Members in the News

Charles L. Davis II wins College Art Association's Charles Rufus Morey Book Award

by SAH News | Feb 12, 2021

The Charles Rufus Morey Book Award, named in honor of one of the founding members of CAA and first teachers of art history in the United States, was established in 1953. This award honors an especially distinguished book in the history of art, published in the English language. Preference is given to books, including catalogues raisonnés, by a single author, but major publications in the form of articles or group studies may be included. Publication of documents or inventories, unless specifically in the context of an exhibition, are also eligible.


Charles L. Davis II, Building Character: The Racial Politics of Modern Architectural Style, University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019 

While discussions of links between the human body and the built environment go back as far as Vitruvius, Charles L. Davis II’s Building Character: The Racial Politics of Modern Architectural Style presents an eye-opening overlay of the racialized body to the often-told historical account of the rise of modern American architecture. It begins with a close examination of two noted publications that separate the architecture of “other” non-Western cultures from that of the traditional Western canon, Frank Lloyd Wright’s introductory essay to his 1910 Wasmuth Portfolio and “The Tree of Architecture” plate in Banister Fletcher’s A History of Architecture (1896). Davis asks how architects defined “national character” to establish autochthonous building styles by exploring how scientific conceptions of racial character, an important and overlooked factor of the nineteenth-century humanist tradition, have shaped the writings of canonical theorists of architectural organicism. The book studies five architects—Eugéne Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, Gottfried Semper, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and William Lescaze—investigating how race science influenced modern architectural theories and national architectural styles, in the political milieu that also gave rise to European imperialisms and US settler colonialisms. In this revisionist account of American modern architecture, Davis probes the racialization of a national architectural character and further expands critical conversations about race and lived spaces. The work is a reflection on racial justice in the United States and the colonial and racialized legacies of our institutions of learning and art and architectural practice. One of the real strengths of the book is the way it models, and not only performs, new research at the intersection of race history and architectural history. Beautifully written and cogently argued, it is attentive to well-known material but replete with original insights, and it significantly enriches the story of modern American architecture.  

To see additional winners and past recipients read full listing here, including many SAH members.

Charles L. Davis II joined SAH in 2009 and is a Supporting member.  He currently serves on the SAH Board , the SAH IDEAS Committee, and chairs the SAH Affiliate Group: Race and Architectural History.  

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