Recap of the SAH 68th Annual International Conference in Chicago, IL

May 15, 2015 by Pauline Saliga
View photos from the conference on Flickr:

Nearly 800 SAH members participated in the Society’s 68th Annual International Conference and 75th anniversary celebrations that took place in Chicago, Illinois, from April 15–19, 2015. Attendees hailed from 36 countries and 42 states. A brief recap of the conference’s events follows:

Wednesday, April 15

Following their spring meeting, the SAH Board of Directors met for lunch with the 12 SAH International Travel Grantees who traveled from around the world to participate in the conference. With funding from the Getty Foundation, and coinciding with SAH’s 75th anniversary, the Society was able to bring a dozen architectural historians, museum curators and heritage conservationists to the conference from countries that have traditionally been underrepresented. In this inaugural year of Getty funding, the grantees were from Bangladesh, Brazil, China, Egypt, Greece, Guatemala, India, Nigeria, Russia, Tanzania, Turkey, and Ukraine. Of the four men and eight women, nine identified themselves as scholars, two were curators of architectural collections, four were heritage conservationists, and three were architects working at academic institutions. Four were in the early stages of their careers and eight were mid-career. The grantees all gave five-minute talks to the SAH Board so we could better understand their work and the challenges they face, for example, not being free to take photographs of buildings and landscapes in Egypt and Nigeria. Bios of the grantees are available on the SAH website.

The conference officially kicked off Wednesday with a social hour at the Holiday Inn Chicago Mart Plaza River North hotel, followed by the SAH Annual Business Meeting that included the election of officers and board members. SAH President Ken Breisch gave an update on the state of SAH, acknowledged major 75th anniversary gifts including a $150,000 three-year grant from The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation Fund at The Chicago Community Foundation and a $20,000 grant from Tawani Foundation. He also announced the recipients of over 25 Annual Conference Fellowships, travel and research fellowships, and the 25- and 50-year members. SAH paid tribute to those we lost recently, Seymour Persky, benefactor of SAH, Michio Yamaguchi, and Michael Graves. Secretary Gail Fenske conducted the election of SAH officers and directors, and Jan Grayson gave the Treasurer’s Report. Ken Breisch wished Comptroller Bob Drum all the best in his retirement from SAH after seven years of service.

Conference co-chair Ken Tadashi Oshima took the stage, followed by conference co-chair Alison Fisher who introduced and thanked Blair Kamin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic for the Chicago Tribune. Kamin gave the introductory address, “Architecture Criticism: Dead or Alive?” The talk considered the relationship of architectural history to contemporary criticism in the digital era. Kamin drew upon his experiences in Chicago and beyond as well as the career of architectural historian Ada Louise Huxtable, who pioneered the field of modern architectural criticism.

Thursday, April 16

Over 160 scholarly papers were delivered in 36 sessions on Thursday and Friday, divided into three tracks each day, a new format that was introduced the year before in Austin and refined at the Chicago conference. The paper sessions covered a wide range of subject matter and periods and were chaired and delivered by scholars and graduate students from 24 countries.

Once again, SAH offered a new attendee orientation, which included an overview of the conference and Q&A session with staff on Thursday morning. Under the guidance of Zeynep Kezer, experienced SAH members volunteered as conference hosts to help make new attendees feel welcome, and we sincerely thank Zeynep and all who served as hosts.

There were three midday roundtables on Thursday. Many regular SAH roundtables were scheduled, including BUS and SAH Archipedia presentations, an SAH Chapter Delegates meeting, and an SAH Professional Development Committee meeting. In addition, CASVA held an annual alumni reunion, University of Pennsylvania held a panel, “What Good is History for Architects?,” and the Global Architectural History Teaching Network gave a presentation on grants and creating and providing materials for teaching global architectural history at the survey and introductory levels. College Art Association presented the recently completed Code of Best Practices in Fair Use for the Visual Arts.

SAH offered eight guided tours of Chicago’s architecture and landscapes including sacred spaces, Art Deco skyscrapers, movable bridges, cutting-edge adaptive reuse, Chicago School skyscrapers, and single building tours to Jeanne Gang’s Aqua Tower and Louis H. Sullivan’s Carson, Pirie Scott Building.

Thursday evening, the Architecture & Design Society of the Art Institute of Chicago co-hosted the SAH awards ceremony in the Chicago Stock Exchange Trading Room. SAH Chapter Liaison Victoria Young emceed as the recipients of six publication awards and the SAH Award for Film and Video were announced by the respective selection committees. SAH recognized four new SAH Fellows for their long careers in service of SAH and the field of architectural history: David Brownlee, the Frances Shapiro-Weitzenhoffer Professor of 19th-Century European Art and chair of the Graduate Group in the History of Art at the University of Pennsylvania; Keith Morgan, professor in the Department of History of Art & Architecture and director of the Architectural Studies program at Boston University; Pauline Saliga, executive director of the Society of Architectural Historians; and Stanley Tigerman, FAIA, principal, Tigerman McCurry Architects. The contributions of these distinguished Fellows include scholarship, service to SAH, and stewardship of the built environment.

Read the press release: SAH Announces 2015 Award Winners and Fellows

After the induction of the SAH Fellows, conference attendees and Architecture & Design Society members moved to Rubloff Auditorium in the Art Institute of Chicago where Columbia University professor Gwendolyn Wright gave the SAH plenary talk, “The Role of Play: Looking for Patterns and Crossing Boundaries.”

Wright’s talk explored ways architectural historians may adopt creative techniques that architects use, while maintaining and expanding the rigor, to gain insights into how architects have imagined alternative environments and built realities experienced by all. The premise is that too few architectural historians have explored some of the most significant challenges within—and outside—our own professional realm. Architectural history is unique in its ability to synthesize the complex interplay of realms that are usually treated as separate disciplines and specializations (e.g., anthropology, economic history, social history, cultural history, intellectual history, geography, etc). This demands both complex forms of knowledge and a certain playfulness in moving from one approach to another. 

Friday, April 17

Three tracks of paper sessions took place on Friday, along with midday roundtable discussions and tours. The Landscape History Chapter and the European Architectural History Network both held business meetings. The Graduate Student Roundtable, “Interdisciplinarity and Architectural History,” moderated by Anna Mascorella of Cornell University, examined how interdisciplinarity affects the history of architecture as well as our graduate studies and professional trajectories. Abby Smith Rumsey, chair of the SAH Digital Humanities Taskforce, led the SAH Roundtable, “Being a Scholar in the Digital Age.” Panelists discussed new research methods, digital scholarship, pedagogy and extending the reach of scholarship to the wider public. (Read Patricia Searl’s “Notes on the SAH Roundtable” on the SAH Blog.)The Temple Hoyne Buell Center held the discussion, “Untimely Histories: Architecture, Real Estate, and the Case of Public Housing,” moderated by Reinhold Martin of Columbia University. The roundtable explored strategies for the creation of public scholarship in the form of critical architectural histories that might be framed as “untimely.”

On Friday evening, SAH held its 75th Anniversary Celebration in the landmark Rookery Building lobby in downtown Chicago. Designed by Burnham and Root in 1887–1888 and renovated by Frank Lloyd Wright from 1905–1907, the building’s central light court serves as the focal point for the entire building. The anniversary celebration was made possible in part by the generosity of the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, which is housed in The Rookery, the Vernacular Architecture Forum Chicago, and the Society of Architectural Historians.

Saturday, April 18

Nearly 200 conference attendees and members of the public attended the SAH Chicago Seminar, “Magnitudes of Change: Local Sites and Global Concerns in Chicago’s Built Environment,” on Saturday morning. Alison Fisher, associate curator of architecture at the Art Institute of Chicago, moderated the seminar, which opened with a keynote address, “Reading Chicago’s Landscape as Urbanism,” by urban historian Charles Waldheim, Harvard University. His talk began by describing the origin of the profession of landscape architecture in the nineteenth century as a ‘new art’ charged with reconciling the design of the industrial city with its ecological and social functions. It went on to situate recent claims for the landscape architect as the urbanist of our age with a particular focus on recent work in Chicago, and describes landscape as a medium of design for contemporary Chicago through comparison with recent projects in New York and Toronto.

Waldheim’s talk provided a framework for two panel discussions examining developments on Chicago’s waterfronts and in the city’s neighborhoods. The first panel, “Transformations of the Chicago River and Lakefront,” featured two architects working on important recent buildings and urban design, Carol Ross Barney of Ross Barney Architects and Jeanne Gang of Studio Gang Architects. In addition, we heard from policy maker Debra Shore of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Chicago about the challenges of controlling water in the region, and architect Martin Felsen of UrbanLab and Illinois Institute of Technology, who is working on research directed toward the future of the Great Lakes region, making connections between local and global ecological and economic systems. The second panel, “Development and Change in Chicago Neighborhoods,” explored the distinctive history of the city as well as the evolving culture of the present in its neighborhoods. From the challenges of development in the vibrant neighborhood of Pilsen to the shifting demographics of Chicago suburbs, this panel brought together architect Patricia Saldaña Natke of Urbanworks, policy expert Alaina Harkness of the MacArthur Foundation, and architectural historian Robert Bruegmann to discuss pressing issues of diversity, economic growth, and preservation in Chicago’s many distinctive neighborhoods. Lively discussion followed the panels.

On Saturday afternoon, conference attendees and the general public had a choice of either participating in seven tours of architecture in the Chicago area or attending receptions and tours at the Graham Foundation and SAH headquarters, the Charnley-Persky House. Afternoon-long tours included Aqua Tower, hand-crafted interiors of the Chicago Cultural Center and Monroe Buildings, art deco skyscrapers, Chicago’s moveable bridges, cutting-edge adaptive reuse of the Chicago Athletic Association Building, Chicago School skyscrapers on South Dearborn Street, and the architecture and adaptive re-use of Louis Sullivan’s Carson, Pirie Scott Building.

On Saturday evening, SAH members were free to have dinner with friends and relax in the city.

Sunday, April 19

The conference came to a close with eight architectural tours throughout the region. Downtown tours focused on skyscrapers on Dearborn Street, Chicago’s public housing, award-winning designs for Chicago’s underserved populations, and mid-century modernism on the Chicago River. Tours that went farther afield included the country estates of Lake Forest, Prairie School architecture in Oak Park and Riverside, and the Pullman neighborhood, America’s first planned company town.

On behalf of the SAH Board and membership, I extend our gratitude to all who worked for nearly two years to bring this conference to fruition, including speakers, session chairs, roundtable panelists, tour leaders, volunteers, conference partners, and conference sponsors. A special thanks goes to conference co-chairs Ken Tadashi Oshima and Alison Fisher and members of the Local Committee—Cheryl Bachand, DePaul University; Anne Hill Bird, SAH; Jean Guarino, architectural historian; and Stephanie Whitlock, Graham Foundation—as well as members of the Advisory Committee—Kevin Harrington, IIT Emeritus; Elaine Harrington; and Bonnie McDonald, Landmarks Illinois—for all of their help with local coordination. In addition, I’d like to thank the SAH staff for their hard work managing the conference, namely Director of Programs Kathy Sturm, who oversaw every aspect of the conference; Beth Eifrig, assistant director of programs; Helena Karabatsos, media and communications editor; Anne Bird, director of membership; Jane Reilly, membership services coordinator; Carolyn Garrett, development director, and Bob Drum, director of operations and comptroller.

We are greatly indebted to all of the individuals, foundations, not-for-profit organizations, and companies that provided support for the conference. Thank you all for making the SAH 68th Annual International Conference such a success.

Pauline Saliga
SAH Executive Director