Race and the Historiography of American Architecture

SAH CONNECTS
This publication workshop for a co-edited book project will examine the role of race in the construction of historical narratives of “American architecture” during the long nineteenth century. Canonical surveys of American architecture have optimistically, and perhaps anachronistically, interpreted national architectural movements through the lens of an inclusive democratic liberalism that embraced and collected the material cultures of people of all colors, nationalities, and religious creeds. Yet the first century and a half of American history was characterized by stark debates about the racial and ethnic composition of the new nation state and its citizens. Claims to ‘Americanness,’ called into stark relief by the profound violence of the Civil War, were highly contested, exerting a direct influence on both the body politic and its perception of material culture.

Across architectural periods and movements, the appropriation and adaptation of historical forms and styles gave rise to nationalist and regionalist ideologies with diverse political aims. The purpose of this volume is to consider revisionist histories of American architecture that subvert the synthetic narrative of “a nation of immigrants” or a “melting pot,” to recover the competing debates. This new portrait of American architecture will bring canonical and vernacular histories together in a contrapuntal narrative of the formative nineteenth century, paying special attention to the histories of those written out of canonical surveys.

Our roundtable is divided into two complementary parts: a set of presentations that will outline the general scope of the research project, and a panel of respondents who will discuss the key conceptual rubrics, theoretical lenses, and potential case studies that are necessary to construct new histories of American architecture. We will close with a public conversation on the understudied or ignored material cultures that might present grounds for alternative histories of American architecture in the nineteenth century.

 

Speakers


Charles L Davis II

Charles L. Davis II is associate professor at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. His research examines the role of race and race thinking in architectural history and contemporary design culture. He is the author of Building Character: The Racial Politics of Modern Architectural Style (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019), which received the Charles Rufus Morey Award from the College Arts Association, and co-editor of Race and Modern Architecture: A Critical History from the Enlightenment to the Present (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020). His current book project recovers the overlooked contributions of Black social movements in shaping the built environment from the Harlem Renaissance to Black Lives Matter. His writing has appeared in Aggregate, Architectural Research QuarterlyHarvard Design MagazineJournal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Log, and Places. He is currently a board member of the Society of Architectural Historians and co-chairs the SAH Race + Architectural History Affiliate Group.

 

Tara Dudley

Tara Dudley is a lecturer at the University of Texas at Austin. Her research examines the contributions of African American builders and architects to the American built environment, focusing on the antebellum and Reconstruction eras in Austin and Texas and the architectural activities of New Orleans’ gens de couleur libres (free people of color). She is the author of Building Antebellum New Orleans: Free People of Color and Their Influence (University of Texas Press, 2021) and the forthcoming ‘There is Something to be Done’: The Life and Work of John Saunders Chase, 1925–2012. She was the recipient of the Carter Manny Award from the Graham Foundation for best writing in a dissertation and has served as a senior architectural historian for HHM & Associates, Inc. in Austin, Texas.

 

Kathryn Holliday

Kathryn Holliday is professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. Her research examines the history of modern architecture in the United States, from the transatlantic migrations of the nineteenth century to the history of telecommunications infrastructure in the twentieth century. She is the author of Leopold Eidlitz: Architecture and Idealism in the Gilded Age (W. W. Norton, 2008), which received annual book awards from the Victorian Society’s New York Chapter and the Southeast Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians, Ralph Walker: Architect of the Century (Rizzoli, 2012), and editor of The Open-Ended City: David Dillon on Texas Architecture (University of Texas Press, 2019). As founding director of the Dillon Center for Texas Architecture, she is a recipient of the Flowers Award for Excellence in Promotion of Architecture through the Media from the Texas Society of Architects and honorary AIA fellow of the Fort Worth and Dallas Chapters.

 

Joanna Merwood-Salisbury

Joanna Merwood-Salisbury is professor and associate dean of research and innovation at the Victoria University of Wellington. She specializes in nineteenth and early-twentieth-century architecture and urban design in the United States, with a special interest in issues of race and labor. Her work integrates the methodologies of architectural and urban history with political and cultural history. She is the author of Design for the Crowd: Patriotism and Protest in Union Square (University of Chicago Press, 2019), Chicago 1890: The Skyscraper and the Modern City (University of Chicago Press, 2009) and co-editor of After Taste: Expanded Practice in Interior Design (Princeton Architectural Press, 2011). Her writings have appeared in AA Files, Architectural Theory Review, Grey Room, Journal of Architectural Education, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Technology & Culture and Urban History.

 

Bryan E. Norwood

Bryan E. Norwood is assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin. His research focuses on architecture and building practices in the United States and Atlantic World in the long nineteenth century, and his writing has appeared in Perspecta, Places, The Journal of Architectural Education, Log, Platform, Culture Machine, and Harvard Design Magazine. Bryan is working on two book-length projects. The first, entitled Architectural Calling: Protestantism, Nationalism, and Racecraft in the Formation of an American Profession, focuses on the Atlantic Coast in the 1830s–60s. The second is a study of architecture’s role in shaping the intersection of industrialization and historical consciousness in the American South between Reconstruction and the New Deal.

 

Kathryn O'Rourke

Kathryn O’Rourke is associate professor of art history at Trinity University in San Antonio. She is the author of Modern Architecture in Mexico City: History, Representation, and the Shaping of a Capital (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016), which received the Alice Davis Hitchcock Award from the Society of Architectural Historians, and editor of O’Neil Ford on Architecture (University of Texas Press, 2019). She is at work on a book manuscript, Archaism and Liberalism in Modern Architecture. Professor O’Rourke has served as SAH secretary and vice chair of the State Board of Review of the Texas Historical Commission. She is president of Design|Forum, a non-profit, and sits on the board of Centro San Antonio.
Joseph Watson

Joseph Watson is assistant professor at Kansas State University. His research treats the spatial, structural, and organizational qualities of buildings as evidence of architecture’s efforts to manage the emergence of petrocapitalism and the spatial effects of structural racism, among other phenomena. His writings have appeared in Avery ReviewJournal of Architectural Education, and Journal of Urban History. His research has been supported by grants and fellowships from the Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and the University of Pennsylvania’s Mellon Foundation Humanities, Urbanism and Design Project. His pioneering essay, “The Suburbanity of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Broadacre City” reexamines the hermeneutical socio-spatial frameworks of Wright’s suburban imaginary, including its uncritical reinforcement of existing forms of racial privilege and segregation.
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