SAH Blog

  • Tahrir Square through Two Transitions by Khaled Adham

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    Feb 24, 2011

    “Massive demonstrations were organized,” writesFatemah Farag, “which included students marching from Giza to the center of Cairo. However, when the demonstrators reached the Square…four armed vehicles moved towards them and a barrage of machine-gun fire opened up. According to the most reliable estimate, 23 demonstrators were killed and some 120 injured. The government disclaimed all responsibility and blamed students for allowing their peaceful demonstrations to degenerate into violence because of infiltration by the riffraff.”

    No, this is not Tahrir Square in February 2011, the epicenter of the revolution that toppled the Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak’s regime earlier this month. It is Ismailia Square in February 1946, just a few years before it was renamed Tahrir Square. The demonstrators proclaimed it Evacuation Day, anticipating the departure of British forces occupying Egypt. According to a leaflet issued at the time, “the day was to make it clear to the British imperialism and to the world that Egyptian people have completed their preparation for active combat until the nightmare of imperialism that has crushed our hearts for 64 years has vanished.” Anti-Mubarak protesters evoked this history when they declared Friday 3 February the Day of Departure for the long-ruling president.

    Future urban historians will perhaps mark these two Februaries as signposts of transitions among three significant periods in the history of modern Egypt: Colonial, Postcolonial, and Post-Postcolonial periods. The square has witnessed more than a century-and-a-half of urban, cultural, and political history, and the transitions between these three eras played out within its bounds. Here are some scenes from this dense, intricate history.

    Early in the 19th century, during the colonial era, the area that would become Tahrir Square consisted of rough ground interspersed with marshes and ponds that were replenished with each summer flood. Toward the middle of the century, the scene began to change. Several royal palaces were constructed along the River Nile, with much of the land around them drained, filled, and planted. One of these was Qasr al-Nil. First used as a palace for the ruler, it was then retrofitted to serve as the Ministry of War. Eventually it came to serve as barracks housing the Egyptian army.

    The palaces set the pattern for further development in 1867 by Khedive Ismail, Egypt’s modernizing ruler during the 1860s and ’70s. Between 1867 and the turn of the 20th century, the square took much of its current urban form. In his love of urban embellishments, and in preparation for the opening of the Suez Canal, Ismail began to expand the city by building an entire new district on the medieval city’s western edge. This area, Ismailia, became Cairo’s European Quarter, now downtown Cairo.

    In order to carve out a large square that would function as a link, through Qasr al-Nil bridge, between the new district and the west bank of the Nile, or to Ismail’s palace in Giza and the newly constructed road to the pyramids, Ismail gave one of his palace gardens to the government. At that point, the new square, Ismailia Square, was nearly surrounded from all sides by military barracks, palaces, and villas. One new palace worth mentioning here is that of Ahmed Khairy Pasha, a complex that later became the Genaclis Cigarette factory, then Cairo University, and finally in 1919 the American University of Cairo.

    Although it was the largest square in Cairo, Ismailia Square was never considered the center of the city. This honor was reserved to ’Abdeen and Opera squares, one mile to the east and northeast of Ismailia, respectively. Indeed, Ismailia Square was associated with hated occupation and colonization, since the British troops had taken over Qasr al-Nil barracks as part of their conquest of the whole country in 1882.

    A new century brought new buildings. Designed by a French architect in a neo-classical style and marked as the first building in Egypt built with reinforced concrete, the Egyptian Museumopened its doors in 1902. This was followed by a series of apartment buildings replacing the villas that previously had flanked the square’s northern and eastern sides. The middle of the 20th century witnessed a few significant alterations. First, the Qasr al-Nil barracks were evacuated in 1947 and torn down in 1951 to make way for modern developments. Second, construction of Mogamma, a large administrative building designed by the Egyptian architect Kamal Ismail and given as a gift by the Soviet Union, was initiated in 1950.

    The year 1952 ushered in a new post-colonial era to Egypt. As if answering Henri Lefebvre’s prophetic observation that any revolution that has not produced new spaces “has not changed life itself but has merely changed ideological superstructures, institutions or political apparatus,” the revolutionary officers reinvented the square as the center for postcolonial Cairo, and they renamed it Tahrir, or Liberation, Square. Three buildings represented this new era: the Nile Hilton, designed by an American firm in 1958; the Arab League Headquarters, designed by the Egyptian architect Mahmoud Riad in 1964, and the Socialist Union Headquarters, which later housed the National Democratic Party (the party of Mubarak), and which burned during the recent uprising.  

    In the five ensuing decades, View Larger Map" target="_blank">Tahrir Square was a transportation hub, a governmental center, and a place for tourists. It also became a space for public expression, a place where demonstrations and funerals took place throughout the years. Physical alterations were limited to changes in landscape and the construction of underground garages and Metro station and tunnels. A recent visionary master plan for Cairo, however, revealed the intention of the Mubarak government to introduce changes that might have deprived the square of its centrality: relocating the Egyptian Museum to the Giza plateau and moving most of the governmental agencies to New Cairo.

    It is not clear whether any of these plans will unfold in the next few years, but recent events pose questions, among them: how will Cairenes reinvent Tahrir Square in the emerging post-postcolonial era? What new spaces of civic representation and civil society will emerge from the transition now underway?

    -- Khaled Adham

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  • Digital research tools by Morgan Ng

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    Feb 18, 2011

    I still distinctly remember a moment from my sophomore year of college when, peering through the university's library stacks, I was suddenly overcome by a sense of hopelessness. Each of the stacks' countless books, most now gathering dust, represented decades of scholarly labor. Reading them all would require many, many lifetimes to achieve. Even as historians continue to break into forgotten archives, leading technological innovators of our time have sought not only to add to this seemingly insurmountable glut of data, but also to equip us with tools for sorting through and making sense of it.

    The December 2010 issue of JSAH addresses this issue as it pertains to our discipline. Mario Carpo and Kazys Varnelis summarize the uses of Google Books, Google Images and Flickr for scholarly research. These discussions reflect a larger trend dubbed "digital humanities." What are some of the possible future developments in this field?

    Although proponents of digital humanities have long called for new ways of accessing texts, architectural historians also work with very different kinds of information: buildings, images, and objects. Google's text-based search functions, then, pose considerable limits to our object-based research. Nevertheless, the company has made efforts at refining the parameters of image searches. As Varnelis notes, searching "Villa Savoye" and setting the image type to "line drawing" yields not building photos but axonometric drawings, sketches and diagrams. Algorithms that detect images according to conventions of visual representation immediately turn up different--and potentially more useful--classes of images from those based on textual search terms alone.

    What if we bypassed text-based searches altogether? Typing ‘Mona Lisa' into a search box yields images of the painting. But what if someone found a picture file of the painting and wanted to identify it? What if a search engine allowed someone to upload the image and instead search "backward" for the painting's title, artist and production date? Such software is already available, just not yet in wide use.

    Flat objects like paintings are the easy part. Buildings, however, are dynamic spatial experiences, and every snapshot of these objects is different from another. Backward searches of this type are far more difficult. This difficulty extends to any object with multiple instantiations. If a biologist, for instance, uploads an image of a rare bird, can programmers develop software that identifies the species? (Think of the uses, for art historians with no training in botany, to identify painted flora!) Although, as Carpo points out, Google has eliminated text searches based on keywords (as found in conventional bibliographies), for now there seems no equivalent development for image databases. "Tagging" images by conventional or arbitrary categories remains the standard.

    Finally, I'd like to suggest that we need better digital architectural databases. While SAHARA is a step toward collecting digital information on buildings, the number of available images (10,000 at the outset, culled from powerhouse institutions) has a long way to go before it becomes useful for scholars working on specialized topics. That many historians, including myself, are far more likely to look through Google, Flickr and Wikipedia suggests that SAHARA's "members only" policy is ultimately a liability.

    This isn't just a utopian plea for democratic knowledge. It's a selfish proposal. In an age when every design student can whip up 3D models of buildings or GIS analyses in a matter of hours, SAHARA's collection is not just too small--it's outdated. How many students in their introductory digital drawing classes, I wonder, have built the same model of Villa Rotunda? And for each studio trip to Shanghai, Dubai and New York, the classes' careful photo documentation and digital site reconstructions become potentially powerful scholarly resources.

    What if our own databases included such objects as well? What if historians in architecture departments collaborated regularly with digital media instructors, so that each year of incoming students could learn the required software while constructing digital models useful for our research? On the other hand, scholars would use their expertise to vet such objects and help with matters of identification, and so forth.

    Almost fifteen years ago, Columbia University's art history department began a high-profile collaboration with the engineering school to launch public digital renderings of Amiens Cathedral, on the premise that digital modeling would offer fresh ways of analyzing a canonical structure. These are now everyday tools of the design student. If we pool join forces with architectural designers and enthusiasts--not just scholars--they might become equally commonplace for the historian.

     --Morgan Ng 

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  • Beirut's Contested Redevelopment by Nathaniel Walker

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    Feb 11, 2011

    Beirut is a city preceded by its reputation. Torn by years of civil and foreign war, it is haunted in international perception by the potential for continued strife to send the country back into a spiral of self-destruction.   When I learned that UC Berkeley’s IASTE (International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments) was holding one its amazing conferences in the city, and that its organizing theme—utopia and tradition—was right up my scholarly alley, I confess to feeling a twinge of ambivalence.   On the one hand, presenting at that conference and visiting the cosmopolitan capital of one of the world’s most historically complex nations struck me as the opportunity of a lifetime.   On the other hand, one of that nation’s prime ministers had been blown up relatively recently, and the announcement of the results of a UN tribunal expected to finger a powerful political party as the culprit were expected any day. Things could get dicey.

    Within a few hours of deplaning in the “Paris of the East,” however, I felt challenged to the point of amazement by how normal everything was. The occasional tank barrier, bullet-ridden façade, and Kalashnikov-toting soldier felt out-of-place in this city of friendly and open sidewalks, profuse Christmas decorations, Häagen-Dazs, KFC, and a multitude of well-heeled, fun-loving youngsters…a couple of whom I witnessed wading through throbbing Saturday-night automobile traffic on stilts.

    In one of the city’s central public spaces, the French Mandate Place d’Etoile—where only fifteen years ago tractor trailers had been rolled down the streets to create apocalypse-grade barricades that make revolutionary Paris look like Branson, Missouri—I heard church bells and a muezzin call to prayer erupt simultaneously, almost in harmony, while kids dashed about blowing bubbles and elderly couples cuddled amongst the café tables. It is easier to find a good warm meal, a genuine smile, and a crisp local beer in the wee hours of the night in Beirut than it is in Providence, where I live. Or most of Boston, for that matter.

    Of course, it also easier to find evidence of catastrophic artillery damage in Beirut than it is in Providence or Boston—but even this is changing. The city has been subject over the past few years to one of the most extensive redevelopment schemes I have seen. Shattered ruins are being replaced by gleaming new office buildings, many of them tall towers, or meticulous reconstructions of pre-existing traditional urban fabric.  A few old monuments have been lovingly restored, and a few new ones have been added, including a very nicely done new mosque interpreting the Ottoman style, courtesy of architect Azmi Fakhuri.  Roman ruins have been excavated and left exposed to create archeological parks and gardens. New souks—by Rafael Moneo, Rafic Khoury, and many others—glisten with diamonds and designer handbags, as well as a scale model of the new and improved downtown-in-the-making. Perhaps most touchingly, during all of this reconstruction the rubble left in the wake of the civil war was carefully pushed into the sea to make up the foundation for a new waterfront park and several blocks of harbor-lined real estate—truly a poetic statement of renaissance.

     Yet there is irony in that statement, as poetic as it might be. Beirut’s downtown redevelopment is being led not by the individual landowners who saw their city smashed into ruins twenty years ago, but rather by a single government-connected private company called Solidere, whose presence in the city has become so powerful that people have begun referring to the geographical center of Beirut simply asSolidere.

    The helping hand of this company has at times also been a heavy one. Downtown landowners are expected to sell to Solidere, and those who resist often find their properties intentionally cut off from the sea, canyonized by towers, or otherwise offended. And it seems that not all of the rubble making up the foundation of that new waterfront park needed to end up in the sea after all: a large number of the old buildings that were dusted up in the rubble of war could have been saved, some needing only minimal restoration and some requiring none at all. Instead, they were razed for convenience and profit under the cover of Solidere’s monopoly on “national healing.”

    To be fair, Solidere is not the only company tearing down Beirut’s beautiful, durable, unique, lovingly ornamented small-scale structures and replacing them with starkly anonymous office or condo towers. Such short-sighted profiteering has been happening all over the city, populating the streets of Beirut with parking ramps and blank walls and consequently leaving them less useful and less pleasant for locals and visitors alike. Many Beirutis have had enough: protesting the relentless spread of voluntarily ugly redevelopment, several groups have mobilized, including Save Beirut Heritage and APSAD, the Association for Protecting Natural Sites and Old Buildings in Lebanon. These architects and historians and concerned citizens have marched and petitioned decrying what they call the “Dubaification” of Beirut, even going so far as to produce a powerful TV spot that puts the façades and lifespans of lost buildings on gravestones, in a cemetery overshadowed by ominous condo towers. They eventually achieved a measure of support within the government. But in a tragic blunder, on the eve of their increasing power, a list of the buildings they hoped to save found its way into the hands of landowners. That night, it became a hit-list. A frenzy of demolition commenced.

    In the districts of Hamra and Gemmayze, the sidewalks buzz night and day, shops both large and small keep goodly hours, and Beirut lives a life defiant of both its tragic past and its uncertain future. In the parts of downtown where Solidere has done good or even great work, the core of a world city seems to be slowly coming back to life. One cannot help but be amazed at the sheer quantity of money that has poured into this town—the architecture says, both literally and figuratively, “Beirut is open for business!” This is a palpable testament to how much many of its residents and financiers long for lasting peace, for they up the stakes with every glassy façade.

    But the revitalized heart of the city cannot be seen as evidence of national healing—at least not yet—because it is not the product of neighborly reconciliation and cooperation among its previously diverse residents and landowners. It is the product of an almost autocratic authority, of usually benevolent but nonetheless monolithic power, and the methods have sewn new conflicts even as they repair the visible evidence of the old ones. At the heart of it all is a battle not merely for the remains of Beirut’s past, but for its present and future. As the city loses ever more human-scaled, ornate, durably built, memory-laden traditional architecture, it increasingly alienates many of its citizens, some of whom find that while they cannot bear the idea of waking up to renewed fighting in their city, they also despair at the increasingly tangible possibility that they will soon wake up to a city no longer worth fighting for. They are losing it, not one block at a time—as happened when the frontlines crept and groaned through the city during the civil war—but one building at a time.

    In the meantime, however, in much of the place, it is not hard to find comfort. In Beirut, comfort sometimes seems like a national sport: in the food, in the drink, in the small and great kindnesses of its people, and in the nooks and crannies where all the above come together. Beirut is a good city. May it outdo its deceptively simple reputation, now and forever—in Hamra, Gemmayze, and yes, even inSolidere.

    --  Nathaniel Walker

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  • ¡Coming attractions!

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    Jan 30, 2011

     Over the next week or two, this space will feature posts from some of our colleagues. Nathaniel Walker discusses the politics of demolition, preservation, and development in Beirut. Morgan Ng initiates a conversation about the evolution of digital research tools. Kate Holliday outlines the cultural landscape of the Kimbell Art Museum as it is transformed by the construction of a new building. 

    I hope that these three prove just the first of many new contributors. Please join the conversation! Comment. Forward to others. And consider how you might share your current research, teaching, reading, and thinking by spinning off a short text, some images, a news item, or a batch of links. Send me a note about what you'd like to contribute, and I'll be happy to help pull it together and put it up. 

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  • Postmodernism again: Goldhagen on Stirling at Yale by Jonathan Massey

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    Dec 27, 2010

     One of the most interesting developments in current        architectural scholarship is the emerging    reconsideration of postmodernism. Several recent  books by architects and scholars--ranging from  practitioners of architectural postmodernism to scholars  who began their training just as its influence was  waning--are reopening debate. While some of these  accounts reassert familiar positions, others are finding  in the buildings, ideas, and practices of the 1960s, '70s,  and '80s what Reinhold Martin describes as "new tools  for new problems."

    Architecture on the Edge of Postmodernism is an anthology of period essays by Robert A.M. Stern, one of postmodernism's leading architects and critics and now dean at the Yale School of Architecture. Architecture's Desire is Michael Hays's renewed assessment of touchstones among the "critical" practitioners of the 1970s. Jorge Otero-Pailosexamines the role of phenomelogy in authorizing aspects of postmodernism in Architecture's Historical Turn. Felicity Scott in Architecture or Techno-UtopiaReinhold Martin in Utopia's Ghost, and Pier Vittorio Aureli inThe Project of Autonomy trace new paths through the architecture of what we once called "late capitalism." Monographic studies of key figures are also beginning to appear.

    Archives new and old provide material for this work, and one is the James Stirling/Michael Wilford Archive at the Canadian Centre for Architecture. An exhibition of work from the archive, curated by Anthony Vidler, closes at the end of this week at the Yale Center for British Art before reopening at the CCA. Accompanying it is a show of work by architects who studied with Stirling at Yale. 

    There is much to say, in book and exhibition reviews, about the divergent readings developed in the new books and exhibitions--as well as about the institutional agendas that motivate and inflect them. As a start, take a look at the review of the Stirling exhibition that Sarah Williams Goldhagen has published in The New Republic.

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  • Flash park on Fayette Street by Jonathan Massey

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    Nov 22, 2010

    If you had driven down West Fayette Street in Syracuse on Sunday morning a few weeks ago, you would have passed the parking lot without noticing it. An expanse of cracking asphalt between former factories and half-occupied warehouses, it blended into the deindustrialized ambiance of this stretch bordering the train tracks. By day’s end the lot accommodated a verdant lawn punctuated by islands of wood decking with benches and a picnic table. A flash park had popped up in the Near Westside.

    This small-scale intervention keyed into a larger set of urban transformations in Syracuse and particularly in its Near Westside neighborhood. An article in the current issue of Metropolis reviews the “opportunistic urbanism” generated by coalitions among city government, local nonprofits, community groups, and Syracuse University, including its School of Architecture, where I teach and chair the Bachelor of Architecture program. Projects range from the creation of a transit and streetscape armature called the Connective Corridor to the renovation of abandoned buildings and the construction of new houses and institutional buildings.  

    These public-private partnerships dovetail with academic initiatives at the university such as community engagement courses, design-build studios, and conferences. Faculty and students have designed and built new houses, house renovations, warehouse conversions, streetscape improvements, and many other elements of urban transformation. At 601 Tully Street, for instance, art and architecture students are currently using Joseph Beuys’s principles of social sculpture to turn an abandoned house into an incubator for the art and entrepreneurship ideas of local high school students.

    The architecture school recently hosted “Formerly Urban,” a two-day conference on strategies of development and design in shrinking cities around the globe. Syracuse served as the model for the postwar American city in some of the 194X scenarios outlined by the architecture profession during World War II. In like fashion, the city is currently serving as one of the testbeds for redevelopment in the age of bigness and the generic city.  

    The culture of community engagement and revitalization now characterizes the architecture student organizations, too. The flash park on Fayette Avenue was built by students from architecture schools throughout the region during a conference hosted by the Syracuse chapter of the American Institute of Architecture Students. Inspired by Parking Day, they expanded the concept from a single space to a section of parking, as a way of culminating four days of lectures, panels, workshops, and site visits on the subject of reconfiguring the role of the architect in a more entrepreneurial and activist mode. The school’s AIAS chapter has also sponsored the design and construction of wheelchair ramps as part of its Freedom by Design initiative, as well as a project aiming to animate empty storefronts throughout downtown Syracuse. Last spring, a multicultural student group ran a symposium on architects working as activists in the developing world.

    Several of the students most deeply involved in student organizations have joined with others to test a new approach to the B.Arch thesis. Through linked blogs, joint reviews, and group meetings that run the gamut from exhilarating to exasperating, these ten students are trying to translate their activist energies and collaborative spirit into the culminating challenge of their professional degree program. With 194X as a half-conscious model, they are extrapolating Syracuse as a model for future architecture and urbanism. They call it Crisis City.

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  • Megastructure + monorail = LOMEX by Jonathan Massey

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    Nov 6, 2010

     It's 1970. We are standing several stories above        ground, taking in the panorama. Against the backdrop  of a distant skyline, three giant towers enclose a  precinct made up of pedestrian plazas and  automotive roadways. Cylindrical piers of striated  concrete support the buildings above ten stories of  open parking garage. Skybridges connecting the  towers to one another and to others beyond our field  of vision support diagonally tiered terraces. A few  stories below, an orangemonorail weaves through  the complex, its curves counterpointing the otherwise  boxy ensemble.

    This is a view into Lower Manhattan as imagined between 1967 and 1972 by Paul Rudolph in drawings and models for the Lower Manhattan Expressway, a modernist megastructure projected toward the end of the Robert Moses era. For another week or so, you can see it printed at large scale in an exhibit at the Cooper Union organized by the Drawing Center in collaboration with the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture. The show combines reproductions of Rudolph's drawings with a reconstruction by Cooper students of the giant model that Rudolph's office built to represent the project.

    On a recent visit, I marveled at Rudolph's distinctive forms and drawing methods--and also at the hubris of the Lomex proposition. The Moses plan, already long delayed and extensively challenged when Rudolph began his study, called for a large Y-shaped armature of expressways linking the Holland Tunnel to the Williamsburg and Manhattan Bridges. With the sponsorship of the Ford Foundation, Rudolph showed how the highway could feed a massive armature of towers containing mostly housing but also commercial and civic functions. At the central interchange, he projected a big city center with plinth, plaza, and a ring of towers such as those depicted in the panorama.

    File Lomex with other instances of bullets dodged. In its massive scale, heavyhanded treatment of context, and simplistic reliance on formal solutions, the project seems to epitomize the worst of modernist planning. Some of the areas spared from "renewal," such as SoHo, became centers of cultural innovation and economic activity even as Rudolph was elaborating the expressway project.

    But the exhibition is a welcome contribution to the emerging reassessment of urban renewal represented by the Robert Moses exhibition and book organized a few years ago by Hilary Ballon and Kenneth Jackson and reflected in the urban renewal sessions at the 2007 SAH annual convention in Pittsburgh.

    Revisionist research into modernist planning and architecture is timely, and not only for the usual reasons that motivate cycles of historical research, such as the generational shift from protagonists to their successors. It also responds the pressures of the rapid urbanization occurring around the globe. Population growth, accelerated urbanization, and the enormous capital accumulations of the 1990s and early 2000s have created a wave of urban expansions ranging from favelas and shantytowns to Masdar,Waterfront City, and other instant cities real or projected. Whether you consider them "evil paradises" or models for future emulation, these and other big projects have intensified demand for historical research into modernist urbanism.

    The new attention to urban renewal has already partially rehabilitated Moses for our post-Jane Jacobs era. Who knows? Given the contextualist sensibility that Tim Rohan has found in other Rudolph projects, it is possible that even Lomex will be redeemed by revisionist attention.

    --Jonathan Massey

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  • Energy histories from Buckminster Fuller to Tina Turner by Jonathan Massey

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    Oct 12, 2010

    Tonight is the first of the Underdome Sessions on energy and public life. This week and next, four interdisciplinary panels at Studio X in lower Manhattan explore the social and political dimensions of energy systems and their reform in the face of climate change. Mixing architecture with policy, history with futurology, and geodesics with other kinds of science fiction, the project points toward the growing body of architectural history research on energy and its biopolitics.

     

    These panels are organized by Erik Carver and Janette Kim as part of a New York Prize fellowship at the Van Alen Institute. They complement www.theunderdome.net , an architect's guide to competing energy agendas.

    Tonight's discussion of "Territory" asks what urban and regional patterns might emerge from changes in energy production, distribution, and regulation. On Thursday, panelists addressing "Power" consider the kinds of agency available to governments, corporations, organizations, and individuals in the restructuring of energy performance. Next week's panel on "Lifestyle" examines the political economy of energy consumption in questions of taste, aesthetics, and culture. Turning to "Risk," the final discussion asks how we should deal with uncertainty in setting priorities for energy reform.

    Along with economists, engineers, planners, policymakers, and advocates, the Underdome Sessions feature architects and architectural historians--among them Keller Easterling, Reinhold Martin, Michael Osman, Meredith TenHoor, Georgeen Theodore, June Williamson, and me. The project takes cues from the architectural history of energy reform, in particular the dome over Manhattan imagined fifty years ago by Buckminster Fuller and Shoji Sadao.

    For Carver and Kim, this unbuilt dome symbolizes the ways that energy management systems actually constitute architectures of civil society as they distribute investment and construct social spaces "underneath a more familiar cityscape." Inverting Fuller and Sadao's utopian figure so that it rhymes with Thunderdome, the gladiatorial cage at the heart of methane-fueled Bartertown in the third Mad Max movie, Carver and Kim hope to provoke combative debates about the energy regimes that undergird our lives. In project graphics, the hemispherical dome becomes a snowglobe encompassing alternative scenarios for architecture and urban life.

    Fuller and Sadao mingling with Master Blaster and Tina Turner--it's a heady mix. What do you bring to the Underdome? For just as architectural history informs contemporary policy debates, current concerns feed back into historical research. In the case of the panelists, this includes inquiries into suburbia, public housing, office buildings, resorts and retail chains, food markets, cold storage warehouses, Fuller domes, and more.

    I'm sure SAH members and our colleagues are working on a wide range of topics that address the biopolitics of energy. Tell us about the energy histories you are writing and reading.

    --Jonathan Massey 

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  • The Structure of Light: Richard Kelly and the Illumination of Modern Architecture Study Day, September 25, 2010

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    Oct 12, 2010
    by Claudia Ziegler

    I am a third year Ph.D. in architecture student at UCLA facing the critical task of defining my dissertation topic.  Even at this early stage, I know I am interested in the impact of environmental control systems on the design and cultural signification of architecture.  Therefore, I was thrilled to be awarded the Society of Architectural Historian’s “The Structure of Light: Richard Kelly and the Illumination of Modern Architecture” Study Day Fellowship.  The intensive study day, led by Dietrich Neumann, was comprised of two components: a guided tour through Neumann’s acclaimed exhibition at the Yale School of Architecture and a series of site visits to experience Kelly’s work first hand.

    —-

    The study day began at 1:00 PM with a tour of the exhibition “The Structure of Light: Richard Kelly and the Illumination of Modern Architecture,” in which Neumann summarized the history of lighting in architecture through a series of case studies.  Neumann began our tour by walking us through early examples of projects in which interiors were flooded with unrestrained light and the tops of skyscrapers beamed.  Then he presented a selection of Kelly’s 300 projects to illustrate how the refined use of light created unique environments and altered the forms of buildings.  Last, the tour of the exhibition concluded with Neumann walking us through a series of recently completed projects, in which the employment of light resulted in textured and/or interactive facades.  After making our way through the exhibition, we understood the conditions in which Kelly formed his career and subsequently impacted architectural design.

    Around 3:00 PM we took a break to enjoy coffee and the bird’s eye views of New Haven from the roof of the YSOA.

    By 3:30 we inspected the placement of lights and pipes throughout the distinctive, triangulated ceiling of the Yale Art Gallery’s lobby.  We learned the lighting system designed by Kelly incorporated lights, fabricated by Edison Price, that were tucked out of site in the floating tetrahedral ceiling.  However, since the original lighting design did not fill the gallery spaces or light the art as hoped, the system was replaced.  The current lighting scheme uses drop-down lights floating along tracks that are threaded through the ceiling hollows.

    At 4:15 we walked into the Yale Center of British Art.  As soon as we entered the lobby, I was stunned by the clarity of the diffused natural light that emanated from the rectangular grid of skylights.  Due to these natural light fixtures, the light remained even and vibrant (but never too strong) as we walked from the foyer into the galleries filled with exquisite paintings.  Kelly, in collaboration with Kahn, succeeded in using as much natural light as possible to fill the space without ever distracting the viewer from the collections with hotspots and shadows.

    At 6:30 we stepped onto Philip Johnson’s forty-seven acre residence in New Canaan.  Upon our arrival it was light outside.  As we processed through the landscape along the circular driveway, I was astonished by the size of the property and the diversity of architectural styles.  I never saw photographs of Johnson’s deconstruction meeting house, post-modern gate, library without even a path leading to it, chain-link tribute to Frank Gehry, or art and sculpture galleries.  As the sun set, my attention shifted from Johnson’s experiments in style to his Glass House.  The house literally transformed from being a single, open space partitioned from nature through the use of reflective glass to a series of small spaces designated by low pools of light.  What is more, the glass becomes truly transparent, to the point you can see through the building without the interference of reflections, only at night (as a matter of fact, I had to circle the house numerous times before I could find a single location in which I could catch my reflection).

    I failed to mention, we were sipping wine and toasting to Kelly as we were experiencing the glass house and its lighting…  as if it was not enough to be there after the sun set.

    Around 9:30 we arrived at the Four Seasons’ bar located within the Seagram Building in New York City.  Neumann was especially enthusiastic as he described Kelly’s contribution to the design of the lobby’s lighting and materials, as well as the atmospheric effects produced within the magical restaurant.  And of course we had to experience the bar firsthand, which is where the tour ended with many of the participants sipping cocktails in Kelly’s light.

    —–

    Having the privilege of participating in the study day provided me with an opportunity to both understand how other scholars are approaching questions concerning lighting systems as well as to acquire specific knowledge about the history of lighting in the United States.  Moreover, since ephemeral lighting effects are no doubt best understood through direct experience. Visiting the buildings on the tour enabled me to make direct observations about responsive lighting systems in action, to better understand their placement, the amount and type of light they produce, their effects on the use of space, the aesthetic of the lighting systems, and the light’s role in the construction of the gestalt architectural image.

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  • Welcome to the Blog!

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    Sep 3, 2010

    Welcome to SAH Communities: a group site open to members of the Society of Architectural Historians, SAH Chapters, and Affiliated Societies.

    The purpose of this site is to facilitate networking and discussion around architectural history and related topics. To this end, we created SAH Groups--an easy way to categorize the information or people you're looking for. Simply join the interest groups that you want to participate in to gain access to their discussion forums, file-sharing, member profiles, and resources. SAH Group activities are only seen by their members, while the SAH-wide "Communicate" tab provides space to communicate with all SAH Community members. This allows for the best of both worlds: a smaller interest-specific group as well as access to member-wide sharing.

    This section of the SAH Communities site is written by the SAH Officers.  Check back here on a regular basis to read SAH's perspective on what's happening now in architectural history and its related fields.

    Feel free to comment or discuss!

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  • Mexico City Modernism - Day 2 – August 5, 2010 – Historical Centre of the City

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    Aug 18, 2010
    by Amanda Delorey

    We begin our second day early, boarding the tour bus and driving down Reforma for a full day of walking around the historic centre of the city. We begin in the Alameda, an area that has been largely rebuilt since it was greatly damaged in the 1985 earthquake and thus offering an interesting mix of new and old buildings. We begin to see some recurring motifs in Mexican architecture: the serpent, the jaguar and, most notably, an eagle clutching a serpent that has landed on a cactus (mythology claims that the sight of this trinity was a sign to settle and the once nomadic Aztecs chose to build their capital, Tenochtitlan, now Mexico City’s historic centre, on this site).

    We first stop at Ricardo Legorreta’s Juarez Complex. Legorreta’s red and beige towers house the Superior Court of Justice of the Federal District and the Foreign Affairs Secretariat respectively. Walking into one of the complex’s more interesting interior courtyards, Plaza Juarez, I am surprised to see a large shallow pool filled with rust-coloured pyramids. The fountain, designed by artist Vincente Rojo, was part of a major revitalization project for this part of the city after the Earthquake and reveals an ongoing interest in staying connected with the city’s historical past.

    Vincent Rojo, fountain for Plaza Juarez (2003)

    Ricardo Legorreta, Juarez Complex (2003)

    As we approach Manuel de la Colina and Augusto H. Alvarez’s Torre Latinoamericana (1956), I am immediately reminded of Manhattan’s skyscrapers. The glazing and form of this structure set it apart from surrounding buildings; though only 44 stories, it is much taller than any other structure in Mexico City’s historic centre and it was, for a period, the tallest building in Latin America. Engineers Leonardo and Adolfo Zeevaert planned for the structure to stand on steel beams in a foundation forty-four feet below ground – a necessary precaution. The building stood up to the 1985 earthquake while surrounding structures were destroyed.

    Manuel de la Colina and Augusto H. Alvarez, Torre Latinoamericana (1956)

    Though there is a lower enclosed viewing area, the tower’s outdoor observation deck sits on the top floor of the building and offers an impressive 360-degree view of the city. The aerial view reveals many red rooftops and offers insight into the scale of many the city’s popular landmarks, such as the large Plaza de la Constitución, more commonly known as the Zócalo, and the massive Tlatelolco housing project.

    View from Torre Latinoamericana, Mario Pani's Tlatelolco housing complex begins with pyramidal tower in the distance and ends outside of the image

    View from Torre Latinoamericana, Zócalo in center

    View from Torre Latinoamericana

    Walking through the city centre, it becomes clear as to why Mexico City was known as the “city of palaces.”  We pass by numerous heavily decorated facades of private residences, commercial buildings or converted gallery spaces, which reveal the eclectic nature of palatial architecture during the first quarter of the 20th century in Mexico City. The palatial structures seem crowded in the busy streets as previously empty areas have now been built up.

    Francisco Guerrero y Torres, Casa del Marqués de Jaral Barrio, or Palacio de Iturbide (1779)

    The view entering the Zócalo is partly marred by a festival that has overtaken the immense space with booths, stages and unsightly blow-up sculptures for children. Nonetheless, the scale of the site is felt as we look around at the landmarks flanking the plaza: the National Palace, the old Ayuntameinto (Town Hall) building, and the massive Metropolitan Cathedral – the largest in the Americas. The Zócalo is also a popular site for political protests given the location and proximity to important civic structures.

    Claudio Arciniega, The Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption (began in 1573, with many significant alterations over the centuries)

    Organ inside the The Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption

    Interior of the The Metropolitan Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption

    We enter the National Palace to see an important fresco by Diego Rivera, The History of Mexico (1929-1935). Covering a massive staircase leading to the palaces upper levels, the fresco is impossible to miss, nor is the political message, which depicts the Rivera’s vision of the past, present and future of Mexico City from a revolutionary and nationalistic point of view. Rivera depicts the champions of his city’s history: Aztec warriors in Jaguar costumes fight iron-clad Spanish invaders; modern workers hold a copy of Marx’s Capital.

    Inner Courtyard, Palacio Nacional

    Detail of Diego Rivera's History of Mexico (1929-35)

    Detail of Diego Rivera's History of Mexico (1929-35)

    The Palacio de Minería (1797-1813) was designed by Manuel Tolsa for the Royal Mining Office and engineering school and is an early indication of a move towards French-inspired architecture. An international classicism is evident in the austere interior with exact proportions and a masterful us of light and space and this spoke of the city’s growing wealth and permanence.

    Manuel Tolsa, The Palacio de Minería (1797-1813)

    Interior, Manuel Tolsa, The Palacio de Minería (1797-1813)

    Interior, Manuel Tolsa, The Palacio de Minería (1797-1813)

    Interior, Manuel Tolsa, The Palacio de Minería (1797-1813)

    The Postal Palace is a stunning structure, like many other palatial structures in the historic centre, but with an interesting mix of architectural styles from Islamic forms to Tudor gothic, which I learn is a rare instance of the plasteresque revival, a highly decorated Spanish architecture of the 16th century drawing on numerous influences. Despite the fantastic exterior, I was unprepared for the building’s interior: it felt as though I had entered a living palace, light reflects off of golden walls and marble staircases lead up to open hallways covered by a gigantic domed skylight. This building, once intended to wow visitors and announce the city’s prosperity still does so very successfully.

    Adamo Boari, Postal Palace (1902-07)

    detail, Adamo Boari, Postal Palace (1902-07)

    Interior, Postal Palace

    Interior, Postal Palace

    In 1919, pharmacy and restaurant chain Sanborn’s acquired the famous Casa de los Azulejos. We stop into this building covered in painted blue tiles for a drink and we are amazed that the detail on the exterior is continued inside. The first staircase houses a mural by José Clemente Orozco, Omniscience (1925), and from above we are able to look down into the central dining room. Overwhelming amounts of decoration coat the walls, floors and ceilings while plants, hanging lamps, fountains, and light beaming in from stained-glass windows fill any remaining spatial voids.

    Casa de los Azulejos (Sanborn's)

    Orozco's Omniscience (1925), interior of Sanborn's

    Interior, Sanborn's

    To finish this extensive walking tour, O’Rourke leads us to the Palacio Bellas Artes. The exterior, designed by Adamo Boari and begun in 1905, was not completed until 1932-34 under Federico Mariscal due to the country’s Revolution. President Porfirio Diaz (in office 1884 – 1911) believed that his country’s architectural progress required alignments with European standards of the time and this had a visible impact on early twentieth century Mexican architecture; Western European, most often Parisian, architects were employed to design a ‘civilised’ Mexico using neoclassical architecture. The exterior of the Palacio Bellas Artes reveals a Porfirian tendency towards the French style popular in the part of the early 20th century, however the art nouveau exterior still incorporates Mexican motifs. The interior, designed by Mariscal, is quite different. Dark pink, white and black marble are used to create the art deco space that houses some of the most important murals of Mexico’s top three: Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco.

    Adamo Boari/Antonio Muñoz García/Federico Mariscal, Palacio Bellas Artes (1905-1934)

    Detail of serpent and jaguar, Palacio Bellas Artes

    Federico Mariscal, Interior of the Palacio Bellas Artes (1932-1934)

    Federico Mariscal, Interior of the Palacio Bellas Artes (1932-1934)

    David Alfaro Siqueiros, New Democracy (1945) in Palacio Bellas Artes

    Detail, Orozco, Catharsis (1934) in Palacio Bellas Artes

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  • Mexico City Modernism - Day 1

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    Aug 18, 2010
    by Amanda Delorey

    Ricardo Legorreta, Camino Real Polanco (1968)

    I will begin my recap of our fantastic week in Mexico City by introducing myself: I am a PhD student at The Courtauld Institute of Art in London, UK, studying with Dr. Julian Stallabrass and my thesis topic is currently titled The People v the State: Housing Architecture in Mexico City from Modernism to Contemporary Practices. In short, I am looking at modernist social housing projects in Mexico City in comparison with contemporary projects, while taking into consideration the massive amounts of squatter settlements and self-built homes in the city. When I first heard about SAH’s study tour in Mexico City, I was excited about the prospect of an intensive week-long tour of the city led by an expert in the field and, looking back at the amount of ground we covered and the people I met along the way, I realize how truly lucky I was to have won this amazing fellowship.

    Kathryn O’Rourke’s Mexico City tour, as promised, focused on modern and contemporary architecture, with a few detours along the way towards older buildings and sympathetic arts, significantly Mexican muralism, which played a vital role in the development of Mexican modernist architecture. The tour also examined the changing face of the city, characterized by massive growth and urban development, and the rich social and political history of the country’s capital. The dualistic nature of Mexican modernism was addressed by contrasting buildings designed to facilitate societal transformation with those tending to eschew that role. We visited well-known sites as well as structures that were new to me, which was quite exciting, and sites that would have been very difficult to get into alone. The tour offered an excellent first-hand introduction to Mexican modern and contemporary architecture for the novice and enthusiast alike.

    Flying into Mexico City is both frightening and awe-inspiring: where does an airport fit into this endless cityscape?! Arriving at Ricardo Legorreta’s Polanco hotel for the Camino Real Hotel chain, I am stuck by the hotel’s brilliant gridded pink gate, yellow façade and the churning pool that greets us. I had hoped the hotel was only the first instance of many dramatic buildings to come over the week and, as you will see, I was hardly disappointed. This use of vibrant colour in Mexican architecture as well as striking geometric compositions would be a regular sight along our tour, most notably in the numerous Luis Barragán structures that we were able to walk through.

    Ricardo Legorreta, Camino Real Polanco (1968)

    After meeting in the shockingly blue lobby bar of our hotel (the following photo was taken later at night), our group set out for a walking tour of the Polanco neighbourhood, an upscale residential area west of the city center. Leaving the hotel, we head west on Campos Eliseos and pass by Chapultepec Park, a centuries-old massive green space that has long been a landmark in the city.

    Ricardo Legorreta, Interior of Camino Real Polanco (1968)

    Chapultepec Park

    The first two buildings we look at are designed by Cesar Pelli: two 31-story condominium skyscrapers, or the Twin Towers of Polanco, and the Coca-Cola’s 13-story North Latin American Headquarters. All three curvilinear buildings feature bands of windows; the towers’ windows alternate with orange terrazzo panels that are decorated with small bands of Mexican red tiles and the Coca-Cola building uses Brazilian green granite.

    Cesar Pelli, twin tower condominium skyscrapers (1995-96)

    Cesar Pelli, detail of condominium skyscraper (1995-96)

    Cesar Pelli's Coca-Cola's North Latin American Headquarters (1995-96)

    Walking along the more commercial Presidente Masaryk Avenue, we see contemporary buildings such as TEN Arquitectos’s Hotel Habita. The luxury hotel is clad in sheets of frosted glass typical of contemporary design of the past decade, which seems to mask the building’s use.

    TEN Arquitectos, Hotel Habita (2000)

    We then walk by various California Colonial Style homes built in the 1930s, which have, O’Rourke points out, earned a heartfelt place in the city’s architectural history despite their gauche nouveau-riche origins. These homes, based on those seen in Hollywood movies of the time, employ extensive ornamentation based on 18thcentury baroque architecture.

    California Colonial Style House in Polanco

    California Colonial Style House in Polanco

    Detail of California Colonial Style House in Polanco

    Indicative of the city’s rich architectural history, Polanco’s eclectic mix of styles also includes various Art Deco buildings. Characteristic rounded corners and streamlined design are visible in various cafés and also in entering the Pasaje Polanco courtyard, a residential and commercial complex that combines Art Deco and colonial-revival styles.

    Art Deco Apartment Building in Polanco

    Francisco Serrano, Pasaje Polanco (1940)

    Approaching Leonardo Noriega’s Church of San Augustín (c. 1949-1958), most tour members are taken aback at the “oddest church in Mexico.” References to Byzantine, gothic and baroque architecture make the church difficult to place historically.

    Leonardo Noriega, Church of San Augustín (c. 1949-1958)

    Leonardo Noriega, Interior of the Church of San Augustín (c. 1949-1958)

    Juan Sordo Madaleno’s nearby church dedicated to St. Ignatius Loyola (1961-62) is a small and starkly triangular-shaped building that grows surprisingly larger as you enter the glowing interior space enhanced by the enormous stained glass window seen on the building’s facade.

    Juan Sordo Madaleno, Church of St. Ignatius Loyola (1961-62)

    Juan Sordo Madaleno, Interior of Church of St. Ignatius Loyola (1961-62)

    Juan Sordo Madaleno, Interior of Church of St. Ignatius Loyola (1961-62)

    Directly across the street is a building by Sordo Madaleno’s son, Javier, of Sordo Madaleno Architects. The Palacio de Hierro department store (1997) directly references Sordo Madaleno’s church.

    Javier Sordo Madaleno, Palacio de Hierro department store (1997)

    As a great end to our first day, we enjoyed dinner together at Izote de Patricia Quintana, a contemporary Mexican/Southwestern fusion restaurant that was, for me, one of the best meals of the trip.

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  • Mexico City Modernism - Day 7 – August 10, 2010 – Santa Fe, Barragán, O’Gorman and a Word of Thanks!

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    Aug 10, 2010
    by 

    Amanda Delorey

    We begin our final day with a trip out to Santa Fe, a corporate area that is neither pedestrian nor photographer friendly! It is quite different from the Mexico City that I am familiar with. The buildings are massive and it is clear that it is a newer development based on the predominance of contemporary structures: Teodoro González de Leon and J. Francisco Serrano designed the Torres Arcos Bosques II (2008), which is amusingly called ‘los pantalones’; Agustin Hernandez’s radical Corporativo Calakmul (1994) looks like a gigantic washing machine; side by side buildings, Aurelio Nuño’s IBM Building (1995-97) and Gustavo Echelmann and Gonzalo Gomez Palacios, Edificio Bimbo (1991-93) offer contemporary takes on the block tower.

    Teodoro González de Leon and J. Francisco Serrano, Torres Arcos Bosques II (2008)

    Agustin Hernandez, Corporativo Calakmul (1994)

    Landscape, Agustin Hernandez, Corporativo Calakmul (1994)

    Aurelio Nuño, IBM Building (1995-97)

    Gustavo Echelmann and Gonzalo Gomez Palacios, Edificio Bimbo (1991-93)

    Highway leaving Santa Fe

    We are fortunate enough to tour a private home designed by Luis Barragán in los Jardines del Pedregal. Casa Prieto López (1950) is painted a vivid rust colour, less for one pink garage wall and the spaces inside the house are composed of the now familiar arrangement of geometric volumes. The entire interior, down to the furniture, paintings and even decorative bowls is designed or carefully selected and arranged by the architect, another incidence of Barragán’s controlling nature.

    Exterior street space, Luis Barragán, Casa Prieto López (1950)

    Front Facade, Luis Barragán, Casa Prieto López (1950)

    Backyard of upper level, Luis Barragán, Casa Prieto López (1950)

    Gardens, Luis Barragán, Casa Prieto López (1950)

    Backyard of lower level, Luis Barragán, Casa Prieto López (1950)

    Window Detail, Luis Barragán, Casa Prieto López (1950)

    Window Detail, Luis Barragán, Casa Prieto López (1950)

    Barragán, a devout Catholic, built the Capuchin Convent at Tlalpan (1953-60) as a donation to the nuns. The chapel space, which we were unable to photograph, is one of the most striking of Barragán’s interiors: the angular double height room is painted in vivid pink and golden hues of light from two large stained glass windows paint the walls. Three large Matias Goeritz paintings decorate the altar space.

    Luis Barragán, Capuchin Convent at Tlalpan (1953-60)

    Interior Courtyard, Luis Barragán, Capuchin Convent at Tlalpan (1953-60)

    Interior Courtyard, Luis Barragán, Capuchin Convent at Tlalpan (1953-60)

    Juan O’Gorman’s Rivera/Kahlo Studio and House (1931-32) is primarily composed of two buildings, a larger red and white building and a smaller blue building, which are attached by a rooftop bridge. The larger building is understood to be Diego Rivera’s and the smaller building, Frida Kahlo’s suite, recalls the artist’s childhood home, La Casa Azul, however it is likely that the larger structure served as studio and gallery with the smaller one reserved for domestic use. Visibly influenced by Le Corbusier’s ideas, O’Gorman’s Rivera/Kahlo Studio and House features glazed walls, spiral staircases and is partially raised on pilotis. However, local touches, such as the vivid exterior colouring and a cactus fence make the studio/house a uniquely Mexican modernist building.

    Juan O`Gorman, Rivera/Kahlo Studio and House (1931-32)

    Juan O`Gorman, Rivera/Kahlo Studio and House (1931-32)

    Juan O`Gorman, Rivera/Kahlo Studio and House (1931-32)

    Rooftop Patio, Juan O`Gorman, Rivera/Kahlo Studio and House (1931-32)

    Rooftop Patio, Juan O`Gorman, Rivera/Kahlo Studio and House (1931-32)

    Rooftop Patio, Juan O`Gorman, Rivera/Kahlo Studio and House (1931-32)

    Interior Studio/Gallery Space, Juan O`Gorman, Rivera/Kahlo Studio and House (1931-32)

    I would like to offer a few words to express my sincere gratitude for being awarded this amazing fellowship. SAH offers an incredible opportunity for graduate students to pursue on-site research and the financial support from general members for this fellowship is an incredibly generous act. As a PhD student studying Mexican architecture this study tour has been invaluable to my own work and has certainly offered me more in depth knowledge about the city and its many neighbourhoods. A huge thank you goes to Kathryn O’Rourke for planning the tour and preparing the extensive course notes, this has only made my interest in Mexican architecture grow. Thanks also go to SAH representative Abigail Van Slyck and tour coordinator Sinead Walshe for keeping our tour organized and keeping our group together!

    Finally, I would like to thank the tour members: Lee Altmayer, John Arbuckle, Judith Auchincloss, Ronald Beyer, Ken Breisch, Lambert Giessinger, Kim Hoagland, Julie Jones, Nancy Kent, Karen Kingsley, Gail Littlefield, Richard Longstreth, Naomi Miller, Maurice Nieland, Sue Nieland, Dietrich Neumann, Doris Power, Gretchen Redden, William Stern, Marilyn Symmes, D’juro Villaran-Rokovich, Joyce Walker, Carol Willis and Mark Willis. I enjoyed meeting and getting to know each of you and learning about your own fascinating research and work! You made this trip memorable and I look forward to meeting up again soon.

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  • Mexico City Modernism - Day 6 – August 9, 2010 – Across the City

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    Aug 9, 2010
    by 

    Amanda Delorey

    Today we cover a lot of ground – travelling to far points in the city to see some of the hard to reach sites. We started out by stopping off at the Towers of Satellite City designed by Matias Goeritz and Luis Barragán for Mario Pani’s Cuidad Satélite, a suburb built outside of the city’s centre.

    Matias Goeritz and Luis Barragán, Towers of Satellite City (1957-58)

    Mexico City’s Bacardi Plant houses some attarctive modernist structures. The Bacardi Administration Building is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s sole structure in Mexico. The building is composed of a largely glass box on top of a smaller one supported by two cruciform columns and four piloti on each end. The interior has no partitions and features two stairwells leading up to the upper balconied floor. Félix Candela’s bottling plant employs the architect’s characteristic shell  structure in the plant’s three hyperbolic groin vaults.

    Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Bacardi Administration Building (1958-61)

    Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Bacardi Administration Building (1958-61)

    Interior, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Bacardi Administration Building (1958-61)

    Félix Candela, Bacardi Bottling Plant (1958-61)

    Interior, Félix Candela, Bacardi Bottling Plant (1958-61)

    Interior, Félix Candela, Bacardi Bottling Plant (1958-61)

    Interior, Félix Candela, Bacardi Bottling Plant (1958-61)

    Interior, Félix Candela, Bacardi Bottling Plant (1958-61)

    We then visit various Barragán structures that offer excellent examples of the architect’s landscape design in the Los Clubes neighbourhood, which is a Barragán development from 1961-72. A fountain at the entrance to the development, which is turned off when we visit as it is the rainy season, is done in bright pink and rust coloured sculptural slabs. The San Cristóbal Stables is designed in a very similar style: thick pink concrete walls house the various structures and a similar fountain extends over a shallow pool.

    Luis Barragán, Los Clubes Development Fountain (1961-72)

    Luis Barragán, Los Clubes Development Fountain (1961-72)

    Luis Barragán, San Cristóbal Stables (1967-68)

    Luis Barragán, San Cristóbal Stables (1967-68)

    Luis Barragán, San Cristóbal Stables (1967-68)

    Matias Goeritz’s El Eco (1952-53) is an experimental museum of interesting proportions that exemplifies his idea of “Emotional Architecture” that we learn is actually a reaction against the prevalence of muralism and International Style modernism in Mexico City.  The walls of this exhibition space slope on very slight angles and floor boards sometimes follow the angles of hallway spaces, physically receding into space as thought the hallway were much longer, in order to offer a more spiritual experience to the visitor.

    Matias Goeritz, El Eco (1952-53)

    Interior, Matias Goeritz, El Eco (1952-53)

    Interior, Matias Goeritz, El Eco (1952-53)

    Interior, Matias Goeritz, El Eco (1952-53)

    We finally stop off at the Electrician’s Syndicate Building to see an impressive David Alfaro Siqueiros mural, Portrait of the Bourgeoisie (1939), which fills an entire stairwell. The mural was executed by the artist and a large team of painters – unfortunately his collectivist ideas did not fully succeed as the mural is widely recognized as his own work.

    Detail, David Alfaro Siqueiros and others, Portrait of the Bourgeoisie (1939)

    Detail, David Alfaro Siqueiros and others, Portrait of the Bourgeoisie (1939)

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  • Mexico City Modernism - Day 5 – August 8, 2010 – Schools

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    Aug 8, 2010
    by 

    Amanda Delorey

    Mario Pani, Enrique del Moral and Salvador Ortega Flores, Torre de la Rectoría (1952)

    For the fifth day of the tour the sites we visited were among my favourites of the trip. We walked through two school sites, the Universidad Nacional Autónomo de México (UNAM) campus and then Centro Nacional de los Artes.

    Grounds at UNAM

    The UNAM campus is an exceptional site for both individual buildings and total plan – I am immediately reminded of the ordered grid at Teotihuacán yet the campus seems to simultaneously follow a whimsical order. Carlos Lazo led a team of architects, building the campus between 1950 and 1954, using a plan designed by Mario Pani and Enrique del Moral. Although the campus’s buildings were designed by a range of individual architects, the buildings largely reference the language of International Style modernism and the many murals do an excellent job of uniting the buildings as a whole. The Torre de la Rectoría (1952) designed by Mario Pani, Enrique del Moral and Salvador Ortega Flores features three murals by David Alfaro Siqueiros and presents alternating bands of glass and coloured steel, which are repeated in many of the surrounding buildings.

    Mario Pani, Enrique del Moral and Salvador Ortega Flores, Torre de la Rectoría (1952), mural by Siqueiros

    Mario Pani, Enrique del Moral and Salvador Ortega Flores, Torre de la Rectoría (1952)

    David Alfaro Siqueiros, El Pueblo a la Universidad, la Universidad al Pueblo (1952) on the Torre de la Rectoría

    Siqueiros, Las fechas de las historia de Mexico (1952-1956)

    Juan O’Gorman’s Central Library (1952) is completely covered with a highly detailed tile mural, with motifs from Mexican history to astronomy, designed by the architect himself. The entrance face resembles the pre-conquest god Tlaloc that is known for the characteristic googly eyes.

    Tour members in front of Juan O'Gorman's Central Library (Photo: Abigail Van Slyck)

    Juan O'Gorman, Central Library (1952)

    Juan O'Gorman, Central Library UNAM (1952)

    Juan O'Gorman, Central Library UNAM (1952)

    Félix Candela and Jorge Gonzales Reyna’s Pabellón de Rayos Cósmicos (1951) seems almost diminutive amongst the towering International Style buildings that surround it. The single story building has a red shell roof that is a hyperbolic vault and it stands off the ground on sympathetically curved concrete legs.

    Félix Candela and Jorge Gonzales Reyna, Pabellón de Rayos Cósmicos (1951)

    Félix Candela and Jorge Gonzales Reyna, Pabellón de Rayos Cósmicos (1951)

    The facade of Teodoro González de León’s Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo (2008) is heavily glazed and inclined at 45 degrees. The lobby is a double height space that is naturally lit by large panes of glass at the sides and above on the ceiling.

    Teodoro González de León, Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo (2008)

    Interior, Teodoro González de León, Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo (2008)

    The Centro Nacional de los Artes, which was built to revitalize arts education in Mexico City, was planned and largely designed by Ricardo Legorreta, including all of the outdoor spaces. His bright orange buildings dominated the campus along with one striking cylindrical purple tower.  The complex as whole resembles a central spine that houses interesting contemporary buildings along its narrow path. The bright orange structures contrast nicely with the geometrical grey concrete facade of Teodoro González de León’s Escuela Superior de Música (1994).

    Ricardo Legoretta, Centro Nacional de los Artes (1994)

    Ricardo Legoretta, Centro Nacional de los Artes (1994)

    Ricardo Legoretta, Centro Nacional de los Artes (1994)

    Teodoro González de León, Escuela Superior de Música (1994)

    Luis Vicente Flores’s Escuela Nacional de Danza Clásica y Contemporánea (1994) merges seamlessly into Legoretta’s landscape. The structure is composed of a mixture of shapes that use concrete and steel frame structures to support the principally glass walls. The effect is almost entirely transparent building.

    Luis Vicente Flores, Escuela Nacional de Danza Clásica y Contemporánea (1994)

    TEN Arquitectos’s Escuela Nacional de Arte Teatral (1993) has a large shell form covering the interior spaces – both closed off areas and open air terraces of various volumes – that creates a pleasantly calm acoustic space.

    TEN Arquitectos, Escuela Nacional de Arte Teatral (1993)

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  • Mexico City Modernism - Day 4 – August 7, 2010 – Scale

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    Aug 7, 2010
    by

    Amanda Delorey

    Teotihuacán

    Teotihuacán

    Our fourth day offers us some of the most exciting sites of the trip – as O’Rourke put it, “This day is definitely about scale!” Our first site of the day is the ancient city of Teotihuacán, which was at its pinnacle around 400-550 CE with around 125,000 people – making it one of the largest cities in the world. Spared by the Spanish as a non-threatening site, the ruins have survived quite well and offer amazing insight into the urban planning and scale of this ancient city.

    Teotihuacán

    Teotihuacán

    Teotihuacán

    Teotihuacán

    The two largest structures, the pyramid of the sun and the pyramid of the moon, are placed along a long north-south street that contains many recessed spaces, like shallow inverted pyramids to walk through. It is amazing to walk along this street and as we approach the sun pyramid it becomes clear just how tall this thing is (my vertigo and fear of heights is setting in but I have some morale to help me do it – thanks John!). The views from above are spectacular and offer a different take on the scale of this site, in particular the harmonious grid arrangement of the city. The Pyramid of the Moon, though shorter, involves a much steeper climb. The pay-off is, again, well worth it! A view straight down the Avenue of the Dead reveals the advanced architectural and urban planning of those who built the city.

    View from Pyramid of the Sun

    View from Pyramid of the Sun

    View from Pyramid of the Sun

    View from Pyramid of the Moon, Avenue of the Dead in center

    View from Pyramid of the Moon

    Stairs of the Pyramid of the Moon

    Lunch in a grotto nearby Teotihuacán!

    After lunch, we stop by the Villa de Guadalupe to see three significant religious structures (colonial and modern) and the most important site of pilgrimage in the Americas. José Durán and Pedro de Arrieta’s Basilica Vieja (1709) and Pedro Ramírez Vázquez,  José Luis Benlluire and Gabriel Chávez’s new basilica (1976) stand adjacent to each other on a corner of the Plaza de las Americas. Inside the new basilica the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe sits above the altar.

    Plaza de las Americas

    Interior, Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, José Luis Benlluire and Gabriel Chávez's new Basilica (1976)

    Our last stop of the day was Mario Pani’s Tlatelolco housing complex. I am very interested in this site for my research and had been looking forward to walking through the massive complex to get a sense of the scale, however we got rained out shortly after we arrived! I will definitely be back in the new year and will post additional photos to SAHARA.

    Mario Pani's Tlatelolco Housing Complex (1962-64)

    Pani proposed a plan that would displace the existing populations and rebuild a very different space in which the ratio of built space to open, free space would be inversed. Massive multifamiliares would house all of the necessary services within the buildings and, in the company of 1000 rather than the previous 500 inhabitants per hectare, there would actually be a substantial increase to living space due to Pani’s building upwards. Pani’s Conjunto Urbano Nonoalco-Tlatelolco, for 100,000 inhabitants, spanned an immense block of land sympathetic to the existing layout of the city, but separated into three macro-blocks that looked radically different from the adjacent neighbourhoods. The housing project has no roads, apart from the three major streets crossing the width of the mega-block and a few short paths into parking lots; viewed from above, the complex is isolated visually from its surroundings by its rich green colouring and lack of structural density.

    Mario Pani's Tlatelolco Housing Complex (1962-64)

    The Nonoalco-Tlatelolco project, built over 198 acres with 104 acres of open, green space, contains 11,916 apartments of various sizes across 101 buildings ranging from two to twenty-four stories. Buildings of varying height stand in an orthogonal grid and each structure contains an assortment of unit types. A few landmarks in the complex play a role in the public’s recognition of the site. The large Plaza de las Tres Culturas is situated in the east end, Jardin de la Paz is in the middle and the pyramid shaped Banobras Torre is seated in the west end of the mega-block. The area surrounding the syncretic plaza site preserves both pre-Hispanic and colonial structures and gestures towards Mexico’s three major historical periods.

    Aztec ruins and colonial church surrounding the Plaza de las Tres Culturas

    Pani's Tlatelolco complex

    The complex is now most famous as the site of the October 2nd, 1968 student massacre. The complex and its large plaza were well-known public sites, perhaps one of the reasons the student movement chose the location. Yet, the resulting use of this colossal housing complex on the night of the student movement protest offers insight into the eventual failings of the modernist housing block.

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  • Mexico City Modernism - Day 3 – August 6, 2010 – Along the Paseo de la Reforma

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    Aug 6, 2010
    by

    Amanda Delorey

    Carlos Obregón Santacilla, Secretaria de Salud (1925)

    We begin our third day by visiting the Carlos Obregón Santacilla’s Secretaria de Salud (1925), the Ministry of Health, an early example of Mexican modernist architecture that borrows from Modern Classicism and Art Deco forms. The reforms to public healthcare after the Revolution, which brought better services to all citizens including the poor and indigenous populations, are expressed in the building: the facade and interior stained glass windows (windows designed by Diego Rivera) reveal the new inclusivity of national health care and fuse modernist architecture with Mexican imagery.

    The building is organized into sections around a large courtyard, a large rounded v-shaped building runs along the site’s border, and one rectangular building sits at the open end of the larger structure. One remarkable aspect of the Secretaria de Salud is the brilliant copper-clad bridges running along the arms of the largest building, as is the abundant use of native volcanic rock in the pavilions and lush gardens in the centre courtyard.

    Carlos Obregón Santacilla, Secretaria de Salud (1925)

    Interior courtyard, Secretaria de Salud (1925)

    Open air corridors, Secretaria de Salud (1925)

    Rivera painted the ceiling frescos in the building’s stately conference room, which O’Rourke points out, were disliked by Obregón Santacilla who felt they were badly proportioned.

    Diego Rivera's murals in the boardroom at the Secretaria de Salud

    Dog park in Hipódromo

    Visiting the Hipódromo neighbourhood, designed by José Luis Cuevas in 1925-27, allowed us to see many of Mexico City’s early modernist homes, including many examples of the city’s Art Deco architecture, as well as some more contemporary buildings. Just down the street from an interesting pink Art Deco apartment building, we approach one of Luis Barragán’s earliest International Style homes, which is actually a pair of white townhouses though this is not readily visible from the street. A contemporary apartment building by Taller 13 Arquitectos employs various sizes of rectangular glass panes, clear and lime green, which mirrors the scattered foliage in front.

    Edificio Rosa (1935)

    Luis Barragán, Duplex (1936)

    Taller 13 Arquitectos, Apartment Building (2002-06)

    We view two more Hipódromo apartment buildings that borrow heavily from Art Deco buildings. We are able to enter Francisco J. Serrano’s Edificio Basurto (1942-45) but cannot take photographs of the amazing inner atrium lined with smooth white balconies, reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright’s vertical spirals to most but I also found it resembled Antonio Gaudí’s interior arches at Casa Milà (1912) in Barcelona.

    Ernesto Ignacio Buenestro, Edificio San Martin (1931)

    Francisco J. Serrano, Edificio Basurto (1942-45)

    Interior, Antonio Gaudí, Casa Milà (1912)

    Javier Sánchez, Amsterdam 309 (2006)

    Javier Sánchez, Amsterdam 322 (1999)

    Javier Sanchez’s Hotel Condesa DF (2005) offers an example of a renovation inside a historic building. The exterior, an apartment building from 1928, is very different from the contemporary interior. The all white triangular inner atrium employs panels that can be opened and closed to create difference appearances.

    Javier Sánchez (with India Mahdavi), Hotel Condesa DF (2005)

    Interior, Javier Sánchez (with India Mahdavi), Hotel Condesa DF (2005)

    The Museo Nacional de la Antropología (1964), one of several museums in Chapultepec Park, displays artefacts from pre-conquest peoples yet also offers significant Mexican architecture. Pedro Ramírez Vázquez led an impressive team of architects and engineers to design this monolithic space. An umbrella-like fountain stands in the central courtyard and an important Rufino Tamayo’s Duality (1964) mural sits in the main entrance.

    Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, Museo Nacional de la Antropología (1964)

    Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, Museo Nacional de la Antropología (1964)

    Rufino Tamayo’s Duality (1964)

    Our final stop of the day is Casa Luis Barragán, an early move away from the International Style into a more personal style, where sadly (or perhaps happily, as my memories from walking though this house are quite vivid) we are unable to take photographs. The house focuses inward, away from the street, and each space opens up into a complex visual and spatial experience. The architect’s controlling nature is definitely felt as we move from room to room, small details like where light hits the wall and footstep notches in the railing-less stairs have been carefully measured and executed perfectly to enhance the ideal geometric proportions of each space. Windows extend beyond the exterior facade so that, from inside, the walls appear thick and heavy. The house is stunning and is a must-see building in Mexico City.

    Luis Barragán, Casa Luis Barragán (1947)

    Members of tour in garden/studio space across from Casa Barragán (Photo: Abigail Van Slyck)

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  • Bauhaus 1919-1933: Workshops for Modernity

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    Jan 19, 2010
    by Nathan Walker

    On January 11th, Providence Station was officially ranked in my mind as among the coldest places in southern New England, due mostly to the fact that its platforms are designed like an industrial wind tunnel, which not only compresses the gentlest breeze into a gale-force punch in the eye, but also encourages stiff numbness of the social variety among its human inhabitants. But I did not much care, because I was embarking on a journey to New York, where I would be included in a SAH Study Tour of exactly the sort my Ph.D. research requires: a guided presentation of the MoMA’s exhibition Bauhaus 1919-1933: Workshops for Modernity. I was so thrilled about my destination, and so grateful for the graduate student Fellowship that was making it possible, that no amount of skinning wind or number of “Rhode Island Smiles” could faze me.

    Taking the Amtrak to New Haven and there switching to the Metro-North commuter rail is not only the cheapest way to ride the rails from Providence to NYC, is also means that one arrives in style, greeting the city in the lustrous Grand Central Terminal, rather than scurrying through the sordid Penn Station.

    I emerged from the frenetic netherworld in the early evening, and promptly strolled to the Flatiron District before heading over and up to 230 Fifth, a rooftop bar that affords one a view of the upper Manhattan skyline at an unbeatable price: free!

    There I camped out under a heat lamp to review my notes on a couple of the MoMA exhibition’s catalog essays, which had been kindly provided by SAH so that everyone could read up and make the most of the Study Tour. After soaking up the view (and a beer), I packed up and headed to the hotel for an early night. It was, after all, very cold–and I did not come to New York to play.

    After a morning review session over coffee at a friendly breakfast joint down the street from my hotel, I rode the No. 6 subway up to the 51st Street Station. This left me a number of blocks east of the MoMA, of course, but it seemed like a fine idea to take the scenic route on foot, hitting a few Bauhaus-relevant New York landmarks before stepping into the exhibition.

    I strolled passed the 1952 Lever House and, more importantly where the day was concerned, former Bauhaus director Mies van der Rohe’s 1958 Seagram Building. In some ways, I suppose, this enormous structure represents the terminal point on a historical axis that runs through its architect’s rather dramatic life, much of which would be delineated, or at least touched upon, in the Bauhaus exhibition down the street. Visiting this historic building on the morning of the Study Tour put a strong whiff of destiny in the air.

    I followed my nose a few blocks west, and it took me to another landmark skyscraper, this one by Mies van der Rohe’s very own protégé, Philip Johnson. Of course, Mr. Johnson was a central figure at the MoMA, and was instrumental in linking the institutional DNA of the MoMA and the Bauhaus–so his ghost would also be joining me on the Study Tour. I glanced up and did my very best to photograph the immense form of his 1984 AT&T Building (now the Sony Building), ironically one of the most dramatic opening salvos of the Post-modern movement. The structure seems literally to be wearing a funny hat to spite the stern, self-serious Seagram Building a few blocks over (which, of course, Johnson had played a role in developing long before he flew the orthodox Modernist coop).

    Finally, after a few more conscientious wanderings, I arrived at the MoMA, which looked quite dignified in the morning light, save for the UTZ Quality Foods truck parked suspiciously outside (it appears that even the city’s intellectual elite cannot cleave themselves from Cheese Crunchies®, or resist the siren’s song of Pork Cracklins®–though I do not judge!). If this was a surveillance station, those responsible could not have picked a less likely vehicle.

    Upon entering the MoMA, I was at first puzzled as to which group was mine–but a few well-placed inquiries proved fruitful, and in no time I was properly situated.

    It was a thrill indeed to commence the Study Tour. Ever since falling in love with Barry Bergdoll’s 19th-Century Architecture survey book while earning my MA at the Savannah College of Art and Design, I have wanted to meet him, and now I was face-to-face with not only him, but a number of distinguished scholars with whom I would enjoy sharing an elevator, let alone an entire day of inquiry and discussion.

    This particular tour was not only a rare privilege because it was led by the curators of the Bauhaus exhibition, but also because it transpired on a day during which the museum is closed to the public. Such peace and quiet–so eerily remarkable in the always-popular MoMA–ensured that everyone could be heard all of the time, and was more than accommodating to the moments of quiet observation and contemplation that we were encouraged to seek out along the tour.

    We were offered a statement of introduction at the threshold, which not only addressed the art historical material in question, but also offered some comments as to the methodologies used to construct and frame the exhibition.

    Afterwards, Bergdoll led us into the first room of the exhibit itself, where Leah Dickerman–his fellow curator and lead contributor to the excellent, voluminous catalog–spoke to us. Unfortunately, I was not allowed to take photographs of the exhibit itself, due to the image rights retained by lending institutions.

    There are many stories told by this exhibition. Even the enormous catalog cannot do justice to all the strands and traces, all the lives and relationships, ideas and sympathies, that made and unmade and remade the Bauhaus through its many years as one of the most important pedagogical institutions of the 20th century. Of course, different interests draw different highlights out of the material. I was personally delighted to see so much of Paul Klee’s work set in the context of the classroom, cast in a new light provided by the work of his students in addition to and aside from that of his already famous colleagues. I was also amazed by the large and diverse number of architectural drawings of a particularly ecclesiastical nature that suggested a number of the different Bauhaus-fostered theories of modernity were seen, at least in part, as new religious structures. Seeing the “Romantic” or “African” chair was also incredible–this piece’s importance as the “primitive” starting point for a famous diagram illustrating a Bauhaus-exclusive evolution of the chair speaks volumes about some of the stranger (and perhaps less palatable) theories regarding phases of workshop “progress” and their cultural equivalencies around the world.

    It was certainly a comprehensive, all-star show: Breuer was there, and Moholy-Nagy, and Meyer, and the Gropius family. But one of the aspects that I most enjoyed was the presence of the students. So often, the Bauhaus comes across not as a school, but rather as a super-group or dream-team of Modernist designers. There is no question that its roster reads like a Who’s Who of mid-20th century Modernism. But I tend to favor the argument that it was as a school that the institution has had its deepest and most enduring effects on our planet. For this reason it may be somewhat ironic that the Bauhaus failed to produce a crop of graduates that could rival its professors in terms of the quality of their work (which, of course, may say something about the quality of their professors’ educations, which were largely not conducted at the Bauhaus). Rather than a crack student body, the school produced a potent body of pedagogical methods and philosophies that have been adopted, to a greater and/or lesser degree, by thousands of institutions of higher learning all over the world. In the end the Bauhaus was, perhaps, an exemplary school for teachers, first and foremost. But at least this exhibition dragged the students, eternal interns though they may be, out onto the stage, and presented them less like anonymous sounding boards for the genius of their tutors and more like real people who were part of a complex, nuanced community that changed over time. This was one of the most refreshing aspects of the exhibition, and it was reinforced in the Study Tour.

    We were spoken to briefly by Jerry Neuner, the exhibition designer, and given a presentation of historical context by Juliet Kinchin.

    Then we were taken to the archives, where we were not only presented with a special view of the MoMA’s courtyard by dimming twilight, but also a special collection of drawings from the Mies van der Rohe collection, thoughtfully pulled from the shelves and presented by Barry Bergdoll and Dietrich Neumann. As if the private, personal tour of the exhibition was not intimate enough, we finished the day by pouring over a series of small-scale drawings and discussing their context in the history of Mies as an architect and, indeed, as a real human being. His affection for nature is, for example, much more evident in some of his softer drawings than at, say, the Seagram Building.

    Finally, glasses of wine and more chatting rounded the evening off upstairs in the library. The MoMA staff could not have been more courteous and kind. Our group was excellent, and our Study Tour guides were literally the best one could ask for (one cannot ask for much more than the curators when setting off on a special exhibition tour). After the evening wound down, I sprinted to Grand Central to catch a train to New Haven, so that I could catch a train to Providence.

    The wait was not too terribly long in the middle, and I always enjoy the great hall in Cass Gilbert’s 1920 Union Station, even in the quiet hours of the New Haven night. And anyway, as the Fellowship recipient for this fantastic SAH Study Tour, I had much to think about, and much for which to be grateful.

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  • Civil Rights Memorials- A word of thanks

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    Oct 12, 2009

    Martin J. Holland

    As a young scholar, interested in writing on the topic of memorials and concerned with guaranteeing an equitable and pluralistic society, this tour was simply incredible. My thanks to all the staff of the Society of Architectural Historians for administrating the study tour fellowships. This is a truly worthwhile program and I would strongly encourage other young scholars and graduate students to apply for a traveling fellowship, especially when the tour’s content is related to your own scholarship or interests. I also have to thank Perdita Welch and Allison Larkin of International Seminar Design Inc- they were able to get the study tour group in places normally completely inaccessible to members of the general public. I also have to offer my deepest thanks to Abigail Van Slyck, the SAH representative who also attended the tour for keeping everything running smooth, and for asking some wonderfully probing questions. The group members of the study tour themselves were incredible, thank you for your companionship and your conversation. I learned a lot from your comments and from your expertise.

    I must also offer Dr. Dell Upton a huge thank you for not only the countless hours that he spent organizing the tour, but also sharing his research with us. As a graduate student working away on a dissertation, I learned an amazing array of techniques concerning the built environment from Dr. Upton’s keen observations and methodology.

    Lastly I have to thank all of you, the general membership of the SAH, for your generosity and financial support in establishing these travelling fellowships. For years I have witnessed first hand the slow but constant withering of resources available to students in post secondary educational institutions. The ability for the SAH to offer not one, butthree fellowships to new scholars and graduate students is nothing short of remarkable, and a testament to the quality of you the members of the SAH. I know that many of you are probably suffering from donor fatigue, but to have attended this particular tour, and to have witnessed both the tragedies and the triumphs of the civil rights movement has been nothing short of life changing for me. For the opportunity to attend this tour, I am in your debit.

    P.S. Thanks to everyone who followed me on Twitter- and I again apologize for some of the spelling mistakes, next time I will bring along a blackberry with an actual key board rather than my overly touch sensitive iphone! Keep looking for updates on Twitter as well!

    Best regards,

    Martin

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  • Civil Rights Memorials- Day Four

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    Oct 11, 2009

    Sunday October 11, 2009

    By Martin J. Holland

    Despite being a Sunday, our last day of the study tour was as full and busy as the other days. We started our day visiting the Bethel Baptist Church, which was subject to three separate bomb attacks during the 1950’s and 1960’s. The first attack on the church and its pastor, the Rev. Fred Lee Shuttlesworth, occurred in the early hours of Christmas Day 1956. An explosive device made up of some nineteen sticks of dynamite was placed between the small alley between church and the parsonage, just mere feet from the bedroom of the pastor. The resulting explosion, while completely destroying the parsonage, left the reverend unharmed. The church sustained heavy damage, with all of its windows broken, and structural repairs required before services could be once again conducted. The attack on the church caused the congregation to establish a round the clock watch on the church and a security detail for their pastor, out of fear for his life. Such precautions proved wise as the church was again attacked in 1958, when another explosive device was left on the eastern side of the church. This time, thanks to the quick and brave actions of the guards, disaster was averted. The guards were able to defuse the majority of live explosives, and throw the remaining nine sticks of dynamite away from the church’s foundation into an adjacent, open field. The resulting explosion still smashed the windows of the church, but given the placement of the bomb, and the fifty-four sticks of dynamite that it originally contained, catastrophic structural damage that would have demolished the church was avoided. With this second attack on the church, local neighbors and members of other churches in Birmingham started to volunteer to augment the churches security. The last attack occurred when six sticks of dynamite were thrown from a speeding car, landing on the main entrance landing at the front of the church. Once again, there was significant damage to the church, but thankfully no loss of life.

    Our hosts for the tour of Bethel Baptist were Mrs. Hightower and Deacon Stone, both long term members of the church, who held us riveted not only with their knowledge of these horrific attacks, but their incredible sense of optimism. Despite continual harassment by the police, and attacks on their church, they noted that a large majority of the congregation never waivered in their struggle for equality. While some members were open about their concern that the moral and political stance that the church was taking would “get them all killed”, the church did not abandon the cause, or lose members.

    While Bethel Baptist Church building is currently in disrepair, they have already plans for a complete restoration that should get underway within the year. Members of the congregation built a larger church just a block away that is twice the size of the location we saw, and their numbers of the congregation continually grow. I was able to record a snippet of the oral history that Deacon Stone and Mrs. Hightower provided on my smart phone, which I have posted below in a movie format. Sorry for the poor quality of the audio.

    Photo: The exterior of the church as it stands today. The parsonage used to stand directly adjacent to the western wall of the church that we see above.

    This image, taken from A Walk To Freedom, The Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, 1956-1964 by the Birmingham Historical Society shows how close the parsonage was to the church. Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth is in the upper right hand of the photo.

    The above photo, also from A Walk To Freedom, The Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, 1956-1964 by the Birmingham Historical Society shows the destruction of the first bombing against Bethel Baptist Church.

    Photo of Mrs. Hightower and Deacon Stone.

    After we left Bethel Baptist Church, we toured the predominately African American neighborhood nicknamed “Dynamite Hill”. It seems that those who were unwilling to recognize racial equality, and resorted to violence and intimidation were not below planting explosives at private residences. “Dynamite Hill” received its name from the seven separate attacks using explosives within the neighborhood in 1957 alone.

    We left the neighborhood to go to the Sixteenth Avenue Church prior to their Sunday Service being held. The Church was under construction from 1909 through to 1911, and was designed by Wallace A. Rayfield and Company. It was also the site of a bombing in 1963, and unlike Bethel Baptist church, there were causalities from this terrible incident. Four young girls, Addie May Collins, Carol Denise McNair, Carole Rosmond Robertson, and Cynthia Diane Wesley were all killed when the ten sticks of dynamite planted by the Ku Klux Klan exploded during their Sunday school service.

    In response to the attack, and the considerable anger that was felt by both black and white residents of Birmingham, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stated: “We must not harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. The deaths may well serve as the redemptive force that brings light to this dark city.”

    In 2008, the church established a memorial to the four girls.

    The role of the Sixteenth Avenue Church within the struggle for civil rights cannot be overstated, and a key factor of that critical role had to do with the church’s physical location. Sixteenth Avenue was a racial dividing line within the city of Birmingham, and the church was directly on that invisible, but very real line that segregated blacks from whites. As a result, it became a natural starting point for protest marches, and in May of 1963 was the point of origin for the Children’s Crusade. The crusade was organized to show the world the extent of racial segregation within Birmingham, and how even young African American children would be arrested if they merely walked over to the southern side of Sixteenth Avenue into Kelly Ingram Park.

    Photo: The Sixteenth Avenue Baptist Church.

    Kelly Ingram Park was named after the first white sailor to perish in World War I, and while it was far removed from white neighborhoods, it was directly adjacent to a large African American neighborhood and business district. Despite of its location, it was on the other side of the color line, and forbidden to be used by Birmingham’s black community. To protest racial segregation, it was also the site for some of the most disturbing imagery to come out of the civil rights movement. White police with batons in hand met many of the protesters, as did snarling police dogs, water cannons, and tear gas. These troubling events are now all recognized in Kelly Ingram Park with the following memorials.

    Photo: “Dogs”/ “Foot Solder Tribute”.

    Photo:”Firehosing of demonstrators”

    Photo:”Praying Ministers”

    Photo: “Martin Luther King Jr. Monument”

    Photo: “The Children’s March”

    Photo:”Police Dog Attack”

    We then had an hour or two to visit the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute located on the northeast side of Sixteenth Avenue. The Institute is a wonderful resource and places the visitor directly into the historical and cultural context of the early stages of the civil rights movement. The institute also has on display the jail cell where on the night of April 16, 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. pens his famous “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” which was a response to white clergy criticizing the efforts of the civil rights movement as “unwise and untimely”.

    Our last destination for the tour was the 4th Avenue business district, which served as the economic and cultural center for African Americans in Birmingham. Predominately occupied with black owned businesses, it was much like Auburn Avenue in Atlanta, where monies generated within the district stayed within the area to help foster and reinforce economic opportunities for the black middle class. Arthur George Gaston, a wealthy and talented black entrepreneur, was directly responsible for at least four separate businesses within the district, including a hotel, radio station, insurance company and funeral home. The business district, like many downtown areas in many American cities, has unfortunately fallen upon tough times. Dr. Upton provided an incredible amount of detail to not only the architectural history of the buildings that we were seeing, but a rich and textured social history as well.

    Photo of Dr. Upton in front of AG Gaston’s hotel.

    Dinner was also a special occasion, as for our last night we were served a traditional southern dinner that included collard greens, fried chicken, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese. All of this feast was prepared by Chef Clayton Sherrod, who also treated us with a reflection of his own experiences growing up in Birmingham during the civil rights struggle, and how he soon learned that he could not remain silent when he saw injustice in the world and how he could not let others determine the course of his own life. The meal, and his presentation, were excellent.

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