wines, the dry white and the aromatic and flavorful red Plavac Mali, and enjoyed some snacks and great conversation. We said good-bye to the household goats and headed back for lunch aboard the Corinthian.

    At Milina-Bire winery, saying hello to the goats.

    The afternoon was left open for free time, with Boris leading a tour to see some of the other sites in town. Others had the option of either a kayak tour, a bike tour, or independent exploration of the town.

    Ploce – Monday, August 25

    The day began with adventure. We left early in the morning from Korcula and arrived in Ploce to embark for a drive to Mali Ston, (Little Ston) renown for its oyster farms. We boarded a small boat to reach a floating oyster farm, where our hosts gathered up fresh oysters and prepared them for us to try with wine and bread.



    Arriving at the floating oyster farm, Ken Oshima and the group aboard the boat.

    The morning boat ride and fresh oyster tasting was just the beginning of our culinary experience for the day. We boarded the coach and headed for our next stop, the Vukas Winery, to sample their household production. The hosts were welcoming and generous, serving rounds of cheese, homemade liqueurs and cured meats. From the Winery we made our way to the town of Ston, and continuing our adventure, climbed the high city defense walls began in the 14th century and affectionately called the “European Wall of China,” to take in the panoramic views of the salt pans and surrounding bay.

    Trekking the walls of Ston.

    Enjoying the panoramic view and the salt pans in the distance.

    We returned to the town of Ston for lunch at Stagnum a restaurant named for ancient name of Ston. Here we observed the chef use the unusual tool for keeping the coals of his grill hot – a hairdryer! We returned to Ploce that afternoon, boarded our ship and headed for the island of Hvar. En route to Hvar, we attended Boris Srdar’s second lecture entitled “Layers of Civilization – From Rome to the Present” focusing on the imprints of past cultures and the continuation of these traces into later periods. In the evening climbed to the top deck for some guided stargazing.

    Hvar – Tuesday, August 26

    We arrived in Stari Grad, Hvar, once settled by Greek colonists from the island of Paros. We explored the main town and enjoyed the highlight of the visit, the house of Petar Hektorović, the 16th century poet and humanist. Although unassuming from its exterior, the palace boasted a quiet garden and a spectacular fishpond.

    Exterior view of the Hektorović home.

    Interior view with fishpond.

    We boarded our coach and drove past the Starigrad Plain, declared a UNESCO site and important for its preservation of the ancient Greek system of land parceling using stone walls as boundary markers. Our next stop was the impressive and rare architecture of St. Mary’s Church Fortress in the quaint fishing town of Vrboska, founded in the 15th century. The church of St. Mary is significant for its reconstruction in the 16th century following an Ottoman attack when it was fortified with heavy walls. We then climbed to the roof for a better appreciation of the vantage points it offered over the surrounding area.

    The Church Fortress of St. Mary.

    After lunch we headed to the so-called Spanjola Fortress. Walking along its massive walls, we appreciated the views of Hvar and the neighboring Pakleni Islands and then headed back down to Hvar for a walking tour of the town and a stop in the St. Stephen Cathedral Square. At the Benedictine convent and church of St. Anthony the Abbot, dating from the 17th-18th century, we had the chance to appreciate the intricate and delicate designs produced by the Benedictine nuns who are well known for their lace work made from the agave plant.

    The ramparts of the Spanjola Fortress.

    We returned to the main square for a visit of Hvar’s arsenal and an exquisitely restored theater dating from the 17th century, located on the second floor above the arsenal. We enjoyed a bit of free time at some of the harbor shops picking up lavender, one of Hvar’s most known local products. 

    The restored theater dating from the 17th century.

    Following our meet up we returned to Stari Grad, and headed for Split where we docked overnight.

    Trogir and Split – Wednesday, August 27

    The morning began with a visit to the town of Trogir, a small town with narrow winding streets so characteristic of the Dalmatian coast old towns. We visited the main square, known as the Square of St. Lawrence Cathedral where we happened upon another performance of klapa music. In St. Lawrence proper, first built in the 12th century and featuring both Romanesque and Gothic elements, we visited the cathedral’s baptistery, and a side chapel dedicated to St. John the Blessed. A local artist and architect, known as the Master Radovan, is credited with the construction of the west portal, which also serves as the main entrance to the cathedral.

    The decorated doorway to St. Lawrence Cathedral

    Continuing with our walking tour, we visited the somewhat hidden church of St. Barbara built in the 9th century, a recently renovated pre-Romanesque small nave and double aisled church.

    The nave and side-aisles inside the church of St. Barbara.

    We headed for the bus and continued to one of the most charming places on the tour, the Mestrovic gallery and former home of the artist Ivan Mestrović. The museum features many examples of his work in different media including cast bronze and wood. Here, some chose to continue to explore the grounds independently or walk down to a chapel (the Mestrović chapel) famous for the artist’s carved wood panels. The visit continued with a stop at the Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments, an example of 20th century design by the architect Mladen Kauzlarić and which is primarily dedicated to the material culture of Croatia from the Middle Ages.

    The view from the Mestrović museum and former home of the artist.

    Following our lunch, we headed to Diocletian’s Palace in Split built in the 4th century CE. Although a UNESCO heritage site, Diocletian’s Palace is famous for being a “living” archaeological site, meaning that it continues to serve as a site of residence for inhabitants to this day.  

    Inside the walls of Diocletian’s Palace, with a view of the 15th century Marina tower.

    We were introduced to the site’s specialist, Katja Marasović from the University of Zagreb, who gave us the introductory lecture on the excavations of the site. Afterwards, we proceeded with a walking tour of the site along the North Wall, and a visit to the tiny church of St. Martin, to illustrate the adaptation of the site to later purposes. We made a stop to the city museum and viewed what is believed to have served as Diocletian’s dining table.

    Along the North wall of the Palace.

    Katja continued with the tour of the ancient historical complex of the site. We visited the domed Mausoleum of Diocletian, later converted into the Cathedral of St. Domnius, and the Temple of Jupiter. We passed through the main peristyle court, where it is believed Diocletian appeared to his audiences. We continued with a visit down to the substructure of the palace. This subterranean level features vaulted ceilings and is well preserved due to large amounts of refuse built up over past centuries, and that had helped preserve its foundations.  This underground floor plan has also been used to determine the plan of the palace complex above ground.

    View from the peristyle court, towards the main arch.

    We left for Split that evening and headed for the island of Rab and attended our last lecture by Boris Srdar, “Creating an Authentic Sense of Place.”

    Rab Island – Thursday, August 28

    We began our journey through the Kornati islands and arrived on Rab to begin our walking tour after lunch. We met our guide and began in the city park, continuing on to the Main Square and the Ducal Palace. We passed through the major sites of the town, including the Cathedral and the Benedictine Monastery. Since it was one of our last opportunities to photograph as a group, we assembled among the ruins of the church of St. John the Evangelist, whose original church was built in the 5th century, with later additions in the 11th century.

    Group photo among the ruins of the church of St. John.

    Our final stop on Rab was a short drive to the Franciscan monastery of St. Euphemia, dating to the 15th century. We returned to the old town of Rab, while a small group decided to climb a portion of the city walls and see the beautiful view above the rooftops. The rest of the day was spent with free time, and some opted for one last swim in the clear blue waters.

    Beautiful views of Rab’s old town.

    Our last night aboard the Corinthian, we attended the farewell captain’s dinner.

    Venice – Friday, August 29

    We sailed towards San Basilio Maritime Station, and the early risers came above deck to watch a spectacular sunrise over Venice.

    The view of Piazza San Marco from the deck of the Corinthian at sunrise.

    At disembarkation, we said some final good-byes to friends made along the way and to those participants not joining along on the extension trip. We each made our way into the city to our various hotels and enjoyed the sites of the city independently.

    Venice – Saturday, August 30 

    Our study tour day began in the Giardini with an overview of this year’s Biennale by tour leader Ken Oshima. This year’s Biennale, entitled “Fundamentals,” represents an exploration of the basic building blocks of architectural design, that is to say, the windows, doors, walls, etc. that  are essential to any structure. After an overview of the exhibition and national pavilions, we began exploring the pavilions at our own pace and then transferred over to the Arsenale venue. At the Arsenale, we bee-lined for the Croatian pavilion, where we were able to revisit a few of the structures we had visited or discussed on our tour, but in model form.

    The Croatian Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale.

    As our tour came to an end under the arches of the Arsenale, we said our final goodbyes and expressed warm wishes to our friends.

    Boris and Franica Srdar catching the great view at the Venice Arsenale.

    Thank you to the SAH, the Scott Opler Endowment for New Scholars, our tour leaders Boris Srdar and Ken Oshima and all the participants who helped make this time together enriching. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to grow as a person and a scholar by sharing in this experience with you.

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  • Reflections on the Croatia Tour

    Ana Mitrovici
    Oct 9, 2014

    By Study Tour Fellow Ana Mitrovici

    I became interested in the 2014 SAH study tour, “Croatia: At the Crossroads of Time and Space” because it offered the opportunity to learn more about the particular geographical, political, and cultural events that have the power to shape a region in an immediate and direct way. These elements were particularly interesting to me as I work to complete a dissertation on cultural exchanges and society in Roman Dacia (present day Romania), an area that was connected to the western world in antiquity by a combination of land and water routes. By studying these long term cross-cultural and cross-temporal interactions at work in the Adriatic I wanted to better understand how particular nodes, especially those located along strategic points such as trade routes and waterways developed into dynamic zones of interaction while also retaining their own character and personality. During our tour, I developed a better sense of the many layers that have been established over time and whose presences can still be detected in both the urban and rural fabric, beginning in antiquity and continuing to the present day.

    I came to appreciate and understand how diverse landscapes are constantly changing, seemingly shaped by an infinite number of hands. Through analysis of a variety of built environments, I had the chance to understand the potential for architecture to interact with nature, either by resisting it or by integrating with it. During the tour, I considered the ways in which spaces and structures appear to be built with a special kind of knowledge – as if the architects sense that that their works will face innumerous impediments to their continuity (such as earthquakes, fires, and war to name the most common). However, it is in light of these constant and many threats that architecture also triumphs because it manages to retain those faint traces of past lives and a potential for reinvention and reuse that can last over the course of centuries.

    For me this experience will remain an inspiration to visit Croatia again, and hopefully revisit old friends and sites but also experience new ones. Among these one might mention for example the sensory-oriented creation by Nikola Bašić, known as “Sea Organ” (2005) in Zadar, a design that brings together a built structure with the natural environment, harnessing the power of both in order to create musical notes using the wind and sea waves.

    I would like to thank first the Society of Architectural Historians who prepared this tour, the Scott Opler Endowment for New Scholars for funding this experience, to my department at UCSB who further supported this endeavor, and to our tireless tour leaders Boris Srdar and Ken Oshima for leading us through these many rich landscapes. To Franica Srdar and all the tour participants who in ten short days were no longer simply travel companions but friends, and who enriched the tour in so many ways with their perspectives and by adding that certain special touch of humor and lightheartedness that is fundamental to any travel excursion. I am also grateful to the crew of the Corinthian and the many pilots who guaranteed or safe arrival to the many ports along the way. Finally, to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia and the city of Venice who kindly welcomed us and shared their neighborhoods, their homes and their stories and who extended their hospitality to us so that we might grow in our knowledge and experience, a heartfelt thank you to all.

  • Antigua: La vida de las ruinas

    Amber N. Wiley
    Sep 2, 2014
    “The most weirdly beautiful ruins in the world are found amid the jungles of Guatemala.”    
    - Edgar Lee Hewett, Head of the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Southern California, qtd. in Ransome Sutton, “What’s New in Science: Weirdly Beautiful Ruins,” Los Angeles Times November 26, 1933: G19

     “Do not smile at the degraded vestiges of a past civilization that we meet in Central America.  They are living tombs of a wrecked national intelligence which has succumbed to the rapacity and worse proclivities of relentless and unmerciful conquerors.”
    - Ferd C. Valentine, U.S. Surgeon – Urologist, “People and Places in Guatemala,” Manhattan 1 no. 6 (June 1883): 424


    There is life among ruins. Antigua is the perfect place for a case study on preservation – the methods of conservation, local governance, and international partnerships. There is much to be learned from this small Central American city, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

    As the above quotes indicate, there is also an abundance of mystery in the crumbling edifices for those who delight in “ruin porn” à la Detroit post-industrial decline or post-Katrina New Orleans.  Art critics often point to the long history of deriving aesthetic pleasure from gazing upon remnants of a bygone era. There is an irony or depravity, however, in appreciating the vestiges of a colonial past (this is true of the post-industrial and post-disaster pasts as well, for different yet occasionally parallel reasons). The colonial past is marked with oppression, forced assimilation, and denial of indigenous rights, belief systems, and customs. 

    [Figure 1.  View of the church of El Carmen after 1874 earthquake, Antigua 
    1875.  Eadweard Muybridge.  Canadian Centre for Architecture.]

    [Figure 2.  El Carmen Market and Ruins 2014.]

    Antigua has been a destination for wanderlusts and adventurers since the late 19th century. Even photographers Eadweard Muybridge and Arnold Genthe documented the collapsed structures of the former capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala in 1875 and sometime between 1899 and 1926, respectively. The overall tone of the earliest North American accounts of Antigua that I found in the pages of publications such as the Manhattan and Outing, an Illustrated Monthly Magazine of Recreation is one of wonder and intoxication with the ruins, and condescension to the large Mayan population that even today resides in pueblos on the periphery of the city.[1]

    [Figure 3.  Cloister of La Merced monastery,
    between 1899 and 1926.  Arnold Genthe.  Library of Congress.]

    [Figure 4.  Cloister of La Merced before a wedding 2014.]

    Hernán Cortés assigned Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado the task of “conquering and settling” the Kingdom of Guatemala in 1523. This kingdom included parts of modern-day Belize, Chiapas (southern Mexico), Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The first capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala was founded in 1524 at the indigenous Cakchiquel Maya city of Iximché, however, the Cakchiquel resisted Spanish domination, and the Spaniards relocated their capital in 1527 to the vicinity of present-day Ciudad Vieja on the side of Volcán de Agua. The second capital site suffered losses due to a major landslide in 1541, and in 1543 the Spaniards moved further down into the Panchoy Valley and established the third site for the Muy Leal y Muy Noble Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, or the "Very Loyal and Very Noble City of Saint James of the Knights of Guatemala," now known as Antigua. Here the capital remained and flourished through countless earthquakes until 1773, when the Santa Marta earthquake leveled the city. The earthquake of 1773 led to the relocation the capital once again in 1776, this time to its current location 45 km northeast, now known as Guatemala City.  Residents of Antigua were reluctant to abandon their city, and some remained despite efforts by the Spanish colonial government to force them to the new location.

    Antigua Today

    “Mention Antigua, Guatemala, to those who have been there and you'll probably end up mesmerized as they rave about its churches, volcanoes, restaurants, and cobblestone streets. Mention Antigua to those who return to its splendor year after year and you'll no doubt be brought into their world of enchantment as they describe learning a new language, coming to appreciate a different culture, and expanding from one's comfort zone in the perfect place to volunteer.”[2]

    Modern Antigua and its environs survive through a mixed economy of coffee production, tourism attributed to the proliferation of Spanish schools and its ruins, and its popularity as a destination-wedding site. I often heard employees at museums, cultural sites, stores, and even the police respond to my queries and thanks with “Estamos aquí para servirle,” which may be a common response in the country, but was one that I thought might be tied to the tourism/service industry.  There is also a sizable expat population, a topic that then-anthropology doctoral candidate Joshua Levy covered in his dissertation at the University of California, Berkeley. “Expats are walking contradictions,” Levy stated, “stumbling down the cobblestone streets of a hometown that has always been for foreigners.”[3]

    There is a seemingly understood wealth disparity between the urban and rural (mainly indigenous) populations. Many of the indigenous people come to Antigua to sell their wares then travel back home. There are countless non-profits attached to Antiguan business that have created a relationship with the indigenous population in the vicinity – anything from a restaurant to a yoga studio to a Spanish school in Antigua will probably have a volunteer program located in a nearby pueblo.

    While in Antigua I visited Niños de Guatemala, a well-run NGO in Ciudad Vieja, Guatemala. They offer primary education to the poorest segments of children in Ciudad Vieja.  These are children who live in close proximity to livestock – roosters, mules, etc.  They probably don’t have running water or electricity. Most of their homes – constructed of discarded materials – have dirt floors.  I was on the tour entitled “Experience Guatemala.” I met people who were volunteering for weeks at a time to support the mission of the organization. I learned so much – so much in fact, that my heart was broken.

    [Figure 5. Worst section of housing in Ciudad Vieja.  Some Niños de Guatemala students come from this neighborhood.]

    In Antigua it seems that volunteering as a tourist is the norm.  In fact, it is a stark contrast to my time in Mexico where tourism was all about relaxation and pampering the guest (at least in the Yucatán). Another North American visiting Antigua asked me in a rather relaxed conversation, “So are you here to volunteer?” It was an innocent enough question. “No, I’m here to study architecture.” My answer didn’t feel sufficient in this context. It felt like vanity. For the first time this trip I felt that in order to legitimize my presence I should physically contribute to the larger community in some way. All the English language magazines like Qué Pasa and Revue include a significant amount of information about non-profits and NGOs operating in the country. Even what one would consider a more traditional cultural tour, like the outstanding ones offered by Elizabeth Bell at Antigua Tours includes information about how your money helps sustain the culture and heritage of the town in very beneficial ways.  

    Preservation and the Realities of the Everyday

    By the time of the 1773 disaster numerous religious orders such as Franciscans, Dominicans, and Mercedarians had already created their respective convent and church complexes, and a number of educational institutions were established in the city as well. The remnants of those religious institutions are the backbone of the architectural tourism industry in Antigua. If you tire of visiting churches and convents on an architectural tour, then Antigua is probably not the place for you. What is particularly gratifying about this collection of sites, however, is the fact that they represent a very unique version of Spanish baroque known as “earthquake squat.” Additionally, each site is treated in a manner specific to its condition and current use. You might ask, “What use does the site of an architectural ruin have today?” The main cathedral of Antigua, San Jose Cathedral, is still very much a working religious institution, as are the churches of San Francisco and La Merced. Iglesia Beatas de Belen on the southeast edge of the city operates both as a church and as a school. The convent of Santo Domingo has been converted to a boutique hotel, and includes in its expansive grounds two art galleries, several museums, and archaeological sites such as the crypts. These architectural sites juggle being both functioning structures and ruined playgrounds for locals and tourists alike.

    [Figure 6. Nave of Santo Domingo set for a wedding.]

    Alternatively, the church and convent of Santa Clara is no longer a functioning religious institution, but is a much visited tourist destination. Sites like Santa Clara, Las Capuchinas, and San Francisco offer some interpretation for the visitor, while others such as San Jerónimo and La Recolección offer little to none. What the latter locations offer instead is the space for magic and imagination. The allure of the unknown and place to create your own story. These sites act as public parks for locals, places for lovers to cuddle under trees, and for family explorations. 

    [Figure 7. Is it architectural vanity? Selfie with immense La Recolección ruins in the background.]

    For instance, my time at La Recolección was spent dancing my gaze along the jagged edges of the ruins, not necessarily trying to make sense of what I was seeing. My artist heart rejoiced in the chaos. I wanted very much to sit, draw, and paint, but the heat told me to keep moving. I did have the opportunity to sit and indulge in the ruins of Las Capuchinas. I spent most of my time trying to depict the materiality, the mixture, and the mess of the tower for the novices (a fascinating complex). My dreamy watercolor impression seems most accurate to me. I feel that I should have left my depiction one of an impression rather than trying so hard to put in the details with Prismacolors. As an academic, it is difficult to interpret and validate my impressions. As an artist, it felt “right.”

    [Figure 8. Las Capuchinas Pt. 1: Water color.]

    [Figure 9. Las Capuchinas Pt. 2:  Water color plus Prismacolor.]

    So how does one begin to understand the interworking of these preservation decisions that highlight certain structures and leave others to serve only as romantic backdrops to the action of their visitors? I searched to find contemporary research that addressed these issues. I found one master’s thesis on La Recolección written in the last ten years.[4] Elizabeth Bell regularly publishes short yet concise articles about the heritage preservation of Antigua in local publications.[5] Websites that cover contemporary architecture trends lacked any information on Antigua (part of this is due, of course, to strict regulations against new building in the city). The bulk of detailed original architectural research on the city was conducted in the 1950s and 1960s.

    A Few Unanswered Questions

    Why is Antigua an overlooked subject in preservation case studies? There seems to be a great wealth to discuss regarding seismic activity and building for earthquakes and volcanoes/mountains with the threat of edifice collapse?

    The city was inscribed in the World Heritage List in 1979 – at a high point of international attention to the Guatemalan Civil War. Was the inscription of the city somehow related to this humanitarian crisis and the understood danger to the culture and built environment of Guatemala? 

    Who studies Guatemalan culture, both the built environment and intangible heritage? While in Yucatán, Mexico, I found archaeologists took up the charge of studying Mayan life and ruins in the region. Guatemala seems to fall under the purview of geographers and anthropologists – why the dearth of architectural historians/preservationists and related literature?

    Is the lack of study a result of the civil war?

    What happens when we privilege the narrative of the colonial past over the indigenous past and present? Are the Cakchiquel natives benefiting from the preservation of these romantic ruins?

    Finally, do architecture and preservation as professional fields have a social responsibility?

    We often find our most endangered sites and cultural landscapes in regions that have suffered from disinvestment, natural disaster, and war. We, as architectural historians, preservationists, architects, conservationists, historians, anthropologists, geographers, professionals in our respective and often overlapping fields, begin to list sites as important and worthy of preservation.  We cite their universal qualities, their authenticity, and their contribution to knowledge about the world at large as evidence of their significance. We often create revenue streams and training/conversation opportunities through such campaigns. But do we build social equity through the stories that are told, the jobs that are created, and the revenue from marketed tourism? What of Antigua as a UNESCO World Heritage Site? Does it mean the same thing for the Ladino and Cakchiquel populations? There is emerging research and literature that takes up some of these concerns, but none I have found address Antigua specifically.[6] There is life in the ruins, but there is a cultural and economic disparity between the former Spanish colonial capital and contemporary Guatemalan context that surrounds it. 

    [Figure 10. This image, taken between 1899 and 1926, could easily be captured in Antigua today. An indigenous woman selling wares in Parque Central.  Arnold Genthe.  Library of Congress.]

    Recommended reading:

    Elizabeth Bell, Antigua Guatemala: The City and Its Heritage (La Antigua Guatemala: Antigua Tours, 1999)

    George F. Guillemin, “The Ancient Cakchiquel of Iximché,” Expedition 9 no. 2 (Winter 1967): 22-35

    José María Magaña Juárez, “La Arquitectura Monumental de La Antigua Guatemala,” Apuntes 24 no. 1 (2011): 92-105

    W. George Lovell, “‘Not a City But a World’: Seville and the Indies,” Geographical Review 90 no. 1/2 (January/April 2001): 239-251

    W. George Lovell, “Surviving Conquest: The Maya of Guatemala in Historical Perspective,” Latin American Research Review 23 no. 2 (January 1, 1988): 25-57

    Sidney D. Markman, “The Architecture of Colonial Antigua, Guatemala, 1543-1773,” Archaeology 4 no. 4 (December 1951): 204-212

    Sidney D. Markman, “Las Capuchinas: An Eighteenth-Century Convent in Antigua, Guatemala,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 20 no. 1 (March 1961): 27-33

    Sidney D. Markman, “Santa Cruz, Antigua, Guatemala, and the Spanish Colonial Architecture of Central America,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 15 no. 1, Spanish Empire Issue (March 1956): 12-19

    Alfred Neumeyer, “The Indian Contribution to Architectural Decoration in Spanish Colonial America,” Art Bulletin 30 no. 2 (June 1, 1948): 104-121

    Ruben E. Reina, Annette B. Weiner, and Edward O’Flaherty, “Ethnohistory and Archaeology in Colonial Antigua, Guatemala,” Expedition 12 no. 2 (Winter 1970): 18-30

    Robert C. Smith, “Colonial Towns of Spanish and Portuguese America,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 14 no. 4, Town Planning Issue (December 1955): 3-12

    Susan Migden Socolow and Lyman L. Johnson, “Urbanization in Colonial Latin

    America,” Journal of Urban History 8 no. 1 (November 1, 1981): 27-59

    John J. Swetnam, “Interaction Between Urban and Rural Residents in a Guatemalan Marketplace,” Urban Anthropology 7 no. 2 (Summer 1978): 137-153

    Stephen Webre, “Water and Society in a Spanish American City: Santiago de Guatemala, 1555-1773,” Hispanic American Historical Review 70 no. 1 (February 1990): 57-84

    [1] See Ferd C. Valentine, “People and Places in Guatemala,” Manhattan 1 no. 6 (June 1883): 424.  The Manhattan was a short-lived illustrated literary magazine; Arthur M. Beaupre, “Antigua, Guatemala, and Its Ruins,” Outing, an Illustrated Monthly Magazine of Recreation 35 no. 1 (October 1899): 50; “Antigua Colonial Ruins Perennial Travel Lure,” Daily Boston Globe April 13, 1952: A18.

    [2] Bonnie Lynn, “Antigua, Guatemala: Break Out of Your Comfort Zone,” World & I 26 no. 9 (September 2011): 5.

    [3] Joshua Wolfe Levy, “The Making of the Gringo World: Expatriates in La Antigua Guatemala,” (PhD diss., University of California Berkeley, 2007), 7.

    [4] Ana Beatriz del Rosario Linares Muñoz,“Ruin Revival in Antigua Guatemala The Interpretation, Integration and Adaptive Reuse of a Fallen Eighteenth Century Masterpiece,” (Master’s thesis, Columbia University 2007).

    [5] See Elizabeth Bell, “Antigua Guatemala celebrates its 34th anniversary UNESCO World Heritage Site” Revue October 1, 2013 and “Antigua Over the Years,” Revue March 1, 2014

    [6] See Michelle Fawcett, “The Market for Ethics: Culture and the Neoliberal Turn at UNESCO,” (PhD diss., New York University, 2009); Ian Hodder, “Cultural Heritage Rights: From Ownership and Descent to Justice and Well-being,” Anthropological Quarterly 83 no. 4 (Fall 2010): 861-882; and Jason Ryan and Sari Silvanto “World Heritage Sites: The Purposes and Politics of Destination Branding,” Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing 27 (2010): 533–545.

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  • In the Yucatán, Land of Kukulkan

    H. Allen Brooks Fellow Amber N. Wiley
    Aug 11, 2014

    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.

    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. 


    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,”

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

    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. 

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  • Mexico City: From Mexica Past to Modernism and Beyond

    H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellow Amber N. Wiley
    Jul 7, 2014

    Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day.

    Since I am addressing a forum of intellectuals with a keen interest in history and culture, many of you might already know this fact.  I might have heard it a time or two in life, only to forget, and then be reminded again in Mexico City. I am not ashamed to admit that.  Why is this tidbit of information important to the history of architecture and urbanism in Mexico City, you ask?  It has everything to do with memory of place, transnational dialogues, regional differences, and most immediately, place names. 

    Place names

    My first week in Mexico City I went to the heart of it all, Zócalo, and walked many miles exploring the city, getting a feel for its historic center.  I was surprised to find that one of its major arteries, one that embraces Zócalo on the western periphery was named 16 de Septiembre.  While studying a map of Centro Histórico the significance street placement was apparent, but the meaning was lost on me, until I began a minor investigation into the significance of the date.  Modern Mexico City place names are reflective of its long, eclectic, troubled, and triumphant past, embracing a mixture of indigenous, independence, and revolutionary figures.  Alameda Central, for instance, is cradled by streets named for Miguel Hidalgo and Benito Juárez, meant to pay homage to historic figures of independence and reform.  Delving into the meaning behind the names of a place is often one of the most enlightening activities one can pursue.  Each name is consequential and is a snapshot of the past.  In a capital city, place names are the epitome of patriotism, nation building, and myth making, a la Roland Barthes.

    Figure 1. View of Alameda Central from Torre Latinoamericano

    Pre-Hispanic past in contemporary city

    In this capital city there are urban and architectural achievements that, by virtue of design, harken back to the pre-Hispanic Mexican past.  The Zócalo, historic center of the city, is a nodal point from which all understanding of the orientation and layout of the city can be derived.  This is because the Aztecs founded their ancient city of Tenochtitlán in the same space now occupied by the grand plaza, national palace, and cathedral.  When the Spanish conquered the great city, they admired its aqueducts and engineering. They chose to build their outpost in New Spain on what remained of the Aztec achievements (after, of course, they burned and ravaged the city first).  As scholar Jacqueline Holler argues in her article “Conquered Spaces, Colonial Skirmishes: Spatial Contestation in Sixteenth-Century Mexico City,” part of the power of the Spanish conquest was the fact that the Spaniards effectively cannibalized the space and materials of the Aztec city:

    The revision of Tenochtitlan as a colonial capital, moreover, was an attempt to usurp rather than deny indigenous sovereignty. This usurpation demanded physical change on a grand scale, rather than intellectual sleight of hand. The dismantling of an indigenous urban complex and its reassembly in an altered form were the products of tremendous indigenous labor, itself an object lesson in domination.

    Also in the historic center are the ruins of Templo Mayor just east of the Metropolitan Cathedral, as well as the Palacio Nacional erected on the ruins of Moctezuma’s “New Houses.”  In the historic center the Mexica and Spanish colonial pasts sit in complex juxtaposition to each other, illustrating clearly the significance of the space layered with history.

    Figure 2. View of Metropolitan Cathedral over ruins of Templo Mayor

    European Influences

    Mexico City felt more European to me than I imagined it would.  I had tried desperately to figure out why this was the case.  What qualities of the city gave me this feeling?  One of the most outstanding qualities I would argue is the vitality of life in the public sphere.  The city has an embarrassment of riches in regards to the proliferation of public parks within its boundaries.  The city has taken a renewed interest and invested in its public spaces recently.  From the grand public parks of national significance like Alameda Central to the small pocket plazas and gardens in the various neighborhoods like Jardín Pushkin and Parque las Americas, residents of Mexico City pass much of their free time in the presence of others, beneath the shade of los árboles en las parques.  Mexico City is green, but not in the trendy way we talk about “being green” today (although it has begun countless initiatives to reduce the impact of pollution in the city).  The tree canopy is noteworthy, and lessens the blinding quality of light on a sunny day.  Two of the most recent places I have lived battle the problem of a disappearing or deficient tree canopy – Washington, D.C., and New Orleans.  The incessant heat and humidity in those cities during the summer months make living in both places nearly unbearable.  Walking the streets of Mexico City this June I have thought about how the quality of life in places like Washington and New Orleans would be improved tremendously with a far-reaching and widespread tree canopy.  Granted, New Orleans has its live oaks on major thoroughfares, but these prized trees are not evenly dispersed throughout the city.

    Figure 3.  Images of daily life in parks taken within the span of a few hours on one day.  Clockwise from top left:  Plaza Morelia, Parque México, El Foro Lindbergh in Parque México, Parque España, Jardín Pushkin, and Plaza Río de Janeiro

    Revolution and social reform

    Politics. Passion. Poisonous liaisons. Perseverance. 

    These are issues I was confronted with during the week I dedicated to touring sites associated with Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, and Leon Trotsky. The way those messages are intertwined in the art produced in the middle of the twentieth century in Mexico City is raw, emotional, and nuanced. The artwork of Kahlo and Rivera, as well as their friendship with Trotsky during his last days in Mexico continue to define post-revolution politics for scholars across various disciplines.  Kahlo’s brand of feminism, Trotsky’s appeal to a sympathetic Socialist Mexico, Rivera’s many interpretations of Mexican history and warnings about the pro-capitalist future are topics accessible to scholars who are intrigued by intersectionality. The spaces in which conversations took place among these three, some of Mexico’s most celebrated and discussed historic figures, continue to be pilgrimage sites today.

    Figure 4. Interior views of Casa Azul, Trotsky’s House, Diego Rivera’s Studio, and Anahuacalli Museum

    Struggle, revolution, and social reform are major themes in Mexican history, and world history at large, and that narrative was evident at the Tlatelolco site.  I was advised to visit this site by Leslie Moody Castro, an art curator who works between Texas and Mexico.  I had no idea what to expect, I just knew I had to go.  Aztec ruins?  Student protests?  A massacre?  The Olympics?  I was confused and intrigued at the same time.

    I started my journey at Tlatelolco walking from the bus station through the housing complex designed by architect Mario Pani.  I eventually found my way to the university and museums.  What the Tlatelolco site lacks in cohesiveness it makes up for in content.  The Centro Cultural Universitario Tlatelolco runs the museum section of the site, and the four various exhibits that are on display in the center are disjointed in their relationship to each other and are counterintuitive in circulation patterns.  None of that matters, however, once you enter into the space itself.

    Figure 5. Conjunto Urbano Nonoalco Tlatelolco

    The first place I visited was the Museo del Tlatelolco, which told the story of the pre-Hispanic city that existed just north of, but separate from, Technotitlán. The exhibit space was so well curated that it would appeal to children and adults alike.  There were numerous moments for multi-media activity to engage visitors, and the exhibit productions and displays were thoughtful and tasteful.  After being thoroughly wowed by the Museo del Tlatelolco I visited the Colección Stavenhagen, which hosted a beautiful array of pre-Hispanic objects, from the everyday to the highly sacred.  I finished my visit at the utterly poignant Memorial del 68, a space that provided opportunity to reflect on the student protests of 1968 in Mexico, and the terrible massacre that happened shortly before the opening games of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City.

    Figure 6. Looking out onto Aztec ruins of Tlatelolco from inside the museum.  Temple of Santiago Tlatelolco seen on right.  A stark contrast of indigenous and colonial constructions

    The Memorial del 68 situated the Mexico City student movement within an international trend of revolution and reform in the 1960s.  The opening video, “El laboratoria de la libertad,” is a montage of popular culture – music and imagery – of the world that captures the spirit of the 1960s.  It is followed by a timeline that illustrates major shifts in social and cultural politics.  It ends in a quiet, dark space of reflection where images of the plaza and events of 1968 are reproduced in an abstract, haunting manner.  In all, this museum is a moving encapsulation of a moment in Mexican history that changed its trajectory in a profound way.  Tlatelolco from the pre-Hispanic city, the site of Spanish conquest, the housing complex, the student massacre, and the ramifications of the 1985 earthquake, is a often-overlooked (by tourists) space in the city that truly captures the long history of the region.

    Figure 7. Memorial del 68

    Preservation and interpretation

    Besides Tlatelolco, two of the most noteworthy places I visited in the Mexico City metropolitan area were Teotihuacan and the “Arquitectura en México 1900-2010” exhibit.  Perhaps I found them notable because of their success in preservation and interpretation.  I use the word success carefully, (some would argue loosely) since I am very aware that conservative preservationists consider Teotihuacan a Disneyfication of Mexican history.  I measure the success of both the historic site and the exhibit in two different ways.

    Teotihuacan is an architectural historian's delight and disappointment.  The delight comes from one’s ability to get swallowed up in the overwhelming scale of structures that make up the Ciudadela, Avenue of the Dead, Palace of Quetzalpapalotl, the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon.  The disappointment would afflict any preservation and conservation purist.  Most of what one sees today at the site has been reconstructed, and historical evidence proves now that earlier reconstructions, done in haste by Leopoldo Batres for the Centenario, were incorrect.  UNESCO takes a fairly judicious stance about this condition, noting:

    While some of the earlier reconstruction work, dating from the early years of the last century, is questionable in contemporary terms, it may be considered to have a historicity of its own now. In general terms, it can be said that the condition of authenticity of the expressions of the Outstanding Universal Values of Teotihuacan, which can be found in its urban layout, monuments and art, has been preserved until today.2

    Scholar Gillian Newell does a very thorough job of describing the way various groups – local, national, international, tourist and indigenous alike – create a culture of consumption that support identity-formation at Teotihuacan.  Her article, “Rhyming Culture, Heritage, and Identity: The ‘Total Site’ of Teotihuacan, Mexico,” takes into account the different motivations people have for visiting the site, and argues that we must understand all of these various meanings and practices, both historical and contemporary, to grasp the “total site” of Teotihuacan.  I would agree with her conclusion.

    Figure 8.  Teotihuacan selfie

    The highly acclaimed “Arquitectura en México 1900-2010. La construcción de la modernidad. Obras, diseño, arte y pensamiento” exhibit deserves all the praise it has received in the international press.  Situated in the Palacio de Cultura Banamex - Palacio de Iturbide, this far-reaching show is divided into easily digestible themes that illustrate the evolving country’s architectural ambitions, from the Porfirian era to the twenty-first century.  The exhibit took advantage of the spacious site, with a beautiful array of models, furniture, architectural drawings, paintings, sculpture, and video.  The exhibit was even more successful than the “official” museum of architecture in Mexico, the Museo Nacional de Arquitectura.  Poorly organized because of space constraints, the lonely national museum of architecture sits in the top floor of the Palacio de Bellas Artes, and is hardly visited by a soul (its blog is worth a visit).

    Figure 9. Arquitectura en México exhibit

    One the one hand, Teotihuacan is successful because it remains open to interpretation.  Little is known about its original residents.  The spirituality of the space, however, speaks to the masses.  It is a sample of pre-Hispanic Mexico that various people derive meaning from, and it is also part of a larger lore about pyramids, outer space, and extraterrestrials.  Indeed, there is something for everyone, even the “believers,” so the meaning of what it is to be “authentic” is drowned out in the voices that proclaim the site to be both authentic and universal.

    On the other hand, the “Arquitectura en México 1900-2010” exhibit is successful because it does exactly what the site of Teotihuacan does not.  It is directive, illustrating how political and social ideologies informed various periods of growth and design in Mexico.  Whether highlighting Porfirian elite design, or modernization efforts in anticipation of the 1968 Olympics, the textual information and visual aids of the exhibit create an enlightening experience for visitors.

    Mexico City present and future

    Mexico City’s past – Mexica, Spanish colonial, Porfirian, revolutionary – and the reclamation of and tension between these identities are at the forefront of how Mexico interprets and understands itself.  There is no consensus on what it means to be Mexican, as far as I can tell, and like any major country the interpretations vary by region, vocation, place of origin. I don’t know how these various identities affect the current state of affairs in the city and nation.  One thing is for sure – Mexico City does not try to hide any of it.  At least not anymore.

    As I ended my time in Mexico City and arrived in the Yucatán, I tried to find the words to sum up the major takeaways from spending a month in this capital city, this global city.  In many ways, the national presence is felt so very strongly, with the richness of the heritage of the country at one’s fingertips.  In other ways, the city’s position on the global radar is also poignant, as I have had the opportunity to meet people from the States, Argentina, France, Spain, and other countries during my time here. 

    The Mexican past is as long and complicated as a Diego Rivera mural, and in the twenty-first century, it includes narratives about hope and disillusionment that move beyond the time frame represented in the famous murals in the Palacio Nacional.  It has been over 60 years since that piece was finished, and the story of the city is far from complete.  Mexico City’s standing and trajectory for the twenty-first century is an enigma for someone new to the city, such as myself.  Clearly it is a thriving global city, one that has unparalleled human capital in population alone, and additionally has a wealth of foreign trade and investment.  The Brookings Institution noted in 2010:

    Over 20 million people live in the Metropolitan Area of Mexico City (MAMC), making in the largest urban agglomeration in the Western Hemisphere, the largest Spanish-speaking metro globally, and the third largest metropolitan area in the world. Mexico City’s GDP stood at $411.4 billion in 2012, making it the eighth largest urban economy in the world.3

    These factors are clear to anyone who has spent time in the city recently. The Brookings Institution warns, however that despite creating a place for itself in the international economy, “Mexico City’s international stature is not as stable and its global brand not yet as recognizable as other prominent emerging market cities like Istanbul, Mumbai, Shanghai, and São Paulo.”4

    While in Mexico City I was introduced to two organizations that represent the future of Mexico City’s cultural politics and help us understand the country in new and profound ways.  The missions of the organizations are quite different.  Their strengths are that they are headed by young people – in their 20s and 30s – and depend on a serious understanding of the social, political, and cultural state of Mexico.  The first organization, ArtraversARTE, is a contemporary art tourism company that “weave[s] in historical context, cultural perspective, and urban life to create an unforgettable experience” of the city.5 Atravesar means “to cross over, to break through, to pierce.” AtraversARTE was created to provide art professionals and aficionados an opportunity to have transnational dialogue about the state of contemporary art in Mexico, with an eye on the future.  Since the art is deeply embedded within the genius loci, the urban condition is part and parcel of what one takes away from their AtraversARTE experience.  I was very much impressed with the organization’s mission, and it reminded me of another organization, Afrikanation Artists Organization, that works to promote cultural exchange between America and Africa – particularly east Africa: Somalia and Ethiopia.

    The second organization I learned about in while in Mexico City is TECHO, an NGO that depends on “the collaborative work of families living in extreme poverty with youth volunteers … [to] overcome poverty in slums.”6 The TECHO mission is the epitome of what it means “to build:” edificar.  The Spanish translation of the word is closer to its true meaning and essence, its Latin roots: aedificium (building) + facio (make).  TECHO consists of political advocates who believe in the art of building, not just in the physical sense, but also in framing, constructing, and providing a foundation for an idea that all people should live without poverty.  Their work spans Latin America and the United States.

    Despite the fact that Mexico City is one of the largest and most populous cities in the world, so many aspects of the city remain part of the quotidian, time-tested local traditions.  I started this blog talking about place names. I will end doing the same. On my penultimate day in Mexico City I made a trip to the El Museo de la Ciudad de México for personal and professional reasons.  Personally, I wanted an official body representing the city to tell me exactly what it wanted me to come away with on my trip.  Professionally, I’ve done research on city museums in Washington, D.C. and London and wanted to see how Mexico City approached this concept. I arrived at the museum and was about to pay my money for a ticket when the woman at the counter said, “You are here for an exhibit about Mexico City?  We don’t do that any more.” I was flustered, checked to make sure I was in the right place, and then walked out.  A guard who saw me walk up asked me why I was leaving.

    Me: Esté es El Museo de la Ciudad de México, pero... no es el museo de la ciudad de México?

    Guard: Sí.

    Me: Por qué no cambia el nombre?

    Guard: La gente lo conoce como "El Museo de la Ciudad de México."

    Esto es la belleza de lo cotidiano.

    Figure 10. El Museo de la Ciudad de México

    H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Google Map

    Learn more about the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship

    Recommended reading:

    Enrique X. de Anda Alanís, “The Preservation of Historic Architecture and the Beliefs of the Modern Movement in Mexico: 1914–1963,” Future Anterior: Journal of Historic Preservation, History, Theory, and Criticism 6 no. 2 (Winter 2009): 58-73

    Luis Castañeda, “Beyond Tlatelolco: Design, Media, and Politics at Mexico ’68, Grey Room (Summer 2010) 40: 100-126

    Keith L. Eggener, “Juan O'Gorman versus the International Style: An Unpublished Submission to the JSAH,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 68 no. 3 (September 2009): 301-307

    Keith L. Eggener “Placing Resistance: A Critique of Critical Regionalism” Journal of Architectural Education 55 no. 4 (May, 2002): 228-237

    George F. Flaherty, "Uncanny Tlatelolco, Uncomfortable Juxtapositions,” Defying Stability: Artistic Processes in Mexico, 1952-1967, ed. Rita Eder (Mexico: MUAC, 2014), 400-417

    José Villagrán García, Jorge Otero-Pailos and Ingrid Olivo, “Architecture and Monument Restoration (1967),” Future Anterior: Journal of Historic Preservation, History, Theory, and Criticism 6 no. 2 (Winter 2009): 88-103

    Jorge Tárrago Mingo, “Preserving Rivera and Kahlo: Photography and

    Reconstruction,” Future Anterior: Journal of Historic Preservation, History, Theory, and Criticism 6 no. 1 (Summer 2009): 50-67

    Jacqueline Holler, “Conquered Spaces, Colonial Skirmishes: Spatial Contestation in Sixteenth-Century Mexico City,” Radical History Review no. 99 (Fall 2007): 107-120

    Kathryn E. O'Rourke, “Guardians of Their Own Health: Tuberculosis, Rationalism, and Reform in Modern Mexico,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 71 no. 1 (March 2012): 60-77

    Kathryn E. O'Rourke, “Mies and Bacardi: Mixing Modernism,” Journal of Architectural Education 66 no. 1 (2012): 57-71

    Susie S. Porter, “‘And That It Is Custom Makes It Law:’ Class Conflict and Gender Ideology in the Public Sphere, Mexico City, 1880-1910,” Social Science History 24 no. 1 (Spring 2000) 111-148

    Mauricio Tenorio Trillo, “1910 Mexico City: Space and Nation in the City of the Centenario,” Journal of Latin American Studies, 28 no. 1 (February 1996): 75-104

    Steven S. Volka, “Frida Kahlo Remaps the Nation,” Social Identities: Journal for the Study of Race, Nation and Culture 6 no. 2 (2000): 165-188

    Adriana Zavala, “Mexico City in Juan O’Gorman’s Imagination,” Hispanic Research Journal 8, no. 5 (December 2007): 491–506

    [1] Jacqueline Holler, “Conquered Spaces, Colonial Skirmishes: Spatial Contestation in Sixteenth-Century Mexico City,” Radical History Review no. 99 (Fall 2007): 107

    [2] UNESCO, “Pre-Hispanic City of Teotihuacan,”

    [3] Brookings Institution, “The 10 Traits of Globally Fluent Metro Areas: Mexico City,” Global Cities Initiative, a Joint Project of Brookings and JPMorgan

    [4] Ibid.

    [5] Tanya Diaz, “AtravesARTE Brings Experiential Travel to Mexico City’s Contemporary Art World,” AtravesARTE Launch Press Release April 2, 2014.

    [6] TECHO, “What is TECHO/History,”

    Go comment!
  • Architectural History and Architectural Humanities

    Dianne Harris
    Jun 23, 2014

    Note: This essay is a revised version of the plenary address delivered at the Society of Architectural Historians Annual Conference in Austin, Texas, on April 14, 2014.

    In June of 2013, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences released a report that is or should by now be well-known to many of you: “The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences for a Vibrant, Competitive, and Secure Nation.”[1]  I attended “The Heart of the Matter” launch on June 19th at the Capital Building in Washington, DC, where the project’s leaders delivered brief declarations about the importance of the humanities for their own lives, and especially for the nation’s health. It was a distinguished group that included Duke University President Richard Broadhead, former CEO of Exelon Energy John Rowe, ACLS President Pauline Yu, and the actor John Lithgow, among others. The launch event included the screening of a beautifully produced short film created by Ken Burns and George Lucas.[2] It was inspiring.

    The Heart of the Matter: The Humanities and Social Sciences for a Vibrant, Competitive, and Secure Nation

    But the truly exceptional moment—the spectacularly memorable piece that seldom receives adequate attention in conversations about the report—occurred when two Republican members of Congress (Senator Lamar Alexander from Tennessee and Representative Tom Petri from Wisconsin) joined two Democratic members of Congress  (Senator Mark Warner from Virginia and Representative David Price from North Carolina) on a single stage and spoke about the reasons they commissioned this study and report.  This is no small feat, and it bears repeating:  The “Heart of the Matter” was commissioned by a bi-partisan congressional committee: two republicans and two democrats sat together on the stage, shook hands, and joined in common cause to support the humanities. Seeing them take the stage together was in many respects the most impressive thing about the entire project, because their appearance at the launch coincided with congressional proposals to either drastically cut the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) budget by nearly 50%, or to entirely eliminate NEH and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) as federal programs. And of course, that bi-partisan handshake predated the government shut-down that would occur in October of 2013 by only a few months, and appears even more extraordinary in its aftermath.

    The report’s appearance generated significant buzz in both the national and the higher education press, the reception was both positive and negative, and much of it was cynical. Indeed, it is not a perfect document; few such reports can claim to be so. But the report successfully brought public attention back to the humanities in some important and widely seen venues—the New York Times, but also through Duke University President Richard Broadhead’s appearance on the Colbert Report (where he more than held his own while engaging in witty banter about the humanities), and in conversations that continue around the country at universities and in public venues like the Chicago Humanities Summit that took place in early January, 2014.[3] It stimulated and continues to stimulate conversations about our national commitment to the humanities and arts. Despite the sometimes loud and inflammatory publicity generated by some politicians and journalists who seek to blame various modes of scholarship and the application of theories related to questions of race, class, and gender for the imagined demise or crisis in public education and the humanities, the bi-partisan committee that commissioned the report demonstrated that such views are those of a few, and not of the many.  The report is out there, widely circulated, waiting for our consideration and—more importantly—for our action.

    It is my belief that the report has fulfilled some very important objectives, and that  it has done some consequential work in its rather brief public life. The report helps us see that this is a time for taking action, for making changes, for speaking out, and for staking new or renewed claims to a public life for the humanities—and it usefully provides at least one set of approaches for doing just that.

    So how should or might we as architectural historians—how can all of us who daily study the built environment and its past—regard this report? How can we use it as a way to critically assess the work we are doing as scholars, and even the work we do together, gathered as members of a learned society that is near and dear to our hearts? What kind of report card can we give ourselves in consideration of our own work to sustain a vibrant life of the humanities as global citizens? The “Heart of the Matter,” it seems to me, aims to provide a road map and a measuring device for the collective actions we might take as scholars and as members of a learned society to think anew about the ways in which we might better exploit the built environment's centrality in everyday life for the creation of a new conception of our work in the expanded field of the public humanities.

    Like many of you, I’ve watched our field change and grow in exciting ways over the 25 years in which I’ve been an SAH member. But for all our growth, for all the exciting ways in which architectural history has become a complex, varied, and intellectually rewarding field, many of our colleagues across the humanities retain a somewhat outdated understanding of our endeavor. Even our colleagues in History departments—scholars with whom we should share many intellectual and methodological affinities—frequently regard our work as relatively unchanged from its shape in the 19th century. It surprises me each time I discover how many historians still imagine that we narrowly focus our studies on the form and style of buildings, or as exclusively preoccupied with writing biographies of particular designers and the histories of their careers. If we are having trouble reaching some of our most closely-affiliated university colleagues, we are surely facing some challenges in our efforts to engage the public in a more sophisticated, sustained, and robust set of dialogues. We have so much more to offer the humanities and the interested general public than we are currently understood to offer. If architectural historians are frequently among the first to discover new methods and approaches to historical inquiry that are of signal importance, we are often the last to be acknowledged for those discoveries, and this is important not as a matter of credit-where-credit-is-due, but of intellectual engagement.

    If our work is not as visible as it could or should be to our university peers and to members of the public, it seems also not to have been much on the minds of the authors who produced the “Heart of the Matter” report. The word “architecture” appears only once in the report: “…public art, architecture projects, and discussion groups strengthen communities and enhance local economies.”[4] The report’s authors included architecture because they saw it as offering “an opportunity for lifelong education,” a kind of everyday, embodied encounter with the humanities and arts. The words “architectural history” never appear, nor does “art history.” “History” and the broad rubric of “the arts” are included. But committee member Richard Broadhead specifically mentioned architecture as among the most public and visible components of the humanities in an address he delivered in Chicago just prior to the January Humanities Summit—how could one not do so when speaking from a podium in Chicago?![5]

    So although we might like to imagine the architectural historian as lurking in the unarticulated shadows of the report, we are not actually present; buildings are imagined as central, but our significance as scholars who study and interpret the built environment is absent. If buildings are central, but the central role of those who study them remains either an assumption or an oversight, how might we consider this report’s recommendations, and how might they matter for our fields?

    The report essentially offers recommendations to advance three goals:

    1. To Educate Americans in the knowledge, skills, and understanding they will need to thrive in a twenty-first-century democracy.
    2. To Foster a society that is innovative, competitive, and strong.
    3. To Equip a nation for leadership in an interconnected world.[6]

    The roughly sixty pages of the printed report include a further set of recommendations for achieving these goals, but I’d like to focus on just a few that may be of greatest relevance to those of us here tonight:“ Engaging the public;” “Communicating the importance of research to the public (and they emphasize the importance of K-12 engagement for this); and encouraging all disciplines to address “Grand Challenges.”[7] The language used to articulate these goals makes clear the report’s intentions to link the production of future good citizens to assuring the strength of the arts, humanities, and social sciences in the United States. If we agree that the goals of the report are important to the health of us all as human beings, then how might we, as architectural historians, advance those goals? To get at this, I want to address two aspects of the report’s recommendations: Its exhortation that we engage the public, and that we increasingly engage with what they call “Grand Challenges” in our research.

    1. Engage the Public

    Let’s start with the commission’s recommendation that we engage the public.

    On a most basic and self-interested level, we must certainly do this if we want  federal support for NEH and NEA to continue, along with anything else we do that relies on tax payer support, like work as humanists in large public universities as I currently do. The simple fact is that taxpayers have to better understand what we do and how it matters, and we should spend more time thinking about how to engage the tax-paying public. As the report states, we have to “Connect with them to make the funding case.. . .If scholars in the broad humanistic disciplines expect the public to be more financially supportive, they must make the case for the public value of their work much more effectively than they have in recent years…Everything scholars do to connect with the broader public advances their case for support, and everything they neglect to do weakens that case.  Top scholars should embrace the chance to connect with the larger community and help it feel the interest of their subjects and the power of their analyses.”[8]

    Both NEA and NEH have long required this of their grantees, but our efforts as scholars have frequently been inadequate. As individual scholars, we need to work harder at engaging a wider variety of audiences and we need to do so on a more sustained basis. And we, as architectural historians, are lucky—our subject is inherently interesting to people, and accessible to them in a way many subjects are not—it literally surrounds everyone everyday. Buildings, landscapes, city spaces are inescapable daily realities, foreground and background, essential if often unnoticed.  But we tend to write about our subject for each other more often than we probably should. Bloggers are changing this; our participation in events like the Chicago Humanities Festival is changing this; In fact, I believe SAH is in many respects leading in this area.

    How else are we doing so? One of the commission’s recommendations is to “expand the number of high-quality digital resources available to the general public” as a way to bring humanities and arts scholarship to the public, to broaden the scope of engagement with a community of public intellectuals, and to reach general audiences. Indeed, the report specifically mentions the benefits of the digital for presenting “historic buildings that are reconstructed” along with the ways classic texts and manuscripts can be made accessible.[9]  SAH excels in this category—we are way out in front, and SAH has been leading the way now for nearly a decade. SAH Archipedia is especially laudable, and it holds tremendous potential to expand our work to an even broader public audience—it is already doing so, with the Archipedia site averaging now about 1,000 visitors per day, nearly 30,000 visits for the month of March, 2014 alone, and with usage statistics climbing dramatically over the course of a single year. Ninety percent of Archipedia’s users now come from within the United States, but users from 29 other countries accessed the site as well, just in the month of March. This, it seems to me, is an astonishing example of successful work in the public humanities, one with the potential to grow, change, and attract ever larger audiences from around the globe. 

    Our journal, the JSAH, is another interesting example. It is a scholarly journal, intended for an audience of specialists, but it has already changed significantly over the past decade in both its content and format, and it will continue to do so. More than 2.7 million viewers accessed the JSAH Online in the past 3.5 years by readers in every country on the planet—circulation statistics we could not have dreamed about even a decade ago. Those statistics will likely shift again according to the demands of and legislation attendant to the open access movement. But open annotation is also going to change the ways the public engages with the scholarship produced in our journal and other online publications. Whether we like it or not,  new and increasingly sophisticated forms of commentary creation will be available for all web content, so that anyone can annotate our scholarship directly, in place, and on the open web. To many, this is an unsettling prospect, but it is, nevertheless, inevitable. Are we not then, better off inviting it into our world? Computational models of trust and reputation that are being designed for use with platforms like the open annotation tool means  (at least theoretically) that the days of uncivil and useless commentary attached as conversational threads that appear below online essays are likely to eventually disappear in favor of a higher-quality discussion that aims to elevate the most useful and reputable commentary attached to any particular content.[10] Our readers will be talking to us, arguing with us, contributing their knowledge to our work in ways we had not previously imagined. This is scary. This is also good, and we would do well to welcome this as early adopters considering the public nature of our subject matter. Rather than rejecting this technology, we might instead consider inviting the discussion that open annotation permits into our scholarly lives, and as authors we might also consider ourselves moderators of future online conversations with the capability to lead debates and shape a new realm of public discourse about the built environment with potentially enormous audiences.[11]

    Having our work on the open web where anyone can read it has the potential to change our field more than almost anything else we might do. It will expand the audience for our work exponentially. And new forms of publication are now emerging that will permit this model to exist within the framework of the university library (which is increasingly becoming a publisher) and the university press. It also has the potential to create serious financial challenges for the SAH and many other smaller learned societies.  There may well be a cost then, to learned societies, that is attached to the greater levels of public engagement called for in the report--more on that, in a moment.

    We can, of course, think of many other SAH initiatives that are bringing forms of our scholarship into the public realm. The increasingly active SAH Blog under the editorial stewardship of Kostis Kourelis, for example, seems to be attracting an ever-widening audience of readers from a range of fields with over 19,000 page visits this year; the SAH twitter account now has more than 1,200 followers; SAH has been generating K-12 lesson plans that are now integrated into the Archipedia website  where you can find lesson plans on complicated subjects like Civil Rights Memorials in Mississippi by clicking on “teacher resources” on the free Archipedia site; and our community outreach in annual conference cities has dramatically increased since the New Orleans meeting in 2011. This is all truly laudable work of which we can and should be very proud.

    And yet, there is much to be done, despite the successes I just cited. These high-quality digital products are just one, very specific form of the kind of public engagement we must seek—a form that relies on particular modes of content access and on imagined forms of content uptake and intellectual engagement.  What remains for us to ask is how else we might engage the public in dialogues about our work, how else might we expand not just access to the high-quality historical studies we share with each other here and in the books we publish, but how might we also expand the realm of sophistication, of expectation, of inquiry about the built environment at the public scale by continuing to expand our audience, and their sense of the significance of our endeavor to their everyday lives?

    Clearly, our specialization is one of our finest achievements, but it is perhaps also our biggest problem. Architectural historians possess analytical skills that are not easily achieved and that lead us in specific research directions that can be highly intellectually productive. But that same specialization can, as we know, become so inwardly or narrowly focused that we lose the ability to reach the wider audiences with whom we might profitably engage—both within the university and without (and I’m as guilty of this as anyone in the field). Has our specialization become “too extreme” so that we are no longer the contributors we might be in various public and even in various academic disciplinary spheres?[12] Writing for specialized, scholarly audiences is part of our work and it is among our obligations—one we must balance with greater attention directed to multiple, varied, and (hopefully) broader audiences. This is not to say that we should be “dumbing down” our content. Instead, I’m interested in exploring ways to present our work that invite larger groups of specialists and non-specialists alike to participate, to engage, to listen, and to help us formulate new questions. The rise of public humanities festivals around the country demonstrates the public’s interest in our subject matter and their desire to listen to thoughtful, sophisticated conversations about the built environment; so do websites like, which is devoted to “stimulating vigorous debate about works and ideas...” written by “scholars who write accessibly without sacrificing sophistication or depth…”for “…the brainy, bookish, or insatiably curious, who share our passion for connecting to the world through ideas.”[13] We have yet to engage that larger population, but I predict it won’t be difficult to do once we make it a priority. We just have to make conversations with broader publics a central goal, as “The Heart of the Matter” urges us to do.

    2. Address Grand Challenges:

    The Heart of the Matter report asserts that “The public valuation of the humanities will be strengthened by every step that takes this knowledge out of academic self-enclosure and connects it to the world. As scholars in these fields seek bigger and more varied audiences, so, too, should they seek a new range of intellectual partners… Researchers in the humanities and social sciences should be encouraged to apply their work to the great challenges of the era as well as pursuing basic, curiosity-driven research.” Each enhances the other.[14]

    I am especially aware that the language of the “Grand Challenge” can make a lot of humanities scholars very nervous. I know this because we included a Grand Challenge on the Global Midwest as a major initiative in the Mellon Foundation grant I recently received to form a consortium of 15 humanities centers at as many universities called the “Humanities Without Walls.”[15] Although scholars in the consortium are embracing the initiative and the opportunities for cross-institutional collaboration it supports, the “grand challenge” language has stimulated a variety of reactions including puzzlement, disdain, anxiety (worry that humanities subjects are not somehow “grand” enough?), along with a range of more sanguine reactions. The disdain in particular, I’m learning, derives from fears that the humanities can only be valued when they speak the language of the sciences. The “grand challenge” language, after all, derives from the sciences, primarily from  the National Science Foundation and other funding agencies who have sought academic research responses to the fundamental problems of our time. Typically, those challenges have been imagined as solvable through the applications of new technologies and scientifically formulated solutions created by research teams working in laboratories. The White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, for instance, defines Grand Challenges as “ambitious but achievable goals that harness science, technology, and innovation to solve important national or global problems and that have the potential to capture the public’s imagination…. Grand Challenges Can:

    • Help create the industries and jobs of the future;
    • Expand the frontiers of human knowledge about ourselves and the world around us;
    • Help tackle important problems related to energy, health, education, the environment, national security, and global development; and
    • Serve as a “North Star” for collaboration between the public and private sectors.”[16] 

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t immediately recognize my work in some of these bullet points. Creating industries and jobs is just not part of the way I imagine my work’s impact, nor, I suspect, does that resonate with many humanists. Our work does, however, expand the frontiers of human knowledge about ourselves and the world around us; Our studies can and do contribute to our understanding of important problems related to the environment and global development; If we serve as any kind of “north star,” it might be in our considerations of our own, collective collaboration with the public through the SAH, but also through our individual work in preservation activism; as historians working in State Historic Preservation Offices; as scholars and citizens serving on local housing boards; as national and public parks consultants and advocates; in public schools; as participants in prison education programs; and much more.

    We are particularly well positioned to engage with grand challenges because architectural histories can and often do address questions at a range of scales: that of the building, a neighborhood, a city, a territory, a nation, the global. What I want to suggest is that we need to more frequently articulate our work in grander terms. Rather than shying away from the language of the grand challenge because it may seem to devalue the humanities in favor of a language better accepted in the sciences, I want to suggest, as does “The Heart of the Matter” report, that we embrace that language, that in fact nearly everything we do in the humanities addresses a grand challenge and that architectural, landscape, and urban histories are no exception. But again, we’ll have to be conscious of the scope and breadth of our inquiry so that we are not, in the words of David Armitage and Jo Guldi, “just contributing another brick to the wall of knowledge without formulating a turning-point of consequence to the rest of the field or explaining (its) significance to general readers and citizens.”[17]

    Must we always orient our work to a large audience, or address such grand challenges? No. But there are stakes involved in this decision. There is no question in my mind that we bear some obligation to engage with the most pressing issues of our time, but it is equally clear to me that we can do so—have long been doing so---in ways that are not immediately instrumental to those challenges and that are extremely important. In some respects, our fields have led others, particularly with respect to the construction of histories of the everyday, and in our often nimble facility with multiple and complex forms of material and visual evidence as well as with the textual. But we’ve done so quietly, often unselfconsciously, and without outward engagement across the humanities.  Neoliberalism, globalization, imperialism—these are the topics consuming our colleagues in other humanities disciplines. And quite frankly, we may be learning about the same story of neoliberalism, globalization, and imperialism, told again about a lesser known location because the place, the site itself, is not enough part of the story. Scholars in every area of specialization from classicists, byzantinists, and medievalists, to early modernists, all contribute equally to these questions and the resultant conversations. But if we are afraid to claim our work as grand and challenging, if we shy away from that language, we do our scholarly endeavor an injustice.

    3. Doctoral Education

    Finally, we might profitably also ask how doctoral education in our fields prepares future historians to address such questions. “The Heart of the Matter” does not explicitly take up this topic, but it is of great relevance for nearly everyone in the SAH.[18] Our expectations for the dissertation are not yet significantly different than they’ve been for decades, but the pre- and post-doctoral landscape of our disciplines is shifting as it is for doctoral students across the humanities. As tenure-track jobs become increasingly scarce, and as so-called “alt-ac” careers become an increasing focus of graduate programs nationwide, we may see the emergence of a greater number of scholars in architectural history who possess a Ph.D. and who are seeking opportunities for the production of scholarship in the public realm. We are seeing a slight increase in public fellows programs and opportunities across the country, but the doctoral programs in which architectural, urban, and landscape historians are trained remain largely fixed to the same traditions and curricula by which they were governed in a previous era. How might we rethink the dissertation, for example, so that it can be better molded to suit various emerging opportunities in the public realm? What levels of public history work or public engagement would be acceptable in a dissertation? What kinds of questions might we accept that have not previously been seen as acceptable? What scope of time? What sorts of evidence? What sorts of new questions? What sorts of new products or analytical tools (which will almost certainly involve digital components)? What forms of collaboration? How can we teach our students to engage in the production of public writing, public histories that are both full of rich historical detail and delightful to read, that open up conversations among broader audiences about the ways space matters in and to everyday life? These are issues we need to address—and soon—to better prepare future architectural historians for a broader set of prospects that will necessarily include the levels of public engagement demanded by “The Heart of the Matter.” Those students are also and always the future of our fields.

    We need to find ways to continue to invite people in—to engage diverse members of the public to join us in our curiosity about and study of the built environment, to make them part of our worlds. We have to do a better job as historians of demonstrating the myriad, complex, and fascinating connections that exist between the built environment of the past and present to many of the key issues of our time and of times past: environmental change, the exercise of political authority, the impact of religious beliefs on societies, immigration, identity construction, and much more. To some extent, architectural critics have embraced this rather more quickly and robustly than we have done, and I would again point to the Chicago Tribune’s Blair Kamin as a model of someone who himself endeavors with his writing to “build a bridge between the public and the public realm,” helping, as he puts it, to generate public conversation about “our common destiny.”[19]

    To some extent, it might be helpful for us to reconsider Manfredo Tafuri’s notions of the historian-critic, particularly his insistence on the notion of architectural histories as frameworks and catalysts for public debate.[20] I’m not arguing for the destruction of the boundaries that delineate the work of critics and historians, but I am urging us as scholars to learn from the ways architectural critics manage increasingly and through various new forms of media and the conversations they afford, to engage the wider public in a more sophisticated set of dialogues about the built environment. 

    Finally—and importantly given the shifting role of the learned society that I’ve alluded to above: Ask not what your learned society can do for you, but ask instead what you can do to help raise the visibility of the work that is done within your learned society. We have to think about learned societies in new and fresh ways, and we have to understand them as a crucial part of a triad that includes the work of universities, and individual scholars—that they are our working partners with the potential for making scholarship publicly visible in ways that the university of the present often surprisingly lacks. We are used to thinking about the payment of membership fees in exchange for specific sets of society services and privileges, but that model is rapidly shifting. For example, as open access begins to be the rule instead of the exception, our journals will no longer be tied to our membership and while that erodes our present business model, it also means, as I noted earlier, that our scholarship will be on the open web where people can actually read it. Our ways of gathering for intellectual exchange may also change away from the traditional conference format in the coming decades if a variety of economic shifts continue to hold sway in the academy and if climate change makes the traditional conference model both environmentally irresponsible and locally untenable. So instead of thinking about membership fees as purchasing specific goods and services, we might instead consider them as the purchase of a certificate of commitment to the public good of our profession and of our realm of study; that membership in a society like SAH is a declaration of faith in and obligation to our collective responsibility to the advancement of a public branch of our intellectual work; that to be a member of the SAH of the future may be primarily about considerations related to the advancement of a publicly engaged scholarship that begins with K-12 education but does not end at universities, and that instead advances our work as a continuous effort to further sophisticated dialogues in public and in private domains and across the multiple and varied spaces in between.

    What we see when we use “The Heart of the Matter” as a measuring device is an SAH that has been quietly leading the way—perhaps too quietly—towards a greater engagement with the public and charting paths for raising the visibility of the humanities through its digital projects. But for that work to become less quiet—and I believe it deserves to be both more well-known and still more widely accessed—we need to see that work as belonging to all of us, to everyone who is able to support it, engage in it, and produce more of it. A public architectural humanities has to become a priority rather than a hobby. To be a participant in that emerging realm of the public humanities is, for me, an exciting prospect—one for which I may be poorly prepared, but for which I am entirely game. For me, that engagement is at the heart of the matter.

    [1] The full “Heart of the Matter” report can be accessed here:

    [2] The film can be viewed here:

    [3] The Chicago Humanities Summit took place on January 9, 2014, and was co-sponsored by the Chicago Humanities Festival, the Modern Language Association, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. 

    [4] “Heart of the Matter,” p. 50

    [5] Broadhead made these comments at a dinner in Chicago sponsored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the MLA, and the Chicago Humanities Festival on January 8, 2014.

    [6] “Heart of the Matter,” pp. 10-12.

    [7] “Heart of the Matter, pp. 10-12, and passim.

    [8] “Heart of the Matter,” p. 39.

    [9] “Heart of the Matter,” p. 52

    [10] For more on, see the following website:  Additional information on Open Annotation can be found here:

    [11] These thoughts about curating public debates about the built environment were stimulated by a lecture titled “Architecture Criticism: Dead or Alive?” delivered by Blair Kamin at the School of Architecture, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, March 10, 2014. Kamin has an outstanding record of stimulating and curating such public debates in the digital version of the The Chicago Tribune.

    [12] R. R. Palmer, “A Century of French History in America,” French Historical Studies, 14, 1985, pp. 173-174. This is also cited in Armitage and Gouldi, p. 12.

    [13] The Chicago Humanities Festival is an outstanding example. See For the quotes, see

    [14] “Heart of the Matter, pp. 43, 45.

    [15] The Humanities Without Walls consortium is based at the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (IPRH) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and it is funded by a substantial grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. For more information, see

    [17] David Armitage and Jo Guldi, “The Return of the Longue Duree: An Anglo-American Perspective,”, (2014, p.5).

    [18] Doctoral education is also the subject of an important new report released in June, 2014, by the Modern Language Association, “Report of the MLA Task Force on Doctoral Study in Modern Language and Literature.” The report is available here:

    [19] Blair Kamin lecture, March 10, 2014.

    [20] On the Tafurian critic-historian, see “There Is No Criticism, Only History: An Interview with Manfredo Tafuri” conducted in Italian and translated into English by Richard Ingersoll, in Design Book Review, no. 9, Spring 1986, pp. 8–11.

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  • A Broken Silhouette

    Emily Neumeier
    Apr 30, 2014

    This article originally appeared on the blog Stambouline and has been republished here with permission. Stambouline is dedicated to exploring the art and architecture of the Ottoman Empire, looking at the stories behind the buildings and objects that have been left behind. Each post introduces a new place or object. The main contributor to the blog, Emily Neumeier, is a graduate student studying the history of art at the University of Pennsylvania. 

    Istanbul's new Metro Bridge and the political battle over the city's historic panorama

    [1] Different profiles of the new Metro Bridge across Istanbul's Golden Horn, showing how the bridge would affect the different silhouettes of the surrounding site. Adapted from a graphic by the Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality, 2009. 

    On February 15th, Istanbul's new metro line officially went into service. The project, initiated by the Greater Istanbul Municipality in 2005, unites the city's various metro lines, extending trains in Taksim Square directly into the old city, with connections to Atatürk Airport and the opposite Anatolian shore. [Fig. 2] While the majority of this new extension runs unseen underground, the most visibly prominent feature of the line is a bridge extending across the waters of the Golden Horn (Trk. Haliç). This past autumn, residents watched as the two 65-meter-tall pylons, supporting the bridge in a cable-stay system, slowly rose into the sky. At the opening ceremony last month, Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyıp Erdoğan was quoted saying "for this metro line, we constructed a bridge on the Haliç that will enhance Istanbul's beauty." The Prime Minister was also careful throughout his speech to stress that every precaution was taken so as not to harm any of the monuments "in an area harboring a history spanning thousands of years." These platitudes about the importance of protecting Istanbul's cultural patrimony were no doubt crafted in direct response to the backlash of scathing criticism that the bridge design faced from not only the local press and academic community, but also a UNESCO mission whose findings threatened to land Istanbul on the list of "World Heritage Monuments at Risk." The main concern lodged against the new Metro Bridge is that certain features (particularly the tall pylons, suspension cables, and rail station in the center of the bridge) block the view from the north towards the historic peninsula of the old city, especially the 16th-century Süleymaniye Mosque Complex. [Fig. 3] Erdoğan would call this addition to the old city's skyline an enhancement; others, an obstruction. As one of the major projects that the city's top brass rushed to completion to meet the deadline of the March 30 municipal elections, the Haliç Metro Bridge and Istanbul's historic skyline are a case study in how the current government's massive infrastructure projects have become a tense political battleground.

    [2] Map Showing the new metro extension from Taksim to Yenikapı. Drawn in Google Earth.

    [3] The Haliç Metro Bridge, March 2014. Looking from the shore of Beyoğlu onto the historic peninsula, the bridge partially obstructs the view to the Süleymaniyye Mosque. Photo by Emily Neumeier. 

    [4] Original design proposed for the Haliç Bridge, 2007. Istanbul Metropolitan Municipality.

    In 2007, the original designs for the bridge by Hakan Kiran Architecture were revealed. [Fig. 4] The plans proposed two gilded 82-meter-tall pylons, which curved at the top into "horns" (Get it? Because the bridge is crossing the Golden Horn). Unfortunately for the Greater Istanbul Municipality, UNESCO does not seem to have a similar sense of humor when it comes to visual puns. The city's historic peninsula, which is clearly defined by the old land and sea walls, was inscribed on the register of UNESCO's "World Heritage Sites" in 1985. Because the new bridge would impact the view to the peninsula from the north, and construction would require the demolition of several historic buildings within the core area, the organization decided to step in. UNESCO made it clear that if significant changes were not made in the proposed bridge design, this project could demote Istanbul to the similarly-named but decidedly less-fun list of "World Heritage Sites in Danger," joining the illustrious company of Bamiyan and Damascus. So, the architects on the project scaled down the plans, most notably lowering the height of the bridge's pylons by about 20 meters, and changing their color from a golden yellow to a grey-white tone. With a few other minor alterations, this is basically what we see built on the ground today. The report from a joint UNESCO/ICOMOS monitoring mission to Istanbul in 2009 gives a sense of the farcical proceedings. When the investigators inquired after the cable-stay design, curious if any other options had been considered:

    The mission was informed that 11 alternative designs [for the bridge] had been presented to the Conservation Council, but the alternatives were produced 10 years ago and were not studied proposals – they were only suggestions. Some of the suggestions were just copied and pasted from books on bridges. It seems clear that no alternative design has so far been seriously considered and, with regard to the design of the current proposal for a cable-stay bridge, during the meeting it was stated that the intention was to 'introduce a new work of art – a new contemporary element in the area.' [34]
    In 2011, UNESCO finally approved the construction of the Metro Bridge, lending legitimacy to the project's backers. (Congratulating themselves on a job well done, the organization proceeded to be completely out to lunch on the destruction of the Yedikule gardens and the lightning-fast construction of a 270,000 square meter platform protruding into the Marmara Sea, which was inaugurated with an 1.5 million-person rally on March 23.) Many local critics, however, still felt that the changes in the design did not adequately address the primary concern of blocking the northern view to Istanbul's peninsula [Fig. 5], again summed up in the 2009 report: 
    The overall design of the bridge, with pylons and cable stays and the thickening of the deck through the incorporation of a station, will have a significant visual impact on key attributes of the property such as the silhouette of the Historic Peninsula...the design of the bridge is inappropriate for this position, both because it will impede irreversibly on many important views of the World Heritage Site and because the bridge, presented as a 'work of art,' will compete with the Süleymaniye Mosque, identified at the time of inscription as a work of human genius, designed by Sinan. [34-35]

    [5] View of Istanbul's historic peninsula, looking from Galata. Abdullah Fréres, ca. 1880-93, Library of Congress.

    [6] View of the Inner Courtyard of the Süleymaniye Mosque. Photo by Michael Polczynsky, 2014.

    The Turkish press and local academics expressed outrage about the bridge's potential to impede on the visual integrity of the peninsula's skyline. There has been no shortage of colorful metaphors; according to various critics, the bridge threatens to "break", "stab", and "violate" the silhouette of the old city. In the eyes of many, the pointed tops of the pylons are not horns, but daggers, slicing the panorama into two. This visceral imagery characterizing the landscape as a prone body vulnerable to violent attack is a familiar leitmotif, especially in the wake of modern warfare and the large-scale urban planning projects of the 20th century. In her article on the "ideology of preservation" in Istanbul, Nur Altınyıldız traces how in the 19th century the large mosque complexes dotting the hills of the peninsula [Fig. 6], which originally were service-oriented institutions and themselves agents of urban growth and renewal, were increasingly divorced from this service context and re-classified as "historic" monuments whose preservation stood at odds with the modern signifiers of progress such as opening new roads (or new metro bridges). [234] 

    [7] View from the Süleymaniye Mosque Complex to the Golden Horn. Photo by Michael Polczynsky, 2014.

    As the UNESCO report alludes, and commentators frequently point out, the silhouette under question is an Ottoman contribution to the city. When Sultan Süleyman commissioned the Süleymaniye (c. 1550-1558) on the top of Istanbul's third hill, he was following the precedent established by his predecessors Sultan Mehmed II and Bayezid II, who had constructed their own mosque complexes along the ridges of the peninsula in the 15th century. Significantly, the Süleymaniye complex was originally designed so that the auxiliary buildings flanking the mosque on its northern side, towards the Golden Horn, were constructed on a lower terrace so that the monument would have an unobstructed view of Galata, Üsküdar, and the Bosphorus [Necipoğlu, 106]. [Fig. 7] In this unmistakable declaration of power, the mosque, as a stand-in for its sultanic patron, commanded a wide gaze and likewise demanded to be seen. It is certainly no coincidence that the "audience" on the opposite shore of the Golden Horn was largely composed of foreigners and non-Muslim communities, who from their perch in Galata were always to some extent on the outside looking in to the city proper. Throughout the centuries, European cartographers and artists endlessly recorded this view, the Golden Horn panorama becoming its own veritable genre in the imagery of Istanbul. Now that the heart of the modern city has shifted to the area around Taksim Square, it could be argued that what was once the purview of foreigners, and Ottoman elites in the 19th century, has now been democratized (or, more cynically, commodified), becoming a monument deserving preservation in its own right. 

    [8] A sign advertising the opening of the Haliç Metro Bridge. The slogan reads "The Metro Everywhere, the Metro to Every Place." Under the slogan is the name and signature of the Istanbul Mayor, Kadir Topbaş. Photo by Emily Neumeier.

    Some people are wondering what the fuss is all about. The Mayor of the Greater Istanbul Municipality Kadir Topbaş points out that, in truth, the view of the Süleymaniye is only obstructed from specific vantages, primarily the Beyoğlu neighborhoods just west of the new bridge. (read: tourists don't go there, so why is everyone getting upset?) On the other hand, Edhem Eldem wonders at the public outcry when the Süleymaniye or the starchitect Sinan's genius is threatened, but the relative silence to the arguably much more egregious destruction of Byzantine-era material. The controversy is reminiscent of the frequent criticism lobbed at Santiago Calatrava's distinctive bridge designs, which are often cited for not taking the local context or geography into account, and, on top of that, being needlessly expensive and poorly-built. Almost a full month after the official opening, the Vezneciler stop on Istanbul's new metro line was still being completed. During such time, passengers traveling from Taksim over the Haliç Bridge were treated to a creepy view of the unfinished station, complete with flickering lights and tubes hanging from the ceiling.

    [9] A view approaching the station on the bridge. Photo by Emily Neumeier.

    A 2013 petition signed by faculty members of Istanbul's Boğaziçi University lists the Haliç Bridge as only one of many recent infrastructure projects that, the faculty argues, are being completed at such a fast rate and with so little public participation or accountability that the damage being done will be "irreversible." And that is precisely the point. It is the sincere wish of the bridge's designers (including Topbaş himself, trained as an architect) that this project will endure the test of time. Aiming to create a work of art that could rival the Süleymaniye, the current municipal government has done its best to insert their own contribution to the historic skyline, evidently full-aware of the site's significance to the public imagination of Istanbul. In hopes of finding some kind of press release on the opening of the bridge, I looked on the official website promoting the new bridge project. The website, unlike the bridge itself, was still under construction.

    EMILY NEUMEIER is a doctoral candidate in the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania.

    **The report of the joint UNESCO/ICOMOS 2009 visit to Istanbul can be found here.

    ALTINYILDIZ, Nur. "The Architectural Heritage of Istanbul and the Ideology of Preservation."Muqarnas 24 (2007), pp. 281-305.

    GUIDONI, Enrico. "Sinan's Construction of the Urban Panorama." Environmental Design: Journal of the Islamic Environmental Design Research Centre 1-2 (1987): pp. 20-41.

    KORKUT, Sevgi. "Istanbul's silhouette to change as metro line comes into view." Today's Zaman, 12 November 2012.

    NECİPOĞLU, Gülrü. "The Süleymaniye Complex in Istanbul: ِAn Interpretation." Muqarnas 3 (1985), pp. 92-117.

    VARDAR, Nilay. "Tüm İtirazların Ardından Haliç Köprüsü." Bianet, 24 January 2014.
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  • Good Night: A Dazzling New Era of Metropolitan Light

    Sandy Isenstadt
    Apr 22, 2014
    Article via Places Journal

    The Bay Lights, San Francisco, project by Leo Villareal for the Bay Bridge, test run, January 2013. [Photograph: Leo Villareal, via Wikimedia]

    Great White Way
    The lights of New York dazzled Vladimir Mayakovski when he came to visit in 1925. The revolutionary poet of modernism felt “a constant electrical breeze” in the great city, powering trains to the horizon and elevators to the stars, igniting the metropolitan elements; "the buildings are glowing with electricity,” he wrote. Bewitched, he stared hard into the dizzying views, his vision racing down the vanishing streets netted with wires and lights. [1] For Mayakovski, New York in the early 20th century was the frenzied heart of modernity, the new world metropolis where the self-conscious avant-garde aesthetic experiment of the old world was eclipsed by the unblinking gaze of blazing lamps, as if the white-hot heart of human consciousness itself were on display. 

    The invention of the infrastructures of artificial light, first gas, then electric, was as fundamental to modernization as was any system of transportation, communication or energy, and as momentous as urbanization itself. But for Mayakovski electric light was more than a technology of modernization; it pointed toward a certain kind of modernism, an emerging way of understanding and expressing the world. Mayakovski, along with such contemporary artists as Marcel Duchamp and Sergei Eisenstein, saw in electric lighting the end of one way of life and the advent of another. Self-mandated to see beyond the horizon, the poet, he wrote, was indebted to the harbingers of new life and, as result, always “paying out exorbitant fines and interest." "I am in debt to Broadway’s dazzling streetlamps,” he declared, as he traveled in his eager search for emotional insolvency. Urban street lighting was, for Mayakovski, nothing less than a locus of modernism. 

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  • Team-Based Learning for Art Historians

    Jennifer Ball and Lauren Kilroy-Ewbank
    Apr 15, 2014

    The post features ART HISTORY TEACHING RESOURCES (AHTR), a website aimed at supporting the teaching of art and architectural history. It is peer-populated with teaching content, including syllabi, assignments and lesson plans, as well as blog entries about pedagogy. It was co-founded in 2011 by Michelle Millar Fisher, doctoral candidate in Art History at the Graduate Center, CUNY and Karen Shelby, Assistant Professor of Art History at Baruch College, CUNY and a graduate of the Graduate Center. AHTR has been awarded a Kress Grant for Digital Resources and will be undergoing an upgrade by the same people who have designed award-winning projects for the Metropolitan Museum in New York.

    Recently we participated in a workshop on Team-Based Learning (TBL) at Brooklyn College, a process where your students are divided into permanent teams for the entire semester. The teams work during class on activities based on readings. You can read more about it in a short article in The Chronicle of Higher Education. Also take a look at the TBL website. Similar to the ‘Flipped Classroom’ students do the reading (yes! they actually do it) BEFORE the subject is taught in class and are quizzed on that material before each unit of study (typically 4-7 units a semester). Classroom time, then, is spent on active learning activities in teams that are meant to promote deeper learning than a typical lecture. Team-based learning was developed by professors working with Business and Marketing majors with large lecture classes. While we were both attracted to the idea that students reportedly read and engage more, we wondered ‘Can this be applied to an art history class?’ Beginning in the Fall 2013 we began to experiment teaching our classes using this method, fully implementing it this semester. The conversation that follows is our take on using TBL in an art history class.

    Chart for survey activity

    Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 6.51.28 PM

    Jenn: I have used TBL in two upper-level art history classes – Foundations of Islamic Art and Romanesque Art and in general it has been a positive experience! But the way it was taught in the workshops needs some tweaking for art history. Perhaps a good place for us to start is on what works well in TBL.

    Lauren: I have used TBL in two courses – a one semester, global survey (50 students) and an upper level Mesoamerican Art course (25 students). Overall, I think students enjoyed the experience, even if some students expressed their concern of working in teams. Personally, I found it rewarding and challenging, particularly because of the unique nature of teaching Art History. So, yes, let’s focus on what works well.

    Jenn: The teams work on what are called “Application Activities” in TBL jargon. My most successful one so far has been on monasteries, and it took three class periods. Students had 6 primary source readings to do in advance. Each reading was about the monastic life, for example we read Benedict and Peter the Venerable. They also had to do a reading on monasteries, learning to identify three monasteries: Cluny, Fontenay, and Monte Cassino. Students had to fill out a grid on the reading asking them to list the ideal behaviors and ideal environments that each writer espoused. In class, the teams then created one grid, discussing the readings and fleshing out what they had done on their own. Following that, each team had to glean the three biggest problems facing abbotts in the Middle Ages and post them for the whole class. We had a great discussion! Students were able to say so much about other team’s lists because they knew the material so well at this point. During the second class, they were asked to create their own ideal monastery with a drawn plan, a page on what was included and why, and a list of 10 rules for their monks. It was so exciting listening to their conversations. I heard one woman arguing why her group needed to include a chapter house for their monastery. Another group ran a hostel for pilgrims and carefully designed their monastery to separate the laity from the monks, without having seen a medieval example of this. During the final class, each team hung up their beautifully drawn monasteries and rules. Teams were then asked to go around and evaluate the other teams’ monasteries. With post-its, they wrote questions on the other projects and put a star on their favorite monastery. The class ended with a really in-depth discussion and they got so much more out of it than they would have, had I simply lectured on monasteries.

    Lauren: One of my successful application activities for my art-history survey focused on the subject of power and patronage. Prior to class, students read four Smarthistory entries about patronage, an Ashokan pillar, the Merode Altarpiece, and Bernini’s St. Teresa in Ecstasy. I asked students to complete a chart that helped them list important points from the reading and organize their ideas. In class, I delivered a mini-lecture about patronage in general. In teams, they engaged in 5-10 minute activities that asked them why patronage is important for studying the history of art. For the remainder of class and for most of the following one, teams created a poster that addressed the following: “Which of the objects best endorses the political ambitions, social position, or prestige of the patron(s)? State your specific choice and explain why you selected it in 1-2 sentences. Then, provide and discuss at least 5 pieces of evidence (stylistic, iconographic, contextual, etc.) to support your claim.” After each team completed their poster, they taped it to a wall to engage in a gallery walk (more TBL jargon). All teams had to decide which team produced the best claim and evidence, and which team did not defend their claim sufficiently. They used a green and red post-it (with their team name and a comment) to designate the “best” and “needs improvement.” They couldn’t vote for themselves.

    The results were wonderful. As I walked around the room, students asked me questions about the readings or specific follow-up questions about the artworks. One team exclaimed that the chart was so useful because they could organize their ideas before discussing them as a team. Another team mentioned that choosing one object was challenging, specifically because all three offered excellent case studies. Listening to their discussion as they narrowed it to one object was exciting, as well as insightful. I was able to see them working as art historians, rather than listen to me give them information.

    Once each team finished their posters and commented on other teams’ end products, we engaged in a class-wide discussion about those posters that received green or red post-its. This allowed us to discuss as a group how to make an effective claim and support it. One team even decided to rate themselves as the least effective; they noted that in the process of reading other teams’ posters they realized their claim was too general and their evidence vague. This same team mentioned to the class the steps they would take to develop a better argument. It was wonderful to see members of other teams realize how they could improve their own poster (several students even jumped up to mark additional data on posters). Three teams presented excellent posters, and we discussed why these examples were most effective.

    If we skip ahead to the midterm, students used this application activity as a model for writing effective comparative essays. The midterm essays were the best I’ve ever received in a survey class.

    For my upper division art history class, I had a wonderful team activity focused on the Postclassic international style and symbol set (PISSS) in Mesoamerica. Students read a short article prior to class that discussed what the style and symbol set entailed. Near the beginning of class, I asked students to decide which of the following the PISSS related to most: hipsters, traffic signs, cartoons, videogames, or corporate branding (e.g., Coca-Cola). I initially thought this discussion would be brief, but as I walked around the room I overheard the most exciting discussions about the topic and so extended it to 30-minutes. Each team then simultaneously reported using stock cards (labeled with A, B, etc.). This allowed us all to know instantly how each team responded. We then discussed the answers, and teams articulated why they felt their answer addressed the question best. One team chose hipsters and had a very creative answer that perfectly captured how the PISSS parallels aspects of the contemporary moment. And we fulfilled my dream of discussing hipsters in Art History.

    Jenn: Any downsides Lauren?

    Lauren: One drawback of TBL is that it focuses heavily on multiple-choice questions for the quizzes (the Readiness Assurance Tests, or RATs). I have realized that I need much improvement in writing questions, as well as providing answers that are not too easy or too difficult. I also have noticed that students take longer on these quizzes than I expected. I originally gave a 20 question quiz for the first unit. I quickly realized that 20 questions took almost 2 hours because they took it individually first and then again as a team. I’ve changed these quizzes to be 10 questions, and I feel they are just as effective—if not more so.

    Another potential weakness of TBL is that we don’t look in as much detail at images on the screen. Jenn and I have requested iPads to use in our TBL classes because we hope that this will allow teams to look more closely at specific images in color rather than the black-and-white images in a reading or textbook. It also allows students to look at images in any order they choose rather than in a linear fashion (like Powerpoint).

    Jenn: Lauren, I completely agree—I need to take a workshop in multiple choice! I’m not sure I will stick with that—the first semester I gave short-answer quizzes and I think that works better for me.

    I would add that group dynamics are challenging at times. The teams have to evaluate each other, which counts toward their grade. Nevertheless, some people are not team players. The team tends to bring most people into the fold eventually but I’ve had a few hold outs and their grade suffers. I wonder how fairly that assesses their work. But, working in a group is a skill like any other.

    I’m pretty happy with TBL and want to do more, though I never thought I’d be bringing scissors, poster board and markers into my college classroom! We’re making guidebooks for pilgrims this week.

    Lauren: I agree; I think TBL has some amazing benefits—and I love having the lights on more often. I actually get to see my students.

    Jennifer Ball is Associate Professor of Byzantine Art at Brooklyn College and The Graduate Center. She publishes on Byzantine textiles, dress and portraits, and this fall will begin a fellowship at the Metropolitan Museum of Art for her project, Habit Forming: Representations of Byzantine Monastics, 9th–15th Centuries.

    Lauren G. Kilroy-Ewbank is Assistant Professor of Latin American Art at Brooklyn College. She specializes in the Colonial Spanish Americas, publishing primarily on body parts, religious icons, and death-related arts. She has a forthcoming book on images of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in colonial Mexico.

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  • Louis Kahn's African-American Vernacular

    Kostis Kourelis
    Mar 26, 2014

    Carver Court

    When the telephone rang in my office at Franklin & Marshall College, I was surprised to learn that the caller on the other line was a resident of a Louis Kahn house and, most strikingly, a Louis Kahn house that has been largely forgotten. In 1942, Kahn, Oscar Storonov, and George Howe reconfigured the traditional row house to serve a community of African-American steel workers returning from World War II. Known to just a handful of architectural historians, Carver Court in Coatesville, Pennsylvania, had receded from public attention. And for that very reason, the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia had placed it on its 2012 Endangered Properties List. Thanks to the stewardship of Ben Leech and the research of Allee Berger, the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission determined Carver Court eligible for listing in the National Register of HIstoric Places in March 2013.

    As the local architectural historian, I was invited to meet with civic and community leaders of Caln Township to brainstorm on the future of this housing complex and to strategize on celebrating its unique role in the history of African-American labor. Although I am not a Kahn expert, I had worked in Louis Kahn's archives as a student, and wanted to seize the moment that William Whitaker and Ben Marcus have set into motion with their spectacular new book, The Houses of Louis Kahn, and accompanying exhibition at the University of Pennsylvania Architectural Archives.

    Carver Court

    Carver Court is no ordinary house by virtue of its users, some of which are the original African-American steelworkers. Most of the better-known Kahn houses were commissioned by Philadelphia’s professional class and are located in the suburbs, while Carver Court engages Kahn’s early commitment to social and economic justice. If it were up to Kahn, Carver Court would not have been segregated. Race politics at this Pennsylvania mill town necessitated the residential division between black and white workers, even though both groups worked for the same Lukens Steel factory. The lynching of Zachariah Walker in 1911 underscored such ethnic tensions. Caln Township was initially settled by William Penn in 1714. Ironically, the white and black housing projects were separated by the Gardner-Beale farm, which had strong Quaker roots and served in the Underground Railroad. A farmhouse from 1811 survives and is now surrounded by Coatesville High School completed in 1968.

    Louis Kahn was a housing activist as early as 1931, when he founded the Architecture Research Group. His partner, Oscar Storonov (and Alfred Kastner), had designed the first Modernist housing project in America, the Carl Mackley Houses for the hosiery workers union (1932). Kahn’s activism helped fight Philadelphia’s resistance to public housing and led into the foundation of the Philadelphia Housing Authority. Carver Court is the greatest physical manifestation of Kahn’s labor union vernacular.

    Coatesville is located half way between Philadelphia and Lancaster at the intersection of the Pennsylvania Railroad Main Line and the Brandywine River. Coatesville’s steel mills, that produced the beams for the World Trade Center, are of great historical significance and, like Kahn’s housing, continue to operate (under new global management). Carver Court’s remoteness from Philadelphia and the general economic decline of manufacturing have contributed in a slow forgetting of both Pennsylvania’s labor movement and Philadelphia’s architectural engagement. Six decades after its original completion, Carver Court asks some important questions. It is only one of five housing projects designed by Kahn, Storonov, and Howe, and it the single specimen of their African-American architecture. Carver Court has slipped the radar of preservationists and historians because it looks nondescript and lacks the telltale signs of high modernist distinction. Its ordinariness, however, is what makes it exemplary. Taking cues from Le Corbusier’s elevated piloti, Kahn invented a scheme of adoptive design that reinterpreted the traditional row house. His “ground-freed” housing form elevated living quarters to the second floor and left the first floor open to the owner’s specific interpretation. Rather than limiting what the owners did with their allotted housing unit, Kahn wanted the occupants to exercise some freedom in how to use the first floor. It could function as a garage, a workshop, or added living space. The architect’s agency could be supplemented by the occupant’s agency, giving the community a sense of ownership and design engagement. Thus, the very indeterminacy of Carver Court that makes it a specimen of democratic design has also caused its progressive neglect by scholarship.

    The phone call from Carver Court and the meeting with Caln Township precipitated a series of questions on both the original significance of the monument as well as the pedagogical opportunities in its rediscovery. A call from a grassroots community generates a research opportunity beyond the obvious scholarly needs. Involving undergraduate students in the documentation of Carver Court’s story seems one of those rare opportunities to engage students with artifacts. First, it is astounding how much work remains to be done even on America’s most important modernist architect. Understanding the afterlife of Carver Court is one immediate challenge, but one of great potential in teaching what Delores Hayden called “the power of place.”

  • SAH Miami Study Day Report

    Marsha McDonald
    Mar 7, 2014

    By Marsha J. McDonald

    Miami is a cross-section of multiple cultures and environmental factors, which has a profound impact on the built landscape. As such, there have been unique opportunities of urban interventions created by the juxtaposition of place, people and the production of culture.  The 2014 Miami Study Tour engages two of the most notable installations on the Miami cultural landscape. Designed by the same architect, Herzog & de Meuron, they act as commentaries on architecture in Miami and Miami Beach. The 11 11 Lincoln Road building has shifted the cultural thinking of the aesthetic of a parking garage and the recently completed Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) is a negotiation of cultural, social and urban space in Miami.


    Figure 1  Folly on Lincoln Road (Architect: Morris Lapidus)

    The day began with a stroll along the pedestrian mall called Lincoln Road Mall in Miami Beach, which stretches across several blocks from Washington Avenue to Alton Road. Once considered the Fifth Ave Avenue of the South, it is reminiscent of Miami’s Art Deco architectural style, preserved in buildings such as the Colony Theatre and detailed in façades of the shops of Lincoln Road. With vivid descriptions of Art Deco, to the architectural follies designed by architect, Morris Lapidus, our tour guide, David Rifkind, led us through the architectural narrative of Miami Beach. As we travelled along Lincoln Road, he illustrated the cultural transformation until we arrived to the newly developed movie theatre and the 11 11 parking garage on Alton Road.

    Figure 2- 11 11 Lincoln Road (Architect: Herzog & de Meuron)

    Jeff Weinstein, our guide to 11 11 Lincoln Road, introduced us to the vision of the building and gave us detailed aspects of the building’s program, materiality and architect’s commentary of retail space’s interaction with urban space. 11 11 Lincoln Road is a seven layered car park for 300 cars combined with unique retail space, luxury housing and sandwiched parking space. Each level can be transformed into gallery space, event space and a viewing platform to Lincoln Road and Miami Beach. 

    Figure 3- Art Installation by Monica Sosnowska under stairs at 11 11 Lincoln Road

    Figure 3- Art Installation by Monica Sosnowska under stairs at 11 11 Lincoln Road

    This was the Swiss architect’s, Herzog & de Meuron, first architectural introduction to Miami, who used the car park as a discourse, an architectural commentary on Miami, which they later continued in the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM). It was an anti-Miami Beach statement located on one of the more famous streets with its starkness and smooth concrete finish standing tall against the detailed stucco of the walls of Art Deco era. It was also a comment on permeability and accessibility, giving both visual and physical access to the views of the city and its tropical environment which was lacking in the air-conditioned retail and hotel spaces. Even though the main program of the project was to service to the neighboring building, it provided more than simply parking. 

    A typical parking garage is a monotone of planes erected as cheaply and as quickly as possible, however the 11 11 building, defied that notion. Herzog & de Meuron framed a new space not just in Miami Beach but also in architecture by subverting the architectural typology of the parking garage. Architectural details from varying floor heights, the inconsistent floor planes to inlaid visible piping and atypical programs are interwoven within the building’s function. The sculptural element of the angled columns, thin planes of the floors angled at the edges, customized lighting and signage highlight the luxury of space and experience. With visual shifting planes and façades, each level has varying heights with integrated retail space primarily on the ground floor and an exclusive location on the fifth floor. The ground floor has black and white paving, reminiscent of the follies of Morris Lapidus, and an angled façade canopied by the second floor large providing Lincoln Road’s most luxurious treat, shade. 

    Figure 4 - Ground Floor of the 11 11 Lincoln Road

    After lunch on Lincoln Road, we headed to the Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) located in the city of Miami. Completed in 2013, PAMM is reminiscent of the southern great houses of old with its wide elevated porch or veranda encompassing the main building and above the garage underneath. It has a vantage point to the port of Miami and serves a beacon within the cultural landscape of Miami, with its unique vertical gardens combining with the breeze to fragrance the air. 

    Figure 5- View from the highway, Perez Art Museum Miami. Architect: Herzog & de Meuron

    Terry Riley, our guide to PAMM, said “to the modernist the building is modern, to the classicist, the building is classical and to the regionalist, the building is regional”. Framed views of the city of Miami is seen either through full length windows or transparent walls and physically accessed via the porches at varied levels. As you explore the artwork in the galleries located on the main and second floor, you walk around the multi-stored void which houses the central auditorium. The auditorium also acts as a transitional space as you ascend and descend the beautifully inlaid wooden stairs which are integrated with the room’s seating and are the main connector between the floors.

    Figure 6 - SAH tour group touring PAMM in front of window with view to Bayfront Park and the Port of Miami

    By inviting light and unique views to the city, Herzog & de Meuron continue this discourse on architecture in Miami. They centered on the notion of permeability and accessibility, both visual access and physical access, to the city and its environment. The building is a distinct blurring of the solid and void, of inside and outside and constant negotiation of wanting to experience the artwork hung in the gallery or enjoy the new vistas framed by the architectural details and the vantage points as you move through the building. There are three types of gallery space; the anchor gallery, focus gallery and the overview gallery which currently houses collections of art, sculpture, installations and a socially charged commentary by notable artists such as Ai Weiwei. 

    7- “For Those in Peril on the Sea”, Hew Locke, 79 boats suspended in an anchor gallery in PAMM on main floor with windowed walls and views to Miami

    The material language of the three-storied building is reinforced concrete, wood, metal and lush greenery combined with art. It is not just visual art but the art of life and the art of being Miami. The exterior of the building is a layered experience enveloped by the huge canopy of the building creating a transition between outdoor space and indoor space. The porch which wrapped around the building, acts as an open room with access to shading, and a unique vertical garden by Patrick Blanc. The roof is a filtering system made of wood arrange in a network to create a permeable canopy form which the vertical planters are hung.  The generosity of the porch echoed an invitation to the city to sit and enjoy its tropical climate, a truly priceless luxury.

    Figure 8- Facade of PAMM facing the Port of Miami with stairs and seating covering the parking underneath the elevated building

    The place specificity of PAMM, also responses to its location on the waterfront by being elevated above ground so that the water, wind and sky are invited to interact. The regional aspect of the building is layered in the formalist notion of cubes, space and linear elements. However the details of materials, connections, finishes and new building technologies are additives to define and refine the architecture, as the building negotiates with the city. PAMM reflects the differing notions of the cultural identity of the city in its multicultural state, by translated into architecture as an example of what the urban space in Miami could be.

    Figure 9-View of American Airlines Arena and the Freedom Tower from PAA with a vertical garden in the foreground

    (All Images Source: Marsha McDonald taken on Feb 6, 2014) 

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  • Saint Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church: Modernity and Continuity

    Jason John Paul Haskins, Assoc. AIA, LEED BD+C
    Feb 20, 2014

    Note: This article originally appeared in the Docomomo US newsletter.

    Robert Mather brought an impressive Modernist pedigree to the design of St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas (1958-1960). This Mid-century abstraction of the primitive Christian basilica represents a synthesis of international movements in architecture and liturgy uncovering archetypal models of inhabitation and ritual. The church will be featured on the upcoming tour “Modernity and Continuity in Austin's Religious Architecture” during the Society of Architectural Historians Annual Conference in Austin, Texas, April 9-13, 2014.
    St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas. 
    Image: St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas. Robert Mather of Jessen Jessen Millhouse and Greeven. 1960.
    Credit: PICA 25856, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.
    The Problem of the Modern Church
    Even the most consciously Modern church struggles to escape some reference to precedent.[1] Religion is too steeped in tradition and encodes images too essential to escape in the interpretation even if absent from the design concept. For example, the highly functional a-frame structure famously employed by architects such as Frank Lloyd WrightEero Saarinen, and A. Quincy Jones[2] drew comparisons to scripture-based formal archetypes of tent and boat regardless of the architects' intentions. As countless congregations across the country replicated the form in the 1950s–70s, they described it in the more evocative impressions of praying hands or, according to Architectural Forum in 1954, "the warm, neighborly personality, the humble aspiration and some of the medieval magic" of the old north country village Gothic.[3]
    Such evocations of tradition and magic, social rejections of religion, and the secularization of the movement’s predominantly commercial-industrial building programs illustrate that the Modern church proved problematic for both the Moderns and the Church. What becomes of functionalism in a program that includes symbolism? And yet for all the incongruities there were also timely confluences. The canon of Modern religious architecture reveals precisely the numinous potential of formal abstraction and of purity of space, light, and material. Meanwhile, movements among Christian denominations led to analogous refinements in worship, buildings, and theology based in ancient practice.
    Saint Martins Evangelical Lutheran Church
    Changes surrounded the design for St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Austin, Texas. In 1957, St. Martin’s occupied a neo-Gothic stone-clad concrete structure that stood out proudly as the most prominent building between the dome of the State Capitol and the tower of the University of Texas Main Building. The congregation hired the local firm Jessen Jessen Millhouse and Greeven (later Jessen Associates) to expand their campus to meet the needs of the growing church.

    Image: St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas. George Louis Walling. 1929.
    Credit: C01129, Austin History Center, Austin Public Library.
    In January the congregation approved the architects’ plans for an education wing, offices and fellowship hall designed to continue the traditional Gothic flavor of the church. But less than three months later, the state announced plans to extend the Capitol Complex and take over the church property despite previously agreeing to a parking-sharing arrangement that enabled the church’s plans to proceed with city.[4] The congregation and their architects found themselves suddenly building from the ground up instead of extending an established traditional language. They made the bold decision to pursue a modern abstraction of the early Christian basilica. The church celebrated a ground breaking service in September 1958 and dedicated the church on March 27, 1960.
    The Dedication service used for St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Austin reflects changes underway in the structure and worship of the Lutheran Church in the United States. Amidst a liturgical transition, the service included a unique populist variation: the congregation assumed what was typically the Pastor’s action of the dedication prayer itself, repeating the response, “we dedicate this house.”[5] On a national level, a Commission on the Liturgy and Hymnal representing the cooperation of eight Lutheran bodies published a new Common Liturgy in 1958. Two years later, three of these bodies merged to form The American Lutheran Church. Whereas the nineteenth century saw Lutheran churches in the United States splitting into smaller factions and divided by national origins, the movement of the twentieth century was toward unity based at least in part on their liturgical retour aux sources.
    Liturgy & Architecture
    The new Common Liturgy was rooted in “deepened scholarship and broader fellowship, the rich treasury of ecumenical liturgy, … the ancient and medieval Christian Church, both East and West, and grounded on the historic German, Scandinavian and American uses,” and “a vision clearer than was sometimes possible in the turmoil of the Reformation controversy.”[6] Such scholarship was part of a larger movement among many Christian denominations where the desire to strip away the cultural accretions and excesses of the preceding centuries—but not to start tabula rasa—allowed for the rediscovery of essential forms.[7]
    A similar rediscovery of essential forms followed in the church's architecture. German Roman Catholic architect Rudolph Schwarz worked closely with liturgical theologians to develop his Vom Bau de Kirche (1938; translated in English as The Church Incarnate in 1958) with its seven plans. Each of the plans represents an archetypal spatial metaphor of the church a rediscovery of not only diverse ancient practices but the very gesture of the Body of Christ assembled. However, Schwarz demonstrated that each plan on its own is insufficient and suggested with the final plan a juxtaposition of their diversity.[8]
    Robert George Mather
    The synthesis of the liturgical, denominational, and architectural changes at St. Martin’s was predominantly the work of the principal designer, Robert George Mather (1921-1984), who brought an impressive Modernist pedigree and an international perspective to the project. During his studies at IIT under Mies van der Rohe, he "certainly learned discipline in drawing, creativity in graphics, integrity and efficiency of structure, and could apply his already acquired care for details in joinery with reward, as it was so fundamental to Mies' teaching" who fostered “the notion of huge, bare efficiently structured, and rationally proportioned edifices as being the architectural ideal, even beautiful.”[9]
    Mather worked for Walter Gropius and partners at The Architects Collaborative in Cambridge for six months before embarking with his wife Jean on an exploration of the Middle East, Pakistan and India, East and North Africa, and Europe. When their money ran out in Stockholm, they worked in architecture and planning offices there until earning enough to return to the states. Robert Mather turned down a position as planner with Caudill Rowlett and Scott, opting to move to Austin for more architectural experience. He worked in the Jessens’ office for only one year, which was dedicated to the development and detailing of St. Martin’s, before transitioning to a long academic career at the University of Texas.
    These experiences coalesced into a design at the forefront of the world-wide movements of modern architecture and ecclesiology. The IIT influence manifested in the structural integrity and techtonic detail of the exposed steel structure and free façade.

    Image: St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas. Robert Mather of Jessen Jessen Millhouse and Greeven. 1960.
    Credit: Jason John Paul Haskins, 2013.
    The design relates more to the more contemporary post-war reconstruction underway in Germany than the American suburban expansion. The continental connection was appropriate for a church founded as a German Lutheran congregation. Archival materials from the design process reference a book of new churches in the Archdiocese of Cologne[10] featuring the work of Rudolph & Maria Schwarz, Dominikus & Gottfried Böhm, and others.
    Mather likely knew of The Church Incarnate, with its foreword written by Mies van der Rohe. But whether through direct influence or parallel confluence, St. Martin's Evangelical Lutheran church successfully juxtaposes the diverse principles represented by multiple Schwarz plans. It combines the linearity of the Sacred Way with the inward movement of enclosure toward the altar / outward expansion into the world of the Dark Chalice without a formal dependence on their diagrams. Its sense of outward expansion comes not only from the increase in stained glass moving from the altar to the door but also from the decomposition of its planes and outward motion of its composition.
    Historical Continuity in Post-war Modernism
    As in the liturgical movement, the Modern movement in architecture rediscovered essential forms as represented by Sigfried Giedion’s emphasis on “constituent facts” against “transitory facts" in establishing a new tradition.[11] But Modern architects began to increasingly reintroduce certain components of tradition when—after the tragedies of the Second World War and the apparent failures of implementation of CIAM Athens Charter—some of the appeal of the utopian tabula rasa had worn off.[12] But they drew from traditions in which they recognized the universal principles of the earlier Modernist manifestos. For example, some recognized their principles in the North American vernaculars.[13] Christian architects looked to the recently unearthed pre-Constantinian churches, such as that at Duras-Europos.

    Image: St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas. Robert Mather of Jessen Jessen Millhouse and Greeven. 1960.
    Credit: Jason John Paul Haskins, 2013. The apse wall behind the altarpiece in this photo replaced the original curtain and tester as part of a 1990s renovation.
    Likewise the mode of the continuity was not the figural ornamentation or stylistic references of the preceding centuries; it was through spatial metaphor or social action. Rather than reflecting the primitive Christian basilica in style, the design of St. Martin’s builds on its ritual action of processional linearity. An austere brick planarity juxtaposed with the retained Gothic altarpiece replaces the inward focus of the apse with its mosaic depiction of the exterior other of heaven. The cellular structure of vaulted naves and aisles gives way to a tripartite plate folded into a planar barrel vault crowning the basilica. The geometric purity of the hemispherical vault with its impossible thinness embodied a structural minimalism further accentuated by the slipping past of floating planes.[14] Modern military vernacular reminiscent of so many nomadic dwellings made possible its efficiency: it was built from an off-the-shelf mass-produced Stran-Steel Quonset hut. Truly swords into plowshares.[15]
    A Modern Symbology in Stained Glass
    The stained glass windows in St. Martin's Evangelical church are figural, but they are modern insomuch as their symbols emphasize universally recognizable objects abstracted to the essential geometric form of their use and manufacture. Many are traditional Christian symbols, but their particular meaning is not dependent upon a closed historic system. In this way they are like Le Corbusier's objets types in his early still life paintings and architectural photographs which grew into the more explicitly spiritual La Poème de lAngle Droit or projections for the Philips Pavilion.

    Image: St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas. Robert Mather of Jessen Jessen Millhouse and Greeven. 1960.
    Credit: Jason John Paul Haskins, 2013.
    These distinct symbols were set in abstract flowing patterns modeled on the windows of the Dominikus Böhm-designed Maria-Koenigin Kirche, Köln-Marienburg (1953) and executed by the Botz-Miesen Stained Glass Studio of Cologne.[16] When the original intention to re-set the stained glass symbols from the 1929 Gothic church became technically impossible, the new suite of 57 symbols were designed with input from the pastors "to conform with the liturgy of St. Martin’s Evangelical Church.”[17] In this liturgical context and with content derived from Christ's teachings and social ministry, the objets types recall the familiarity and fundamental simplicity of the illustrative objects of the parables.
    St. Martin’s Evangelical Lutheran Church is an excellent example of the nascent post-war modernism that sought to reincorporate traditions sharing in its constituent facts. By balancing distinctly modern developments and a commitment to retaining continuity with tradition, it was able to fully satisfy the complicated brief of the modern church with its symbolic functions, liturgical movements, and social changes.
    Jason John Paul Haskins, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP BD+C, is a church-building researcher and design consultant who writes about liturgy, architecture and history on the blog Locus Iste (

    [1] Ludwig Mies van der Rohe provided a notable exception in the Robert F. Carr Memorial Chapel of St. Savior on the campus of IIT (1952) where its uniformity with the rest of the campus buildings—regardless of type—reinforces the concept of universal space, but ultimately compromises its function as a religious space.
    [2] First Unitarian Society, Madison, WI, Frank Lloyd Wright, 1951; Kramer Chapel at Concordia Senior College, Ft Wayne, IN, Eero Saarinen, 1953-58; St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Pacific Palisades, CA, A. Quincy Jones, 1953.
    [3] “The Tent Form–A Village Gothic for Today.” (Dec. 1954). Architectural Forum 101(6), 128-131). For further discussion of this form in the Midwest, see Gretchen Buggeln’s lecture, “The Rise and Fall of the Postwar A-Frame Church” available online.
    [4] Danforth, F. M. (1984). Gods Century at St. Martins: A Pictorial History of St. Martins Evangelical Lutheran Church. Austin, TX.
    [5] St. Martins Evangelical Lutheran Church Dedication. Pamphlet. (1960, March 27).
    [6] Preface to the Liturgy. In Service Book and Hymnal. (1974). Minneapolis,MN: Ausburg Publishing House.
    [7] This was at the heart of Dom Gregory Dix’s monumental work The Shape of the Liturgy (1945), which traced the shared frameworks in the primitive development of Christian worship.
    [8] Despite this, The Church Incarnate was employed as a form book, even, it has been argued, by Schwarz himself. A notable examples in the United States of the most recognizable plan, the parabolic “Dark Chalice,” is Resurrection of the Lord, St. Louis, Murphy & Mackey, 1952.
    [9] Swallow R. P. (1987). Robert George Mather: In Memoriam 1921-1984. MATHR Box 1. Robert G. Mather Papers. The Alexander Architectural Archive. The University of Texas Libraries. The University of Texas at Austin. An abbreviated version of the memorial is available online.
    [10] Weyres, W. Neue Kirchen Im Erzbistum Köln, 1945-1956. Du?sseldorf: Verlag L. Schwann.
    [11] Giedion, S. (1967). Space, Time and Architecture: The Growth of a New Tradition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. First publication in 1941.
    [12] Proctor, R. (2005). Churches for a Changing Liturgy: Gillespie, Kidd & Coia and the Second Vatican Council. Architectural History, 48, 291-322.
    [13] Sibyl Moholy-Nagy’s Native Genius in Anonymous Architecture (1957), Aldo van Eyk’s inclusion of pueblos in his foundational Otterlo Circles (1959), and the 1964 MOMA exhibit ‘Architecture without Architects.’
    [14] A thicker steel frame was as used in place of the quonset ribs in the later Jessen Associates project for St. Ignatius Martyr, Austin, which has a similar roof profile but little of the finesse of St. Martin’s.
    [15] Decker, J., Chiei, C. (Ed.), (2005). Quonset Hut: Metal Living for a Modern Age. New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press. When the Great Lakes Steel Corporation took over the quonset hut construction from the Navy in 1942, they introduced an innovate design that allowed the roof deck to be nailed into the steel rib. They also began marketing for civilian uses immediately. Bruce Goff pushed the architectural applications of quonset huts. For other churches built from the structures, see Our Lady of the Holy Trinity Abbey in Hunstville, UT or Our Lady of the Way, Haines Junction, Yukon Territory.
    [16] Botz-Miesen also executed stained glass windows with a very similar design for St. Dominic, New Orleans, Irving Kohler, 1961.
    [17] Vandeveerdonk, H. J. (1958, December 18). Letter to Wolf Jessen. Box 10, Folder 17. Jessen Associates Inc. Records and Drawings. Austin History Center. Austin, TX.
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  • Denys Peter Myers, Monuments Man

    John A. Burns
    Feb 7, 2014

    Denys Peter Myers, a Harvard Fine Arts graduate and one of the founding members—and a Fellow—of SAH, was working as director of exhibitions at the New York Public Library when he was drafted into the Army in 1943. Through a chance meeting with one of its officers, Peter was transferred in to the Army's Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section, the subject of the book The Monuments Men by Robert Edsel and now a movie. The Monuments Men movie focuses on the most dramatic work of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section, the recovery of the priceless plundered patrimony of the countries overrun by the war. But, much of the work of the section simply helped those countries stitch back together their culture and heritage. Peter was listed in official reports as “T/5 D. P. Myers – Monuments Specialist Assistant,” a rank equivalent to a Corporal. He was first stationed in Versailles, then in and around Wurzburg in occupied Bavaria after the German surrender. Peter saved onionskin copies of the dry military “Monthly Consolidated Field Reports” (which he entrusted to Pamela Scott, who graciously shared them with me), evidence of his pride in the work that he and the other Monuments Men accomplished.

    MFAA Officer James Rorimer supervises U.S. soldiers recovering looted paintings from Neuschwanstein Castle (image via Wikimedia)

    The city of Wurzburg had been devastated by Allied incendiary bombs on March 16, 1945, which destroyed ninety percent of the old town. Among the casualties was Balthasar Neumann’s Wurzburg Residenz, which was mostly gutted by the fires except for its core, where the stone vaults below the attics prevented its total loss when the roofs burned and collapsed. Peter played a critical role in saving Giovanni Battista Tiepolo's frescoes of the Four Continents on the vaulted ceiling of the Kaisersaal by requisitioning hydraulic cement from the Army to coat the exterior of the exposed vaults, which he then had tarred. He recalled in 2002, "That stop-gap kept the Tiepolos dry until the roofs could be reconstructed. Among the few accomplishments for which I would like to be remembered, certainly helping save two of the greatest works of art in Europe ranks high." A subsequent field report for February 1946 stated, “. . . completed slate covering to the newly constructed roof over the Kaisersaal, also boarded all windows and skylights to the hall.” The eventual restoration of the entire Residenz was not completed until 1987. It is now a World Heritage Site.

    Many of the reports Peter saved detail weekly inspections, conditions assessments, security assessments, and recommendations for protecting the myriad art and jewelry collections, books, and archives, which had been dispersed to locations around the region during the war, seemingly for their protection more so than for plunder, although there are accounts of returning objects to “rightful owners.” Regarding protection, one report stated, “It is recommended by this office that the Castle Triefenstein, owned by Prince Löwenstein-Wertheim-Freudenberg in Kreuzwertheim (L50/N23) RB Mainfranken be converted into a central museum for all the art objects belonging to the Cologne Museum which are at present improperly stored thruout the various small repositories in Mainfranken.” Regarding salvage and restoration, another report, about Castle Veitshöcheim, stated that, “Bomb craters in the gardens have been leveled off. Fragments of damaged statues in the gardens have been collected and safed for future reconstruction.” Not only objects were displaced, as this report entry notes, “Castle Kleinheubach (L5C/NO2), owner Prince Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg, visited 7 February

    1946 by T/5 Myers and Dr. Berger. The 650 Estonian D.Ps. [displaced persons] on the premises maintain the best order possible under the circumstances. The owners have no complaints against the present occupants.” And, as evidence that the efforts of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section were succeeding in helping the residents of Wurzburg recover their lives and culture among the post-war chaos was the report entry that, “Request has been received by this office for permission to use certain rooms in the Festung Marienberg for the purpose of an art school.”


    Watch video of how the real Monuments Men rescued artwork from the Nazis (from BBC News). 
    An exhibition of their personal papers, photographs, maps and memoirs is on display at the Archives of American Art in Washington.

  • TEDification versus Edification

    Jan 29, 2014
    Via Places Journal
    By SAH member Simon Sadler

    I. TED is the new counterculture. 
    Stewart Brand, meet Russell Brand: Two provocateurs of conferences and consciences to which the design disciplines might pay heed. Readers in the United States are likely familiar with Stewart Brand; he is the intellectual entrepreneur who in the mid-1960s dropped acid and thus had revealed to him a vision of a Buckminster Fuller-inspired new globalism, and who then enshrined this vision in the epochal Whole Earth Catalog. U.S. readers may be less familiar with Russell Brand; he is the comedian from the United Kingdom who by his own admission drank a tad too much before addressing the recent GQ awards ceremony in London, prompting him to deliver, to a cringing audience, revelations about the event’s sponsors and attendees and the parlous state of the entire world. We would not need to pay any more attention to this stunt, except that Russell Brand has followed up with a series of coruscating interviews (in one of which he gleefully trounces the U.K.’s leading political interviewer, Jeremy Paxman [1]) and op-ed pieces, culminating in an essay for the highbrow, left-leaning weekly The New Statesman in which he asks: "Is utopian revolution possible? The freethinking social architect Buckminster Fuller said humanity now faces a choice: oblivion or utopia. We're inertly ambling towards oblivion, is utopia really an option?" 

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  • Destruction Looms for Arthur Erickson-designed Bank of Canada Atrium Garden

    Michelangelo Sabatino with Maria Cook
    Jan 22, 2014
    Via The Cultural Landscape Foundation

    The Bank of Canada’s garden and atrium in Ottawa, situated in a building between Canada’s first retail pedestrian mall and the federal institutional landscape, provide a welcoming public space in Canada’s capital city and exemplify architect Arthur Erickson’s skill as a maker of interior and exterior landscapes. The 12,749 square-foot atrium is now at risk of privatization and the garden threatened with destruction.


    Bank of Canada, photo by Taxiarchos 228 via Wikimedia Commons.Located across from Parliament Hill, the Bank of Canada’s head office occupies a prominent site on Wellington Street, an address it shares with the Supreme Court of Canada, the Library and Archives of Canada, and until 1999, the Embassy of the United States. It is “one of Canada’s best 20th century buildings and a great example of the creative integration of old and new,” says Natalie Bull, executive director of the Heritage Canada Foundation. The centerpiece of the bank is an Art Deco granite building, constructed in the 1930s, flanked by symmetrical glass-and-copper-clad East and West Towers. The three buildings are connected by an atrium. The atrium and towers were designed by Arthur Erickson in collaboration with the firm Marani, Rounthwaite & Dick in the late 1960s and completed in 1979. A lush tropical garden, incorporating a reflecting pool, runs almost the length of the atrium. The green slate floor gently dips down toward the water which sits beneath a trellis of long wood beams. The result is a human-scaled and intimate experience within a 262-foot-high space.
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  • Nonprofit Leadership, the Gender Gap, and Architect Barbie: A Conversation with Wanda Bubriski

    Victoria Solan
    Jan 2, 2014

    In the fall of 2012, SAH formed its first Professional Development Committee, and charged the group with the task of exploring how SAH might support the diverse professional needs and ambitions of its members. The following exchange between committee members Victoria Solan, an independent historian, and Wanda Bubriski, founding executive director of the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, is intended to start a conversation about how different career paths can unfold within the realm of architectural history. This blog post is also intended to draw attention to the varied professional roles available to our members, and to explore how one’s workplace expectations can change over time.

    Architect Barbie
    From Bauhaus to Dreamhaus—Architect Barbie on a recent site visit. Photo credit: Wanda Bubriski.

    Let’s start by talking about how you became a member of the Society of Architectural Historians. When did you join and what roles have you played in the organization?

    I’m a member of SAH’s Quarter-Century Club—meaning I’ve been a member for over 25 years—and joined when I was, well, in grade school obviously. I just finished a three-year term on the Board during which I served on the membership committee, and now on the Professional Development Committee. At Annual Meetings, I’ve given papers and co-chaired a session. On behalf of the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation (BWAF), I hosted several receptions and a film screening of A Girl is a Fellow Here” ~ 100 Women Architects in the Studio of Frank Lloyd Wright.

    From 2004 through 2012, you were the founding director of the BWAF, a nonprofit organization dedicated to increasing the visibility of women’s contributions to the building industry. Where did you gain the skills to lead such an organization? Is this the kind of position that you envisioned you would be in when you finished your graduate education? What kind of adjustments did you make along the way?

    My formal education never included something like “Introduction to Running a Nonprofit” —perhaps the closest thing was a graduate seminar in museum studies. My experience with advocacy and organizing started in high school, which developed into a deep commitment to public education and outreach. While working with the Sierra Club in Washington, D.C., I learned some effective strategies for leading campaigns and came to understand how a nonprofit functions. A big adjustment from the academic world to that of the nonprofit realm is moving from individual scholarship to a collective goal. Nonprofit leadership involves both inspiring and enabling others to realize the organization’s mission.

    Many SAH members, each at different stages in their careers, are trying to figure out how to navigate an imperfect world and forge something new for themselves or for others. One of the goals of this interview series is have SAH members share their concerns at different stages in their careers. May I ask how your professional priorities changed over the years? Have some of the concerns and challenges from the outset of your career eased, or intensified? 

    My concerns have intensified. It seems like an endless loop: the more learned reveals how much more we need to learn about the gender challenges facing us all. “Unforgetting Women Architects: From the Pritzker to Wikipedia,” the memorable and apt title of the recent essay by Despina Stratigakos published in the online journal Places, reminds us why we forget—including access to primary material and perhaps not enough of what Gwendolyn Wright calls “hubristic self-affirmation.”1 Stratigakos cites an incident this spring on the German Wikipedia site—where a post about Thekla Schild, one of the first women trained as an architect in Germany, was entered on the site, yet within minutes was erased by a male editor, denying her existence. Stratigakos ends her piece on the value of online databases by correctly asserting that “as the long and rich history of women in architecture becomes more broadly known, it will become that much harder to ignore them.”2

    We could say the same for architectural historians as well. SAH has the potential to fill a huge gap. For example, there are three glaring issues that I believe are pertinent to SAH members and point to a need for SAH to collect data:

    1. Publishing – It’s key to career success, but works by women comprise less than one-third of scholarly publishing.3 Let’s count up the articles and reviews published in JSAH from the past 10 years based on gender—is the female-male percentage equal, and does it reflect the same gender distribution of SAH membership?  
    2. Chronic Wage Gap between Men and Women – A female full professor at a doctoral institution makes 90.3% of what her male colleague earns, or 87.3% when aggregated into all institutions with academic rank.4
    3. The SAH Leaky Pipeline – Collect gender data on recent graduates over the past 10 years—who gets academic jobs, and who doesn’t? Is there a parallel here with architectural practice—which is fraught with variables that have little to do with design talent but a lot of other things including access to power such as clients and patrons?

    What if SAH helped to Divert the Pipeline toward career options outside of academia? I am hoping that the SAH Professional Development Committee will embrace such a diversion, which the approximately 20% of SAH members who are independent scholars will surely appreciate.

    Much of the mainstream media, as well as a well-meaning world of career advice, deploys the word ‘balance’ to describe the placing of an appropriate boundary between work and personal responsibilities. This word doesn’t ring true for me — it seems to veil a much more difficult conflict than one might reasonably resolve with a kitchen scale. Does it work for you, or should there be another word?

    I agree with you that “balance,” while desirable, is problematic—the problem being that the term invariably refers to women, not men. Do we ever hear about Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos struggling with a work-life balance? Why are men exempt from personal responsibilities? (Within the public discourse/ mainstream media that is, not necessarily within our personal domestic realms.) I believe that we have yet to understand the real questions to ask: what do the words “women” and “men” really mean? Not all women or all men are alike. If we pull apart the stereotypical generalities of the words in both academia and public discussion, how will that change the nature of the conversation?

    We can’t finish this conversation without a few words from Architect Barbie. How old is she now? Where has she been lately?

    I do not doubt for a second that Architect Barbie is, deep down, a closeted historian.  Since her debut at the AIA National Convention in 2011, she has attended two SAH Annual Conferences (Detroit and Buffalo). Her co-creators, historian Despina Stratigakos and architect Kelly Hayes McAlonie, infused her with a sense of the past and made sure she was a feminist. She’s been influenced by her global travels with me, and by her exposure to that eminence blanche, Beverly Willis. She has joined the women’s movement that is sweeping the country, but confesses that she’d prefer a pair of boots for walking, not teetering. Her only other worry is that historians have not proposed papers that qualify them for SAH’s annual Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation travel fellowship.

    Thank you for your time. I wish you and Architect Barbie many exciting adventures, and I hope this conversation can be the beginning of a productive dialogue about professional development among SAH members.

    1 Gwendolyn Wright in “Symposium Discussion: Architecture of Writing,” at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2009, included with A Girl is a Fellow Here, directed by Beverly Willis, (New York: BWAF, 2009), DVD.

    2 Despina Stratigakos, “Unforgetting Women Architects: From the Pritzker to Wikipedia,” Places Journal at the Design Observer, 11/26/13.

    3 Based on data from 1991 to 2010, as cited in “Scholarly Publishing’s Gender Gap,” in The Chronicle of Higher Education, October 26, 2012. The article highlights an analysis of six fields and 24 subfields between 1991 and 2010—itself a subset of a huge investigation of gender and publishing based on about two million papers published since 1665 in nearly 1,800 fields and drawn from the collection of JSTOR. Within the field of history, from a total of 14,733 authors, 69.2% were male and 30.8% female.

    4 As cited in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 4/12/2013, p. A27; source: American Association of University Professors ( Salary Survey Tables and Figures/Table 5.pdf). Link to the full report:

  • Recent News on the Conversion into Mosques of Byzantine Churches in Turkey

    Dr. Veronica Kalas, Ph.D.
    Dec 12, 2013

    I have been asked to write a report for the International Center of Medieval Art newsletter concerning recent events in Turkey whereby Byzantine churches that long have held the status of state museums and cultural heritage sites are being converted into mosques. It is crucial to raise awareness about this very critical issue. The examples include the church of the Hagia Sophia in Iznik (Nicea), the church of the Hagia Sophia in Trabzon (Trebizond), and the plans for the church and associated monastic complex of St. John Stoudios in Istanbul (Constantinople). Although these events have been ongoing for quite some time, the world started watching more closely in recent months when certain representatives of the Turkish government publicly called for the conversion of THE Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. For every example, the original Byzantine church building testifies to the vast contribution of Byzantine culture and civilization to the history of medieval art and architecture and world architecture more broadly. These churches were converted into mosques under Ottoman rule and subsequently into museums under the Turkish Republic.

    Hagia Sophia
    Hagia Sophia, Istanbul (photo credit: Veronica Kalas)

    Although it has been reported that right-wing Turkish politicians and political parties introduced these ideas since the 1950s, in the last year or so the trend has been implemented and seems to be gaining momentum. The political background, individuals, and organizations involved in the issue is intricate and sensitive, as Andrew Finkel has discussed in “Mosque conversion raises alarm: Christian art in Byzantine church-turned-museum is at risk after controversial court ruling,” The Art Newspaper 245 (April 2013). The peg on which to hang the legality of these conversions stems from a multifarious set of maneuvers that includes the transfer of the right to care for the monuments from the Ministry of Culture and Tourism to the Directorate General of Pious Foundations. This transfer is highly significant in the Turkish context as the two organizations adhere to separate rules, regulations, and approaches to historic monuments and museums that are often at odds with one another. In some ways these buildings embody a kind of secular state being taken over or occupied by a religious state within Turkey, although in essence the Directorate of Pious Foundations always had jurisdiction over the monuments, which technically have been leased to the Ministry to run as museums. The situation is very complicated, not entirely transparent, and is not the same for every case. Claims that some consider dubious are circulating by an MHP party member who introduced the bill in parliament to make legal the conversion of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul on the basis that the original document legalizing its conversion to a museum in the 1930s was a forgery, and therefore the building has maintained its status as a mosque since its initial conversion in the fifteenth century.

    Analysts have considered the issue from a variety of angles, from the attempt of some politicians within the current government to garner votes from the religiously conservative majority population in Turkey, to the wish to reclaim Turkey’s Ottoman past, to a direct antagonism toward Eastern Christianity for which these buildings are immensely symbolic. Largely left out of the news reports is a significant discussion of the damage these priceless structures face in the process of conversion, and their subsequent use as mosques from an archaeological and historic preservation point of view as Amberin Zaman has reported in The Economist, Al Monitor, and elsewhere. Unfortunately, the examples cited are only a fraction of a larger issue of the destruction of culturally and historically significant monuments worldwide.

    Hagia Sophia
    Hagia Sophia, Istanbul (photo credit: Veronica Kalas)

    Among many alterations to the building’s fabric, all religious imagery must be covered-- a process that inevitably leads to damage as has been demonstrated in the past. In the case of St. John Studios, the fifth-century church building would have to be rebuilt as a mosque as it is currently roofless. It has been reported that the proposed plan is to reconstruct the monument with a dome, which is entirely incongruous with the original design of the structure as a three-aisled basilica. Although individual academics and archaeologists from both within Turkey and internationally are openly opposed to this, thus far there has been no concerted effort put forth from any angle to voice an effective objection to these events. Particularly absent so far is any statement by international bodies concerned with cultural heritage preservation, such as UNESCO, ICOMOS, ICOM, and WMF among other organizations either from within Turkey or globally, to address the grave concerns about the fate of these invaluable buildings. Most likely the general perception is that there is no adequate way to deal with the complexity of the problem and any criticism from the outside would be perceived of as imposed from the ‘west’ and therefore ineffectual. I include below an archive of links to recent news items in English worthy of note to help anyone wishing to follow the events as they unravel.

    Dr. Veronica Kalas, Ph.D.
    December 7, 2013

    Articles about the conversion of Byzantine churches to mosques in Turkey:

    On Hagia Sophia, Istanbul:

    On Hagia Sophia, Trabzon:

    On Hagia Sophia, Iznik

    On St. John Studios, Istanbul

    On the trend in general:

  • Podcasting Architecture

    Nov 25, 2013

    99% Invisible

    This week marks the anniversary of Swann's Way, the first installment of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time. Ira Glass, creator of This American Life, begins a marathon reading of the novel from a hotel room in Brooklyn. After constructing a replica of Proust's own room, Yale's French Department embarks on a similar marathon. With Proust, the modern self encountered a subjective re-awakening through architectural memory. Recent experiments in the medium of Podcasts genealogically connect with Proust's narrative stream, where, “I was more destitute than a cave dweller; but then the memory—not yet of the place where I was, but of several of those where I had lived and where I might have been—would come to me like help from on high to pull me out of the void from which I could not have got out on my own.”

    The soothing voices of radio theater have long disappeared from the airwaves, but a new medium, radio podcasts, have taken their place. The discipline of architectural history seems to have finally exerted some creative real estate in this medium. Radio nonfiction has became a dominant form of narrative, beginning with WBEZ's This American Life in 1995. Its creator, Ira Glass, went as far as to herald a new era when in 2007 he published The New Kings of Nonfiction. “We're living in an age of great nonfiction writing,” writes Glass, “in the same way that the 1920s and '30s were a golden age of American popular song. Giants walk among us. Cole Porters and George Gershwins and Duke Ellingtons of nonfiction storytelling. They're trying new things and doing pirouettes with the form. But nobody talks about it that way.” The success of such alternative voices morphed further into podcast radio shows, seriated online rather than the syndicated radio waves. July 2013 seems to have marked a watershed moment for podcasts, when Welcome to the NIght Vale became the most downloadable podcast from iTunes. Another marker of success came, when 99% Invisible, the premier architectural podcast, raised double the amounts it had pledged on Kickstarter for Season Four. With Proust and the podcast in mind, I review the podcasts that I have found to be most relevant to architectural history.

    This is the most exciting podcast on architecture and design. It was created by Roman Mars in San Francisco and produced by KALW and the San Francisco American Institute of Architects. Roman Mars has been called the Ira Glass of architecture. Although he commands an increasing presence in the podcast universe, Mars is interested in the deflated, the historical detail and its traction daily life. In a recent interview in Mother Jones, he noted,  “I really wanted to focus on the everyday, even the mundane, and not the things that were shiny and new and exciting.” This month's fundraising success on Kickstarter means that the fourth season of 99% Invisible will be aired weekly.

    STUDIO 360
    Kurt Andersen's Studio 360, produced by WNYC in New York, is the oldest and most respected podcast on arts and culture with a Peabody Award under its belt. Although not devoted exclusively to architectural history, it often addresses issues of history and design. Its series, Design for the Real World and Redesigns, focus on issues of design, but the most useful series for architectural historians is the award-winning American Icons. So far, five episodes focus on architectural monuments: the Lincoln Memorial, Monticello, Falling Water, the Vietnam Memorial and Disneyland. Typically about 45 minutes long, these episodes have been excellent for teaching.

    Hosted by Frances Anderton, this KCRW production centers on architecture and design with a focus on the Los Angeles area. Anderton is a seasoned architectural journalist (The Architectural Review, L.A. Architect) who has become the voice of design in southern California. (See an Anderton interview here.) DnA's perspective balances the other geographic anchors (New York, Chicago, and San Francisco).

    The National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., produces a different kind of podcast that distributes audio recordings of its programming. Typically based on lectures given at the museum, this podcast is exclusively dedicated to architectural history and is a MUST in the cadre of architecture listening. Two recent episodes by historian Elizabeth Hope Cushing and landscape architect Laurie Olin, for example, bring to the general audience the museum's symposium on Frederic Law Olmstead that took place on October 10.

    Like the National Building Museum, the Architectural League of New York podcasts all of its events and makes them available to general readers. 

    Similarly, the American Institute of Architects aggregates podcasts that relate to practicing architecture. "Architecture Knowledge Review is a podcast series for design professionals, featuring interviews, discussions, and best practices by architects and other design professionals who are at the forefront of the profession."

    One way to remain adrift with what Britain's cultural conversation is to listen to Arts and Ideas, a podcast that weekly aggregates the best interviews by BBC Radio 3's Night Waves. Literature, fine arts, theater, and music predominate, but there is a strong architectural presence. New buildings are discussed and old buildings are reconsidered. A recent favorite is the discussion of zoo architecture. Here one can also learn about new buildings, such as Zaha Hadid's Aquatics Centre. Based entirely on interviews and conversations, this is one of the most intellectually charged podcasts. What makes British journalism interesting is the tradition of correspondents pushing their interviewers critically, rather than simply asking polite questions. Night Wave's correspondents (Matthew Sweet, Philip Dodd, Rana Mitter, and Anne McElvoy) press their interviewers with a critical edge.

    Hosted by Melvyn Bragg, In Our Times is another highlight of British cultural journalism. The podcast's premise is simple. Bragg chooses a topic every week and invites three notable academics to discuss it. The topics are broad and rarely target individual monuments. As in other programs on arts and culture, architectural coverage is episodic. Programs include Architecture and Power (with architectural historians Adrian Tinniswood, Gavin Stamp, and Gillian Darley), Archaeology and Imperialism, the Gothic, Architecture in the 20th Century, Modernist Utopias, John Ruskin, and the Baroque.  

    Although most tangentially related to architectural history, Welcome to Night Vale is by far the most ambitious podcast. Narrated as a series of community announcements, Welcome to Night Vale transports the listener to an imaginary American town in the southwest. In its indeterminate subject, it touches on some fundamental issues of architecture and meaning. This podcast is impossible to describe, it must be experienced. In July 2013, it became the most downloaded podcast, surpassing the pioneering This American Life.

    Given the rising number of podcasts and radio shows targeting architectural issues, it becomes increasingly apparent that certain other culture shows shy away from architecture. One of my favorite podcasts, Slate's CULTURE GABFEST, for instance, is pathetically poor on design. Similarly, the best Canadian culture show, Q,with Jian Ghomeshi, rarely tackles the built environment. Different productions have different strengths, and it makes no sense to DEMAND for venues greater architectural coverage. But it is disconcerting how certain articulations of cultural journalism do not see architecture in the same level as text or media creations. A different podcast genre is dedicated to traditional histories, such as Mike Duncan's THoR (The History of Rome) or Robin Pierson's HISTORY OF BYZANTIUM. These, too, spare little audio space for architecture. 

    To conclude, architectural podcasts fit into four categories that, for convenience, we might categorize as: 1. Story Driven, 2. Interview Driven, 3. Lecture Driven, and 4. Fantastical. The Story-Driven podcasts (99% Invisible) experiment with the journalistic voice by pursuing a story or a theme from the ground (replicating the experimental journalism of This American Life). The Interview-Driven podcasts take their cue from the radio interview show (Fresh Air, Radio Times, etc.) but target architectural guests. Lecture-Driven podcasts are simple translations of a live event that is recorded and made available on the internet. These proliferate across museums and organizations and are typically the least interesting in form. Finally, the Fantastical podcasts (Welcome to Night Vale) open new grounds to speak about architectural experience in unexpected ways.

    In an era of digital uncertainties, architectural historians worry that their subject matter resists the digital translation. Its very physicality and three-dimensionality precluded the digital flatness. Podcasts offer one avenue of dreamy materialization.

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