SAH Blog

  • Bury the Lantern: The Other Side of Promoting Farm Electrification

    By
    Sarah Rovang
     |
    Apr 23, 2015

    In the late 1930s and early 1940s, numerous farm communities across the United States gathered to enact lantern funerals, the ritualized interring of antiquated kerosene lamps. Cloaked in the guise of mourning, these parodic rites were actually celebrations of the arrival of electric lighting in the rural landscape. In some cases, the burial plot was marked with a tombstone such as the one seen in Figure 1, which explains that the “coal-oil lamp” has been “abolished for all time” by the advent of electricity. In this example, the tombstone was created for an electric cooperative receiving funding from the Rural Electrification Administration (or REA). REA had been founded in 1935 under the New Deal to promote the expedient spread of electricity to America’s farms and rural communities. At the time of its founding, only around 11% of US farms were connected to central station electricity. To address this lack, REA developed a system of making loans directly to farming cooperatives to fund the extension of existing electric lines or pay for the construction of new generating facilities.

    Figure1 
    Figure 1: Tombstone for a kerosene lamp. The epitaph reads, “Here lies a coal-oil lamp. Buried here May 3, 1941 by the Adams Electric Cooperative as a symbol of the drudgery and toil which its member-families bore far longer than was necessary or right but which, with the energization of their own power system are now abolished for all time.” Image Credit: Record Group 221, Records of the Rural Electrification Administration, Department of Agriculture. Rural Electrification Administration. Photographic Prints of Electrification and Telephone Improvements in the Rural United States, 1936 - 1964. National Archives Identifier: 540048, HMS Entry Number: 221-P.

    At the upcoming SAH 2015 Annual Conference, as part of the panel “Architecture in a New Light” I presented a paper that explores how REA both encouraged and co-opted rural enthusiasm for electric lighting in its efforts to modernize the landscape of the American farm. This paper developed as a natural outgrowth of my dissertation, which examines the architecture and landscapes of rural electrification in the United States from 1935 to 1945. Combing through REA’s papers at the National Archives in Kansas City, I encountered dozens of pamphlets, advertisements, and wiring guides that constitute a print media discourse around rural lighting. REA and its partner corporations, including General Electric and Westinghouse, recognized that electric illumination represented a major transformation of farm life. In these publications, which date from the late 1930s and 1940s, lighting is shown as the harbinger of further electric modernization, part of a larger matrix of electric devices that comprise a comprehensive vision of all-electric farm living. This discourse of rural electric lighting and its promises for farm modernization more broadly are the focuses of my SAH paper. When I was invited to write this blog entry, I thought it would be interesting to examine the flip side—not the lionization of electricity, but the vilification of kerosene.  

    REA’s promotion of electric lighting was part of a institutional practice known as “load-building,” or encouraging farmers to adopt a range of electrified devices in order to ensure that cooperatives were using enough electricity for the government’s loans to be fruitful. Beyond aspiring to recoup government loans, REA hoped to spur the technological modernization of American farmsteads on a larger scale. In line with previous rural reform efforts, REA sought to bring the farmhouse up to an urban standard and to rationalize the farmstead following the efficient model of  industrial production.[1] In REA publications, electric light was used as a synecdoche for technological modernity on the farm—a literal and figurative “enlightenment”of farm life. By contrast, the “old coal-oil lamp” was cast as the antithesis of these ideas.

    In reality, the transition from kerosene to electric light was one of the most significant technological upgrades enabled by electrification. Many farmers already had access to other energy technologies that did not require central station electricity, such as batteries, liquid petroleum gas, and gasoline that powered radios, stoves, and engines. The switch to electricity from these technologies certainly represented a change, but not the same dramatic improvement that electric lighting offered over its predecessor. In the late 1930s, the majority of American agricultural populations still relied on kerosene lanterns for light both inside the farmhouse and on the farm. Dirty, arduous to maintain, and dangerous, these oil-burning lamps became a kind of symbol, as the tombstone epitaph in Figure 1 suggests, of all the “drudgery and toil” of pre-electrification farm living. One study by the American Society of Electrical Engineers Committee on Uses of Electric Light in Agriculture found that electric light saved farmers an hour and a half a day on average doing their chores, halving the required time with a coal-oil lamp.[2]

    Figure2leftFigure2rightFigure 2: (left) Farmhouse Floor Plan with outlets and lighting, (right) Living Room lighting and wiring diagram showing light switches and convenience outlets. Image Credit: Planning Your Farmstead Wiring and Lighting. Washington, D.C: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Rural Electrification Administration, 1946.

    Additionally, depictions of rural spaces illuminated by kerosene lanterns were set in contrast to those bathed in the steady, even glow of electric light. Illustrations, such as the one in Figure 2, link electric lighting to a new kind of spatial order, showing the farm as a series of circuit diagrams as farm families were urged to plan ahead for future lighting purchases and additional electrified conveniences. The spaces of kerosene, by contrast, were shown as cluttered, dim, and uncomfortable. For example, the cartoon seen below, captioned “Born Thirty Years Too Soon,” depicts a family attempting to enjoy nighttime leisure, all relying on the glow provided by a single kerosene lamp (Figure 3). As one family member precariously hoists the lamp to search for a misplaced book, the rest of the family is thrown into darkness and frustration. The relatively small sphere of illumination provided by a single kerosene lamp was also dramatized in filmmaker Joris Iven’s 1940 documentary for REA, Power and the Land, which tells the story of one family’s transition to electric power. The first half of the film, which depicts pre-electrification life on the farm, charts the daytime task of scouring and maintaining kerosene lamps and gloomy, atmospheric evenings huddled around a single lamp (Figure 4). Although electric bulbs were in fact 16-20 times brighter than the kerosene lamps they replaced, REA reinforced and even exaggerated the magnitude of this change in print media and film, conflating kerosene with pre-modern spaces and electric lighting with modern ones.[3]

    Figure3
    Figure 3: J.R. Williams, “Born Thirty Years Too Soon,” Rural Electrification News 1, no. 12 (August 1936): 24.  

    Figure4
    Figure 4: Film still from Power and the Land (director Joris Ivens for REA, 1940). Image Credit: Record Group 221, Records of the Rural Electrification Administration, Department of Agriculture. Rural Electrification Administration. Photographic Prints of Electrification and Telephone Improvements in the Rural United States, 1936 - 1964. National Archives Identifier: 540048, HMS Entry Number: 221-P.


    Personifications of the kerosene lantern, such as the one in Figure 5 or the actual lanterns buried as part of mock funerals went even further, suggesting that farmers who still burned kerosene embodied negative rural stereotypes of being behind-the-times, backwards, or stuck in their ways. Yet the burying of the kerosene lamp did not mean the end to this technology. Despite all of this negative publicity, most farm families still kept kerosene lanterns in case of a power outage, a relatively common occurrence during the early years of electrification. As with much of the electrification process, rural America’s conversion to electric light was selective and gradual.

    Figure5
    Figure 5
    : Berg, “Gosh,” reprinted from the Indianapolis Times in Rural Electrification News 1, no. 7 (March 1936): 22.

    Recommended Reading

    Adams, Jane. The Transformation of Rural Life: Southern Illinois, 1890-1990. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.

    Brown, D. Clayton. Electricity for Rural America: The Fight for the REA. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1980.

    Fitzgerald, Deborah K. Every Farm a Factory: The Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

    Jellison, Katherine. Entitled to Power: Farm Women and Technology, 1913-1963. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

    Kline, Ronald R. Consumers in the Country: Technology and Social Change in Rural America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

    Nye, David E. Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology, 1880-1940. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1990.

    Tobey, Ronald C. Technology As Freedom: The New Deal and the Electrical Modernization of the American Home. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.


    Sarah RovangSarah Rovang is a Ph.D. candidate in the History of Art & Architecture at Brown University. Her dissertation Modernization and Architecture Under the Rural Electrification Administration, 1935–1945,explores the intersection of electricity, architecture, and the rural landscape in the United States during the New Deal. Her work has been supported by fellowships from the New England Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians and the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami.


    [1] See Kline, Jellison, and Fitzgerald in Recommended Reading below.

    [2] “Electric Lights Save Farm an Hour and a Half a Day in Doing Chores,” Rural Electrification News 4, no. 7 (March 1939): 22.

    [3] Lawrence C. Porter, “Good Lighting Inside and Outside the Farmhouse,” Rural Electrification News 3, no. 1 (September 1937): 3.  

    1 Comment
  • Northern India: The Golden Triangle

    By
    Amber N. Wiley, 2013 Brooks Travelling Fellow
     |
    Apr 8, 2015

    I knew ahead of time that Delhi would be crazy, but I was not prepared for the amount of crazy. Perhaps it is because I chose to stay in one of the most congested portions of an already congested city. Today Paharganj is known for its bazaar, as it was almost 400 years ago. It is described as “chaotic, noisy, and dirty,” on the Delhi Tourism website, and is commonly referred to as the “traveller’s ghetto.” It was exhilarating at the same time that it was exhausting. I had done enough online research to know what to expect, but there is not much one can do in terms of preparation for that type of environment. I had a hotel room with no external windows, which was fine since the decibel level of noise pollution on Arakashan Road was outstanding, even for India. Despite all of that, there was a certain magic to Arakashan Road, as hotel sign advertisements lit up the night sky like Broadway.

    Delhi is a highly fragmented, frenetic city, with old and new quarters existing in stark juxtaposition. As a World Monuments Fund brochure proclaims, “Delhi is not one city, but many.”1 Since Paharganj traditionally lay outside the old city walls it is a transitional, interstitial space. In Paharganj one is a short bajaj ride from Connaught Place (1929-1934), the commercial complex designed to act as a nodal point between Old and New Delhi. It still serves this purpose today.

    India_Figure-1
    Figure 1. 1911 map of Shahjahanabad, noted as “Modern Delhi” in the map, but known as “Old Delhi” today. Paharganj is slightly southwest of the city. Lutyen’s Delhi has yet to be designed and constructed south of Shahjahanabad. Source: John Murray, A Handbook for Travellers in India, Burma, and Ceylon. (London: J. Murray; Calcutta: Thacker, Spink, & Co., 1911). Flickr Commons.

    I was amazed by the pollution in Delhi. I could see it when touching down at Indira Gandhi International Airport. I could feel it when my eyes watered incessantly. An India Today magazine I picked up in the airport had a cover story entitled “Death in the Air.” The Editor-in-Chief, Aroon Purie proclaims “dust from construction, exhaust fumes from vehicles, coal plant and factory emissions, diesel generators, stubble burning in fields, garage fires, and makeshift cooking appliances have made air pollution a public emergency.”2 The articles discussed the rise in the mortality, cancer, and respiratory disorder rates related to the situation in Delhi, and in India more broadly.

    There is no need to enhance a photograph taken in Delhi with a filter. With today’s preponderance of digital photography posted online through sites like Instagram, fancy photo editing techniques are in common amongst the tech savvy population. Filters add atmosphere, hues, tints, and tones, “romantic” noise and dust. They add a special dreamlike ambiance to the image. But in Delhi, there is no need for a filter. The smog from the pollution does that just fine. It is lovely in a deadly, sad way.

    India_Figure-2
    Figure 2. India Gate by Edwin Lutyens, New Delhi (1921-1931). Natural “atmospheric filter” courtesy of smog.

    Incredible !ndia: Delhi and Agra

    Since my time in Delhi would be much shorter than my stays in other major cities along this trip, and since I had a friend meet me in the city I elected to take packaged tours to significant architecture sites. Normally I would do something more organic, wandering my way through the streets and often stumbling upon places that I had not even planned to visit, but time was of the essence. The packaged tour kept me from exploring Delhi in a more in-depth manner, but it was necessary with the limited amount of time I had in the city. The truth of the matter is, I would not have extended my time in Delhi.

    The city tour was arranged by the Incredible !ndia affiliate in my hotel. India has, in comparison to many of the destinations I have visited on this fellowship, a very succinct and smooth tourism industry machine. Incredible !ndia offices with a selection of maps, brochures, and tours have been highly visible in every state I have visited – Maharashtra, Goa, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan – as well as the National Capital Region. This makes the touring aspect of India so much easier than Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, and Mexico.

    In addition to the Incredible !ndia marketing efforts by the Government of India, the permanent delegation to UNESCO submitted “Delhi – A Heritage City” to be included in the list of World Heritage sites. The World Monuments Fund already laid the promotional groundwork, developing the Delhi Heritage Route.3 The Delhi Heritage Route was created in advance of the XIX Commonwealth Games of 2010 to promote tourism in the massively sprawling city. The Delhi Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) developed much of the content for the heritage route and contributed to the publication of 20 informational booklets and 18 walking tours that linked the sites together. It is an impressive promotional collection. Unfortunately most of this literature, which is free and accessible through the World Monuments Fund website, is not found at the sites themselves (I believe it is because these are not money-making ventures). One must know where to look for the information beforehand.

    My pre-arranged city tour started in Old Delhi, or Shahjahanabad. Cultural scholar Shu Yamane states:

    Shahjahanabad was built as the capital of the Mughal Empire, India's most powerful and largest Islamic dynasty. This makes it one of the most pertinent cities for the study of urban formation in the Islamic region.4

    This is one of the reasons I am slightly regretful about not spending more time in Old Delhi. Jyoti Hosagrahar’s JSAH article “Mansions to Margins: Modernity and the Domestic Landscapes of Historic Delhi, 1847-1910,” also made me question whether or not I should have spent more time in the area. Her article details the evolution of the haveli form in Old Delhi from the grand palaces of the elite to sub-divided and multifunctional new spaces for the people:

    In colloquial usage, the word haveli in Delhi has remained a signature of traditional aristocratic living. However, in its many variations the haveli was not a timeless or changeless house form. From princely mansion to modest dwelling and then into a tenement house or a more rational and efficiently designed house, the haveli has undergone a variety of metamorphoses.5

    Granted, these kinds of changes might not be obvious to someone walking through the neighborhood. It might take actually going in and doing more in-depth analysis of the buildings themselves. In the end, for me, it was important to know about the urban fabric and history of Shahjahanabad even if I was not able to spend ample time there myself.

    India_Figure-3
    Figure 3. Jama Masjid (1644-1656), Shahjahanabad.

    These issues are the cursed part of taking a pre-arranged tour. The blessing is seeing countless (although singular) sites in one day. In Shahjahanabad we visited the Jama Masjid and Red Fort, two outstanding examples of monumental architecture of the former Mughal Empire. The use of red sandstone at Jama Masjid and the Red Fort would prove to be a common thread with architectural monuments throughout the region.

    The rest of the day tour included Humayan’s Tomb, the Lotus Temple, and Qutb Minar. All the sites were extremely impressive in their own ways, and we could have gone to more locations if we did not linger so long earlier in the day. The Humayan Tomb (1565-1572) complex was amazing. The title of the site only represents a fragment of the wonders situated there. One can get a sense of the growth of the complex, and see changes that come as a result of additions and subtractions. Some are drastic, like the wall that was blasted through to create an entrance to the Humayan Tomb portion of the complex.

    India_Figure-4
    Figure 4.  Isa Khan Tomb (1547-1548). Photograph illustrates recent restorative work done on building.

    One is greeted by the Isa Khan Tomb upon entering into the complex. It is located off to the right of the central walkway, though it predates the Humayan Tomb. The building is compact, the design is all encompassing. It truly represents what art historians would call a gesamtkuntswerk – if art historians chose to use the term for anything other than Western art and architecture. Isa Khan’s Tomb underwent major renovation with aid from the World Monuments Fund. This project built on a pre-existing public-private partnership between the Aga Khan Trust for Culture Urban Renewal Initiative, Archaeological Survey of India, Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. The work at the greater Humayan Tomb complex is significant enough that it should be followed over the next few decades. It is a great case study in public-private partnerships, preservation as a means for a larger urban renewal process (with a social equity factor and without the negative connotations that we have in the States), and craftsman training that spans different countries. It is also important as a shining example that history is not dead, and that solid “facts” may change. Archaeological work at the Isa Khan Tomb complex revealed a sunken garden, one that predates any others known in India, changing the chronology and evolution of the garden type.

    India_Figure-5
    Figure 5. Entering the Taj Mahal (1648) garden complex Agra.

    Before I embarked on this trip I always considered Mughal architecture to be typical of what one finds in the whole of India, more so than the Buddhist and Hindu shrines I had seen in central India. My mind’s eye envisioned all of India through an Indo-Islamic lens. My time in Delhi, Agra, and later on in Rajasthan, was rewarding in a sense that I was seeing things that looked familiar to me – especially the Taj Mahal. This is because if and when architectural surveys make a foray into Indian architecture, the Taj is the symbol celebrated as representative of India. What this trip showed me is that it is representative of a specific time and place in India. The diversity of the Indian subcontinent is overwhelming – the differences between the states and cities make India a powerful and compelling place to study not just Mughal architecture, but Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Rajput, Portuguese, and British.

    Princely Rajasthan

    Depending on how you choose to do the Golden Triangle it could be equilateral or obtuse. Equilateral = Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Obtuse includes the addition of Udaipur. After my time in Delhi and Agra I took a quick flight to Jaipur in the princely state of Rajasthan. I took a train from Jaipur to Udaipur, and then flew back to Delhi and off to Vietnam (more about Vietnam in my next post).

    India_Figure-6
    Figure 6. Golden Triangle Google Map. Clockwise from top: sites in Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Bottom left cluster of sites are located in Udaipur.

    Tourism in Jaipur and Udaipur was another well-oiled machine. Careful maintenance was evident in the City Palace (1729-1732). The complex housed several unobtrusive shops, and every detail in presentation was considered. The complex is managed by a trust that includes members of the royal family, and is used as both a museum and a residence.

    India_Figure-7
    Figure 7. Ridhi Sidhi Pol. Four gates that form the entrance to the inner courtyard that leads to Chandra Mahal in the City Palace, Jaipur. These gates represent the four seasons and various Hindu gods.

    Other major monuments of Jaipur are easy to reach by foot, so I visited the Jantar Mantar and Hawa Mahal the same day I visited City Palace. The city of Jaipur, the City Palace and the Jantar Mantar are carefully preserved testaments to the deep cultural and scientific interests of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, who founded the city in 1727. The layout of the streets of the old city of Jaipur was based on the Vastu Purusha Mandala, creating a grid-like pattern that is still evident in the historic center. The Jantar Mantar (originally Yantra Mantra, meaning Instruments and Formulae) in Jaipur is one of a set of five astronomical observation sites that Sawai Jai Singh created throughout India to act as:

    A meeting point for different scientific cultures, and [give] rise to widespread social practices linked to cosmology. [They were] also a symbol of royal authority, through [their] urban dimensions, [their] control of time, and [their] rational and astrological forecasting capacities.6

    The sculptural quality of the observatory in Jaipur is poetically evocative. Sculptor Isamu Noguchi visited both the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur and in Delhi in 1949 and 1960. The Isamu Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, New York, currently has an exhibit entitled “Noguchi as Photographer: The Jantar Mantars of Northern India” that highlights the sculptor’s photographs of these cosmological wonders. The show runs until May 31. It looks fascinating, and I hope SAH members in the area will take the time to visit the exhibit to see the complexes through the master sculptor's eyes.7

    India_Figure-8
    Figure 8. Screenshot of Isamu Noguchi Museum website.

    I also visited both the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur and Delhi. Since the modern city of Delhi grew around the Jantar Mantar complex it is easily overlooked, standing in the shadows of skyscrapers, markets, and the buzz of Connaught Place. The Jantar Mantar in Jaipur is better preserved due to its proximity to the royal enclosure. While it is easy to appreciate the observatories for their sculptural value, it is much more difficult to understand them for their scientific value. So much of the ancient practice of astronomy and observation has been lost to our culture, as we rely on our smart phones and hi-tech watches to tell us the time of day and to predict the weather, sunrise, sunset, and cycles of the sun and moon. Both observatory sites could benefit from multimedia interpretations to demonstrate how each of the various instruments within the complexes work.

    In all, the Golden Triangle does not disappoint. It is as romantic and magical as the advertisements proclaim. The realities of the growing metropolis of Delhi, however, are hard to ignore. At the same time that the countless public-private partnerships are improving the tourist experience in the city, there needs to be an even greater effort in abating the pollution and traffic issues that plague the city. There is no doubt that visitors to Delhi would spend more time, more money, and discover the “off the beaten path” sites in places like Shahjahanabad if a week in the city were more tolerable. But the concerns about the environment are not only about attracting tourists – they need to address the quality of living in the city in an inclusive manner for residents and visitors alike. In addition to the health concerns, the pollution creates a real threat to the vitality of the same cultural monuments the tourism board is trying to promote.

    H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Google Map

    Recommended Readings

    Salahudin Ahmed, “Jantar Mantar, Jaipur: Implementing the Management Plan,” Context: Building, Living, and Natural 10 no. 2 (Winter 2013/Spring 2014): 141-148

    Catherine B. Asher, “Jaipur: City of Tolerance and Progress,” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 37 no. 3 (2014): 410-430

    Balkrishna V. Doshi, “The City of Jaipur,” Architecture + Design 5 no. 2 (January/February 1989): 96-104

    Shuji Funo, Naohiko Yamamoto, and Mohan Pant, “Space Formation of Jaipur City, Rajasthan, India: An Analysis on City Maps (1925-28) made by Survey of India,” Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering 1 no. 1 (March 2002): 261-269

    Oleg Grabar, “From Dome of Heaven to Pleasure Dome,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 49 no. 1 (March 1990): 15-21

    John D. Hoag, “The Tomb of Ulugh Beg and Abdu Razzaq at Ghazni, A Model for the Taj Mahal,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 27 no. 4 (December 1968): 234-248

    Susan N. Johnson-Roehr, “Centering the Chrbgh: The Mughal Garden as Design Module for the Jaipur City Plan,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 72 no. 1 (March 2013): 28-47 

    Clay Lancaster, “A Critique on the Taj Mahal,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 15 no. 4 (December 1956): 7-11

    K. K. Muhammed, “World Heritage and Archaeological Excavations: Fatehpur Sikri,” Context: Building, Living, and Natural 10 no. 2 (Winter 2013/Spring 2014): 95-102

    Vikramaditya Prakash, “Between Objectivity and Illusion: Architectural Photography in the Colonial Frame,” Journal of Architectural Education 55 no. 1 (September 2001): 13-20

    Sugata Ray, “Colonial Frames, ‘Native’ Claims: The Jaipur Economic and Industrial Museum,” Art Bulletin 96 no. 2 (June 2014): 196-212

    Martin Reinhold, “Local Stone (A Fragment),” Architectural Design Special Issue: Made in India 77, no. 6 November/December 2007Kazi Ashraf, ed.: 56-59

    Siddhartha Sen, “Between Dominance, Dependence, Negotiation, and Compromise: European Architecture and Urban Planning Practices in Colonial India,” Journal of Planning History 9 no. 4 (2010): 203–231

    Jyoti P. Sharma, “Mughal Gardens of the Indian Subcontinent and the Colonial Legacy: The Treatment of Delhi's Shalamar Bagh,” Journal of Landscape Architecture 4 no. 2 (2009): 32-47

    Patwant Singh, “Sir Edwin Lutyens and the Building of New Delhi,” ICON (Winter 2002/2003): 38-43

    Giles Tillotson, “The Jaipur Exhibition of 1883,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Series 3, 14, 2 (2004), pp. 111–126


    1. INTACH Delhi Chapter, Rashtrapati Bhawan and the Central Vista (2012), 1.

    2. Aroon Purie, “From the Editor-in-Chief,” India Today (March 16, 2015)

    3. World Monuments Fund, Delhi Heritage Route website.

    4. Shu Yamane, Shuji Funo, Takashi Ikejiri, “Space Formation and Transformation of the Urban Tissue of Old Delhi, India,” Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering (November 2008): 217.

    5. Jyoti Hosagrahar, “Mansions to Margins: Modernity and the Domestic Landscapes of Historic Delhi, 1847-1910,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 60 no. 1 (March 2001): 42.

    6. UNESCO, Jantar Mantar website.

    7. Disclaimer: I am a huge Noguchi fan, I collected the postal stamps when they came out, and I would love to go to this exhibit myself but I can’t. PLEASE go for me! Whoever you are! And report back.

    Go comment!
  • Black Lives Matter

    By
    Meredith TenHoor and Jonathan Massey (Organizers)
     |
    Mar 10, 2015

    The Black Lives Matter dossier, published by the Aggregate Architectural History Collaborative, is edited by SAH members Jonathan Massey and Meredith TenHoor and includes essays from SAH members Amber Wiley, Michael Abrahamson, Dianne Harris, and Charles David II. Excerpt from the Introduction republished here with permission.

    What does it mean to put black lives at the center of our thinking about architecture and its history? On the Aggregate website, thirteen new essays by scholars, designers, students, and citizens address the Black Lives Matter movement through architectural and urban research. The edited collection diagnoses sources of violence, identifies forms of resistance, and reimagines Black aesthetics.

    Introduction: Black Lives Matter

    Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.

    —Alicia Garza, “A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement”1

    What does it mean to put Black lives at the center of our thinking about architecture and its history? How do architecture and urban design contribute to violence against black people? How can the tools and knowledge of our disciplines prompt change? Inspired by the scholars, activists, and everyday citizens who have spoken out, marched, and protested against police killings of African-Americans, we present this collection of short essays that directs architectural research to the Black Lives Matter movement.2

    Racism fundamentally shapes architectural and urban spaces. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ devastating Case for Reparations outlines the ways in which Black Americans have been dispossessed of land, excluded from homeownership, and impoverished by redlining and predatory lending from the Jim Crow era to the recent Great Recession.3 As Darnell Moore has argued, in cities ravaged by both predatory lending and gentrification, “Black people will continue to be treated as something other than human as whiteness continues to function as a sign for possession and asset.”4 One hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, houses and subdivisions remain architectural instruments in racialized practices of investment, financing, ownership, maintenance, monitoring, and tenancy. In these and other ways, architecture and urban design in the United States today too often support white supremacy, which we understand, following George Lipsitz, to include “a system for protecting the privileges of whites by denying communities of color opportunities for asset accumulation and upward mobility.”5

    These links between race and space have long been visible in lived experience, and they have been addressed in architectural scholarship.6 But as architect Mitch McEwen has argued, the necessity of an architectural critique of new forms of segregation became undeniably urgent after George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin in the Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated community in Sanford, Florida.7 Because they privatize formerly public functions and spaces, gated communities exemplify neoliberal approaches to housing, and some commentators were quick to identify their role in Martin’s death.8 Yet as McEwen and others have made clear, Martin’s death can not be pinned on form; rather, it must be understood as the result of intersecting spatial, legal, and social operations. Such violence against people of color requires architectural analysis, but architecture cannot account for it alone.

    After the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Kimani Gray, Tamir Rice, and too many others, the vulnerability long experienced by black people in public spaces challenged the legitimacy of the state, even for those protected by white privilege. Streets, sidewalks and playgrounds such as those where Brown, Garner, Gray, and Rice died are sites where racially-biased policing governs access to liberty and life itself. Over the past year, they have been reclaimed through demonstrations, die-ins, teach-ins, boycotts, Black brunches, and “Blackout Fridays.”9 These spaces have also become sites for design interventions that make sites of violence safe for people of all colors.

    While responses to this crisis of space and state can untangle, critique, and resist the conditions that have made Black life too precarious in the United States, recent protests and design projects make clear that architectural responses to the Black Lives Matter movement must also activate the aesthetic dimension of architecture, a dimension that offers resources to sustain alternative visions of Black life.10 This collection of brief essays thus comprise a mixture of aesthetic, critical, historical and theoretical analyses which we have grouped into three categories. The first essay group, Diagnosis: Policing and Incarceration, describes the architectural origins and human effects of racially-biased policing, the “school-to-prison pipeline,” and mass incarceration, identifying ways in which design has helped to create the present crisis. In Resistance: Rights to the City and Suburb, contributors outline forms of resistance developed by black people and their allies through activism, protest, research, and analysis. The third set of essays, Aesthetics: From Cities to Curricula, illuminates architectural practices that figure and reimagine Blackness through a variety of aesthetic, educational, and formal practices.

    When we put out our call for contributions, we aimed to highlight work underway on this topic, as well as to spur further scholarship and reflection on the biopolitical and architectural questions raised by the Black Lives Matter movement. Time was of the essence: We hoped that this writing might nourish political conversations, and that it could be used in seminars and teach-ins this spring semester. We are very grateful to all our contributors for putting this project on the front burner, and for writing and editing so quickly and diligently. As a result of their efforts, the work gathered here directs a wide range of scholarly and activist insights toward the present crisis. But it raises as many questions as it answers, and only begins to encompass the possible responses to the Black Lives Matter movement. We invite you to deepen the discussion by commenting on the work presented here using the links at the end of each essay. We also welcome further proposals for work in a variety of lengths and formats ranging from short photo, video, sound, or text essays to long-form scholarly articles for peer review.

    Continue reading at we-aggregate.org/project/black-lives-matter.

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