• Member Stories: Manuel "Saga" Sánchez García

    by Helena Dean | Jun 13, 2022

    Manuel "Saga" Sánchez García is a PhD candidate at Politecnico di Torino and Universidad de Granada, and an appointed 2022–2023 Junior Fellow on Garden and Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks. He lives between Italy and Spain (although that is about to change) and has been a member of SAH since 2019.

    Can you tell us about your career path? 

    I started my studies in architecture at Universidad de Granada, under the shadow of the Alhambra. There I met my mentor Juan Calatrava, director of Granada’s architecture school at the time, who had just coordinated the facsimile reedition of Le poeme de l’angle droit by Le Corbusier (1955). That book blew my mind and encouraged me to explore a career in writing, publishing my first digital book in 2009 thanks to an EU Euroeditions grant, and participating in national conferences with small independent works before acquiring the architect license in 2013. Right after that, I moved to Bogotá, Colombia, where I pursued a two-year master’s in architecture and worked first as a research assistant and later as a lecturer, researcher, and consultant until 2018. Those were lovely years full of exciting projects, including my graduate thesis Granada Des-Granada published in 2018 by Universidad de los Andes. I also worked with the team in charge of creating a new school of art, acting, architecture, and design in Bogotá named Facultad de Creación and led by the architect Juan Pablo Aschner. Supporting the birth of a new higher education institution is a fantastic adventure.

    Finally, I moved to Turin (Italy) in 2018 as a PhD fellow in the program “Architettura: Storia e Progetto,” under the supervision of Professor Sergio Pace. Eventually, we achieved a co-tutelle agreement with the PhD program on Art History at Universidad de Granada under the supervision of Prof. Juan Calatrava. It could be said that we closed the circle in some way. I started participating more often during the pandemic in SAH activities and with EAHN, the European Architectural History Network. In January 2021, I became the Editorial Assistant of Architectural Histories, the Journal of the EAHN, working closely with its Editor-in-chief, Samantha L. Martin.

    Today I am just weeks ahead of my PhD defense. It’s an exciting moment. After that is finished (fingers crossed), I will be moving to Washington, DC, for a research stay at Dumbarton Oaks. It is one of the most important academic achievements I have ever earned, and I feel immensely thankful. They also happen to be welcoming and kind people. I got to meet a sizable group of Dumbarton Oaks current and former scholars in Pittsburgh during the SAH Annual International Conference, and I must tell you: They are really great.

    What interests you most about architectural history? 

    My research topics are kind of split into two big sides. Two faces of the same medal. My main line of work deals with medieval and early modern urban history, including Christian/Andalusian cities in Spain, colonial urbanism in the Spanish Archipelagos and Latin America (mainly in Colombia), 16th-century atlases, etc. As it happens with most Granadan architectural historians, my work is also connected to Nasrid architecture and the Alhambra, which largely impacted later Christian buildings in the region and their romanticist reimaginations during the 19th century, as well as many 20th-century and contemporary architects across the world. In 2020 I developed a GAHTC module of six lectures on these topics with Juan Calatrava and Eva Amate. It is freely available on GAHTC’s website.

    Parallelly, I am very interested in the intersection between the fields of architectural history and game studies. The area of game studies was born in the early 2000s to delve into the impacts of video games on our society. Even though plenty of architecture-related topics are being discussed at game studies conferences, not many specialized architectural historians are participating in them. Even fewer game-studies-related topics are dealt with in international meetings such as SAH’s or EAHN’s. However, this trend is changing as we speak. The call for papers for the 76th SAH Annual International Conference features two digital sessions dealing with software and “playfulness” in architecture, while one of the in-person sessions explicitly mentions their interest in the presence of Islamic architectural reimaginations in video games. The same is happening in other disciplines such as art history, sociology, and political studies, as it happened before with media like television, radio, magazines, and films when they were considered ‘emergent.’

    What projects are you currently working on? 

    My projects are divided in the same way. My main endeavor right now is my PhD thesis titled “Siblings Overseas.” It deals with notarial documents and foundational registers of cities following the famous Spanish grid, which has been traditionally seen just as a morphological model without not so much regard for the political and legal nuances behind it. For example, I studied the foundational records of four new towns created in Andalusia in 1539 through the same principles as the colonial capitals settled in America in the same decade. I delve into the confrontations between a diversity of agents in favor and against the foundation of these new towns, which I analyzed in a comparative fashion with similar complaints and judicial processes that occurred in America between founders, settlers, native leaders, encomenderos, priests, and other groups. It is an amazing but difficult topic since these records are scattered in different archives and conserved through copies of copies made across five hundred years, often manuscripts in complex handwriting styles that are not easy to read for scholars not specialized in paleography.

    My upcoming project for Dumbarton Oaks is a continuation of this line of research under the title “Uncovering colonial Lawscape.” In it, I will work further on the concept of Lawscape,1which refers to the times and spaces where the complex relationship between law and landscape is clearly visible. Of course, the landscape of actions and procedures leading to the foundational moment of a city are good example of lawscapes. I will focus on a selection of early colonial documents held at Dumbarton Oaks’ Rare Book Collection that present other lawscapes featuring native and mestizo leaders, comparing them with the manuscripts I have already studied in other countries.

    Parallelly (always parallelly), I continue growing my research on architecture and game studies. A couple of years ago, I edited a special collection on this theme, published in Culture & History digital journal. In 2021 I co-supervised a fantastic group of students at Universidad de Granada in collaboration with Prof. Rafael de Lacour. They focused their undergraduate capstone project on games such as Assassin’s Creed, GRIS, and Calvino Noir. Their designs were included in the exhibition Gaming Through Architectural Drawing, which I curated myself, also including materials from other students and collaborators with whom I have been working since 2014. This exhibition was hosted by Meetaverse, a cultural center located and built in the metaverse, 100% virtual. It was an exhibition on video game buildings that was, quite literally, built inside a video game. I also continue writing on the topic, and right now I have a couple of manuscripts that will be published soon.

    Do you have a particular memory of when you first became aware of the significance of architecture or when you knew you wanted to study it? 

    I think I always had some sort of connection with architecture. When I was a child, I used to play at Plaza Nueva and Plaza de Mariana Pineda, two of the most vibrant squares in Granada’s city center. There I met with other children to play together. We often walked uphill to the Alhambra and played at Plaza de los Algibes, an unpaved open space built over the water reservoirs of the royal medina between the Islamic castle and Charles V Palace. Playing there was natural for us as there were not as many tourists as today. There was even a small kiosk, designed in the 1950s and still standing today, where we bought ice cream in the summer.

    Later on I decided to be a writer, so I considered studying journalism even though it was considered a “lesser” career in Spain. A relative of mine who works as a journalist said to me, “If you want to write, you will write. Focus your studies on what you want to write about.” I wanted to write about my city, so I ended up studying architecture. Almost 18 years have passed from that moment, and here I am, once more, writing stuff about Granada and its architecture. My relative’s prediction was incredibly accurate.

    Who has influenced your work or career? 

    Many people, of course! As it is usually said, I stand on the shoulders of giants. I was fortunate to find professors Juan Calatrava and Rafael de Lacour early in my undergraduate studies. While Prof. De Lacour has always been very supportive and involved me in all kinds of activities, Prof. Calatrava is the most central mentor in my career as an architectural historian. They maintained contact after I moved to Colombia, so the Granadan connection never disappeared. That made it possible to “close the circle” in the PhD stage, as I mentioned before.

    At Bogotá, I worked under the wing of Prof. Cristina Albornoz Rugeles, a Colombian architect who always pushed me to fly higher. During the last years, I have been a close collaborator of Prof. Sergio Pace, my Italian PhD supervisor, taking his courses on historiography and assisting his lectures on history of the material culture. He was a student of Profs. Carlo Olmo at Turin and Paolo Portoghesi at Rome so, through him, I feel kind of connected with the Italian “line” of baroque architectural history. Finally, I have been incredibly gifted by the opportunity of collaborating with Prof. Samantha L. Martin and the Editorial Board of Architectural Histories. They are not only an incredibly group to work with, the kind of conversations and debates at the journal's core have brought my intellectual horizon to a whole new level.

    Finally, if I may mention two influences I never met personally, I would like to name the Swiss art historian Titus Burckhardt and the Polish architectural historian Joseph Rykwert. Their writings introduced me to the kind of symbolic, political, and ritual connections I seek in the architectures I study, may they be built materially or digitally. It is true that today we approach research and writing in a totally different fashion, but I always keep in mind the level of clarity of their arguments and the kind of seduction they inspire through their narrative.

    What is your biggest professional challenge? 

    After almost a decade of changing countries/continents, I would say my biggest challenge right now is to find a more stable position in academia without renouncing good job conditions or to the fantastic international experiences I get to live right now. A symptom of this longing is that my library is scattered in boxes (many boxes) stored in different places. Putting it together for the first time is something I look forward to.

    When and how did you become involved with SAH?  

    I knew about SAH when I was in Bogotá, mainly because of JSAH. When I moved to Italy in 2018, I became more involved in academic associations, including SAH, EAHN, and RSA. Near that point, I also became a member of national associations like AhAU in Spain, AISU and AISTARCH in Italy, RedCHU and SCA in Colombia. Then something special happened: I got to attend the 2019 GAHTC Member’s Conference in Miami, where I met a lot of the people that make SAH and EAHN what they are. Amazing experience. That trip moved me to a closer engagement with SAH activities.

    How has SAH enriched your experience in architectural history? 

    So, after that experience in Miami, I told myself, “Manuel, here there is a long and interesting path to be walked. You just need to take the first step.” That year I applied to SAH Annual International Conference (including the graduate students fellowship) and GAHTC’s targeted acquisition grants. I had been rejected several times before in US-based competitions, but this time was my time, and I got both of them!

    Even though the 2020 in-person conference was transformed into a digital one, the chair of my session, Prof. Jeffrey Klee, made the change smooth and productive. It served as an academic engine, boosting digital relationships with people like former SAH President Victoria Young, my fellow Spaniard Macarena de la Vega, and colleagues from Colombia like Ingrid Quintana, among others I got to meet in person for the very first time at Pittsburgh’s conference. For me, SAH operates as the center of a triangle connecting my research interests in the Mediterranean basin, Latin America, and North America. Being continuously exposed to its influence forces me to connect the local aspects of my research and my cultural roots to the global debate on architectural history, diversity, and social justice.

    Do you have a vision for how SAH should evolve in the future? 

    I appreciate very much the work SAH does for all of us. It is one of the most caring and participative communities I know, and I am in no position to say or decide how it should be in the future. This being said, I feel that while SAH presents itself as an international network and many of its programs are effectively geared towards supporting international projects and emergent scholars, most of the debates at its core are heavily framed by the North American academic context, only extensible at some points to the rest of the English-speaking world.

    At the SAH IDEAS Committee Listening Session in Pittsburgh I argued that, while I understand the necessity of these debates and connections between scholars based in the US and Canada, there should be room for more horizontal discussions where it is assumed that all scholars come from different contexts with diverse systems, hierarchies, and rules. The issues affecting research funding, career development, survey teaching, and unions, among others, are totally different from what we experience in other places. Those coming from outside force ourselves to learn about the problems you care most about so we are able to participate, which is very enriching but eventually extenuating. When I get back home (wherever that may be) after some nice and intense days with SAH, I often find myself trying to explain to my colleagues the ideas and values that were in discussion. Their conclusion is usually the same: “That would never happen here” or “We live in a different world.” In my opinion, we are not.

    If SAH, while being led from the US, aims to represent the global community of architectural history, it needs to incorporate these other international issues and support the connection with national institutions outside of the English-speaking world. That is the vision I would propose.

    What advice would you give to someone who wants to enter your field? 

    Let me approach this question as the early millennial that I am:

    THREE THINGS YOU SHOULD HAVE IN MIND TO ENTER THE FIELD OF ARCHITECTURAL HISTORY:

    1. “It is not about you; it is about your community.” In academia, as in life, nobody gets anywhere alone. If you want to grow and advance, you need to collaborate with people and listen to them while also making them listen to you. Care as much as you can for others, and do not be shy when granting small favors. Academic relationships fluctuate in intensity but they never disappear completely, and since the world is a small place, the good you did in the past will eventually become worthwhile. It is a matter of time.
    2. “It is not about your work; it is about how it fits.” Rejection is a close companion of every academic. Regardless of our skills and achievements, we are all rejected many times before achieving any worthy grant, prestigious conference, or ambitious position. It doesn’t matter how high or low you aim because, once your application is sent, it lives its own life. There will always be many circumstances affecting your chances of success other than your work’s “objective” quality, if such thing even exists. You can spend endless hours strategizing and even then, there will be things escaping your control. So, learn to flow and always aim high. Produce ideas and proposals that are innovative and engaging but without getting too attached to them. Train your “application muscle.” If you persevere, your time will come.
    3. “It is not about them helping you; it is about you asking for help.” During the many stages of your academic career, you will meet plenty of people who are supposed to mentor you and help you grow. Many of them won’t. Others will try, but you will not be the better fit for each other. So, seek the people you feel more aligned with, and do not be shy: ask for their support. They may be experts in the topics you are interested in. Perhaps you happen to work together on some random project, or maybe you just like how they navigate their academic life. Arm yourself with your best smile and seek their help. Not always will they be able to do so, but it is worth trying. Worst case scenario: they will know that you exist and that you are ambitious. That is an investment. Best case: you will receive good advice. Maybe you will gain a mentor. Perhaps a long-life friend.

    1 As defined by Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos: Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos, Andreas. “Lawscape.” In International Lexicon of Aesthetics, Vol. 3. Milano: Mimesis, 2020. https://dx.doi.org/10.7413/18258630100.


    SAH members engage with the history of the built environment through a broad array of specializations, professional fields, and areas of interest. Member Stories is a regular feature that recognizes the expertise and unique experiences of our members.

  • When Organized Crime Organizes a City

    by Helena Dean | Jun 08, 2022

    Sundus Al-Bayati is the 2019 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    It is fitting that the Triumph of Death painting is displayed in one of Palermo’s many palazzis, the Palazzo Abatellis, where Antonello de Messina’s Annunciation is exhibited awkwardly in the middle of a room. It is unknown who painted the Triumph of Death, a large fresco extending the two-stories height of the Regional Gallery of Palazzo Abatellis. Having been engrossed recently in the bloody and grotesque history of the Mafia wars in Palermo, at their height between 1978 and 1993, this 15th-century painting seemed to speak of a grim recent past when hundreds of dead bodies populated the streets of Palermo. It wasn’t long ago that I stood in front of another Triumph of Death painting, the one by Bruegel in the Prado museum in Madrid, painted a century later, and influenced by the Italian version hanging then in Palazzo Sclafani in Palermo. Confronted with Bruegel’s Triumph of Death, I was unsettled by the bleak brown and black landscape that dominates the painting, but the army of skeletons pouring into the realm of the living, some wearing hats or bandanas, with stiff dramatic gestures, felt almost humorous.

    There is nothing comical about the Triumph of Death in Palermo. Death is a lone figure, mounted on his skeletal shrieking horse, who jumps out of the center of the painting. The horse is also dead but retains its fleshy mouth and tongue to express its suffering. The well-dressed, beautiful kings and queens suffer calmly as their bodies are pierced with Death’s arrows, nothing like Bruegel’s horror-stricken gesticulating figures running for their lives. The poor and devout either await their turn or have escaped Death’s march, for now. In the eighties and early nineties, the Mafia, like Death on his screaming horse, had triumphed in Palermo. 

    Triumph of Death painting

    Figure 1. Triumph of Death, Palazzo Abatellis, Palermo. Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/

    Triumph of Death painting

    Figure 2. Triumph of Death, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Museo del Prado in Madrid. Image from https://www.museodelprado.es/

    The Mafia wasn’t an outlawed organized crime group working on the fringes of Sicily. They unofficially ruled Sicily and were allowed and supported to amass political and economic control of the island, because of their usefulness to different groups from aristocratic landowners, politicians in the Italian state whose elections depended on votes from Sicily and the American government in its fight against communism. Because of Mussolini’s repression of the Mafia, it made them look naturally anti-fascist to the Americans who, after the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, appointed Mafia bosses and made men into administrative and local government positions in Sicily, perhaps not intentionally.1 Nonetheless, this move was crucial in resurrecting the Mafia and allowing it to become an unstoppable system of power that controlled everything and everyone. 

    Cosa Nostra’s newly gained political power in Palermo allowed their control of the construction industry and led the rapid destruction of Palermo’s green belt to make room for the acres of concrete that constitute the cheap and grim high-rise apartment buildings outside of Palermo’s historic center. Besides being a way to launder drug money, construction and real estate development also gained Cosa Nostra the trust of the aristocratic class that owned the land around Palermo and were eager to reap the benefits of the Mafia-controlled rapid urbanization of the Conca d’Oro, traditionally agricultural land.2 Additionally, within the context of cold war politics, the Mafia was backed by some connections in the Italian and American governments for their effort in targeting socialist and communist organizers and trade union activists that were gaining popularity among laborers and workers in Sicily for the issue of land reforms that was a direct threat to the Mafia business model that was predicated on feudalism. 

    I arrived in Palermo at night, and I got a taxi right away. Except for the orange lights of the highway, the darkness hung over everything. I forgot I just landed on an island and was absent-mindedly gazing out of the window until my eyes made out the silhouette of Mount Pellegrino, which took me by surprise. The next morning, I had two simple goals in mind: find some food and go for a walk around the city to get an idea of the place that I’ll be living in for the next month. I stopped at a restaurant near the port and had the pasta alla norma, a classic Sicilian pasta dish made with eggplant and ricotta cheese. I was ready to start exploring.

    Palermo’s old city center is close to the waterfront. The harbor was strategically important for the Italian and German air bases and was bombed by five different air forces by the end of the war: French, British, American, Italian and German. The historic center suffered a great loss. Walking by the waterfront, I saw some buildings that still look damaged and yet have merged in their ruined state with subsequent shoddy additions that sit on top of the rubble or to the sides. One of the buildings overlooking La Cala port caught my attention on that first day. Its south wall was covered by a mural of two men conferring and laughing with each other. I wondered who they were but soon forgot about it.

    crumbling building facade

    Figure 3. Dilapidated buildings near the port in Palermo’s historic center

    loggia with deteriorating walls

    Figure 4. The Gothic-Catalan loggia of the Santa Maria della Catena near the Cala Port

    pedestrian walkway along ocean

    view of ocean from walkway with stone border

    view of sea from boulder-lined walkway

     

    Figure 5–7. Foro Italico, a pedestrian path and park in Palermo. Rubble from the destroyed buildings in WWII were dumped into the sea adjacent to Foro Italico creating an artificial beach.

    I would later find out that the two men on the wall of the Gioeni Trabia Nautical School building were Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, two famous Sicilians. They were the prosecutors who investigated the Sicilian Mafia in the 1980s and whose work led to the Maxitrial, the biggest effort in Italy's history to bring the members of the Cosa Nostra to justice. It was also the first time the Italian state acknowledged the Sicilian Mafia’s existence as a criminal organization who was responsible for countless murders in the years after the war. Falcone and Borsellino were both brutally murdered a few months apart in 1992 by the Mafia.3 Palermo is full of these opposites: the city of Mafia and anti-Mafia, derelict structures on one block, exuberant Arab-Norman and Gothic-Catalan buildings on another, Mafia-built concrete blocks and monuments to the victims that fought them. 

    view from street of mural of two men on side of building

    Figure 8. Mural of Falcone and Borsellino on the Gioeni Trabia Nautical School, Palermo.

    names appear on steps to building

    Figure 9. Piazza della Memoria in front of the Justice building in Palermo named after the victims of the Mafia whose names are displayed on the steps of the staircase. Eleven steel-marble-brass columns represent the magistrates killed by the Mafia.

    The Sack of Palermo


    Palermo was heavily targeted during the Allied bombing of Sicily between 1941 and 1943. It was the second-most bombed city in Italy after Naples in World War II. Other than Baghdad, which I consider to still be in a state of war, Palermo was the first city in my travels where many ruined buildings from the war eighty years ago still stand. On my way to the Vucciria market, I passed by the crumbling graffiti-covered buildings in and around Piazza Garraffello where a 16th-century fountain, Fontana del Garraffello, somehow survived the bombs that gutted the surrounding structures. In 2014, one of those damaged buildings collapsed even further after heavy rain. Graffiti covers the exposed internal wall of a demolished building and depicts the Fontana del Garraffello with the year 1943 inscribed in the middle of it. Walking a bit further, at the intersection of Via Maqueda and Via Vittorio Emanuelle, known as the Quattro Canti, is a splendid, monumental 16th-century fountain, Fontana Pretoria. Once again, the eye is confounded by beauty and dilapidation. Across from the mayor's office of Palermo and one of the four corner buildings is the abandoned 16th-century Palazzo Chiaramonte Bordonaro, whose restoration began in the 1990s but has been halted since. In Midnight in Sicily, Peter Robb describes the unusual sight of the ruins in the historic center of Palermo on his visit in the 1990s. Thirty years after his writing, some parts of Palermo still display the open wounds of war:

    “Other cities have been bombed in the forties, and many worse than Palermo. What was unique to Palermo was that the ruins of the old city were still ruins, thirty years, fifty years on. Staircases still led nowhere, sky shone out of the windows, clumps of weed lodged in the walls, wooden roof beams jutted toward the sky like ribs rotting carcasses. Slowly, even the parts that had survived were crumbling into rubble.”4

    crowded marketplace with dilapidated buildings in background

    dilapidated buildings with graffiti

    cars parked along dilapidated building with graffiti

    street scene with crumbling buildings in background

    cars parked in alley between deteriorating buildings

    deteriorating buildings

    driveway entrance surrounded by graffiti-covered crumbling buildings

    Figure 10–16. Damaged buildings around the historic center of Palermo

    stone walkway through lawn, crumbling building to left

    crumbling brick building with graffiti

    multi-story building with deteriorating walls with graffiti

    Figure 17–19. Decrepit buildings in Piazza Magione

    statues decorate raised fountain in front of multi-story building

    statue along steps leading to fountain

    Figure 20–21. Fontana Pretoria, Palermo

    people stand outside gated fountain, four-story building in background

    deteriorating facade with Juliette balconies

    view looking up from arched entrance with face sculpture on keystone

    Figure 22–24. Abandoned Palazzo Chiaramonte Bordonaro across from Fontana Pretoria

    What is also unique to Palermo among cities destroyed during World War II is the story of its postwar development, led and controlled by the Sicilian Mafia that irreversibly altered the urban and natural character of the city as well as its immediate surroundings. So destructive was the postwar period between 1950s until mid-1980s for the city that it is referred to as the Sack of Palermo: a story of an elaborate and corrupt alliance of local, national, and international political actors whose interests aligned with Cosa Nostra’s criminal and financial hegemony at the cost of permanently damaging the identity of the city and impoverishing its population. Not long after the war, Palermo was another battlefield. The historic center experienced the most damage during the war to its rich architectural heritage and was completely neglected and left to decay while resources and attention were given to unregulated, Mafia-controlled construction of cheap, low-quality apartment blocks on the city’s outskirts such as Nuovo Borgo, Zen and CEP.5 The green hinterlands of Palermo, known as the Conca d’Oro (the Golden Shell), the citrus plains that surrounded the city and populated with 19th- and early 20th-century Art Nouveau and Liberty Style villas, were largely destroyed to accommodate the Mafia flats. Thus, a large part of Palermo’s natural landscape was lost and with it the livelihoods of the farmers and laborers who cultivated the land and looked after the estates. 

    One of the main tourist attractions in Palermo are three bustling outdoor markets: Ballaro, Vucciria, and Capo, that are frequented by both tourists and locals. Smells, textures, colors, and the loud noises of vendors and customers overwhelm the first time as one learns to navigate this social scene while wading through stalls of fruits, vegetables, grilled seafood, raw chunks of tuna, shiny swordfish, pane and panelle, and the Sicilian sfincione. The markets are unique not only because they hold on to a tradition that goes back to the Arabs that ruled Sicily, but also because they are the last remaining examples of the local enterprises that encompassed social and economic lives in Palermo’s historic neighborhoods before the war. The poor population that worked and socialized in the historic center were forced into the Mafia housing blocks as their neighborhoods lay in ruins and their livelihoods terminated. Wealthier residents were moved to the slightly better apartment buildings along Via della Liberta.6 The breakdown of socio-economic ties in the city facilitated the domination of the Mafia as more people needed jobs and housing. The bosses were the ones that decided who deserved them. Therefore, the Mafia’s grip of Palermo became stronger as the poorer population began to see the Mafia-built flats a sign of progress and modernization that was badly needed and Cosa Nostra as the main employer in the city.7

    “When you walked into the new parts of Palermo it was like walking into the mafia mind. The sightless concrete blocks had multiplied like cancer cells. The mafia mind was totalitarian and even on a summer day it chilled you.”8

    aerial view of multi-story buildings with mountains in background

    Figure 25. Mafia-built housing blocks on the outskirts of Palermo. Images from google earth

    A City Endures


    Despite the neglect and damage that Palermo suffered after the war, its rich architectural legacy that survived is a unique mixture of architectural styles I haven’t encountered anywhere else. Arabic, Norman, and Byzantine elements intermingle in the same building. The Arabs who ruled Sicily from 825 until their defeat by the Normans in 1071, many of whom were farmers, improved irrigation systems, introduced land reforms, and were responsible for the growth of agriculture in many Sicilian cities. For the most part, the Normans didn’t drive the Arabs out of Sicily or persecute them for their religion or traditions. Their tolerant rule led to a unique synthesis of cultures that allowed Palermo to thrive as the capital of the Kingdom of Sicily and become one of the wealthiest cities in Europe. The Normans accepted and even adapted some of the Islamic customs and traditions in their art and architecture, as seen in some of Palermo’s famous architectural landmarks such as the Palatine Chapel where dazzling Byzantine mosaics co-exist with Islamic architectural motifs like the muqranas vaulted ceiling. 

     

    courtyard surrounded by three-story colonnade. people line up on second story.

    Figure 26. People lined up to enter the Palatine Chapel within the Norman Palace complex.

    view up into apses and dome covered in Byzantine mosaics

    apse with Byzantine mosaics and image of Christ Pantocrator

    Figure 27–28. Byzantine mosaics in the Palatine Chapel dating to the 1140s.

    muqranas wood ceiling

    Figure 29. Muqranas wood ceiling in the Palatine Chapel.

    detail of opus sectile mosaics

    Figure 30. Example of the opus sectile mosaics decorating the walls and floors of Palatine Chapel.

    Examples of this multi-layered architecture from the Arab-Norman period are seen all over Palermo. One of my favorite buildings is the church of San Cataldo with its three distinguished red domes, combining a rectilinear church layout on the inside with Islamic domes and arches on the outside. It is not until I arrived in Sicily and visited the Palatine Chapel, Monreale Cathedral, and Cefalu Cathedral that I’ve seen such complete, well-preserved and elegant Byzantine mosaics, juxtaposed with opus sectile decorated floors and walls, arranged in star-shaped polygons typical of Islamic ornamentation. 

    view from water of buildings lining coast with mountains in background

    Figure 31. Cefalu, Sicily.

    view from steps leading up to cathedral

    Figure 32. Cefalu Cathedral dating back to the 12th century.

    woman walk through arched stone doorway with wooden doors

    Figure 33. Entry portal of the Cefalu Cathedral.

    view from nave looking toward the altar

    apse with Christ Pantocrator and Byzantine mosaics

    Figure 34–35. View towards the mosaic-covered apse portraying Chirst Pantokrator.

    view looking toward apse from nave

    view of altar and apse with Byzantine mosaics

    Figure 36-37. Byzantine mosaics in Monreale Cathedral, Palermo.

    grassy courtyard with arched colonnade

    view of arched colonnade and dome

    Figure 38–39. Benedictine Cloister at Monreale Cathedral from 1200. Pointed arches display diaper work and sit on marble columns decorated with mosaics.

    My Airbnb host left me many tourist pamphlets for what to see and do in Palermo and it is precisely this prosperous period of the island’s history under the Normans that is emphasized the most. But between the end of the Norman rule and Italy’s unification in 1870, Sicily experienced more foreign invasions, ending with the Spanish Bourbons who exploited the rich agricultural lands around Palermo and invested their returns in extensive building of Baroque buildings in the city center after destroying much of its medieval architecture.9 Greek, Roman, and Baroque architecture permeates Sicily but it is its Norman legacy that is the most romanticized and connected to a Sicilian national identity. Starting in early 19th century, restoration of buildings in Sicily focused on returning buildings to their Norman image by removing later additions to reveal the “true” Norman form and sometimes reconstructing elements that had long been gone. 10 

    people walk in sunken plaza with building in background

    view looking up at brickwork of three domes

    view looking up at apse and brickwork arches

    brickwork interior of church with Corinthian columns and arches

    decorative mosaics inlaid in floor

    Figure 40–45. Church of San Cataldo in Palermo, a unique example of Arab-Norman architecture from 12th-century Sicily.

    Before World War II, theories guiding the historic preservation of buildings and monuments in Europe began to form in the 1930s as were determined in the Athens Conference of 1931. The principles of preservation that were discussed and promoted for adaptation during the conference were based on minimal alteration of historic buildings and where modifications were required, a conservative and scientific approach informed by data analysis of existing elements were to be implemented. Additions were to be stylistically differentiated from the original.11 The massive damage to cities that was made possible by the evolution of aerial warfare technology during World War II posed unprecedented challenges to the previously accepted theories of historic preservation. In Italy, like the rest of Europe, the strict and conservative preservation rules that were established before the war were thwarted for the sake of saving national heritage. Post-war restoration of historic buildings in Palermo continued the pre-war approach of freeing Arab-Norman buildings of their unwanted pasts.12 The destruction caused by the bombs cleared what stood in the way to further disencumber the authentic heritage of the city. When war destroys a city's history, reconstruction has the potential to re-write it.

    Notes:

    1 Peter Robb, Midnight in Sicily (New York: Picador, 2007).

    2 Vincenzo Scalia, “The Production of the Mafioso Space. A Spatial Analysis of the Sack of Palermo,” Trends in Organized Crime 24, no. 2 (2020): pp. 189–208, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12117-020-09395-7.

    3 Peter Robb, Midnight in Sicily (New York: Picador, 2007).

    4 Ibid, p.9.

    5 Vincenzo Scalia, “The Production of the Mafioso Space. A Spatial Analysis of the Sack of Palermo,” Trends in Organized Crime 24, no. 2 (2020): pp. 189–208, https://doi.org/10.1007/s12117-020-09395-7.

    6 Ibid

    7 Jane Schneider and Peter T. Schneider, Reversible Destiny Mafia, Antimafia, and the Struggle for Palermo (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).

    8 Peter Robb, Midnight in Sicily (New York: Picador, 2007), p.13.

    9 Jane Schneider and Peter T. Schneider, Reversible Destiny Mafia, Antimafia, and the Struggle for Palermo (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).

    10 Giuseppe Scaturro, Danni Di Guerra e Restauro Dei Monumenti. Palermo 1943–1955 (Università degli Studi di Napoli Federico II, 2006).

    11 Ibid.

    12 Ibid.

  • Resistance and Urban Resilience in Barcelona

    by Helena Dean | May 03, 2022

    Sundus Al-Bayati is the 2019 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    Barcelona has been punished throughout history for being the capital of the autonomous Catalan community. Even the city’s urban form reflects a historical Catalan struggle for independence. After the end of the War of Spanish Succession (1701–1714), a neighborhood in Barcelona was flattened in retaliation for resisting the Franco-Spanish forces. Architecture is often used as an instrument of power, and especially during war, to showcase territorial control or mark a political shift. But the story of Barcelona’s urban transformation is not limited to a history of political and social subjugation. On the contrary, Barcelona’s development shows a city that has always been resilient and intentionally planned. I was searching for the traces of the Spanish Civil War in Barcelona, but I found myself as interested in earlier conflicts whose effects contributed to how the city developed across centuries. 

    From a Citadel to a City Park


    Only a small part of the medieval working-class district of La Ribera exists today in Barcelona. The district was razed after the defeat and capture of Catalonia by the Bourbons in the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714. The destruction of the district was not a casualty of war. The residential neighborhood was devoid of any military defensive structures. The demolition was ordered by Philip V after the war ended to punish the city and to clear a space for the construction of a new Ciutadella (citadel). The fortress stood at the current location of Parc de la Ciutadella for more than a century before it was demolished. However, lost parts of the Ribera district can be seen in Barcelona today. In 2013, archeological ruins from the medieval Ribera neighborhood were discovered during excavations beneath a 19th-century cast iron market, Mercat del Born. The excavations were part of a project to build the Provisional Library of Barcelona inside the market. After the discovery, the library project was relocated and the market was transformed to a cultural center to preserve and display an important recovered piece of the Catalan’s past. 

    view between two multi-story buildings

    people walk between two buildings

    archaeological ruins inside market building

    archaeological ruins housed in market building

    Figure 1–4, El Born Culture and Memory Center (CCM), Barcelona

     

    map of plans

    plan

    Figure 5–6, Plans of the destroyed Ribera district and the citadel that replaced it. Image from CCM, Barcelona.

     

    Not far from Mercat del Born, stands one of Barcelona’s main attractions, Parc de la Ciutadella, with its monumental fountain, Font de la Cascada. The park is a microcosm of Barcelona’s urban history since the 18th century. This was the site of the great citadel ordered by Philip V after the demolition of the Ribera neighborhood. The fortress, which was the largest in Europe in its time, was constructed to ensure greater control of Barcelona should a rebellion arise against the King. With the exception of Barceloneta, an area that developed outside the medieval city walls to compensate for the need for housing caused by the demolition of La Ribera neighborhood, Barcelona’s growth was limited inside these walls.1 For over a century, the Ciutadella stood as a symbol of control and subjugation of the Catalan city by the Spanish absolutist government and was thus hated by its residents. 

     

    tiered waterfall with dragon statues

    Figure 7, Font de la Cascaada, Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona

     

    pond with people in boat surrounded by park land

    pond surrounded by flowers and plants

    fountain surrounded by park benches, building in background

    Figure 8–10, Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona 

     

    The fortress was destroyed in the mid-19th century and the rest was turned over to the city council. The site was transformed to a public city park as part of the first comprehensive urban reform in Barcelona, the “Extension” plan by IIdefons Cerda in 1859. The development of the park was further incorporated in the urban transformation of Barcelona when it was selected to host the 1888 Universal Exposition.2 From a symbol of Spanish control and subjugation, the site of the former Ciutadella became the soil for a flowering of Catalan industrial and architectural innovation and expression. One of the most prominent buildings of the Exposition, still in the park today, the Castle of Three Dragons, designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, is an example of Modernisme, a sort of Catalan Art Nouveau, whose most famous practitioner was Antoni Gaudi. Not all the buildings within the old Ciutadella were lost. The current Catalan Parliament sits inside an 18th-century arsenal building that belonged to the citadel, in the place where arms were kept to defend against a Catalan rebellion. 

     

    people walking in grass with castle in background

    front entrance to castle

    Figure 11–12, The Castle of Three Dragons, Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona

     

    gardens in foreground, rooftop of building in background

    Figure 13, The Catalan Parliament Building, Parc de la Ciutadella, Barcelona

    Bunkers, Street Fighting and George Orwell


    When I arrived at my Barcelona rental, one of the first recommendations I received from my landlord was to check out the Carmel Bunkers at the Turo de la Rovira nearby. It has one of the best views of the city, she said. The hill was a strategic location for an anti-aircraft battery structure that went up in 1937, a time where a lot of bunkers were built quickly in Barcelona to shelter residents from the aerial bombs dropped by Franco’s Fascist allies during the Spanish Civil War. I had only been a few hours in Barcelona and someone actually mentioned the Spanish Civil War. I could already begin to see the difference in how the cultural memory of the war is dealt with in Barcelona compared to my experience in Madrid. In general, I found Barcelona’s cultural institutions such as Montjuic Castle, el Born Culture, and Memory Center or the Carmel bunkers, to better confront the memory of the war. 

    Confronting the legacy of the Spanish Civil War in Barcelona might be less controversial than in Madrid. Barcelona is not the capital and was not on the front line during the war. After Franco’s victory, Madrid, especially, was to communicate, through its urban form and architectural language, the image of New Spain and its Falangist principles. Franco’s takeover of Madrid, a city that has resisted a two and half year siege against his forces so that it became an icon of anti-Fascism, was ideologically important. During the Francoist era, Barcelona was neglected. Franco’s totalitarian regime suppressed Catalan culture and nationalism in Barcelona. The Catalan language was forbidden in government institutions and in the media. Autonomous Catalan institutions were abolished. After Franco’s death and Spain’s transition into a democracy, Barcelona was able to begin restoring its Catalan identity, which meant an automatic denunciation of the policies and decisions made during the Spanish Civil War and the Franco dictatorship. 

     

    people sit atop building overlooking city

    people sitting on top of building overlooking the city

    aerial view of city, shrubs in foreground

    concrete bunker with graffiti overlooking city

    graffiti-covered concrete bunkers on top of hill

    detail of graffiti on concrete bunker

    tree on hill with graffiti-covered bunkers behind

    concrete bunkers covered in graffiti

    round concrete bunker with low wall covered with graffiti

    Figure 14–22, The Carmel Bunkers, Barcelona

    From below, I could see the Carmel bunkers sticking out, covered in graffiti. The spot is popular among locals and tourists as a place to hang out or have a picnic and enjoy the expansive views of the city. After the war, a large number of informal settlements emerged in Barcelona due to the lack of housing and the disused anti-aircraft battery became the home of Els Canons shanty town until 1990. From 2011, Museu D’historia De Barcelona (Barcelona History Museum) has transformed the structure into a heritage site with indoor and outdoor exhibition spaces that walk through the history of the bunkers.

    After a week in Barcelona, I went on a Spanish Civil War tour led by a British historian named Nick Lloyd. The tour walks through sites in the Gothic Quarter, Placa de Catalunya, and the Rambla, where significant events and fighting took place during the years 1936–1939. When Nick asked us why we were interested in such a tour, few people had a similar reaction, that they have been in Spain for a while or multiple times and they haven’t heard Spaniards discuss the Spanish Civil War much. The beginning of the tour addressed the revolutionary and anarchist beginnings of the war in Barcelona and buildings that had become iconic during the conflict, like the Telephone Exchange building, where the clashes of the May Events started. 

    The May Events or the May Days refer to the five days in May 1937, where deadly clashes took place between the different parties and militias of the Republican side in the streets of Barcelona. The confrontation started when the Assault Guards, sent by the Republican government to take over the Telephone Exchange building that was controlled by the working-class anarchist CNT group. In Homage to Catalonia, George Orwell, who came to Barcelona in 1936 to fight in the Spanish Civil War against Fascism and was on guard in one of the POUM-controlled buildings during the May Days, describes this bloody and complicated confrontation. His account shows how the city was transformed into a battleground and its streets and buildings were divided among the different political factions:

    “What the devil was happening, who was fighting whom and who was winning, was at first very difficult to discover. The people of Barcelona are so used to street fighting and so familiar with the local geography that they knew by a kind of instinct which political party will hold which streets and which buildings. A foreigner is at a hopeless disadvantage. Looking out from the observatory, I could grasp that the Ramblas, which is one of the principal streets of the town, formed a dividing line. To the right of the Ramblas the working class quarters were solidly Anarchist; to the left a confused fight was going on among the tortuous by-streets, but on that side the PSUC and the Assault Guards were more or less in control. Up at our end of the Ramblas, round the Palaza de Cataluna, the position was so complicated that it would have been quite unintelligible if every building hadn’t flown a party flag.”3

    Towards the end of the tour, we stopped at the church of Sant Felip Neri. The façade of the church carries the scars of the war. Attached to the church is a convent where children sheltered from the bombardment by Franco’s air force on January 30, 1938. On that date, bombs fell on the square, damaging the whole building and killing 42 people, most of them children. During the Franco dictatorship, a different story was told about the events that took place in Sant Felip Neri square. According to Francoist propaganda, the marks on the façade were caused by bullets from anarchist executions of church priests. Today, next to the scarred façade, a black plaque reads: “In memory of the victims of the bombing of Sant Felip Neri. 42 people died here - most of them children due to the action of Franco's air force on January 30, 1938.”

     

    children play outside church

    children play outside church, fountain in foreground

    stone fountain and tree outside church, children playing

    dark metal plaque on stonework wall

    Figure 23–26, Church of Sant Felip Neri, Barcelona

    Unearthing a Roman Past


    Barcelona’s urban development was stunted under Franco, with the exception of one prominent project, the opening of the Avinguda de la Catedral (Cathedral Avenue) in front of the Barcelona Cathedral. In the map of Barcelona, it is one of the wide avenues that carves through the historical urban fabric, right next to the Gothic quarter. The project wasn’t envisioned by Franco’s government. The opening of the Cathedral Avenue was first proposed in Cerida’s renowned urban plan for Barcelona in 1859. Since then, it had been proposed and approved in multiple urban reforms. In each plan, the objectives were sanitation, improved circulation, and better views of the Cathedral. Critics of this urban intervention feared the loss of centuries-old residential and mercantile buildings and the network of narrow streets that gave the area a unique historical character. The bombs dropped by Franco’s air force during the Spanish Civil War flattened a lot of buildings that stood in the way of opening up the Cathedral Avenue.4 So when the war was over, the project resumed as planned. Franco’s interest in the project grew bigger for its economic potential and ideological implications for his regime when Roman ruins, discovered in the early 20th century, took a central importance.

     

    gothic cathedral with people in foreground

    Figure 27, Cathedral of Barcelona

     

    people walk in plaza among buildings

    curved wedge-shaped building with people walking on avenue

    people walk on plaza among buildings

    Figure 28–30, Views of the Cathedral Avenue, Barcelona

    In front of the Gothic Cathedral of Barcelona stood the Roman city wall that marked the northwestern edge of Barcino (Barcelona’s ancient name). In the early 20th century, sections of the walls that ran along Tapineria Street were discovered and their restoration and disclosure were completed in 1953.5 Although the area’s architectural legacy encompasses many historical periods, its Roman one was highlighted and selected for restoration by the new government. The revelation of Barcelona’s Roman past was a fitting message for the regime’s Falangist identity that liked to align itself with the Roman and Hapsburg Empires. The excavations continued following the path of the Roman wall adjacent to the Cathedral towards Placa Nova where two Roman towers mark the city’s gate. Further destruction of the old houses in between the towers revealed an ancient military belt, which formed the northwestern edge of the Roman settlement.6 Not only did the project destroy whatever stood in its way to expose the Roman ruins, a non-surviving arch that was part of the aqueduct that carried water to Barcino was recreated next to one of the towers.

     

    Roman walls and towers, people walking in foreground

    Roman walls and tower mixed with new construction, people in foreground

    Roman towers with new construction, people walking in foreground

    Figures 31–33, Barcino’s Roman walls and the two towers that formed the city’s gate

     

    reconstructed section of aqueduct

    Figure 34, A reconstruction of a section of the aqueduct that carried water to the old city of Barcino

    References


    1Maclean, Robert. “Barcelona: A Case of Urban Palingenesis” In La Città Nuova: Proceedings of the 1999 ACSA International Conference, 29 May-2 June 1999, Rome, edited by Katrina Deines and Kay Bea Jones. Washington, DC: ACSA Press, 1999. 

    2 Ibid. 

    3 Orwell, George. Homage to Catalonia, 117. London: Penguin, 1989. 

    4 Muñoz-Rojas Oscarsson, Olivia. “Archaeology, Nostalgia, and Tourism in Post–Civil War Barcelona (1939-1959).” Journal of Urban History 39, no. 3 (2012): 478–94. https://doi.org/10.1177/0096144212443709. 

    5 Ibid

    6 Ibid

  • The Hidden Scars of the Spanish Civil War in Madrid

    by Helena Dean | Apr 05, 2022

    Sundus Al-Bayati is the 2019 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    On this traveling fellowship I have enjoyed the ability to access a host of masterpieces, pictures I’ve seen only in art history books or on a screen. Every time I stood in front of one of these works of art, I reminded myself of how lucky I am to be on this journey. Likewise, when I altered my travel itinerary for the fifth or sixth time to go to Spain to look at the effects of the Spanish Civil War, I was excited by the prospect of seeing artworks by prominent Spanish artists like Velazquez, Goya, and Picasso.

    Pablo Picasso’s Guernica is perhaps the most well-known artwork about the tragedy of war. When I entered the room where Guernica is displayed in the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid, I was agape by the size of the painting. A collage in grey tones depicts a jumble of contorted shapes resembling figures and animals screaming in pain and sprawled on a canvas that measures 25 ft, 6in across and 11 ft, 5 in tall. The painting represents the bombing of Guernica in the Basque region by Nazi forces in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War, but it could be describing the trauma of any war. 

    Guernica

    Figure 1. Guernica, Pablo Picasso, 1937. Image from: www.museoreinasofia.es

    The power of Picasso’s anti-war message in Guernica involves an embarrassing and symbolic incident at the UN where a tapestry reproduction of the painting is displayed. In February 2003, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell headed to the UN to plead his case for the war on Iraq while Picasso’s Guernica hung behind him. His staff noticed the irony of Guernica’s anti-war screaming faces and asked to cover the painting while Colin Powell gave a speech about why they should invade Iraq. The New Yorker’s cover from March 17th, 2003, (three days before the Iraq invasion) captured this moment in history showing Picasso’s Guernica draped in red curtains.

    New Yorker cover with elements of Guernica

    Figure 2. New Yorker cover from March 17, 2003. Image from: www.newyorker.com

    During the Spanish Civil War, Madrid became a symbol of anti-fascist resistance, enduring a two-and-a-half-year siege, fighting against the rebel forces led by Francisco Franco. Madrid was the first major city in history to experience aerial bombardments of its residential neighborhoods and civilians, which was ordered by Franco as punishment and aided by German and Italian aircraft to extinguish the Republican resistance.1 For a city that was bombed and attacked for such a long time, it was surprising to find out when I got there that the traces of the Spanish Civil War in Madrid, a city that has become a symbol of resistance against fascism, were hidden and undetectable. During the Franco dictatorship, post-war reconstruction was a means to bury any evidence of Spanish resistance against Franco and his Nationalist army. By rebuilding destroyed residential neighborhoods like Arguelles, which was heavily bombed during the siege of Madrid, patching up ruined iconic buildings, and sometimes removing a building altogether as if it never existed, as in the case of the barracks of La Montana de Principe Pio, later generations would grow up unaware of the historical events that shaped their city. 

    The inability to read the effects of the Spanish Civil War in Madrid was not only the product of Franco’s censorship and controlled rhetoric but a characteristic of the amnesty law that was agreed on as Spain was transitioning into a parliamentary government following Franco’s death in 1975. For the purpose of national reconciliation, political parties on the left and right agreed to create the Pact of Forgetting, a law that prevented invoking the legacy of Franco and the Spanish Civil War, as well as not prosecuting war crimes committed during the war and the Francoist period. The consequences of this law permeate every aspect of Spanish material culture, including its post-Civil War architecture and monuments such as the controversial Valley of the Fallen in San Lorenzo de El Escorial, built by the dictator himself.

    My search for the traces of the Spanish Civil War in Madrid was proving difficult, but I was aided by a book that I’ve come across by two architects and professors at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, Madrid Bombardeada: Cartografia de la Destruccion 1936–1939 (Madrid Bombed: Mapping of the Destruction 1936–1939). The book recounts the difficulties the two authors faced in their extensive research to piece together and map the damage inflicted on Madrid during the Civil War. It is supplemented by a large map of Madrid where instances of impact by bombs or artillery are registered in red, resembling blood stains. With a glance at the map, one is able to have a sense about the areas that were damaged most during the civil war. So, with map in hand, I walked around Madrid trying to distinguish what was destroyed and rebuilt and what was untouched during the war. For example, the Arguelles neighborhood, north of the Royal Palace, sustained a lot of damage during the battle of Madrid from being so close to the attacks that were launched from Casa de Campo Park. 

    black and white map of Madrid with red overlay

    Figure 3. Map illustrating the location and extent of the damage in Madrid during the Spanish Civil War. Image from the book Madrid Bombardeada: Cartografia de la Destruccion 1936–1939.

    To understand the effects of the Spanish Civil War on the urban environment, I decided to look more closely into two iconic sites in and around Madrid: La Montana de Principe Pio, where the Egyptian Templo de Debod stands, and the Alcazar de Toledo, some 45 miles outside of Madrid. 

    Military Barracks of La Montana de Principe Pio (La Cuartel de la Montana)

    La Montana de Principe Pio is a hill in Madrid where La Cuartel de la Montana, a 19th-century military barracks used to stand until its demolition after the Spanish Civil War. The site of the barracks holds a symbolic significance for Madrid as the place where Spanish fighters in the Spanish War of Independence were executed by Napoleon’s soldiers in 1808, as it was famously depicted in Francisco de Goya’s painting, The 3rd of May 1808. The military barracks were built in 1860 following the Carlist Wars close to the Royal Palace.2 In 1936, the barracks were the site of yet another iconic uprising that propelled the Spanish Civil War in Madrid. A group of rebel Nationalist officers opposed to the Republican government sieged the barracks with a plan to march out, but their coup d’état ended after a bloody confrontation with Republican militias. 

    painting of man be executed by firing squad at night

    Figure 4. The 3rd of May 1808 in Madrid, or “The Executions,” Francisco de Goya, 1814. Image from: www.museodelprado.es 

    As the barracks lay in ruins, both the Republican government during the war and the Franco regime after the war targeted the site for ambitious and representative projects that sought to communicate their interpretation of the events of July 1936 and post-war Madrid. For the Republicans, the barracks were the site of heroic Madrilenian resistance against fascism and for the Nationalists, it was the place of the first dissenting voices. The government of the Spanish Republic had set up a reconstruction committee for the planning of post-war Madrid and the plan included a new parliament building on the site of the barracks.

    After Franco won the war, a new architectural style and planning were required to mark the ideological and political shift in Spain. Similar to Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, the architectural style advanced by the Falangist Party were the grand and monumental architecture of 17th-century Madrid that aligned a New Spain with the imperial Hapsburg dynasty. The planning scheme included a proposal to build the headquarters of the Falange party on top of the former barracks. In the end, the grand reconstruction project never materialized. According to Olivia Munoz-Rojas, Franco wanted to distance himself from the fascist governments of Hitler and Mussolini who expressed their ideologies through monumental architectural projects. In addition, Spain was struggling economically after the Civil War, which led to the abandonment of these grand plans. The site eventually became a public space and the chosen location to exhibit the Templo de Debod, a gift from the Egyptian government in 1968. The site joins Parque del Oeste to the north, where the frontline during the Spanish Civil War passed through.

    temple in background surrounded by park

    temple with two people on paved walkway

    trees and grass park set against paved walkway

    Figure 5–7. Templo de Debod and surrounding park in Madrid.

    Strolling in the park today, it’s difficult to imagine that one of the bloodiest confrontations of the war in Madrid took place there. The only physical traces that are seen in the northern side of the park are derelict remains of bunkers, nestled between the trees, with no sign or plaque explaining what they are or the charged historical legacy of this site. In Madrid, the legacy of the Spanish Civil War is well buried and curated by years of Franco’s dictatorship.

    deteriorating bunker among trees

    sandy parkland with bunker in distance

    bunker in backround surrounded by trees, park bench in foreground

    corroding bunker, sandy parkland with trees

    rows of trees

    old bunker on sandy parkland, benches in background

    bunker on grassy hill surrounded by trees

    closer view of bunker on hill

    Figures 8–15. Bunkers from the Spanish Civil War in Parque del Oeste.

    view of back of statue showing bullet holes

    front view of statue, Federico Rubio sits, woman presents her child

    Figure 16–17. Bullet holes on a statue of Federico Rubio in Parque del Oeste.

    The Alcazar of Toledo

    From Madrid, I took the train to Toledo, about 35 minutes. Toledo is a popular tourist destination for its preserved medieval layout and rich architectural legacy that includes a Gothic cathedral, a mosque from the 10th century, synagogues and the towering fortress, the Alcazar of Toledo, where the Toledo Army Museum is located. During the Spanish Civil War, the Alcazar of Toledo became another symbolic site in an ideological war. Between July and September 1936, Nationalists and right-wing groups and their families occupied the fortress and fought against the Republican forces as they bombed and destroyed most of the building. The battle to win the Alcazar was driven by its charged symbolic value rather than the need for territorial control. The fortress that dominates Toledo’s views was the royal residence of Spanish kings for centuries after they re-captured the town from the Moors in 1085.3 Before the 1936 siege, the fortress housed the Military Academy in Toledo. For the Nationalists, the Alcazar of Toledo is an icon of Spanish imperial history that cannot be lost to the Republicans. The extensive damage to the fortress can be seen in one of the Army Museum’s small rooms where a miniature model shows the Alcazar in its original state (plexiglass) and ruined state after the siege of Alcazar.

    view of river with stone bridge and city in background

    view of stone fortification, grassy hills, river with bridge

    stone walls surround city, river in foreground

    tall grass in foreground, grassy expanse with buildings in background

    Figure 18–21. Views of the Alcazar of Toledo and its surroundings
     

    The post-war story of the Alcazar of Toledo shows how architecture can be utilized to control the narrative of a place or the retelling of its history by those in power. After Franco won the war, the fortress was left in ruins and its image was disseminated and used in propaganda material as a memorial to the Nationalist victory.4 The restoration of the building started in 1950, many years after the war ended. Franco paid special attention to the reconstruction of the fortress establishing it as a tourist destination that celebrated Spanish victories, most importantly of which is the patriotic display of courage by the Nationalist rebels during the Siege of Alcazar.5 By turning the Alcazar to a commemorative space for his own conquest of Toledo, Franco aligned himself with Spain’s imperial rulers, strengthening his image as protector of Spain and further legitimizing the dictatorship. 

    exterior of Alcazar of Toledo, lightposts in foreground

    double arcade courtyard

    entrance with three-story facade with many windows, lightposts in foreground

    arcade with stone columns, stone floor, benches along wall

    second-floor arcade with black and white tile floor, stone banisters

    Figure 22–26. Views from inside the Alcazar of Toledo.

    Inside the Army Museum at the Alcazar of Toledo, I walked through many rooms that displayed weapons, apparel, miniature models of battles, and objects that celebrated the greatness of the Spanish Empire and its colonial reach. At some point, I was confronted with a crypt that contains the remains of Nationalist soldiers that died during the Siege of Alcazar, but I couldn’t find an exhibit that discussed the iconic event that led to the total destruction of the fortress during one of the most contentious episodes of the Spanish Civil War. I was surprised to find that critical history of the building was confined to one small room on the periphery of the museum floor under the name "The History of the Alcazar." When the Army Museum announced it would move from Madrid to the Alcazar of Toledo in 2003, it caused controversy that the collection would be housed in a famously Francoist icon.

    model showing ruins with wall text in background

    model with glass enclosure, ruins inside

    glass model with ruins inside

    glass model, wall text in and museum cases in background

    another view of glass model with ruins, museum exhibits in background

    detail of ruins inside glass model

    Figures 27–32. Model shows the damaged Alcazar of Toledo after the siege of the building during the Spanish Civil War. The glass containing the ruins represents the original building before destruction. Photos were taken at the Army Museum housed in the Alcazar of Toledo.

    diptych painting in wood frame showing Alcazar of Toledo on left, destruction on right

    drawing of damaged Alcazar of Toledo in white frame

    photos of destroyed Alcazar of Toledo and soldiers, maps and charts

    photos of explosion at Alcazar of Toledo, destroyed buildings, soldiers

    Figures 33–36. Representations and photographs from newspapers reporting on the damage of the Alcazar of Toledo. Photos were taken at the Army Museum housed in the Alcazar of Toledo. 

    Traveling to the Alcazar of Toledo cemented my understanding that the historical memory of the Spanish Civil War is still fighting to break from the controlled rhetoric molded by years of the Franco dictatorship. Spain is still unsure of how to treat its historical monuments that were built after the war and until Franco’s death or re-tell the story of Spanish Civil War from a different point of view in fear of opening past wounds, which means a lot of scars that were inflicted by the winning side remain hidden and unaddressed. My experience in Madrid re-contextualized my view of Berlin and its incessant struggle to understand and come to terms with its memorials and architectural legacy from the Nazi era and World War II. What is Spain going to do to face its past? 

    References

     

    1 Bordes, Enrique, and Sobrón Luis de. Madrid Bombardeado: Cartografía De La destrucción, 1936-1939. Cátedra, 2021.

     

    2 Muñoz-Rojas Olivia. Ashes and Granite: Destruction and Reconstruction in the Spanish Civil War and Its Aftermath. Eastbourne: Sussex Academic Press, 2011.

     

    3 Raychaudhuri, Anindya. The Spanish Civil War: Exhuming a Buried Past. Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2013.

     

    4 Aronsson, Peter, and Gabriella Elgenius. National Museums and Nation-Building in Europe, 1750-2010: Mobilization and Legitimacy, Continuity and Change. London: Routledge, 2017.

     
    5 Ibid.

     

  • Method Acts: Graduate Student-Led Workshops on Recent Approaches to Methodology

    by Helena Dean | Mar 08, 2022

    Seeing the need for continued conversation extending from last year’s successful Method Acts series, the organizers of the 2021–2022 workshop series aimed to continue to explore the constellation of issues framing this call for expansive attention to architectural methodologies. Issues of power, agency, and authorship framed this year’s series while continuing the much-needed conversation on bias, exclusion, and accessibility brought forward by last year's workshops. This year’s events were organized by our 2022 Graduate Student Advisory Committee consisting of Leslie Lodwick, Charlette Caldwell, Katerina Bong, Antonio Pacheco, and Aslıhan Günhan.

    screen shot of webinar

    Screen shot of Method Acts workshop "Questions of Archives and Resources"

     

    We wondered how this generation of scholars would learn to navigate shifting global frameworks as well as how shifting guidelines on health and safety would affect practical and logistical concerns around conducting research. This lack of sure-footedness seemed to highlight questions about the fundamental nature of knowledge itself and how these are made and known in architectural history, while on seemingly perpetually shifting global platforms. Additionally, we asked what lessons were learned from the last two years of the global pandemic and how we might apply questions gleaned from our contemporary sphere to our own work.

    The early career scholars’ research clarified, challenged, and extended these questions in exciting and, at times, unexpected ways through the Method Acts Workshops. The workshops were thematically organized around questions of fieldwork and archives. In the first workshop, fieldwork, Javairia Shahid presented her work on the history of the Calcutta Emigration Camp in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries constructed via field-related documents; Mingqian Liu addressed phenomenological methods of preservation research in a residential neighborhood, Dongsi, in Beijing; and Abhishek Bhutoria highlighted experimental methods needed to write the history of domestic architecture in Barpak, a Nepali Himalayan village destroyed by the 2015 earthquake. In addition to exemplifying the creativity of architectural methods, these researchers also employed art, stories, imagining, remembering, and song to weave narratives and accounts of the built environment.

    In the second workshop organized around questions of the archive, Matthew Allen discussed technologies of architectural software and how they might be understood as frameworks for rethinking periodization; Burcu Köken’s research on the archives of Turkish architectural journal Mimarlık prodded temporal linearity in architectural histories, and Chelsea Spencer proposed a qualitative reading of numbers in construction archives toward reconsidering histories of architectural speculation in defining modernity. All three presenters’ research methodology came together to ask broader questions about assembling fragmented and abstruse information while making it accessible and legible for the general readers. Numbers, software codes, and non-English archives (Turkish) also sparked discussions of translation and interpretation that directly impacted how scholars interacted with these forms of language. Challenging the conventions of archival methodology through Method Acts provided a fruitful discussion and platform for further exploration.

    Each presenter shared texts and images central to their work prior to engaging with a direct conversation with workshop participants. Challenging the conventions of methodology through Method Acts provided a fruitful discussion and platform for further exploration of architectural history in the changing global dynamics. While the Covid-19 related lockdown initiated the Method Acts in 2020, we are hoping to continue our conversations on architectural history in an ongoing and global context.

  • Homecoming: Stories from Baghdad

    by Helena Dean | Mar 07, 2022


    Sundus Al-Bayati is the 2019 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    The Unending War 


    “So, what do you think of Baghdad?” is a question I was asked by family and friends in the month I was “home,” visiting for the first time in 10 years. It was the first destination in my fellowship travel that I was in a place where the nuances of culture and language were accessible to me. I wasn’t a tourist this time. When I envisioned my itinerary for this fellowship, I didn’t include Baghdad because the city is still in a state of war but also it is because of Baghdad that I went on this journey to see what can be learned from the long-term consequences of war on how cities develop. But when does war end and reconstruction begin? What do these long years of recovery look like? Berlin and Warsaw allowed me to observe established models of post-war reconstruction and their effects across a long span of time. Baghdad, however, is still undergoing sporadic conflict and political instability and offers a look at those intermediate years of struggle and recovery where consequential decisions about the urban environment are made.

    Growing up during wartime becomes normal. After leaving Iraq and having the perspective of a normal life, I was able to start to process my experience and realize how unusual our lives were. I was born three months before the first Gulf War and the beginning of the thirteen year-long sanctions by the United States Security Council on Iraq as punishment for Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. I was thirteen years old when the US invaded Iraq under false pretenses. I was twenty when I left for the US. My sister was born two years after the Iran-Iraq war; my brother two years before its end. My mom and dad lived through the end of the British-instilled Iraqi monarchy, the establishment of the Baath Party, the rising of Saddam Hussein to power and his wars. War creates its own timeline through which we measure our lives. It permeates our everyday language. Significant life events are situated in relation to their proximity or distance from war, “so and so graduated three years after the war; so and so left five years before the war.” Sometimes it’s the “war with Iran,” sometimes it’s the “war with Kuwait,” but when it is just “war,” it refers to the most recent one, the 2003 US invasion of Iraq. 

     

    The Consequences of War 


    So how does Baghdad look? Ruined. It is safer now than it was before I left. The bombings that used to disrupt our daily lives and keep us confined to our homes have subsided and public life is thriving again with new cafes, restaurants, and more recently, malls. However, unfettered corruption in governmental and public institutions and non-existent regulations are accelerating the decline of Baghdadi neighborhoods. They are destroying any historical character left in this city. 

    I arrived in Baghdad from Istanbul at 3 am. The Baghdad International Airport is unlike any in the world. People aren’t allowed to show up to the airport to pick you up for security reasons. There are shuttles that take you to a public square where your family or special taxis can pick you up. However, a friend who has connections in airport security managed to get my brother on a vetted list of people who can enter the airport within the specific time window of my landing there. So there was my brother, taller than I remember, and now with a beard, waiting for me. We hadn’t seen each other for 10 years. 

    On the drive from the airport, I looked out the window to see what had changed. There are the quintessential palm trees still, albeit diminished in numbers. Concrete blast barriers and security checkpoints are still lining up the streets, the outcome of years of suicide bombs (Figure 1). When I arrived to the Harithiya neighborhood, where my mother and brother live, it was too dark to discern yet how this once quiet and old neighborhood had dramatically changed. I used to come to this neighborhood once a week, to my grandparents’ house where all my aunts, uncles and their kids would convene every Friday. Now my grandparents’ house, which used to have a huge garden where we’d played soccer as kids, had been demolished. Five new houses sprung up in its place, inhabited by different households, including my brother’s. The houses are tightly packed next to one another to utilize every centimeter of highly valuable land. Where is the garden?

    The fate that my grandparents’ house met is part of an uncontrolled and chaotic construction trend that is changing the shape and urban quality of many Baghdadi neighborhoods. Older houses with gardens and an architecture that worked with the hot climate of Baghdad are being scrapped to accommodate multiple houses that cover the whole lot, and often the sidewalks. The streets that I used to roam and play in with my cousins are no longer walkable. Cars, escaping the traffic on major streets, crowd the inner neighborhood streets and with no sidewalks, eradicate any sense of pedestrian life.

    A consequence of the 2003 War is the spread of corruption at all levels of governmental institutions, not excluding the municipality regulating construction practices in Iraq. Violations of building regulations are routinely permitted through bribes. This is why public sidewalks are disappearing or multi-family apartment buildings are popping up next to single family houses. Corruption, a long lasting consequence of the war, is destroying what’s left of Baghdad’s identity. The old ways of building that mitigated the harsh summer heat are replaced with overbuilt concrete lots that lack any open space for shade or ventilation. As new houses are getting narrower to fit as many as possible on the lot, they are growing taller, violating height regulations and transforming the scale of traditional neighborhoods. Along with an egregious mishmash of façade materials and styles that are often meant to communicate socio-economic status, Baghdadi neighborhoods are breaking with historical and architectural continuity. 

    I sat through many amusing conversations listening to my mom’s friend telling of her treacherous experience navigating government bureaucracies to have permission to demolish her old house and build three apartments in its place. With every step of the process that has been ongoing for a few months already, she was turned away for trivial things such as not having enough photocopies of a certain document or a mysterious old unpaid electricity bill totaling two dollars. Every obstacle would set her back a few extra weeks, unless, of course she reached for her purse and dispersed some “red ones,” referring to the 25,000 Iraqi Dinar bill. My mom’s friend’s quandary is exacerbated by the fact that she was inexperienced in smoothly handing out bribes. It was both comical and unsettling to watch her friends teach her how to be a smooth operator, otherwise, they said “you’d still be in the same place next year.”

    A lot has changed in the 10 years I’ve been away from home. New types of architectural projects have appeared as both a symptom of the current dysfunctional state of government and as an escape from a present that is lacking in basic needs. I was struck by the sight of the gated residential developments going up all around Baghdad (Figure 2–3). Baghdad has traditionally been a low-rise sprawling city, so the sprouting of these towers significantly alters its shape and scale. These new self-sufficient neighborhoods consist of apartment buildings, hospitals, pharmacies, schools, etc. They become cities of their own, possessing an alternate reality shaped by real estate developers and independent of the one run by the government outside its gates. That’s not the only thing rising up in Baghdad’s skies. Baghdad is experiencing an increased popularity and proliferation of shopping malls. From my mother’s house, I can see the electronic billboards of Baghdad Mall (Figure 4). People in Baghdad kept telling me that the only new things that get built these days are restaurants and malls because “what else is there to do than eat and shop?” 

    The rise in the number of shopping malls going up around Baghdad can be explained further by this paragraph from Omar Sirri on the connection between the political situation in Iraq and shopping malls:

    “The popularity of Baghdad’s new shopping malls does not mean the city’s residents have acquiesced to this order of things. Nor do they believe shopping centres are the most ideal places of pleasure and entertainment. Rather, during years of physical insecurity in Baghdad, the secured shopping malls—with their metal detectors, watch towers, and armed private security contractors—became safe places in which residents could ‘breathe’. Insecurity in the city helps facilitate new shopping malls as sites of social pleasure that are vital to everyday survival; they are frequented in part because nothing else is on offer.”1

     

    yellow car near a concrete wall, palm trees in background

    Figure 1 Unsightly Concrete blast walls still stand in many parts of Baghdad

     

    aerial view of three high-rise apartment towers

    Figure 2 Iraq Gate apartment complex. Image from http://iraqgate.com/

     

    aerial view of multiple high-rise apartments

    Figure 3 Al-Ayadi apartment complex. Image from http://www.ayadigroup.com/

     

    view of mall from parking lot at dusk with palm tree silhouettes

    Figure 4 Baghdad Mall in the background

    The Scars of War 


    I was one year old when the U.S Air Force dropped two “smart bombs” on the air-raid shelter of Al-Amiriya in Baghdad. The attack resulted in the death of approximately 400 women and children. The numbers vary as the book that documented the number of civilians sheltering in the building was incinerated inside. The first bomb made a hole in the three-meter-thick reinforced concrete. The second one entered through the opening and exploded, incinerating everyone inside.2

    The shelter is not too far from my maternal grandparent’s home in the Amiriya neighborhood. I went to see the building with my mother and aunt on the way to my uncle’s house, which used to be my grandparents'. As I was approaching the shelter, it became clear that it is not open to the public nor is it a memorial space as it was suggested online. The building looked deserted and closed. Piles of trash stand inside of its fenced walls and broken glass is everywhere. My aunt asked a guy on the street if the shelter is open. He told her to go over to the gate and knock and a security officer should be there to answer her question. So we went over and knocked on the gate and waited. A minute later, a security officer showed up. We asked him if the shelter is open and if we can take a look inside. He asked if we were journalists; he is not allowed to let in journalists. I told him that I am an architect writing about war and destruction. He seemed hesitant. He said he usually lets people in who want to say prayers for the souls that were lost on that miserable night in 1991. He said he often had visitors who lost their loved ones inside the shelter.

    The kind security officer opened the gate for us. Before we entered the shelter, we stopped to look at the memorial commemorating the victims of the shelter (Figure 5–6). The officer said he is tired of chasing after kids who would break in and destroy the gravestones. He didn’t understand those kids. He asked us if we are okay to go inside the shelter on our own or if we need him to come with us. He warned that it is completely dark inside and there might be stray dogs. We all voted that he should guide us through the building. We didn’t understand at the beginning that this building was abandoned. There was no light or electricity. It was open to the elements. We turned our phone flashlights on as we entered. I held my mom’s hands, worried she’d trip over the debris and broken pieces of glass, concrete, and wires. Through the main entrance, black and white photocopies on cheap paper that display the victims’ portraits are taped to the walls. We entered through the heavy steel door of the shelter, which after it was subjected to the intense heat from the missile, melted and sealed shut, trapped everyone inside. Then it was dark. We walked slowly and carefully until there it was, frozen in time and unchanged, the hole in the ceiling from the missile 30 years ago, illuminating the darkness below. War is cruel.

    red, white, and black curvilinear memorial with woman in foreground

    stone markers

    Figure 5–6 A memorial for the victims of Al-Amiriya Shelter

     

    concrete facade with arched doorways with broken glass

    Figure 7 Entrance to the shelter

     

    black and white photocopies of photos of victims attached to a white wall

    Figure 8 Photocopies of the victims’ portraits taped to the wall of Al-Amiriya Shelter

     

    room with steel walls and meter-thick door

    Figure 9 A meter-thick steel door

     

    corridor of the shelter

    Figure 10 One of the shelter’s corridors, a blackened wall on the right

     

    hole in reinforced concrete ceiling with sunlight coming through

    Figure 11 The hole in the reinforced concrete ceiling where the missile entered

     

    pile of flowers on floor with dust and rebar

    Figure 12 Flowers for the dead lay underneath the missile’s entry hole

     

    silhouette of two women walking down dark corridor to the light

    Figure 13 Walking towards the exit from the unlit and pitch-black interior of the shelter

     

    green sculpture of woman's head screaming with stylized flames

    Figure 14 Monument to commemorate the victims of the Amiriya Shelter stands outside the building

     

    There have been a lot of bombings in Baghdad since 2003, but the memory of some lingers with Iraqis more than others for their unprecedented brutality and terror, like the Karrada explosion in 2016. A suicide truck bomb exploded in the Shia’ neighborhood of Karrada next to the popular shopping center Al-Hadi during the holy month of Ramadan. The explosion killed 340 civilians and injured hundreds. I wasn’t living in Baghdad by that time. When I was in Baghdad, my mother and her friend took me to the Karrada neighborhood to take a look at the site under construction. 

    four-story building under construction, clothes hang on racks outside, cars and moped in foreground

    storefronts with racks of clothes on sidewalk, cars on street in foreground

    Figure 15–16 Reconstruction of the shopping center that was destroyed in the 2016 Karrada

     

    In the Company of Women: Women and Urban Space in Baghdad 


    I grew up knowing Baghdad from the car while being driven around by my parents, the school bus, and other adults. I remember being able to play outside in my neighborhood and ride my bike with my neighbor until one day it wasn’t acceptable. I had crossed the threshold from kid to girl. Hereafter, I mostly experienced the city in the car as I was going to and from school or from one house to another. The public realm of the city wasn’t accessible to me. It was the domain of men and boys. With time, it became uncomfortable walking outside and being subjected to unwanted looks and advances. The war and unsafe conditions on the streets only pushed us girls and women more inside the house. The first time I experienced the joy of walking on my own and exploring the city was when I lived in Damascus for a year when I was 19. 

    But things are different in Baghdad now. The city is safer for everyone but it is still a gendered space. My mode of exploration for the past four months of this fellowship involved a lot of walking around, even during the cold winter of Poland. But here in Baghdad, especially in some of the historical areas, I felt uncomfortable as a woman walking around with a DSLR camera. I felt myself walking fast and not stopping too long to get a good picture. Quickly, I learned to explore in a different way in Baghdad, not by myself, but in the company of other women. My mother, her friends, and my own friends were more than happy to take me around Baghdad and to accompany me to site visits. My favorite moments were when they told me that I showed them a new part of Baghdad they’ve never seen.

     

    The State of Architectural Heritage in Iraq 


    The sad thing about the destruction of architecture in Iraq is that it hasn’t only been the result of direct fighting during the war or from suicide bombs, but mainly from the failure of the government and municipalities to protect architectural heritage and enact regulation that would prevent the ceaseless destruction of historical neighborhoods. It is a manifestation of the long-lasting effects of war in crippling a country’s soul for years to come. The crumbling buildings of Al-Rasheed Street are not the product of bombs but of a broken system in a war-torn country that is still struggling to form a stable nation-state and suffers political and social instability. As Iraq is still struggling to address basic economic and social needs of its society, its architecture is reflecting the corruption and dysfunction of its institutions. 

    I don’t think I’ve ever been to Al-Rasheed Street before this visit even though I’ve read and written about it before. It was the first boulevard built by the Ottomans in 1916 and is one of the most important cultural and political spaces in Baghdad (Figure 17–26). Most recently, the 2019 demonstrations that stunned the country in the biggest form of civil unrest since 2003 also manifested in Al-Rasheed Street, despite endangering its already collapsing historical structures. The state of Al-Rasheed Street now almost brought me to tears. I’ve seen images of it in its heyday with its beautiful colonnades shading pedestrians from the summer heat. Now its colonnades and balconies are tilting and collapsing. The life around it, so accustomed to loss and destruction, keeps on going, almost oblivious to its slow death. I started my walk at Maidan Square and walked through Al-Rasheed Street until I arrived to the most famous and beloved street in Baghdad, Al-Mutanabbi Street (Figure 27–31). Named after the Abbasid poet from the 10th century, Al-Mutanabbi, this whole pedestrian-only street is dedicated to one thing: selling books. Established bookstores and small book stalls line up both its sides while pedestrians walk in the middle browsing new releases or used old books. This peaceful avenue wasn’t spared the violence either. In 2007, a suicide bomb exploded there and killed around 100 people. The street has just celebrated a major renovation right when I arrived in Baghdad in December. 

    crumbling row of retail buildings with goods on sidewalk along street

    two yellow cars in street alongside deteriorating building storefronts

    facade of concrete and brick buildings with boarded up, roofless building in center

    crowded street scene with vendors, buildings with colonnade, crumbling facades

    people walk down street filled with racks of clothes alongside three-story facade

    cars are flanked by people and rows of goods, colonnade facade in background

    yellow cars in foreground, crumbling yellow-brick colonnade building in background

    Figure 17–23 Deteriorating buildings on the historical Rasheed Street

     

    concrete building withe cylindrical top and square base, street scene in foreground

    Figure 24 The Abboud building, a modernist building by the Iraqi architect Rifaat Al-Chadirji, also neglected and deteriorating

     

    man with gray beard smiles at camera among street vendors

    Figure 25 A man that works in one of the shops on Al-Rasheed Street. His friend asked me to take his photo while I was photographing the building

     

    mosque with blue and gold domes, line of parked cars and dumpsters in foreground

    Figure 26 Haydar Khana Mosque,1826

     

    people walking on paved road with retail shops on either side

    tables of books along walkway with two-story retail shops

    tables display books in front of colonnade storefront

    people walk down paved walkway with yellow brick colonnade storefronts

    Figure 27–30 The newly renovated Mutanabbi Street

     

    two-story yellow brick building with wraparound balcony

    Figure 31 The famous Shabandar Café is an old and beloved space in Al-Mutanabbi Street since 1907

     

    Baghdad was established as the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate in 762 A.D. There are few remnants of Abbasid architecture in the city, although neglected and in desperate need of repairs. One wonders how long before they, too, disappear from the urban fabric and the public’s consciousness. While I was out with my newly acquired friend, Zina, in a café near Al-Mutanabbi called Al-Mdalaal, the owner approached us with a flier. He told us about an upcoming trip he is organizing to visit Al-Ukhaider Fortress, the Abbasid structure south of Karbala, Iraq. I was delighted. I’ve been trying to find a way to go to Al-Ukhaider and this opportunity just fell from the sky. I took the flier. I went with my mother, her friend, and Zina on a day-long trip (Figure 32–49). The structure seemed to be in a good shape on the outside, probably due to its isolated location in the desert of Karbalaa. It is not protected nor maintained, as evident by the graffiti and trash left by visitors. After exploring it on the inside for a while, it was clear that this historical building is falling apart as well. It was built in 778 by Isa ibn Musa, the nephew of Abbasid Caliph As-Saffah. The massive structure encompasses courtyards, residences, and a mosque. The building displays the early architectural innovation of the Abbasid period, such as the use of the pointed and transverse arches, which became characteristic of Islamic architecture. It is one of the earliest examples of Abbasid palaces that exists till this day.3 However, it has been on the Tentative List of UNESCO World Heritage sites since 2000.

    fortress walls with people in foreground

    people stand outside fortress walls

    stone walls of fortress with arches and turrets
    aerial view of inside of walled fortress

    stone walls and columns with etched graffiti

    fortress facade with entryway

    arched doorway

    people stand in corridor beyond doorway of barrel-vaulted room

    four geometric designs inset in squares in barrel vault

    detail of deteriorating stone arched entryway

    view through crumbling stone arched doorway into another room

    tops of buildings in foreground, arched fortress wall in background

    view from inside fortress with paved atrium surrounded by arcade

    view into atrium within fortress, people in background

    view down long corridor with stone barrel vault ceiling and arches

    view of interior of fortress

    interior view of fortress with many levels

    interior of fortress showing tops of buildings

    Figure 32–49 Al-Ukhaider Fortress

     

    My favorite piece of architecture during this visit in Baghdad has to be the Zumurrud Khatun Mausoleum (Figure 50–59). It’s another gem from the Abbasid period, which displays the unique nine-layered, conical muqarnas dome rising over tombs of important Imams or political figures (Figure 51). But this was built by sitt Zubayada, the mother and wife of Abbasid Caliphs. She commissioned the building of the mausoleum while she was still alive.4 The mausoleum is situated in Sheikh Marouf Cemetery in the Karkh side of Baghdad (Figure 58). The tomb is enclosed in an octagonal structure that supports the base of the conical dome. The muqarnas dome is pierced with openings letting daylight to the inside of the tomb space creating a mesmerizing play of light and shadow. On the outside, the walls of the enclosure are covered with geometric patterns and pointed arches. When we arrived at the tomb, we were met by a poor family that lived in or near the cemetery. They offered to guide us for a little tip. The man told us that all his family is buried next to the mausoleum and that’s where he will be, too. He guided me up the narrow and claustrophobic staircase from inside the room of the mausoleum to the top of the base where I had a good look at the cemetery and Baghdad at large. I was able to take a closer look at the muqarnas dome on the outside (Figure 54–56). I saw it is cracking and splitting and noticed the steel cables trying to hold it together. I worried about this beautiful and forgotten spot and its eventual loss if the Iraqi state continues to neglect its monuments.

    brick mausoleum with octagonal base and muqarnas dome

    Figure 50 Zummurd Khatun Mausoleum, 1202

     

    view up into the muqarnas dome

    Figure 51 Conical muqarnas dome from the inside. Three windows and small holes in the muqarnas dome allow daylight to enter the space below.

     

    octagonal mausoleum with ornate brickwork and muqarnas dome

    detail of ornamental brickwork, palm fronds in foreground

    Figure 52–53 Ornate brickwork and pointed arches from the Abbasid period

     

    exterior of muqarnas dome

    steel ladder leads to the top of exterior of muqarnas dome

    detail of cracked and degraded stone exterior

    Figure 54–56 Muqarnas dome on the outside shows cracking and wearing away of some parts

     

    dome with ornate patterned brickwork

    Figure 57 Domed entrance to the mausoleum from the later Ottoman period

     

    view over cemetery with cityscape in background

    Figure 58 Sheikh Marouf Cemetery where Zummurd Khatun Mausoleum is located

     

    crumbling headstones made of brick

    Figure 59 The current state of the cemetery

     

    On the way back from Al-Ukhaider, which is some 100 miles from Baghdad, my mom and others suggested to the Midalaal crew to organize a tour of historic sites in Baghdad. They welcomed the idea and planned one right away. So on a nice sunny day in the mild winter of Baghdad, we went to the Midalaal café, had our Arabic coffees, and set out to walk around. We arrived at the Abbasid Palace, and while others went to look at another historical building nearby, I beat the crowd to the palace to take some photos. I entered the quiet courtyard of the palace through a monumental iwan, ornate with geometric and vegetal designs characteristic of Islamic architecture (Figure 60–66). Historians are not sure if this structure was actually used as a palace or if it was a madrasa (school). Its design is very similar to Al-Madrasa Al-Mustansyria in Baghdad. Opposite to the entrance and on the other side of the courtyard, stands another elaborately ornate iwan, which is flanked by the most striking design element of this two-story palace, muqarnas-decorated arcades. It was the first time I saw anything like it.

    single-story building with patterned brickwork, pointed arch iwan

    Figure 60 Entrance to the Abbasid Palace

     

    iwan with pointed arch and ornate brickwork

    Figure 61 Entry iwan of the Abbasid Palace

     

    detail of intricate diagonal patterned brickwork

    patterned brick with quatrefoil stars in squares

    serpentine column along the corner of brickwork building

    ornamental stonework with floral shapes inside hexagon pattern

    star-shaped patterns inset into brickwork

    Figure 62–66 Geometric and vegetal brickwork designs on the exterior walls and entry iwan of the Abbasid Palace in Baghdad

     

    courtyard with fountain and two-story arcade with pointed arched and ornamental brickwork

    view of fountain in courtyard with double arcade

    ornately decorated pointed archways

    double arcade with palm trees in background

    view into courtyard with four men near fountain

    view into courtyard, palm tree rise above double arcade

    Figure 67–72 Interior courtyard of the palace

     

    view up into muqarnas arch

    muqarnas arcade

    Figure 73–74 Muqarnas-decorated arcades

     

    References:

    1 Sirri, Omar. “Seeing the Political in Baghdad's Shopping Malls.” LSE Middle East Centre, July 2, 2020. https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/mec/2020/01/09/seeing-the-political-in-baghdads-shopping-malls/.

    2 Barbarani, Sofia. “Amiriyah Bombing 30 Years on: 'No One Remembers' the Victims.” Conflict | Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera, February 17, 2021. https://www.aljazeera.com/features/2021/2/13/amiriyah-bombing-30-years-on-no-one-remembers-the-victims.

    3 Bassem, Wassem. “Stepping Back 1,300 Years into Iraq's Ukhaidir Palace.” Al-Moniter, December 3, 2015. https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2015/12/iraq-karbala-ukhaidir-palace-neglect-history.html.

    4 Al-Hadithi, Atta, and Hana' Abdul Khaliq. “The Conical Domes in Iraq.” Baghdad: Ministry of Information, Directorale General of Antiquities, 1974.

  • Member Stories: Bridget Maley

    by Helena Dean | Feb 03, 2022

    Bridget Maley, a white woman with short blond hair, wears a navy top and cardigan, blue necklace, and smiles at the camera

    Bridget Maley is the owner of architecture + history (a + h), an architectural history and historic preservation consulting firm. She lives in San Francisco, California, and has been a member of SAH since 1995.

    Can you tell us about your career path? 

    I started my career in historical archaeology at Old Salem, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina then at Monticello and Poplar Forest, both sites affiliated with Thomas Jefferson in Virginia. I received a master’s degree in Architectural History from the School of Architecture at the University of Virginia (UVa). I benefited from an incredible network of academic and professional mentors while at UVa and after! I moved to San Francisco, California, and began working for an architectural firm specializing in historic preservation, Architectural Resources Group (ARG), as their first in-house architectural historian. I helped ARG grow a historic resources and architectural history studio, at one point managing seven architectural historians in two offices. My time at ARG taught me that you can manage a business while doing the work that you love. I started my own practice ten years ago and I love the flexibility of working for myself!

    What interests you most about architectural history? 

    I think it’s the stories that buildings and sites tell us; they provide a tangible, visible reminder of our past. I particularly enjoy the research component…finding that one piece of information that completes the puzzle and really informs how we interpret a particular historic place.  

    What projects are you currently working on? 

    The past three years, I’ve had a significant focus on National Park Service (NPS) projects. I’ve participated in several Historic Structure Reports (HSR) on Mission 66-era NPS Visitor Centers in California and Alaska. I’m working on a project in Mount Rainier National Park looking at historic resources from both the NPS Rustic Architecture period and the Mission 66 era at Ohanapechosh Campground. I also have a project at Tule Lake, a component of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, documenting several of the only remaining built resources from the Tule Lake Segregation Center. I’m participating in an HSR for two employee cabins at Lassen Volcanic National Park. Lastly, I’ve contributed recently to a Maintenance Plan for the Glacier Bay Lodge in Alaska, one of the few Mission 66-era lodges built in the National Park system and am documenting 1960s Pan Abode-constructed (kit) cabins in Alaska’s Katmai National Park, that are threatened by some very large bears who like to gnaw and scratch on their wood components!

    Additionally, I’ve had several projects at the University of California, Santa Cruz, one of the most significant collections of modern campus buildings in California. Lastly, I am currently leading a team of historians writing a National Register of Historic Places Historic District Nomination for St. Francis Wood, a designed residence park with over 550 homes in San Francisco, laid out by the Olmsted Brothers. On a more personal level, I’ve been researching the California architect, John Carl Warnecke, with the intent to publish something…at some point…in my free time!!

    Do you have a particular memory of when you first became aware of the significance of architecture or when you knew you wanted to study it? 

    As an undergraduate, I attended Salem College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The college is set within Old Salem, a preserved historic Moravian village set in a surrounding urban environment. Old Salem is a collection of historic sites, gardens, and buildings open to the public with extensive interpretive programs, including working trades people demonstrating various craft practices. Within my first year of college, I began to understand the importance of place and history through experiences at Old Salem. The summer after my sophomore year I participated in an archaeological excavation of the tannery site in Salem. This opened my eyes to how historical research and informed field investigations intersect to shape the stories we tell at historic sites.

    Who has influenced your work or career? 

    There have been several key individuals who served as wonderful mentors throughout my career. First, Michael Hammond, my undergraduate Anthropology / Archaeology professor and the Archaeologist for Old Salem. William Kelso, historical archaeologist, who I worked with at both of Thomas Jefferson’s homes, Monticello and Poplar Forest. Drake Patten, who managed the archaeological laboratory at Poplar Forest. Richard Guy Wilson and Barbara Burlison Mooney, who I studied with at UVa. J. Murray Howard, the former Architect for Historic Buildings and Grounds at UVa, who I had the great fortune to work with for a summer. Bruce Judd and Stephen Farneth, founding Principals of Architectural Resources Group (ARG); Nina Pascale, Marketing Director at ARG; and really all the amazing colleagues I worked with over 16 years at ARG. Lastly, San Francisco Architectural Historian, Anne Bloomfield, who died way too young, and who took me under her wing when I first moved to San Francisco.  

    What is your biggest professional challenge? 

    Time management!! As a sole practitioner you do the field work, conduct historical research, write reports, correspond with clients, generate invoices, pay incoming invoices, manage subconsultants, and solve IT problems. Whew!! I don’t have time for time management!!

    When and how did you become involved with SAH?  

    I joined SAH as a graduate student at the University of Virginia where the Thomas Jefferson Chapter was founded and continues to be very active. I served as president of the chapter for the 1992–93 academic year. When I moved to San Francisco I joined the Northern California Chapter of SAH and wrote and produced the newsletter for a few years and also served as chapter president for a period. My first SAH conference was Seattle (1995) where I gave a “Work in Progress” talk in a focused session for graduate students and emerging scholars. I served as the national SAH Chapter Liaison from 2004 to 2011. I’ve stayed active in SAH helping organize the Pasadena conference in 2009, participating on a book award committee one year, and most recently serving on the SAH CONNECTS Advisory Committee.

    Do you have a vision for how SAH should evolve in the future? 

    It has been very rewarding to see SAH embrace the digital humanities, encourage a more diverse membership through targeted outreach, and actively engage a broader audience. These initiatives indicate a leadership and membership committed to staying relevant in a changing academic, research, and publication landscape. I think if SAH continues to evolve within an academic and scholar-focused environment the organization will be poised to remain a leader in the humanities.

    What advice would you give to someone who wants to enter your field? 

    Network, network, network. This is a small field and it's critical to meet others with similar interests and career paths. Most of us are more than happy to mentor a younger generation because we benefited from interaction with excellent mentors ourselves.


    SAH members engage with the history of the built environment through a broad array of specializations, professional fields, and areas of interest. Member Stories is a regular feature that recognizes the expertise and unique experiences of our members.

  • Expanding the Media of Architectural Research: Native Boarding School Assignments and Architectural Settler Colonialism

    by Helena Dean | Jan 21, 2022

    Maura Lucking, a Ph.D. candidate at UCLA Architecture and Urban Design, received the 2021 Gill Family Foundation Dissertation Research Fellowship for her 
    dissertation project, “American Artisan: Design and Race-Making in Industrial Education, 1866–1924."

    As has been the case for many scholars, my dissertation research was fundamentally changed by Covid-19. While it quickly became clear that my ability to travel and access certain archives would be postponed, what I wasn’t able to anticipate were the ways in which research in the pandemic age would push me to develop new analytical methods in order to work with the materials that I did have access to. My research traces a settler colonial history of the U.S. Land Grant college program, including federally funded schools for Native American and African American students in that legacy and foregrounding the relationship between the land dispossession and exploitative labor practices that determined campus designs and the racially segregated industrial curricula that took place there.

    While I had planned to spend extensive time on-site at my case study schools, Covid meant pivoting to email exchanges with incredibly helpful and accommodating archivists, often supplementing those primary archives with materials at other institutions with the resources to make materials available digitally. Ultimately, it has shifted my emphasis on small-scale student work and issues of representation within these schools’ curricula in addition to spatial analysis of campus buildings and often difficult-to-access and digitize drawing sets. I am grateful for the support of SAH's Gill Family Foundation Dissertation Research Fellowship for the ability to have such materials digitized for closer study at home.

    In part, this pandemic-mandated shift has also pushed me to consider how architecture figured into those schools’ curricula beyond design and building programs—that is to say, not only through labor but through ideology. These connections often took place obliquely, thanks to pedagogical theories of correlation, as instructors referenced architectural typologies and building materials in the teaching of say, essay-writing, world geography, or geometric proofs. The racialized thinking of Progressive era pedagogues went that such concrete, material examples were helpful for students unaccustomed to or racially incapable of abstract thinking. Building on the work of other historians on nineteenth-century race-science and architectural style, my research helps us understand how architecture was used as a metric of civilization in these schools (and, therefore, deculturalization and assimilation).

    The following two drawings, from the Minnie Linton collection of materials from Indian Schools at the Autry Museum of the American West, help to illustrate my point. They are taken from essays completed in 1899 by two Indigenous eighth-grade students at the Sherman Institute, an off-reservation boarding school in Riverside, CA. While they don’t ultimately figure directly into my dissertation, which focuses on older students at a series of different case studies, they have proven integral to shaping the way that I think about architecture’s role as a knowledge system in practices of cultural genocide and attuning myself to the subtle forms of resistance to or refusal of that settler colonial project that we can find in the colonial archive.

    Drawing by Joseph Lewis Wellington

    A Navajo Home

    From top: Drawing by Joseph Lewis Wellington (Pima), Eighth Grade, Sherman Institute; George Bancroft, “A Navajo Home” Eighth-Grade Report, Sherman Institute. Written exams and essays created by 7th- and 8th-grade students from the Sherman Institute in Riverside, California, Folder 3, Minnie H. Linton Collection Collection of Indian School Papers & Drawings, before 1919, MS.1316, Autry National Center, Braun Research Library.

     

    It seems that the students were asked to write something reflecting on traditional and modern forms of housing and their relationship to civilization, to their culture, and to the future development or improvement of both their land and their race. These are all reasonably common tropes for Indian education in the late nineteenth century, but it’s unusual to see them worked out so materially, referencing built structures in a way that both is and is not metaphorical. The resulting drawings and short essays address the development of housing amongst the Pima people and the Navajo or Diné, both historically and in the present time.

    The two students take the assignment in quite different directions, one emphasizing transformation of architectural typologies and the other arguing for the appropriateness of their housing type to their lifeway and culture. The first, by Joseph Lewis Wellington, starts with a wickiup, a brushwood round house typical of numerous nomadic peoples across the southwest, but labeled as “primitive.” We then see a literal trajectory of development traced, first to a simple, single-room structure, which looks like it could be a mixture of sod or rammed earth with timber, and finally to a timber framed, multi-room structure with a pitched roof, a fully westernized home. He closes with “one more step to go…” It’s illustrating a process of transformation, or what was often called improvement, visually. Architecture as a visible index of racial development—both biologically and in reference to Native peoples’ acceptance of the single-family home and allotment homestead in rejection of communal living arrangements, on traditional homelands or reservations. In some ways, this first drawing is an illustration of the ideal outcome of such an assignment, then.

    The second drawing from the Linton collection opens up a different direction, however: the possibility of refusal, however subtle, of this narrative of racial improvement and civilization by eighth-grade student George Bancroft. To find this counternarrative to the official government curriculum, we must carefully read between the drawing and its accompanying text. It depicts a naturalistic rather than schematic representation of a hogan (hooghan), a dwelling and ceremonial building type commonly built by the Navajo people from the fifteenth to the early twentieth century. The dome-shaped structure, an interlocking core of Ponderosa pine or cedar plastered with mud and bark, isn’t depicted as an isolated specimen as in Wellington’s drawing, but rather is integrated into a scene that emphasizes its everyday use, as well as the visual resonance between the dwelling and the geological forms of the monadnocks beyond, sacred sites for the Navajo on the Colorado plateau.

    Bancroft’s text argues for, rather than against the Hogan, explaining its role amongst many different forms of dwelling, living, and sustenance within his family: “The reason why we live in this kind of hut is because if we stay in one place our flocks and herds will have nothing to eat. So we wander over the desert land roaming from place to place with our flocks and herds in the summer and seeking shelter sometimes in the foothills but often high up on the mountainsides in the winter, where we can secure fuel for our rudely constructed Hogan which we call our home.”

    Apparently, the hogan could even explain well-behaved children, as his description of the housing typology was followed immediately by an explanation of his experience of life within it: “As a rule, in my tribe each man rules his home by kindness with no abuse or scolding. The children are hardly ever punished for the reason that we never disobey. We are always dutiful, respectful, and obedient to our parents and they are always considerate, kind, and thoughtful of us.”

    It is only a throwaway line at the end of the essay that (alongside its acquisition and filing alongside Wellington’s essay and other student work) makes it clear that the assignment was intended to address the relationship between housing and civilization: “Since the last several years we are realizing about civilization, so we have begun to seek for civilization of the future.” Assignment accomplished, but not really. The total picture depicts a eulogy to a lifeway quickly being eroded on multiple fronts: both the disappearance of Indigenous building typologies based on new federal guidelines that restricted funding for home loans and other housing programs to standardized government plans, and the alienation of children from their parents and communities based on their removal to faraway boarding schools like Sherman. It was no small thing for an eighth-grade student to acknowledge these losses in his interaction with authority figures, however obliquely. Student works like Bancroft’s open up a window for architectural historians into the complex entanglement of architecture’s politics and participation in these settler colonial cultural and political histories.

  • An Imagined Ottoman City in Istanbul

    by Helena Dean | Jan 12, 2022

    Sundus Al-Bayati is the 2019 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.


    A Detour and a Different Kind of Reconstruction in Istanbul


    Hello from Istanbul, a city I didn’t think I’d visit in the course of my fellowship travel. The city wasn’t wiped out in any war in recent history that dramatically altered its appearance, like Berlin or Warsaw. People visit Istanbul to revel in the persistence of history at the site of three great empires. The Istanbul panorama, a landscape of hills dotted with domes and minarets straddling the sea elicits a sense of timelessness. This isn’t to say there hasn’t been conflict or destruction in Istanbul’s history. In my investigation of war and its consequences on how cities develop and grow, I’ve come to recognize the processes of globalization as another powerful force that damages the historic and social character of cities. What might have survived the air raids and bombs gets destroyed later to make room for a new mall or luxury housing. Istanbul’s accelerating development has mostly been the product of planned destruction that is associated with profit-led urban renewal projects. Some might remember news from Istanbul’s iconic Taksim Square in 2013 where protests broke out against the government’s plans to raise Gezi Park to make room for a commercial development and a new mall. Taksim Square is one example of many neoliberal market-driven urban transformation projects that have been shaping the historical city since the 1980s. But there are other reasons why I find myself in Istanbul, a combination of the ongoing global pandemic, an economic crisis, and visa limitation for an Iraqi passport holder like myself.

    After Warsaw, I had planned to visit Beirut to explore the effects of the Lebanese civil war on the city. As I followed the news of the recent economic crisis in Lebanon and growing political instability, it was becoming clear that I needed an alternative plan. I settled on Nicosia, Cyprus. Nicosia, divided in the middle by the UN-buffer zone, would be a good alternative to Beirut as an example of a city divided by civil conflict. I’d like to share with you, if you indulge me, my visa experience with the Cyprus embassy in Berlin, to illuminate a small part of what it means to be a passport holder of a Third World country when traveling for research or academic scholarship. For all my friends and readers who are holders of US or European passports, unlike you, I cannot travel to a country for tourism without undergoing a lengthy visa process with indeterminate outcomes. With three months in the EU, I thought I had plenty of time to work out my visa with the Cyprus embassy. 

    Initial correspondence with the Cyprus Embassy in Berlin seemed encouraging and that they were willing to work with me. The embassy asked me how long I plan to stay, for what purpose, to send copies of my passport, green card, fellowship information, and reservations for flights and accommodations. I convinced them to schedule my appointment a month before I needed to leave the EU instead of the two weeks they suggested. Once I got in touch, I didn’t hear anything for almost two weeks, and then I got an email asking me again for the purpose of my travel and to describe in detail my “meetings, appointments, and specific schedule of my time there.” I referred them to my fellowship letter and website and explained again that this is a self-directed project and I didn’t have any “appointments” with any institutions. I am two weeks away from needing to leave Warsaw at that point. When they finally called me to set up a visa appointment, they added two conditions: first, I can only receive a third of the time I requested to stay in Cyprus as they are not convinced that I need to be in Cyprus for that long to “just look at buildings.” Second, I needed to show them nonrefundable tickets for my accommodation in Cyprus before they approve my visa. This process was extremely discouraging and uncertain. I had to let go of Cyprus for now and think of something else. So I headed to Istanbul.

    In Istanbul, I’ve become aware of a different kind of reconstruction that is not the result of war, one that is driven by power, political hegemony and efforts to restructure Turkish national identity through the city’s symbols and iconic urban images. These new projects, led by the Justice and Development Party (AKP), translate its ideological and political agenda into the urban form with a host of flagship projects transforming the historical narrative of the city as much as its future development. Similar to the way Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and his government adopted modernist architecture as the language of the new Republic in a determinate effort to detach from Ottoman culture and symbols in the urban space, the AKP seeks to resurrect Turkey’s Ottoman and Islamic past by building a large numbers of mosques in a Neo-Ottoman style and converting existing historical churches into mosques, most prominent of which is the Hagia Sophia which was reclassified as a mosque in July 2020. 

     

    Taksim Square against the Forces of Urban Transformation


    Taksim Square holds symbolic significance as the heart of Istanbul. The site, where the Republic Monument celebrates the beginnings of the Turkish Republic, has historically been the place of political expression and demonstrations (Figure 1). In 2013, people rushed to Taksim Square to protest against an extensive development project by Istanbul Municipality to restructure the square and the adjacent Gezi Park. The plan proposed removing one of the few remaining green spaces in the city and replacing it with a shopping mall that carried the façade of a former 19th-century military barracks building from the Ottoman era. The protests were a testament to the growing dissatisfaction of Istanbul residents with an increasingly authoritarian government and its neoliberal economic policies that have transformed their city since the ascension of the AKP and its founder, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to power in the early 2000s. The development project would transform Taksim Square and Gezi Park from an open public space that allows for political expression to another space that prioritizes a consumerist-based experience, right next to the biggest commercial street in Istanbul, Istiklal Caddesi.  

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    Figure 1. Republic Monument and Taksim Mosque in the back

     

    The urban transformation plan of Taksim, while heavily driven by prospects of economic gains, underlines the motivations by the AKP government to chip away at the legacy of the Turkish Republic and solidify its own ideological presence in the most iconic part of Istanbul.1 The project also included the controversial addition of a mosque in a typically secular urban space in Istanbul. This part of the plan came to fruition with the construction of Taksim Mosque, which was inaugurated this year by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In addition, the old Ataturk Cultural Center, an iconic cultural institution from Turkey’s modern age, which stood there since 1969, was also part of the reform of Taksim Square. It was demolished in 2018 after a decade of neglect. The reconstruction replicates the façade of the original building but aims to surpass it. 

    In the middle of the square, the Republic Monument commemorates the formation of the Republic of Turkey in 1923 under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who is depicted in the sculpture as both a military commander and a political leader. East of the monument stood the old Ataturk Cultural Center, an iconic modernist building completed in 1969 as a cultural and educational space that comprised an opera house and concert hall, among other cultural activities. The old Ataturk Cultural Center’s modern façade and progressive cultural programming became a symbol of Ataturk’s vision of Turkey as a modern state with a new secular identity that broke with the religious rule of the Ottoman Empire.2 Symbols of the Republic permeate Taksim Square and explain why it has been the target of redevelopment projects by the AKP government that seeks to significantly reconstruct its image to display president Erdogan’s own vision of Turkey, a return to the grandeur and Islamism of the Ottoman Empire. The current Ataturk Cultural center in Taksim Square is a new construction that was completed in October of this year (Figure 2–4). To the surprise of many, the façade of the new building looks almost the same. This is partly because the new building was designed by Murat Tabanlioglu, the son of the architect who designed the original building. 

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    Figure 2–4. The New Ataturk Cultural Center

     

    At the other end of Taksim Square and across from the Republic Monument and the new Ataturk Cultural Center, stands one of President Erdogan’s mega-projects and triumphant symbols of his presidency, the new Taksim Mosque (Figure 5–11). The mosque opened this year, in the same week that marked the eighth anniversary of Gezi Park protests. The project was part of the redevelopment plan that sparked the protests in 2013 as it purposefully altered the secular identity of the square and reinforced Erdogan’s image of a religious Turkey. More importantly, the mosque ensures that Erdogan leaves his own legacy in Taksim. The massive size of the mosque dominates the existing landmarks of Taksim from the Republic Monument and the Ataturk Cultural Center to the Hagia Triada Greek Orthodox Church. 

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    Figure 5–11. The new Taksim Mosque

     

    Urban Renewal in Two Istanbul Neighborhoods: Tarlabasi and Balat


    Running along Taksim Square is the Tarlabasi thoroughfare, which I walked by a couple of times and noticed the glaring contrast between new shiny luxury and crumbling apartment buildings. The Tarlabasi neighborhood houses primarily low-income Kurdish residents, Syrian refugees, and Romani communities. Tarlabasi is an example of prevalent state-led urban renewal projects of dilapidated areas of high real estate value, often without regards to the underprivileged communities that are displaced in the process. The neighborhood has been the target of aggressive government “regeneration” projects to boost the Turkish economy.3 In 2005, law No. 5366 was passed, which gives municipal governments power to seize run-down but valuable land for redevelopment with the premise of protecting the historical character of these derelict buildings4 (Figure 12–16). One example of such development in Tarlabasi is the Taksim 360 project, a luxury residential and office complex, which began in 2010 with the eviction of residents and demolition of buildings and it is still under construction today (Figure 17–23). It’s hard to miss the stark contrast between the freshly built luxury apartments of Taksim 360 and heaps of trash at the front of decaying buildings just one street over. The project’s website is especially tone-deaf to the realities of the area in their description of the project as a lifestyle. The logo reads “you are at the center of this 360-degree lifestyle.” 

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    Figure 12–16. Rundown and Renovated Tarlabasi buildings

     

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    Figure 17–23. Taksim 360 project in Tarlabasi

     

    Balat is another historical neighborhood in Istanbul that was the subject of controversial urban revitalization projects (Figure 24–38). Balat was historically considered the "Jewish Quarter” of Istanbul but was also home to different ethnic and religious groups including Armenian and Greek Orthodox peoples. By the 1940s, most Jewish, Greek, and Armenian residents left the neighborhood and immigrants from Anatolia moved to the area in large numbers to work in the emerging industries that developed there.5 During the 1980s, government-led urban regeneration projects sought to revitalize historical areas like Balat, that have become dilapidated due to industrialization and overcrowded conditions. These projects included removing industries and destroying historical buildings in the process, which led to the decline of the neighborhood.6 Between 1997 and 2008, Balat underwent a more positive urban transformation project led by UNESCO and Fatih Municipality, among other non-profit organizations. The project prioritized preserving the historic character of the neighborhood by restoring local architecture and renovating decrepit buildings. 

    At the same time, Balat was experiencing a second type of urban transformation that was more market-driven and focused on transforming the neighborhood into a tourist destination. The second plan sought to undo some of the work from the first phase of transformation by demolishing rehabilitated buildings and constructing new ones that match the local architecture of Istanbul but doesn’t historically reflect what actually stood there.7 While parts of the project were halted by a court order in 2012, as the area is historically protected, for-profit piecemeal transformation projects, empowered by Law 5366 that disregards the social and economic implications of urban transformation projects, has given private development companies a lot of power in shaping the neighborhood. Walking around Balat, it is easy to see the forces of gentrification working their way through the neighborhood. New coffee shops and restaurants adorn the ground level of derelict and sometimes empty buildings. The street level and the top levels seem to inhabit two different dimensions. English signs to restaurants and cafés are clear indications that these places are targeting the tourist crowds. People still go to Balat for its historic streets and colorful houses. It’s a shame that soon this historical place will be reconstructed to be “instagrammable” at the expense of local residents and their buildings. 

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    Figure 24–38. Balat neighborhood

     

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    Figure 39–40. Kirmizi Kilise, Fener Greek Boy’s High School, built in 1881

     

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    Figure 41. Palace of the Porphyrogenitus, 13th-century Byzantine palace

     

     

    A New Mosque on the Hill


    It wasn’t until a couple of days of being in Istanbul, absorbing its panorama of domes and minarets, had passed did I notice how odd the mosque on the Asian side looked. It looked different from the other ones. Perhaps it stood out more because it was the only mosque of its size on that side of Istanbul but for all I knew, it could have been another mosque from the Ottoman period dating back to 16th or 17th century. It sure looked like it. I didn’t know then that I was looking at the biggest symbol of President Recep Tayyib Erdogan’s regime, only completed in 2019 (Figure 42–66). The Camlica Mosque, built in a Neo-Ottoman style to resemble the 17th-century Blue Mosque on the European side, is a physical embodiment of Erdogan’s continuous molding of Turkish national identity as both Ottoman and Muslim. As the patron of this great mosque, Erdogan is a modern day Sultan and Turkey, his empire. Not only is the mosque located on the highest hill in Istanbul, Camlica Hill, but its massive structure, which can accommodate 63,000 people, makes it visible from all around Istanbul. Camlica Mosque is one of many hundreds of mosques that are popping up all over Istanbul and Turkey without input from communities whether they are needed or not. When I entered the mosque, I was quickly directed by the male guard to walk towards the periphery, that is the women’s section. I told him I am just interested in seeing the mosque and wanted to look up at the dome but he insisted that I leave the “men’s” section, which is the heart of the mosque and observe from the side. This is the only mosque where I have experienced this. Reluctantly, but slowly, I walked to the women’s section and snapped my photos along the way. 

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    Figure 42–66. Camlica Mosque

    References


    1 Fuhrmann, Malte. "Taksim Square and the Struggle to Rule Istanbul’s Past." "Taksim Square and the Struggle to Rule Istanbul’s Past" in Critique & Humanism 46 (2016), 163–190, 2016.

    2 Ibid

    3 Arıcan, Alize. "Care in Tarlabaşı amidst Heightened Inequalities, Urban Transformation and Coronavirus." Radical Housing Journal, December 6, 2020. https://radicalhousingjournal.org/2020/care-in-tarlabasi-amidst-heightened-inequalities-urban-transformation-and-coronavirus/.

    4 Arıcan, Alize. “Behind the Scaffolding: Manipulations of Time, Delays, and Power in Tarlabaşı, Istanbul.” City & Society 32, no. 3 (2020): 482–507.

    5 AYSEV DENEÇ, Evren. “The Re-Production of the Historical Center of i̇stanbul in 2000s: A Critical Account on Two Projects in Fener - Balat.” METU JOURNAL OF THE FACULTY OF ARCHITECTURE, 2014.

    6 Mutman, Demet, and Hulya Turgut. “Colliding Urban Transformation Process: The Case of Historical Peninsula, Istanbul.” International Journal of Architectural Research: ArchNet-IJAR 12, no. 1 (2018): 164.

    7 AYSEV DENEÇ, Evren. “The Re-Production of the Historical Center of i̇stanbul in 2000s: A Critical Account on Two Projects in Fener - Balat.” METU JOURNAL OF THE FACULTY OF ARCHITECTURE, 2014.

  • Architectural Reproduction vs. Reconstruction in Postwar Warsaw

    by Helena Dean | Dec 01, 2021

    Sundus Al-Bayati is the 2019 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    Destruction of architecture by a conquering power has often been performed as an act of cultural cleansing. To intentionally destroy a city is to deprive it of cultural and historical continuity, erasing its character and damaging its people’s sense of belonging. In recent memory, the images of ISIS destroying ancient sites and monuments in Palmyra, Syria, and Mosul, Iraq, have proliferated in the public consciousness. ISIS published chilling photos of explosives they planted in the 2000-year-old temple of Baal Shamin in preparation for the spectacle of its doom. The Nazis in Warsaw, like ISIS, used the purposeful destruction of architecture as a weapon to annihilate Polish civilization. The Nazis thought that by razing the architecture of Warsaw, they would strip the Polish people of their historical and cultural identity, which equaled reducing them to uncivilized, second-class citizens that were meant to serve the superior German occupiers. The Nazis carried out this process of deconstructing Warsaw’s architectural heritage in a methodical and purposeful manner.

    When I mentioned that I was going to Warsaw to anybody from Europe, they suggested I “go to Krakow.” I understood that the reasons behind this lack of enthusiasm about Warsaw would be very much related to my topic of interest: the consequences of war on how the city looks. The historic center of Warsaw, which was reduced to rubble in 1944, is a facsimile construction that was completed in the 1950s. It was largely rebuilt according to how the city looked like in the 18th-century paintings of Italian Renaissance artist Bernando Bellotto, known as Canaletto. Visitors to Warsaw’s Old Town come across plaques displaying Bellotto’s paintings of the building in question standing in front of the actual reconstruction (Figure 1).  Reconstructing the historical quarter of Warsaw based on a representation of the city in art, one that portrays a nostalgic view of the past, emphasizes the symbolic importance of Old Town for national identity. However, its authenticity as a historical reconstruction has been widely questioned.

    Figure 1-Carmelite Church

    Figure 1. Carmelite Church, 1780 Warsaw, next to a painting of the Church by Bernardo Bellotto. This particular church, however, managed to survive the war unscathed.

     

    From Berlin, I took a six-and-a-half-hour train ride to Warsaw. As I stepped out of Warszawa Centralna train station, a celebrated modernist building completed in 1975 (Figure 2), I was welcomed by one of Warsaw’s most controversial landmarks, an infamous product of Stalinist architecture, the Palace of Culture (Figure 3). In the following days, shrouded by overcast and gray skies, Warsaw, with its freestanding Soviet-era housing blocks, looked dreary and visually uninteresting (Figure 4–5). Of course, this is one view of Warsaw. There is a sense in Warsaw that the city is still in the process of becoming.

    Figure 2-Warszawa Centralna

    Figure 2. Warszawa Centralna Train Station.

     

    Figure 3-Palace of the Culture

    Figure 3. Palace of Culture

     

    Figure 4- Housing blocks

    Figure 5- Housing blocks

    Figure 4–5. Modernist Housing Estates, Osiedle za Żelazną Bramą, 1970, Warsaw

      

    Warsaw is unique among other cities destroyed during World War II. The destruction of the city wasn’t only the result of fighting. It was a methodical process of destruction guided by a prewar Nazi German urban plan to dismantle the Polish city and construct a Nazi model city in its place. In 1939, the Pabst plan envisioned the annihilation of the Polish city and its people of 1.3 million inhabitants to make room for a new provisional German town of 130,000 Germans.1 Warsaw’s Jewish population were the first group targeted to achieve this extreme reduction in population size. Around 400,000 Jewish people were forced into the small area of the Jewish Ghetto and lived in overcrowded and dreadful conditions.  Next, Poles were to be relocated to labor camps across the Vistula River to serve as slave laborers for the new German town. Stanislaw Jankowski, a Polish architect who was involved in the first years of reconstruction in Warsaw, expands on the unusual Pabst Plan:

    “This is probably the only document in history that did not even attempt to justify destruction by arguing military necessities. On the contrary, it ordered the destruction of an entire city with the exception of military installations. The order was carried out with precision. A special staff composed of experts and scientific advisers was in charge of the operation. Warsaw was divided into areas for destruction. Corner houses were numbered. On selected buildings and statues special inscriptions were made indicating the proposed date of demolition. Special detachments known as demolition and annihilation squads proceeded to destroy the deserted city- house by house, street by street.”2

    The tactical demolition of Warsaw delineated in the Pabst plan was transformed by two retaliatory episodes of destruction. In 1943, the Ghetto Uprising broke out to resist deporting the remaining Jews to extermination camps after 320,000 Jews were sent to the gas chambers of Treblinka in 1942. The uprising ended with the burning of the Ghetto and everyone inside it followed by a leveling of any structure that remained. A year later, the Polish underground resistance organized the Warsaw Uprising to reclaim Warsaw from German occupation. Tragically, the Soviet army, which was supposed to advance to Warsaw to defeat Germany, stopped at the other side of the Vistula River, allowing the Nazi army to extinguish the uprising and unleash the final blow of destruction of Warsaw in retaliation. In 1944, over 85% of Warsaw was in ruins.3

    The Old Town has historically been the most representative and celebrated image of the city’s identity (Figure 6–11). The historic center of Warsaw, developed between the 13th  and 20th centuries, is a vibrant place bustling with tourists, locals, and kids on school field trips. The Old Town, distinguished by its colorful facades and winding streets, was the economic and political center of Warsaw in the 16th and 17th centuries when it became the seat of Polish kings and the meeting place of the Sejms. This historical period is significant for the Polish nation, which ceased to exist as an independent state from 1795 to 1918 with the Third Partition of Poland. The urban and spatial character of the Old Town was a testament to the prosperity of the Polish state. It is because of its status as a cherished symbol of Polish culture and statehood that Warsaw’s historic center was intentionally targeted for erasure by Adolf Hitler. By destroying Warsaw, Hitler wanted to eradicate any historical record of Polish culture (Figure 12).

    Figure 6-Krakowskie Przedmiescie

    Figure 7-Krakowskie Przedmiescie

    Figure 8-Krakowskie Przedmiescie

    Figure 6–8. Krakowskie Przedmieście, prominent street constituted part of Warsaw’s Royal Route

     

    Figure 9- Old Town

    Figure 10- Old Town

    Figure 11- Old Town

    Figure 9–11. Reconstructed Old Town Warsaw

     

    Figure 12-Old Town destroyed

    Figure 12. Marketplace in Old Town, after the war

     

    The reconstruction of Warsaw, and specifically the Old Town, was seen as a symbolic resurrection of Poland and the inextinguishable spirit of its people to reclaim their city and therefore, their national identity. The Old Town of Warsaw was rebuilt exactly as it was, relying mainly on representations of the city in art and other forms of documentation that took place secretly under German Occupation. Some modifications to the original buildings were made to ameliorate prewar conditions, like eliminating sections of tenement housing and widening courtyards in what were dense and overcrowded housing estates. The replicas might resemble the old architecture on the outside but their interiors were often of modern construction. Reconstruction debates concluded that it was more important to recreate the very image of Warsaw the Fuhrer meant to annihilate in order to give people back what was taken from them. While the reconstruction of Old Town might stem from a nostalgic vision of Warsaw, it is celebrated as an extensive and faithful reconstruction of a historic center, which earned it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1980.

    Much of the chaotic and haphazard character of the urban fabric of Warsaw is attributed to the rapid development of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century that triggered a massive population growth (Figure 13). Warsaw was under Russian rule until 1918, which not only prevented the expansion of the city outwards to accommodate the population increase, but did not instate regulations and policies to deal with urban growth.4 Plans to reshape Warsaw to improve its urban conditions have been in the works since 1918 when Poland regained its independence and continued during the period of World War II. Stanislaw Jankowski, who was an SOE agent, a Polish resistance fighter, and an architect, discusses secret town planning and architectural studies that took place in Warsaw during the German Occupation. Jankowski’s account sheds some light on the preemptive efforts of the planning department of the Warsaw Municipal Council, the Faculty of Architecture of Warsaw Technical University, the Studio of Architecture and Town Planning, and others to secretly prepare plans for Warsaw’s reconstruction after liberation and to document the city’s historical monuments should they get destroyed. These efforts by Polish architects and planners facilitated the process of rebuilding after the war and were an example of the Polish resistance against cultural and historical annihilation perpetrated by the Nazis. Jankowski elaborates on the secret planning efforts:

    “This conspiratorial town-planning activity, carried out in conditions of terror unleashed by the Gestapo, implied awareness that planning itself constituted a form of struggle against the invader, and it also expressed the need for continuing professional work and for making preparations for new tasks that were to come.”5

    Figure 13-Styles

    Figure 13. A clash of architectural styles, Warsaw

     

    Representations of Warsaw in Polish Art


    Bernardo Bellotto’s paintings of Warsaw (Figures 14–16) are the most well-known representations of the city in its prosperous era and became crucial blueprints for rebuilding the historic quarter after the war. Bellotto, who became a court painter to the king of Poland in 1768, executed accurate cityscapes of buildings and squares of the historic center of Warsaw. Even if Bellotto’s depictions are known to be embellished for artistic purposes, the survival of these paintings proved crucial in recreating the image of Warsaw’s golden age that was intentionally wiped out during the war.

    Figure 14-Bernardo Bellotto, View of Warsaw, Church of Holly Cross

    Figure 14. Bernardo Bellotto, Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw, 1778. Photo: Royal Castle in Warsaw.

     

    Figure 15-Bernardo Bellotto, Miodowa Street

    Figure 15. Bernardo Bellotto, Miodowa Street, 1777. Photo: Royal Castle in Warsaw.

     

    Figure-16-Bernardo-Bellotto-Carmelite-Church-in-Warsaw2

    Figure 16. Bernardo Bellotto, Carmelite Church in Warsaw, 1780. Photo: Royal Castle in Warsaw.

     

    Figure 17-Marcin Zaleski ,Plac Teatralny

    Figure 17. Marcin Zaleski , Plac Teatralny, 1838. Photo: Museum of Warsaw

     

    Figure 18-Nowy Swiat

    Figure 18. Władysław_Podkowiński, Nowy Świat Street on a Summer Day, 1892. Nowy Swiat Photo: National Museum of Warsaw. Nowy Swiat is a major historic street in Warsaw and part of the Royal Route. It was one of the first to be rebuilt after the war.

    In 1905, Witold Wojtkiewicz sketched the uprising that took place in Warsaw as part of the larger revolution in Poland that began in Lodz (Figures 19–20). Across Poland, workers went on strike to demand better working and living conditions, as well as more rights and political freedom. In Witold Wojtkiewicz’s expressionist sketches, Warsaw’s Old Town is the stage where this revolution unfolds connecting the spatial and urban landscape of the city with a distinct Polish resistance similar to representations of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising in the city (Figure 21).

    Figure 19-Witold_Wojtkiewicz_-_Manifestacja_1905

    Figure 20-Witold_Wojtkiewicz_manifestacja_uliczna_-1905-

    Figures 19–20. Witold Wojtkiewicz, Street Demonstration, 1905. Photos: www.wikipedia.org

     

    Figure 21-The Warsaw Uprising - a mural by Jarosław Fabis

    Figure 21. The Warsaw Uprising, A Mural by Jarosław Fabis, 2016. Photo: Warsaw Uprising Museum.

     

    Life amidst the ruins was a reality for the many Varsovians that returned to Warsaw after the war despite the city’s unlivable conditions. Warsaw’s rubble landscapes permeated the cultural consciousness and the work of Polish artists. Although the depictions of Warsaw’s ruins were more of a documentation of its alien state after the war than a contemplative fascination with ruins typical of ruins painting.

    Figure 22-Antoni Lyzwanski, Warsaw Exodus 1945

    Figure 22. Antoni Lyzwanski, Warsaw Exodus, 1945. Photo: www.owzpap.org

     

    Figure 23-antoni teslar, pigeons on Bugaj Street

    Figure 23. Antoni Teslar, Pigeons on Bugaj Street, 1952. Photo: Museum of Warsaw

     

    Figure 24-Jan Wisniewski, A View of Ruined Warsaw from Praga, 1945

    Figure 24. Jan Wisniewski, A View of Ruined Warsaw from Praga, 1945. Photo: Museum of Warsaw

     

    Figure 25-W. Chmielewski, Ruins of the Capuchin Church at ul. Miodowa,1947

    Figure 25. W. Chmielewski, Ruins of the Capuchin Church at ul. Miodowa, 1947. Photo: Museum of Warsaw.

     

    A month after the war ended, the Office for the Reconstruction of the City was established in Warsaw to begin the process of rebuilding. Planners, architects, and politicians argued over whether to rebuild the city as it was or to treat the ruined urban fabric as a tabula rasa to introduce new urban developments and architectural styles. The two paintings by Antoni Teslar in Figure 26 and 27 depict the primary approaches of postwar reconstruction in Warsaw: the historical facsimile reconstruction of Old Town, and the introduction of modern urban planning and architecture. Teslar’s painting in Figure 27 shows the reconstruction of the iconic Marszałkowska Residential District (MDM), the socialist realist residential complex that housed workers (Figure 28–30). The monumental and decorated housing blocks were the inspiration for Stalinallee in Berlin. Similarly, the construction of Constitution Square was meant to host parades and public demonstrations.6 The MDM complex was a major urban planning project that was noted for retaining the 18th century star-shaped urban fabric of the site, perhaps situating the Stalinist “foreign” architecture in an inherently Polish urban landscape, thus eliciting a sense of a cultural continuity.

    Figure 26-antoni teslar

    Figure 26. Antoni Teslar, Reconstruction of Warsaw (Old Town), 1952. Photo: www.artinfo.pl

     

    Figure 27-antoni teslar, MDM, 1952

    Figure 27. Antoni Teslar, Reconstruction of Warsaw (Marszałkowska Residential District), 1952. Photo: www.artinfo.pl

     

    Figure 28-MDM

    Figure 29-MDM

    Figure 30-MDM

    Figure 28–30. Marszałkowska Residential District and Constitution Square, Warsaw

     

    During the reconstruction years, the image of heroic Varsovians rebuilding their city was one that the Communist government exploited in its propaganda art to strengthen its own ideological and political power in Poland. Figures 31–33 show examples of these images produced around that time. Figure 31, 32 reads “the whole nation is building its capital.” The Mermaid of Warsaw is in the background in Figure 31, which is a historical municipal symbol dating to the 14th century. Figure 33 reads, “We are building Warsaw with a joint effort. We are building people’s Warsaw.”

    Figure 31-Propoganda, Poster with Mermaid, Wiktor Gorka, 1954

    Figure 31. Wiktor Gorka, Propaganda Poster, 1954. Photo: Museum of Warsaw

     

    Figure-32-Warsaw-1953_-Wydawnictwo-Artytyczno-Graficzne2

    Figure 32. Propaganda Poster, Wydawnictwo Artytyczno Graficzne, 1953. Photo: www.antykwariatwaw.pl

     

    Figure 33-Witold Chmielewski

    Figure 33. Left: unknown author, 1948. Right: Witold Chmielewski, T. Tomaszewski, 1955. Photo: Museum of Warsaw

     

    After Socialist Realism became the official style of art in People’s Republic of Poland, Wojciech Fangor painted this allegorical scene of Polish construction workers working together to rebuild Warsaw (Figure 34), connecting once again the Communist cause with the rebuilding of the Polish capital. 

    Figure 34-Wojciech Fangor, Murarze, 1950

    Figure 34. Wojciech Fangor, Murarze, 1950. Photo: Museum of Warsaw

     

    Edward Dwurnki’s painting of the Warsaw cityscape is a bit satirical in its description of Warsaw’s urban identity. The painting, as the title suggests, shows the construction of Warszawa Centralna railway station surrounded by a showcase of Warsaw’s most famous and controversial architectural gestures that transformed the character of the city, and soon to be joined by the modern innovative design of the station. The view tilts up to encompass as much of Warsaw’s urban landmarks as possible, all the result of postwar reconstruction. On the left, a foreshortened and squat Palace of Culture, the most dominating figure in the composition, as well as in Warsaw’s urban landscape. In the center-right, a notable modernist building, the Rotunda (PKO), is shown with its iconic jagged roof. Five years after this painting was completed, the Rotunda was destroyed by an explosion due to a gas leak. The Rotunda was completely rebuilt a couple of times, so that little of the original building remains. In the background, Warsaw’s major thoroughfares are depicted with forceful lines connecting the center of Warsaw with the eastern Praga district.

    Figure 35-Edward Dwurnki, Construction of the Central Railway Station

    Figure 35. Edward Dwurnki, Construction of the Central Railway Station, 1974. Photo: Museum of Warsaw.

     

    I did go to Krakow and I can confirm it is a more pleasant city to visit than Warsaw. After all, Krakow was spared the destruction that Warsaw suffered and survived the war almost untouched. Seeing the glaring differences between Warsaw and Krakow, two Polish cities that met different fates, one starts to grasp the lasting effects of war on the urban character of cities.

    Figure 36-St Mary Basilica

    Figure 36. St’ Mary Basilica, Krakow, a prominent example of Polish Gothic architecture.

     

    Figure 37-St Mary Basilica,Interior

    Figure 37. St’ Mary Basilica, Krakow. View of the polychrome interior murals.

     

     

    References


    1 Diefendorf, Jeffry M., and Stanislaw Jankowski. “Warsaw: Destruction, Secret Town Planning, 1939–44, and Postwar Reconstruction.” Essay. In Rebuilding Europe's Bombed Cities, 96. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1990.

    2 Ibid, 94.

    3 Bevan, Robert. The Destruction of Memory: Architecture at War. London: Reaktion Books, 2016.

    4 Lupienko , Aleksander. “Reading Warsaw’s Complicated Urban Fabric.” In City as Organism, New Visions for Urban Life 1, Vol. 1. Rome, Italy, n.d., 2015.

    5 Diefendorf, Jeffry M., and Stanislaw Jankowski. “Warsaw: Destruction, Secret Town Planning, 1939–44, and Postwar Reconstruction .” Essay. In Rebuilding Europe's Bombed Cities, 96. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1990.

    6 Dydek, Maria. “The Architectural Heritage of Socialist Realism in Warsaw.” The Uncomfortable Significance of Socialist Heritage, 2013.

  • The Many Shapes of Postwar Reconstruction in a Divided City

    by Helena Dean | Nov 02, 2021

    Sundus Al-Bayati is the 2019 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.


    War is different than other crises that affect cities like natural disasters or even a global pandemic. War is rooted in the psychological and cultural memory as an experience that is meant to undermine the morale of a society and to ultimately destroy people’s sense of place. In fact, “undermining the morale'' has been an established strategy in warfare since World War I with the advent of air raids. Bombing a city from the air didn’t stop at targeting its military and industrial bases, for the objective was not just to cripple the enemy’s militaristic capacity but to destroy its infrastructure, economy and its housing stock. The goal was to crush the spirit of the enemy by unleashing utter chaos and dysfunction in the city; to stop life in its tracks. 

    I remember taking the bus to school at the age of sixteen, three years into the Iraq War and looking out the window and being fascinated by the site of destruction in Baghdad. I snapped a few photos with my old Nokia phone of a destroyed mosque (I even found the images, see Figures 73–75 at the end of the post). The site of destruction remained with me in the way it challenged what’s real or possible. A destroyed landscape is saturated with past social and cultural experiences, among which is the event of destruction. Rebuilding takes on more than just answering to the practical and aspirational needs of a conventional architecture project. The disruptive force of war forces the urban environment to choose between preserving the past and looking forward. If war is personal, then so is the way we rationalize rebuilding.

    Reconstruction might be concerned with immediate and basic needs such as providing housing or clearing the rubble but is largely shaped by more abstract notions like national identity and people’s sense of place, exhibited in embraced or rejected architecture styles and urban forms. Whether the need to rebuild is driven by a political and economic ideology, a desire to break from the past, an opportunity to correct certain problems in the urban landscape, or providing solutions to a housing crisis, the process of reconstruction cultivates an image that evokes national associations between people and their environment. Governments, politicians, planners, etc., rely on these images to advance proposals of what replaces a destroyed site. Berlin’s urban landscape is an embodiment of the many images that were at the heart of debate following the war and the ascent of the Berlin Wall.

    There is no one dominant approach to post-war reconstruction that describes the way Berlin has been shaped since the end of World War II. An amalgam of influences contribute to the diverse forms of rebuilding. The most important factor is Berlin’s status as a divided city. After the end of a gruesome war of air raids and bombs, Berlin’s urban landscape became the physical and symbolic site for the political and ideological war between East and West. Architecture and ideas about reconstruction followed along this ideological divide. Following 1945, many architects, planners, politicians, and citizens sought to distance themselves from the monumental neoclassical architecture of the Nazi regime. Furthermore, Jeffry M. Diefendorf discusses in his book, In the Wake of War, much of the debate about post-war reconstruction was influenced by arguments of different architectural styles that existed pre-war and that ranged from modernism to traditionalism.1

    Postwar architects and planners grappled with the concept of “Zero Hour,” Germany’s attempt to completely break with its Nazi past after the war, which included the style of architecture embraced by Adolf Hitler and his architect Albert Speer. Diefendorf elaborates that explicit monumentality of Speer’s architecture was not the only thing that was rejected at the time: “The deficiency of imaginative postwar architecture also resulted from the catastrophe of the Nazi experience, which ultimately and thoroughly discredited not only neoclassicism but also the ideas of monumental and representational buildings.”2

    Modernism was also a contested style in postwar Germany. Modern architecture had already existed before the war, exemplified by the work of Walter Gropius and the Deutcher Werkbund, but years of the Nazis’ attack on modern art and architecture had limited its growth and popularity. Additionally, there was a movement of traditionalist architecture in Germany that was concerned with questions of historic preservation against the forces of industrialization that swept 19th-century cities. The Heimatschulz movement (the word literally translates to homeland protection), which advocated for traditional styles, believed German architecture “must be organically derived from the German landscape, climate, and historical traditions.”3 The forces of modernization and historic preservation are among the most critical challenges in almost every city, but in postwar Berlin, years of division between east and west and Germany’s continuous struggle with its tainted past complicate the questions of reconstruction. Brian Ladd describes this infliction in German architecture in his book, The Ghosts of Berlin: “German architecture and urban design cannot escape the crisis of German national identity.”4

    Some of the questions I was asking myself as I explored Berlin: When does reconstruction actually begin and end? What part of the past is told? Whose past is told? Do we recreate the past right before the war in faithful detail? Do we recreate a different past? Do we preserve the present as a memorial to the war in the form of ruins? Do we see the war as an opportunity to modernize the urban landscape and replace it with a completely new style? 

     

    Reconstruction as Political and Ideological Instrument of the Cold War in Divided Berlin


    When the war ended in 1945, Berlin’s devastated landscape became the site of another form of confrontation between the East and West. Instead of one Berlin, there were two and each side claimed that theirs was the real Berlin. Before the Wall formally and physically divided the city in 1961, the governments of East and West Germany used architecture and urban design to express their political and ideological philosophies and to facilitate the creation of two separate German identities.5 Nowhere are the competing identities more pronounced in the city than in the housing developments of Stalinallee in east Berlin and the Hansaviertel in west Berlin.

    Soviet and Western forces used postwar development to solidify their diverging ideological and political identities in the form of ambitious and innovative architectural models that each regime deemed fit for the reconstruction of their new capital. Both regimes embraced modernism as the language of new Berlin at first, but the GDR soon rejected the style in lieu of the monumental classicism typical of Soviet architecture. After the German Democratic Republic was founded in 1949, it initiated the development of one of the most bombed out districts, Friedrichshain. The major part of the project is Stalinallee Boulevard (Karl-Marx-Allee now). Stalinallee is one of the most emblematic projects of the GDR. The boulevard is 90 meters wide, 3 kilometers long, and extends from Frankfurter Tor to Alexanderplatz in Mitte. It is lined with monumental apartment buildings decorated with architectural tiles. The GDR envisioned Stalinallee as a dynamic boulevard that allowed the mingling of living, commercial, and leisure activities. Commercial uses occupy the street levels of the apartment buildings and the width of the boulevard was to accommodate parades and celebrations. Now the boulevard is dominated by traffic noise of cars zooming in and out of its wide lanes.

    I started my walk down the boulevard from the Frankfurter Tor. The prominent twin towers on both sides of the boulevard designed in the Stalinist classicist style by Hermann Henselmann mark the entrance into the long stretch of the project (see Figure 1). Following the domed towers, one might notice a deviation in the street façade from the monumental Stalinist architecture; unadorned, modern looking, five-story apartment buildings stand behind a row of poplar trees. Before the GDR opted for the socialist classicism of the Soviet Union, modernist architects like Hans Scharoun were retained by the Soviet sector for the reconstruction of Berlin. These apartments were designed in the modernist style of the 1920s and were a part of a bigger plan led by Hans Scharoun and his associates to reconstruct the new Berlin (see Figures 2–3). 

    Figure 1, twin towers
    Figure 1, twin domed towers at Frankfurter Tor, Hermann Henselmann, Karl-Marx-Allee

     

    Figure 2 Arcade Houses

    Figure 3 Arcade Houses
    Figure 2–3, Arcade Houses, Karl-Marx-Allee

     

    However, after construction started on these buildings, a change in the planning of Stalinallee occurred when a delegation of architects and planners travelled to Moscow and other cities in the Soviet Union to study their architecture and urban planning. The results were presented in the manifesto “Sixteen Principles of Urban Planning” that sought to unify the urban design and architecture of the GDR with a language that is consistent with Stalinist style of other Soviet cities. The rest of Stalinallee pivoted quickly to implement a different style that emphasized monumentality, ornamentation, hierarchy and centralization. Modernist architecture was deemed decadent and capitalist. Hence, a row of poplar trees were planted in front of the modernist five-story buildings to hide their facades. From Frankfurter Tor to Strausberger Platz, stands one of the most representative forms of political propaganda as architecture in East Berlin. Meant as an architectural model for postwar housing, it couldn’t be replicated elsewhere in Berlin as the buildings were expensive and unsustainable to build ( see Figure 4–8).

    Figure 4_Stalinallee Phase 1

    Figure 5_Stalinallee Phase 1

    Figure 6_Stalinallee Phase 1

    Figure 7_Stalinallee Phase 1

    Figure 8 Stalinallee Phase 1
    Figure 4–8, Karl-Marx-Allee, 1950–1959

     

    After Nikita Khrushchev’s ascension to power, the process of de-Stanlinization constituted the third shift in architectural style along the boulevard in the 1960s, starting from Strausberger Platz to Alexanderplatz. The boulevard was renamed Karl-Marx-Allee. Khrushchev criticized Stalinist architecture for its lavishness and inefficiency and embraced modern building aesthetics. Brian Ladd adds, “the best way to house the masses, he argued [Khrushchev], was to develop prefabricated industrial forms for apartment buildings”6 Thus, modern architecture made a comeback on the socialist boulevard (see Figures 9–11). The new buildings were simple rectangular boxes of concrete and steel but matched the scale and façade pattern of existing buildings.

    Figure 9_ Stalinallee Phase 2

    Figure 10_ Stalinallee Phase 2

    Figure 11_ Stalinallee Phase 2_Kino
    Figure 9–11, Karl-Marx-Allee, 1959–1969

     

    The first phase of Stalinallee (1952–1954), was the first major reconstruction project after the war that addressed the challenges of postwar urban planning and housing shortage. It was advertised as the GDR’s showcase of what a newly rebuilt East German city would look like. Not surprisingly, a year later, the West German government promoted the International Architectural Exhibition Interbau for the reconstruction of the residential district of Hansa, adjacent to the Tiergarten, which was completely destroyed in 1943. The Interbau 1957 invited the pioneers of modernism to submit their ideas for the planning and design of a housing project for the Hansaviertel in the International Modernist style, which was professed as the style of a democratic Western society. Plans to rebuild the Hansavietel were discussed since 1951 as the city was suffering considerable housing shortages. Like Stalinallee, West Berlin’s government sought to put their city on the map as the site of innovative architectural designs for the new West German city.

    Figure 12 Sketch_Hansaverietel
    Figure 12, Sketch by Sundus Al-Bayati, Hansaviertel, building by Egon Eiermann

     

    The Interbau 1957 included designs by the most prominent architects of Modernism such as Walter Gropius, Alvar Aalto, Egon Eiermann, and Oscar Niemeyer. One of the most popular events at the Interbau was The “City of Tomorrow” exhibit. It presented drawings and architectural models that disposed of 19th-century notions of city planning such as dense housing, narrow streets, and the mixing of working, living and commerce. The war presented Berlin with a new beginning. The city of the future will be ordered, decentralized, healthy and democratic. Towers of residential blocks will be scattered in a green landscape that will ensure access to light, air and greenery for all. The “City of Tomorrow” was to be found on the grounds of the Hansaviertel. 

    Figure 13, Walter Gropius 1

    Figure 14, Walter Gropius 2
    Figure 13–14, Hansaviertel, Building by Walter Gropius

     

    Figure 15, Alvar Aalto
    Figure 15, Hansaviertel, Building by Alvar Aalto

     

    Figure 16, Fritz Jaenecke
    Figure 16, Hansaviertel, Building by Fritz Jaenecke

     

    Figure 17, Oscar Niemeyer

    Figure 18, Oscar Niemeyer

    Figure 19, Oscar Niemeyer

    Figure 20, Oscar Niemeyer

    Figure 21, Oscar Niemeyer
    Figure 17–21, Hansaviertel, Building by Oscar Niemeyer

     

    Figure 22, St. Ansgar, Willy Kreuer
    Figure 22, Hansaviertel, St. Ansgar, Building by Willy Kreuer

     

    It felt good to finally step inside a realized utopian modernist project, to be that scale figure that is dwarfed by the tall towers in the landscape. I noticed the decibel level drop down when I walked deeper into the neighborhood. As I looked up at the curvy apartment building by Walter Gropius, I imagined that it must be pleasant to live there, among all the trees, with a view of the Tiergarten. The Hansaviertel surely looked different from the rest of Berlin. Like the first section of Stalinallee, its planning and construction proved too expensive and complex to replicate elsewhere in the city. It remains, like Stalinallee, an architectural model for postwar reconstruction that envisioned a new urban identity for Berlin. In 2022, the city of Berlin will propose both Karl-Marx-Allee and the Hansaviertel to the “Tentative List” for UNESCO World Heritage as unique examples of postwar development projects that occurred concurrently to address the challenges of reconstruction.

     

    Nikolaiviertel: Recreation of a Medieval Quarter and the Question of Historic Preservation in Postwar Reconstruction


    A short five-minute walk west of Berlin’s biggest commercial center, Alexanderplatz, sits the historical Nikolai Quarter in the district of Mitte, recognizable by the two towers of St. Nicholas Church at its center and its narrow winding alleys with small cafes and restaurants that are a popular tourist attraction in the area. The St. Nikolai Church is the oldest church in Berlin, dating back to the early 13th century. The alley and street pattern around the church comprised one of the only remains of medieval Berlin before the war. The site was obliterated during the Battle of Berlin in 1945, except for parts of the church and few remains of other buildings. After the rise of the Berlin Wall, the central area of Berlin became a desolate land. 

    What visitors experience today is in fact a complete reconstruction by the German Democratic Republic during the 1980s. The site remained vacant after the war until the GDR sought its recreation to be completed in time to celebrate Berlin’s 750th anniversary in 1987. From the perspective of historic preservation, this reconstruction was controversial. After the war, the historic preservation and restoration of inner cities in Germany generated a lot of debate about what can be restored, repaired or completely recreated. 

    Figure 23, Sketch, Nikolaiverietel
    Figure 23, Nikolaiviertel, Sketch by Sundus Al-Bayati

     

    The conversation centered on individual buildings, as well as on the historical character of the city core or Altstadt. Architects and planners debated whether only important iconic buildings that were slightly damaged should be restored or if a group of buildings that were razed during the war could be completely recreated to document the historical characteristics of inner cities including the scale of buildings and the street patterns. Some critics argued that reproducing copies of historical buildings that were completely destroyed would create a false sense of history that tries to evade the Nazi era that led to the war and the event of destruction. However, infilling what was destroyed with modern buildings risked destroying the character and the identity of inner cities. Most agreed that a significant historical building that is moderately damaged can certainly be restored and parts of it recreated because enough of the original building’s details remain to guide a faithful reconstruction. Some preservation officials supported the recreation of historically significant buildings even if nothing of the original existed because they argued that these buildings were historic symbols or documents of the past.7

    There wasn’t a unified framework that guided reconstruction and historic preservation principles in Germany after the war. German cities either largely opted for modernization, like West Berlin, or varying degrees of historic preservation in rebuilding their Altstadt; for example, Nuremberg adapted a combined approach to preserving its historic core: iconic buildings that were slightly damaged were restored and new buildings were built that matched in appearance the character and scale of historical buildings. The issue of “Zero Hour” remained at the heart of the debate of modernization vs. preservation: whether to acknowledge a break in German’s history after the war and start a new chapter or recreate vanished quarters of the city to maintain a historical continuity that potentially bypassed the uncomfortable chapter of Nazism and the war.

    More than three decades after the war, the Nikolai Quarter remained vacant until the East German government advanced a plan to recreate the historical area, which included restoring St. Nicholas Church and rebuilding a whole neighborhood of 17th and 18th century merchant houses that once stood along its medieval narrow streets.8 In this reconstruction effort, motivated more so by competing with West Berlin in preparing for the 750th anniversary celebration of the city rather than historic preservation, the East German government sought to establish a historical continuity that goes back to the Middle Ages, cementing the urban identity of East Berlin as the  true German city. Brian Ladd elaborates on the image that the East German government tried to provoke in creating a replica of the Nikolai Quarter in 1987: “…the neighborhood of merchants testified to the vigor of the new middle class at the end of the Middle Ages, rising to power in a feudal society and thus illustrating (in the most Marxist theory) the bourgeois revolution that was the prerequisite of the proletariat revolution that the Red Army brought to Germany in 1945.”9

    Figure 24, Nikolaiviertel

    Figure 25, Nikolaiviertel

    Figure 26, Nikolaiviertel

    Figure 27, Nikolaiviertel

    Figure 28, Nikolaiviertel

    Figure 29, Nikolaiviertel
    Figure 24–29, Nikolaiviertel

     

    Visible Ruins 


    The sight of ruins has historically been a subject of romanticism and nostalgia in architecture and art but this fascination with ruins became more prominent since the 18th century as seen in well-known examples like Piranesi’s etchings of Roman ruins or Turner’s Tintern Abbey. These works illustrate the aesthetics of ruins; their persistence and decay as objects of contemplation. They are often tourist attractions to be walked around and enjoyed as one would with art in a museum. But, how do we engage with ruins from the war? Are ruins just the material manifestation of conflict, a memorial for the destruction or could they play a more active role in telling the story of the city and its history? 

    I’ve explored ruins in Berlin and Anhalter Bahnhof’s site and its future use in the Exile Museum stood out as more than a mere aesthetic treatment of ruins. Anhalter Bahnhof was one of the three train stations where Jews were deported from Germany and the proposed Exile Museum will tell their story of exile and other stories of displaced people. On the other hand, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church situated in one of Berlin’s biggest commercial districts has become one of the most popular tourist attractions for its striking look as a war relic. Similarly, the intricate brick façade of Franziskaner-Klosterkirche is the only thing left standing in this church from the 13th century (see Figures 43–47). Unlike the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, it is tucked away in a park surrounded by trees. Its state of openness as a result of the war is definitely a site to revel in.

    Walking in Berlin, sometimes you forget that about half of the city was destroyed in World War II. The scars of war are not as visible anymore. In East and West Berlin, modern planning was the dominant approach to reconstruction after the war. Damaged buildings were rarely repaired or preserved and most were cleared in favor of new modern buildings and wider streets. There are few exceptions that stand out as reminders of what the city looked like after the war for many years. 

    One of the most famous symbols of Berlin is the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in Kurfurstendamm with its broken and hallow spire (see Figures 30–36). The church was built in 1895 and was damaged during the air raids of 1943. In 1961, Egon Eiermann completed a modern addition to the church that consists of a new church and a separate campanile tower. As excited as I was to see a church with a hole in the middle, an actual ruin from the war, my enthusiasm died down as I walked into the area of Kurfurstendamm. How odd did this church and the bizarre modern addition look in the middle of all the noise, traffic and glamorous shops. The ruins stand in striking contrast to the heavily developed and commercial district around it. When the city was divided between the Allies sector and Soviet sector, the Kurfustendamm became a central area for West Berlin and was one of the first areas to be developed quickly to be the most famous Western district for entertainment, business, and shopping. Egon Eiermann’s original competition entry proposed removing the ruins of the church but public outcry led to the revised current design, where still a big portion of the remaining church was demolished to make room for the new buildings. Ruins can be deceiving at times; their shapes suggest how the forces of war struck them but we forget that modernization and profit-driven developments are as powerful as war in destroying the urban landscape. 

    Figure 30, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

    Figure 31 Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

    Figure 32, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

    Figure 33, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church
    Figure 30–33, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

     

    Figure 34, Chapel, Interior
    Figure 34, 1961 church addition by Egon Eiermann, interior

     

    Figure 35, Chapel, Exterior
    Figure 35, 1961 church addition by Egon Eiermann, exterior

     

    Figure 36, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church, Old and New
    Figure 36, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church and addition by Egon Eiermann

     

    Another prominent ruin that one might encounter in Berlin is the Anhalter Bahnhof (see Figures 37-42). All that remains of the former train station are the ruins of the main entryway and a portion of the front facade. The station was one of Berlin’s most important train stations and so it was targeted during the war. The building was damaged but it was the period after the war that saw its eventful destruction. Anhalter Bahnhof’s history is closely tied with the history of Berlin from Nazism to the Cold War. In Hitler’s great plan for Berlin, the tracks of the station were severed to make room for Albert Speer’s North-South Axis project. The station would have been demolished in Speer’s project and replaced with a public swimming pool but then the war happened. Anhalter Bahnhof witnessed another crucial historical moment in Berlin. The station became a deportation point for almost 10,000 Jews who were sent to Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia. The train station remained barely functional after the war until it was closed in 1952 when East Germany redirected all the train lines to Ostbahnhof since Anhalter Bahnhof resided in West Germany. In 1960, the station was demolished in its entirety except for the front portion. In 2025, the historic relics of the station will be part of a new museum that will sit behind it, the Exile Museum. The museum will tell the stories of exile of those who were deported during the Nazi regime and also of current displaced groups. The Exile Museum offers an example of a meaningful engagement with ruins from the war; the historic fragments become more than a romantic picture from the past, detached from any historical, social and political implications but are essential in telling the story of Berlin from their very charged location. 

    Figure 37, Anhalter Bahnhof

    Figure 38, Anhalter Bahnhof

    Figure 39, Anhalter Bahnhof

    Figure 40, Anhalter Bahnhof

    Figure 41, Anhalter Bahnhof

    Figure 42, Anhalter Bahnhof
    Figure 37–42, Ruins of Anhalter Bahnhof

     

    Figure 43, Franziskaner-Klosterkirche

    Figure 44, Franziskaner-Klosterkirche

    Figure 45, Franziskaner-Klosterkirche

    Figure 46, Franziskaner-Klosterkirche

    Figure 47, Franziskaner-Klosterkirche
    Figures 43–47, Ruins of Franziskaner-Klosterkirche

     

    Invisible Ruins: Berlin’s Parks 


    In Berlin, the parks of the city have stories to tell as well. Berlin is a city rich with parks and some of them engage with the history of the war in subtle and striking ways. As you approach and experience the beautiful winding and hilly landscape of Volkspark Friedrichsain and Volkspark Prenzlauer Berg, you might not know that these hills you are walking on were formed from the rubble of World War II. Schuttberg is the German term for a hill made of rubble. After the war, Berlin was covered with mounds of rubble. The task of clearing the rubble and stacking it in piles fell on the women in Germany because of the loss of men during the war. These women were called the Rubble Women. One of the most infamous examples of Schuttberg in Berlin is Teufelsberg. It’s not only a rubble mound that took 22 years to create but underneath it lies the unfinished Nazi training college designed by Albert Speer. 

    Burying the destroyed remnants of the city after the war under scenic landscapes reminds me of the tradition of Tumuli, mounds of earth and stone that sit over a grave to mark a burial site. 

     

    Social Housing from East, West and Unified Berlin


    In Stalinallee and Hansavierte, East and West Berlin regimes used rebuilding and the introduction of new housing models as a way to generate new identities for their cities. As discussed, both of these projects were unsustainable to propagate due to their cost and planning. Housing shortages and crowded 19th-century tenement living in both East and West Berlin led to the development of satellite cities outside of Berlin. Unlike Stalinallee and Hansaviertel, there are more similarities than differences in these developments. Both sides used prefabricated mass housing to offer dignified and affordable housing to their citizens that was the opposite of the overcrowded dark tenements in the city. I went to look at a couple of these examples of social housing: Marzahn (1977–1990) in east Berlin and Gropiusstadt (1959–1975) in west Berlin. Literature about these two developments abounds, so I will not get into their history and let the pictures do the work. 

    Figure 48, Marzahn

    Figure 49, Marzahn

    Figure 50, Marzahn

    Figure 51, Marzahn

    Figure 52, Marzahn

    Figure 53, Marzahn

    Figure 54, Marzahn

    Figure 55, Marzahn

    Figure 56, Marzahn
    Figure 48–56, Marzahn

     

    Figure 57, Gropiusstadt

    Figure 58, Gropiusstadt

    Figure 59, Gropiusstadt

    Figure 60, Gropiusstadt

    Figure 61, Gropiusstadt

    Figure 62, Gropiusstadt

    Figure 63, Gropiusstadt
    Figure 57–63, Gropiusstadt

     

    In the 1980s, West Berlin shifted its urban planning approach from modernization to discovering and preserving the 19th-century city. The 19th-century tenement housing that was not accepted in the last three decades after the war suddenly became an important aspect of Berlin’s urban identity. This shift to pre-war architectural styles and urbanity, which was termed “Critical Reconstruction,” emerged during the International Building Exhibition in 1980s. A number of well-known international architects were invited to design housing projects in the center of Berlin as part of IBA 1987. Architects include Zaha Hadid, Aldo Rossi, Rem Koolhaas, Peter Eisenman, among others. Pictures of some the buildings I explored are below.

    Figure 64, Alvaro Siza

    Figure 65, Alvaro Siza
    Figure 64–65, IBA 1987, Bonjour Tristesse, Alvaro Siza

     

    Figure 66, John Hejduk

    Figure 67, John Hejduk

    Figure 68 John Hejduk
    Figure 66–68, IBA 1987, John Hejduk

     

    Figure 69, Raimund Abraham
    Figure 69, IBA 1987, Raimund Abraham

     

    Figure 70, Zaha Hadid
    Figure 70, IBA 1987, Zaha Hadid

     

    Figure 71, Aldo Rossi

    Figure 72, Aldo Rossi
    Figure 71–72, IBA 1987, Aldo Rossi and Gianni Braghieri

     

    Figure 73, damaged mosque, Baghdad

    Figure 74, damaged mosque baghdad

    Figure 75, baghdad
    Figure 73–75, Photos from my phone, 2016, Baghdad

     

    References


    1 Diefendorf, Jeffry M. In the Wake of War: The Reconstruction of German Cities after World War II. Oxford Univ. Press, 1993.

    2 Ibid, 63.

    3 Ibid, 50

    4 Ladd, Brian. The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape. The University of Chicago Press, 2018, pp 234.

    5 Pugh, Emily. Architecture, Politics, & Identity in Divided Berlin. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2014.

    6 Ladd, Brian. The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape. The University of Chicago Press, 2018, pp.186.

    7 Diefendorf, Jeffry M. In the Wake of War: The Reconstruction of German Cities after World War II. Oxford Univ. Press, 1993.

    8 Ladd, Brian. The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape. The University of Chicago Press, 2018.

    9 Ibid, 46.

  • Berlin: Post-War Reconstruction (or Destruction)

    by Helena Dean | Oct 04, 2021


    Sundus Al-Bayati is the 2019 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

     

    From Baghdad to Berlin


    In my first week in Berlin, my Pacer app. registered 62 miles walked. Berlin had unusually sunny weather after weeks of rain, so I didn’t want to waste any days sitting inside recovering from my jetlag, and I thought this would be a good opportunity to get to know the city straightaway. I think Jane Jacobs would agree. On my map, I outlined the sites and buildings I planned to see that were either destroyed during World War II or rebuilt after the war. I wanted to get a sense of the city first. Walking allows your mind to wander. My mind drifted back in time to the early 20th century, when the German Empire sought to expand its colonial power by connecting Berlin to Baghdad through The Baghdad Railway. 

    The Baghdad Railway, also known as the Berlin-Baghdad Railway, built from 1903 to 1940, was a way for Germany to strengthen its alliance with the Ottoman Empire and assert its power as a rival to Britain and France in the Middle East. The Railway would allow Germany to establish a port in the Persian Gulf, granting it access to valuable oil reserves in Iraq, and linking Germany with its colonies in Africa.1 The Baghdad Railway was part of the Ottoman Empire’s plans to develop railways to link Turkey and Iraq. The increasingly weak and indebted empire granted the bid for the construction of the Baghdad Railway to Germany’s Deutsche Bank. When World War I broke out in 1914, the Baghdad Railway was 600 miles short of its planned destination. I often wondered what kind of Baghdad it would have been had this train route existed between the two cities. Maybe instead of applying for an entry visa to Germany a month in advance, detailing my arrival and departure dates, presenting my bank statements, providing proof of address and legal residency in the U.S. and submitting booked accommodation in Berlin (before I know if I am allowed to enter the country or not), I could hop on a train from Baghdad and find myself in Berlin two days later. Mobility is a theme I fantasize about frequently being an Arab and from a Muslim country. Everywhere I go, my passport is scrutinized, and I am subjected to a lengthy visa process. I never know whether I am going somewhere until I arrive there. This year of travel will be an adventure.

    As I navigate the visa process for each destination, the COVID restrictions, and the political climate in my war-torn cities, my itinerary might change. Unfortunately, there are too many cities whose urban landscape has been completely changed by war and conflict that I couldn’t fit in my year-long exploration, which I might explore if my planned itinerary is disrupted. The cities on my list are not unique in their experience of war. War and destruction have always been the history of cities. However, war in these cities is positioned in a time that is not too far in the past and not too recent that enough can be observed about their different processes of reconstruction and its effects in shaping the urban landscape. This is the reason why Baghdad, where I grew up during the UN sanctions of the 1990s and 2003 war, is not on the list. Baghdad is still in a state of destruction.

    I cannot think of a more intriguing city to begin this research into the complexity of post-war reconstruction than Berlin. Not only did half of the city get damaged during World War II, but the preceding era of Nazism, and the subsequent years of the city’s division manifested to the world as the Berlin Wall, make Berlin a city that continuously contends with its identity and past. This struggle is present all over the city. 

    In his War and Architecture pamphlet from 1993, Lebbeus Woods identifies two patterns of post-war reconstruction: either erasing the old site and creating a new utopia or restoring the site to its previous pre-war condition. Woods distinguishes between two approaches of reconstructing destroyed buildings according to their type: “ordinary buildings” such as apartment buildings and offices, as well as “symbolic structures” such mosques, churches and public buildings.2 While I don’t agree with Woods that a building type could solely drive the process and narrative of reconstruction, I think it is important to differentiate between the scale of a singular structure, such as the building block, and the scale of a group of structures like the neighborhood block. For this post, I’d like to focus on two iconic buildings in Berlin that offer two somewhat opposing examples of reconstruction.

    Topography of Terror Museum


    The first stop I made in Berlin was the Topography of Terror Museum. The site, formerly the Prinz Albrecht Palais, used to house the headquarters of Gestapo, Sicherheitspolizie, SD, Einsatzgruppen and SS Reich Security Main Office. The evolution of this site since World War II is a salient example of one of Berlin’s longest and most contentious debates about post-war reconstruction and its associations with the city’s history and identity. 

    Fig-1_TOT-Site3

    Topography of Terror Site (click to view full-size image)

     

    Prinz Albrecht Palaist was built in the 18th century, and later renovated by Berlin’s most prominent architect of the 19th century, Karl Friedrick Schinkel. The site was destroyed during the Allied bombing in 1945 and sat in ruins until 1949, when the West Berlin government blew up the rest. By the mid-1950s all the SS and Gestapo buildings were demolished and the rubble was cleared. The buildings weren’t so damaged as to warrant their demolition but nobody wanted to preserve the “most feared address in Germany.”3

    The act of deliberately erasing what remained of one of Berlin’s historically critical landmarks and especially one without any public input would later determine the future of the site when a new generation perceived this action as a way for their government and its people to erase their tainted past and deny their connections to Nazi Germany.

    Until 1981, the site sat vacant and was leased for different uses, such as to hold debris from nearby construction sites.4 In 1986, pressured by the “Active Museum of Fascism and Resistance in Berlin,” the city government led an excavation at the site and discovered the jail cells of the Gestapo.5 The discovery led to the establishment of the Topography of Terror exhibit the following year. The positive reception of the exhibit led to a rethinking of the site; following the German unification, a design competition was established to invite architects to design an exhibit space and a documentation center to continue to investigate the Nazi past. Peter Zumthor’s design was selected but the construction stopped few years later due to funding difficulties and debates about Zumthor’s design. The Zumthor design was dropped and a decade later a new architect was selected, the German architect Ursula Wilms. 

    As I approached the museum, I was surprised by how desolate the site felt. The new museum consists of an indoor exhibit and documentation center and an outdoor exhibit that occupies a small footprint. The rest of the site is left untouched. I learned that was the most important design criteria established by the museum commission. The sense of flatness and desertedness I felt is meant to document the deliberate flattening of the site and the subsequent years of neglect and disregard by the West Berlin government in its attempt to erase the Third Reich. The site remains a representation of the complicated relationship between Berlin and its difficult past.

    The indoor exhibit, a rectangular box of metal and glass, almost hovers on the site to disrupt its history as little as possible. The outdoor portion of the museum brings the visitor close to the exposed jail cellars of the Gestapo where people were tortured and imprisoned. 

    Fig-2_Outdoor-Exhibit_TOT

    Fig-3_Outdoor-Exhibit_TOT
    Excavated Gestapo prison cells make up the outdoor exhibit 

    This example of post-war reconstruction challenges the traditional approach of rebuilding a replica of the old 18th-century palace that was destroyed and instead documents the historical and political forces that formed the site since the war. This form of reconstruction sees architecture beyond a mere object to be replicated to restore pre-war normalcy, but as a product of lived and shared experiences that constitute the complex narrative of a city. In its minimal intervention, the site retains evidence of the Third Reich and records the city’s dialogue with its uncomfortable past.

    The Humboldt Forum 


    A thirty-minute walk east of the Topography of Terror Museum stands another controversial example of post-war reconstruction: the Humboldt Forum, or as the political science professor Jan-Werner Müller calls it, “Prussian Disneyland.” It’s a lucky coincidence for me to be in Berlin while the controversy about this building is very much present in the minds of Berliners. The museum opened its doors on July 20th. Perusing news articles around the time of the museum’s opening gives an idea about the ongoing controversy directed at the architectural form of the building that unapologetically reconstructs an icon of Germany’s colonial past. The debates about the reconstruction of the palace have been ongoing since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

    Fig-4_News-Snapshot
    A snapshot of recent articles following the opening of the Humboldt Forum

     

    Fig-5_Humboldt-Forum,-Berliner-Dome
    The newly opened Humboldt Forum, view from the Spree River, Berliner Dome on the right

     

    Fig-6_Humboldt-Forum_Facades
    Reconstructed baroque facades against the modern concrete grid of the eastern facade

     

    Fig-7_Humboldt-Forum_Facades
    Reconstructed baroque facades against the modern concrete grid of the eastern facade

     

    The original Berlin Palace was built in 1443 and became the royal residence of the Hohenzollern until 1918. King Fredrick I of Prussia ordered the expansion of the palace, which was completed by architect Andreas Schluter in 1713 to become one of the largest and most important buildings of Northern Baroque architecture.6 The palace was severely damaged during the bombing of Berlin, but other parts of the building, including the iconic facades, survived. After a few years of neglect, the East German government demolished the building in 1950, claiming the site too damaged to preserve. They proposed it become a square for mass demonstrations for the proletariat to express their struggles and needs. The site remained undeveloped for over a decade and was used as a car parking lot until 1973, when a new building was constructed by the GDR government, the Palace of the Republic.7 The new modernist building housed the Volkskammer, the parliament of the German Democratic Republic, as well as public and cultural spaces like a bowling alley, cinemas, theaters, and restaurants.

    After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Palace of the Republic was closed due to the discovery of asbestos contamination. In the following decade, controversy about the future of the site took central stage again in Berlin between proponents of demolishing the site and reconstructing the vanished Berlin Palace as a symbol of unified Germany and preservationists and activists who saw the Palace of the Republic an integral part of the history of Berlin and its divided era.8 Nonetheless, in 2003 the Bundestag voted to demolish the building, and it was not until 2007 that a decision to rebuild the 18th-century Berlin Palace—or parts of it—was passed.9 The plan was to rebuild three of the lost facades and the Berlin Palace dome, based mainly on photographs since no detailed drawings of the building exist, and have the interior of the building serve as a space for cultural programming. Today, three of those new-old facades stand next to a fourth of a modern architectural style. It now houses a collection of non-European art such as artifacts from Asia and Africa, looted by the German Empire.

    Fig-8_Humboldt-Forum_Newly-Reconstructed-Facade-of-Previous-Berlin-Palace
    The newly reconstructed baroque facades of Humboldt Forum

     

    Fig-9_Humboldt-Forum-and-Television-Tower
    Humboldt Forum and Berlin Television Tower (Berliner Fernsehturm) to the right 

     

    Fig-10_View-of-Atlas-Museum-from-The-Humboldt-Forum
    The Atles Museum viewed from inside the courtyard of Humboldt Forum

     

    Fig-11_Interior-Courtyard-of-Humboldt-Forum_New-Modern-Facades
    An interior courtyard in the Humboldt Forum where modern and baroque walls meet

     

    Fig-12_Close-up
    Close up of the reconstructed baroque details in the interior courtyard of the museum

     

    Before it was reborn as the Humboldt Forum, the Berlin Palace was sort of temporarily reconstructed once before. In 1993, the businessman Wilhelm von Boddien founded a lobby group that was essential in winning the debate to rebuild the Berlin Palace. Using private funding, the group managed to erect two full-scale facades from painted canvas attached to a massive scaffolding structure.10 The idea was to demonstrate the importance of this reconstruction in reclaiming its place back in the historical center of Berlin next to the Berliner Dome and the Berlin Cathedral. This was a successful strategy to win favorable public opinion. The art mockup is an uncommon example of public participation in the discussion of what replaces a destroyed building in the aftermath of war and its implications for people’s sense of history and place. Was the public manipulated by nationalists? 

    Fig-13_Berlin-Palace-Evolution-Sketch3
    Sketch_Understanding the History of the Site (click to view full-size image)

     

    Being the latest creation at the end of a long cycle of construction and destruction, the Humboldt Forum stands as a clear example of how a city’s buildings are continuously molded by ideological and political forces. More importantly, it demonstrates who has the power to decide what stands in the place of a destroyed building and thus deciding what fragment of the past is told. The recent controversy is focused on the use of the Humboldt Forum for the display of looted objects but there is another equally important debate: was the erasure of the Palace of the Republic that already stood there for over 30 years warranted? To intentionally deconstruct an existing landmark that represents the very identity of this city, the city of the Berlin Wall, and construct in its place an empty vessel of a vanished royal past, seems to be no more than an act of vengeance and a symbol of triumph of the neoliberalism that West Germany pivoted to immediately after World War II.

    The two iconic sites, on opposite sides of the Berlin Wall, are two among many destroyed during the war but they are exemplary in their ability to present a fundamental theme in the narrative of this city, the ongoing struggle between remembering and forgetting.

    Fig-14_History-of-the-Site
    History of the Site

     

    Fig-15_Palace-of-The-Republic-in-Museum-Store
    The Palace of the Republic lives on in the museum store as keychains and cups among other things 

     

    Fig-16_Marx-Engel-Statute
    Marx and Engels Statue remains in Marx-Engels Forum in front of the former Palast Der Republik and the current Humboldt Forum

     

    References:


    1 McMeekin, Sean. The Berlin-Baghdad Express the Ottoman Empire and Germany's Bid for World Power. Belknap, 2012. 

    2 Woods, Lebbeus. War and Architecture = Rat i Arhitektura. Princeton Architectural Press, 1997. 

    3 Topographie Des Terrors, https://www.topographie.de/en

    4 Ladd. The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape. The University of Chicago Press, 1997. 

    5 Ibid,

    6 Ledanff, Susanne. “The Palace of the Republic versus the Stadtschloss: The Dilemmas of Planning in the Heart of Berlin.” German Politics and Society, vol. 21, no. 4, 2003. 

    7 Ladd. The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape. The University of Chicago Press, 1997.

    8 Ibid.

    9 Ledanff, Susanne. “The Palace of the Republic versus the Stadtschloss: The Dilemmas of Planning in the Heart of Berlin.” German Politics and Society, vol. 21, no. 4, 2003.

    10 Ladd. The Ghosts of Berlin: Confronting German History in the Urban Landscape. The University of Chicago Press, 1997.

  • Another Year with the Graduate Student Lightning Talks!

    by Helena Dean | May 13, 2021

    The Graduate Student Lightning Talks have been welcoming master’s and PhD students to present their ongoing research at the SAH Annual International Conference through quick, 5–7-minute presentations for years. But unlike the more familiar structure of a conventional conference panel, the Talks are a bit more opaque. This is due to the fact that they are not solely a panel, but also an opportunity for graduate students to build community. Indeed, we welcome participants from art history, American Studies, and other programs that are not necessarily centered solely on architectural history. The Lightning Talks are one way for the graduate students, from many fields and disciplines, to come together, exchange ideas, and share our work and build a community through SAH.

    GSLT workshop
    "Global Modernisms" Graduate Student Lightning Talk Workshop

    So, who organizes the Talks and how are they set up? 

    The Graduate Student Advisory Committee, made up of elected graduate students in conversation with SAH leadership, organizes the Talks along with volunteer co-chairs each year. Together they review the submitted abstracts and CVs, and select presenters based on the quality of their work, research methodologies, diversity of interests and backgrounds, as well as their interest in participating in SAH activities. The group selects participants, typically 13–15 graduate students, who are then organized in thematic groups with designated co-chairs.

    What are the Lightning Talks workshops?

    Since the condensed format of the Lightning Talks makes offering and receiving feedback to presenters a bit complicated, the organizers have this year introduced virtual workshops to connect panel participants with their more established counterparts and receive in-depth feedback on their research and presentations prior to the annual conference. This past year, we held four sessions, focusing on a broad range of themes. Presenters had the opportunity to receive significant feedback directly from faculty mentors at the workshops as well as the opportunity to learn from listening to and participating in the discussions in other thematic groups. Faculty mentors and students developed robust intellectual rapport and then reconnected once again during the actual conference panel.

    Read about the 2021 workshops

    What else do graduate students gain from participating in the Lightning Talks?

    In addition to working with co-chairs, faculty mentors, and peers to prepare their presentations for the SAH Annual International Conference, graduate students become more aware of different institutional networks and intellectual approaches to architectural history. In 2021, Lightning Talks participants connected at a virtual happy hour, where they were able to discuss their favorite conference experiences and plan future collaborations. Panel organizers are hopeful the Lightning Talks can continue to facilitate a kind of network of cohorts, or former presenters who stay in touch and keep each other updated on their research activities through their participation in the Talks.

    If you want to partake in the Graduate Student Lightning Talks, make sure you submit your abstract and CV through the SAH portal by the deadline, June 2, 2021.

    GSLT

    "Politics of Historic Preservation" Graduate Student Lightning Talk Workshop

     

  • Member Stories: Charlette Caldwell

    by Miles Travis | May 04, 2021

    Charlette CaldwellToday's profile is Charlette Caldwell, a Ph.D. student and a Provost Diversity Fellow studying the history and theory of architecture at Columbia University. Charlette has been an SAH member since 2014.

    Can you tell SAH a little about your background and what interests you most about architectural history?

    I have a bachelors in architecture from Syracuse University, but I was always interested in taking architectural history and history classes while completing my undergraduate degree. These interests led me to completing a masters in historic preservation from the University of Pennsylvania and then pursing a doctorate at Columbia University. I think what most interests me about architectural history is uncovering untold stories that are not typically associated with architecture or history in general.

    Can you give us a brief summary of your current work?

    Currently I’m working on researching and interpreting the role the American Black Church had in the culture of American building in the 19th century. This research takes a vernacular methodological approach that asks questions about the changing cultural values of the built environment rather than deeming something as “commonplace” or “ordinary”. The major outcome I’m working toward with this research is to show Black agency in the built environment that touches on historic and monumental buildings such as Mother Bethel AME in Philadelphia and smaller unassuming places of worship.

    That's really interesting. The 19th century spans a watershed in American history—the Civil War—which raises other questions. Are there changes in the establishment and use of Black spaces before and after the war, or do you see consistency and persistent attitudes toward the built environment in the Black community?

    This is a good question about consistency and change in Black heritage sites. Although I haven't done the rigorous research for this (haven't quite started the dissertation phase of my PhD!), I do see in other places where I've researched or assisted with preservation efforts that there's consistency. That doesn't mean there are not moments of innovation. Consistency is really something everyone deals with; we adapt only when we need toMother Bethel AME and keep methods and practices that continue to be sufficient. Where I really see change in building practices is when a community responds to popular trends and adapts them to their unique situations. One really good example of this is Mother Bethel AME in Philadelphia, which I mentioned, where renderings of the different church buildings built on the site corresponded to popular building trends. The current building, built in 1890, is a Richardson Romanesque building. The building has the amenities one would expect for AME liturgy, but also the style reflects popular taste at the time in the United States. So I suppose my answer is that it's more of a both/and and a mix of historical and contextual, if that makes sense. Also, who gets to be a tastemaker? But I suppose that's a question for another day.

    I would imagine most Black churches were sites of sanctuary and agency regardless of building style, but are you finding more differences or more similarities in how these communities valued monumental buildings versus vernacular types?

    I see the vernacular more as a process of building as oppose to building types. I think there's still an archaic/elitist assumption of "the vernacular" that labels building practices by some groups of people—which are often race and class based—as "commonplace" or "ordinary" when in actuality, every group of people has building practices that are made of monumental and non-monumental buildings. I think when you also explore the vernacular historically, you'll see that because of the legacy of discrimination, especially in places like the United States, historically marginalized people respond to the built environment very much like everyone else, except there may be those limitations I mentioned before that add uniqueness to their building practices. So I guess this is a long way of saying that there's no such thing as "vernacular" types; the United States in particular (since this is my area of focus) is made up of different types of buildings, engagements, and understandings of architecture. It's more appropriate and inclusive to refer to it as a process of building culture. One architectural historian who I think does a really great job at this is Dell Upton. His American Architecture survey books do a great job at discussing every permutation and iteration of building as happening simultaneously and equally important to our understanding of the built historical past. No one is more important than the other, yet even with this in mind it's best to try to elevate and discuss historically marginalized people such as Black Americans as building monumental and non-monumental structures. You avoid othering folks while recognizing their agency and contributions when you approach history this way. 

    Along with Dell Upton, do you have other people who have influenced your work or inspired you to study architecture?

    In high school I was intrigued by Frank Lloyd Wright, but later I was influenced by historians like Barry Bergdoll and Mabel Wilson. Barry’s book on European architecture was required in my history survey while I was at Syracuse and I came to Charlette's Motherappreciate scholars like Mabel as I became more interested in the Black American experience in architectural studies and practices.  

    My mother is a small business manager at a construction firm in Washington state and she would bring home blueprints that needed review from the project architect. I remember looking through them in our dining room when I was little. That’s the earliest memory I have, but my interest wasn’t really sparked until I began having interest in film and art direction. My father was concerned about my job prospects so I began researching related professional careers and stumbled upon architecture again.

    If a layperson asked why we should study architecture and its history, what would you say?

    I would say knowing about the past in general is important to learn lessons that could be applied for the future, but architectural history is important especially because it’s something that everyone comes in contact with in their everyday experiences. Everyone has some emotional or cultural attachment to the built environment and it’s crucial to understand that attachment to learn more about people.

    When and how did you become involved with SAH and how has the Society enriched your experience in architectural history?

    I first became involved with SAH when I started my masters at Penn. It was important to me to learn about the professional opportunities and SAH was one of the top organizations on my list.

    Working with other graduate students has been key in my experience with SAH. Serving on the SAH Graduate Student Advisory Committee has shown me more opportunities and possibilities. Also, getting the chance to meet important scholars in our field through attending conferences and talks has been extremely influential in how I work as an architectural historian.

    The last year has seen significant changes in our society and in SAH. Do you have a vision for how SAH should evolve in the future, and how do you see yourself as part of that growth?

    I think it’s important that SAH responds to historical injustices by elevating historically marginalized voices, but also continuing to instill historical rigor that makes us think deeply about the role the built environment plays in historical scholarship. Also, elevating the work of graduate students could help facilitate a stronger connection among professionals in different stages of their career.

    I participated in the first Method Acts Workshop and thought having the opportunity to discuss some interventions I’m hoping to explore with my dissertation was helpful. And despite the moment we’re in, using online platforms allows more people to come into contact with each other, which I thought the workshops did quite well. I do think future workshops could continue discussing archival material and different ways to approach this material. That could be useful for exploring different avenues for research.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions. I always like to end by asking what advice would you give to a young person considering a career in architectural history or a related field?

    I would say take as many history courses as possible, in your interests and outside. This also includes history not explicitly related to architecture as it will expose you to how other historians have been thinking about interpreting the past.


    SAH members engage with the history of the built environment through a broad array of specializations, professional fields, and areas of interest. Member Stories is a regular feature that recognizes the expertise and unique experiences of our members.

  • Member Stories: Macarena de la Vega de León

    by Miles Travis | Apr 07, 2021

    Work from Home

    Today's profile is Macarena de la Vega de León, an Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Melbourne and SAH member since August of 2018.

    First of all, thank you for sharing a little about yourself with the other members. Can you tell us a little about your background and what interests you most about architectural history?

    I studied architecture in Madrid, but very quickly realized that it was the history/theory subjects that I liked and was better at. After having done a master's at the same school, it was clear to me that I needed to do my PhD somewhere else. By pure chance, that "somewhere" ended up being Australia.

    I am interested in the writing of architecture and its history. Who writes it? What did they have in mind? So far, I have worked on historians from the early and late twentieth century, as well as on more recent histories and histories in Australasia. 

    Most recently, you have been working from the U.S. As someone who has seen architecture and its history from the perspective of 3 continents, what about architecture is universal, and what about it is particular to its culture and place?

    This is a really complicated question to answer briefly. I believe that architecture and its history are not different from people: we combine in ourselves the complexities and contradictions of being human while being a product of our circumstances, the culture and place in which we grow up. Like us, architecture and its history have the potential to be more culturally aware and engaged every single day.

    Can you briefly summarize your current work?

    I am currently looking for my next job while I continue to publish parts of my dissertation and findings of the research project I undertook last year at the University of Melbourne. I have a ridiculous amount of deadlines this spring for somebody that is currently unemployed, but I am trying to stay in the game so I can be ready and competitive when an opportunity arises. Being in the midst of the storm at the moment, it is hard to see the way through, but all I can do is keep persevering, keep swimming.

    Are you looking for opportunities in academia or elsewhere? As work in higher education changes, are there opportunities for emerging professionals outside the university setting?

    Again, great questions without an easy answer. Working in academia—one can even say surviving academia—is not easy, and while I am actively searching for opportunities, I am not willing to accept just anything, anywhere, or risk my wellbeing. While careers outside academia are certainly fulfilling for researchers, for the moment I continue to search for an opportunity to teach, to learn, and to research.

    How can SAH support young professionals?

    SAH’s support since I became a member has been immense, especially during the last year, when the society has risen to address the very trying circumstances and continued to offer opportunities. Very recently, I have benefitted from my participation in the Method Acts workshops and the SAH/GAHTC Teacher-to-Teacher workshop.

    Do you have a particular memory of when you first became aware of the significance of architecture or when you knew you wanted to study it?

    I can’t really name one particular moment or reason. My parents are very fond of travelling, and I travelled with them and also on my own, visiting family since I was very young. With visiting new places, there is always the fixation on sightseeing. Before starting university, I had visited Paris, New York, Boston….

    Do you have a particular building or landscape in Paris, New York, or Boston that stands out in your mind? 

    Interestingly, more than a particular building or park, what I always remember best—and keep in mind, I have a terrible memory—is the feeling of walking on these (and other) cities’ streets.

    Do you have a particular architect or architectural historian that has influenced your work and career?

    First and foremost, I would have to name my PhD supervisor, the reason I went to Australia, Gevork Hartoonian. In Australia, I have also found supportive mentors in my bosses John Marcarthur, Paul Walker, and Hannah Lewi. I have met people that have showed genuine interest in my work and have helped generously along the way like Julia Gatley, Mirjana Lozanovska, and Ana Esteban Maluenda. Of course, I have people whose work I admire, and SAH has given me great chances to interact with them. This would be people like Sibel Bozdoğan, Kathleen James-Chakraborty, Mark Jarzombek, and very recently, even if virtually, Esra Ackan. 

    If a layperson asked why we should study architecture and its history, what would you say?

    I do believe that it helps in understanding the past. How humans have lived and interacted can be understood through studying cities and buildings. 

    When and how did you become involved with SAH?

    Macarena at SAH ProvidenceIn 2018, I was selected to participate in the 2019 annual conference in Providence. I joined as a student who had just submitted the dissertation, which was still under revision, and I presented at Providence having just graduated.

    I travelled from Australia supported by one of SAH's fellowships, I presented as part of a great session chaired by David Rifkind and Elie Haddad, whose work I had followed, and with whom I have continued to collaborate. That is one of the deadlines that I have coming up.

    How else has SAH enriched your work and experience with architectural history?

    Last year, I was chair of a session, so I was part of the first virtual conference. My co-chair, Brett Tippey, and I continued to work with our participants in the development of their papers for publication as co-editors of an issue of Fabrications: The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand that should be out very soon.

    The less obvious: being welcomed by none other than Victoria Young, who I had “met” on Twitter, into an amazing family, and it feels indeed as one. The communication with SAH officers at different stages has always been great and familiar. I even had the chance to learn from Helena (SAH Director of Communications) when I was trying to set up the communications for SAHANZ, the partner society in Australia and New Zealand.

    I also got to meet really interesting people coming from or working on Latin America, who welcomed me like another Latin-Americanist.

    The opportunities that came from attending the conference are immense: the program for graduate students, the professional headshot, and the GAHTC teacher-to-teacherTeaching after the GAHTC workshop that I attended, organized by Ana María León, where I got to learn from Daniela Sandler, among other educators and scholars. Tricks came up in the discussions that I put into practice as soon as I landed in my own teaching. For example, in the image you can see the result of the tutorial’s discussion with the students. I would start with a prompt/question and throw the ball of yarn to whoever would like to answer or continue with the discussion. Given how visual we are, very quickly students would be aware if they had contributed too much and encourage others to participate.

    The Method Acts workshops were new to SAH this year. How do you think they lived up to expectations and how could they be even better? 

    The February workshop demonstrated that emerging scholars are eager to share their work beyond their institutions and more than once a year, if there is luck, as did the workshops for the students selected to participate in the lighting talks. I believe there is potential for a monthly or bi-monthly workshop of the sort. 

    The last year has seen significant changes in our communities and in SAH itself. Do you have a vision for how SAH should evolve in the future, and how do you see yourself as part of that growth?

    I think that SAH demonstrated last year that it grows with adversity: it delivered a conference and developed an online program of depth and breadth that has no rival worldwide. But most importantly, it has stepped up in terms of its advocacy against inequities and social injustice, and its responses to presidential interferences with the appearance of the built environment. It has shown efficacy and speed in those responses.

    Last question: what advice would you give to a young person considering a career in architectural history or a related field?

    The only advice that I can give, that should be taken with a pinch of salt, as I do not think I have a career in architectural history yet, is to just keep swimming. If you are as lucky as I am, try to find ways to do what you are passionate about, and opportunities will come your way. You just need to keep an open mind.


    SAH members engage with the history of the built environment through a broad array of specializations, professional fields, and areas of interest. Member Stories is a regular feature that recognizes the expertise and unique experiences of our members.


  • Member Stories: Pollyanna Rhee

    by Miles Travis | Apr 07, 2021

    Pollyanna RheeToday's profile is Pollyanna Rhee, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and a member since August of 2018.


    Dr. Rhee, thank you for participating in this feature and letting the rest of the membership get to know you in a small but important way. To begin, can you tell SAH a little about your background and what interests you most about architectural history?

    My academic history is a lesson in the significance of luck. Unlike many of my classmates in my PhD program in architecture at Columbia, I didn’t have a professional degree in architecture nor did I study art history as an undergraduate—I studied politics and history. I started the PhD program in 2011 right after finishing the Master of Science Program in Critical, Curatorial, and Conceptual Practices in Architecture at Columbia. At the time, I had a sense of the larger questions and themes I wanted to explore, but no actual places or buildings. And this was the case, more or less, until the process of writing my dissertation prospectus. I wanted to write about environmental ideas in the shaping of the American West’s urban landscapes and cobbled together something along those lines. But an off-hand comment made by a faculty member at an environmental history seminar months after I started archival research set me on the actual path of what became the dissertation, which in part provides a new narrative of modern environmentalism’s rise in the United States.

    Coincidentally it was at SAH in St. Paul in 2018, after what seemed to be a devastating series of near misses, when I was offered my first academic job as a postdoctoral fellow in environmental humanities at the University of Illinois. It was a dream position—one I wanted as soon as I read the job description in the summer of 2017. At Illinois, I worked very closely with Bob Morrissey, a historian of Early America at Illinois, and Leah Aronowsky, a historian of environmental science now at the Columbia Society of Fellows, as well as graduate and undergraduate students, and met a really fantastic group of humanities faculty. During my second month at Illinois, the university’s department of landscape architecture, had a position for a modern landscape historian open up, and somehow through that process I was offered the job. My fellowship was two years and only required me to teach one course during that period, so I deferred my start date to finish the fellowship and started on faculty in Fall 2020 where I teach courses on modern and global landscape history. Every single day, I am absolutely in thrilled disbelief that I get to do what I do with the people around me.

    Does your current work still involve urban landscapes and environmentalism?

    I’m currently working on two major research projects and perhaps neither of them sound like architectural history at first glance. The first, based on my dissertation, is a history of the rise of modern environmentalism in the United States and uses the city of Santa Barbara, California to tell that story. The place--but also ideas of home, domesticity, community, and belonging--are central to how people form attachments to their environments.

    State Street perspective

    The second is a history of the concept of “quality of life” since 1945, especially the ways that cities and communities have been shaped around the aspiration of attaining quality of life whether it means access to leisure time, environmental quality, or health outcomes. This project began from research in the dissertation—so many figures in the archives discussed their concerns for maintaining Santa Barbara’s quality of life that I began to investigate what they meant by this evocative, yet rather vaguely-defined phrase.

    Overall, what drives my work is an overarching interest in how people construct normative ideas about the world,  the types of people constructed or envisioned by those norms, what counts as common sense, and how the built and natural environments contribute to the stabilization that common sense. For example, in the first project, one underlying thread within it is a critical stance towards often-romantic views of “community” as an unalloyed good. I spend quite a bit of time underscoring the reactionary and exclusionary potentials of community. In a review essay that’s just been published for early access for Modern Intellectual History I make the argument that examining architecture and landscapes are really ideal for this type of investigation because they’re often considered mere background for the ostensibly more substantive aspects of political and social life, but actually can help put into relief the political culture and priorities of communities, institutions, and governments.  

    Do you have a particular memory of when you first became aware of the significance of architecture or when you knew you wanted to study it?

    Probably reading of Carl Schorske’s Fin-de-Siecle Vienna on the Ringstrasse as an undergraduate. It’s still a real model to me of how to write about culture and politics.

    Other than Schorske, do you have a particular architect or historian that has influenced your work and career?

    I’ve been exceptionally lucky when it comes to people around me both within in architectural history and in environmental history, most especially Felicity Scott, Reinhold Martin, and Karl Jacoby. When you’re doing an interdisciplinary dissertation within architectural history—which I know a lot of people do—it can be a little scary to subject your work to scholars in adjacent fields, like you’re going to be outed as a charlatan dabbler. Or at least that’s a fear of mine. But subjecting my work to historians of the American West, environmental historians, intellectual historians, and political theorists has been amazing and probably a contributing factor to what I’ve been able to do. 

    Now as a professor, you have an opportunity to shape others' views of the field. If a layperson asked why we should study architecture and its history, what would you tell them?

    I tell my students that examining the land, landscapes, and the built environment are necessary for approaching the largest issues in our histories. In the scope of US history, this includes the legacies of territorial expansion and expulsion, slavery, war, and imperialist endeavors, as well as smaller scale, but just as revealing, histories of placemaking, domesticity, and consumption.

    Has SAH enriched your work and experience with architectural history?

    My first active involvement in SAH is through a book review of Shundana Yusaf’s Broadcasting Buildings published in JSAH in 2015. I think Stephen Nelson, the book review editor at the time, got my name from Felicity. Over the years I’ve written entries for the California edition of SAH Archipedia, taken part in the Graduate Student Lightning Talks, given a full paper on a panel in Glasgow, and am organizing a panel for Pittsburgh in 2022, so SAH is a regular and fulfilling presence in my work. This is especially the case now that I’m not in graduate school anymore, so SAH serves as a really important way to keep in touch with my classmates.

    The last year has seen significant changes in our society and in SAH. Do you have a vision for how SAH should evolve in the future, and how do you see yourself as part of that growth?

    At a time when public interest in the built environment and its historical legacies is at a height, we need ways to address the fact that there is so much work in architectural history and for architectural historians to do when it comes to teaching, whether or not the students are future designers, and scholarship, and there are simply not enough jobs for that work to be done.

    You were a participant in the Method Acts workshops that were new to SAH this year. How do you think they lived up to expectations and how could they be even better?

    The Method Acts workshops revealed a real desire for outlets for early-career scholars to discuss the methods, the spadework, and questions that come out of studying architectural history. Doctoral programs in architectural history are quite small, so it’s really necessary, more so now, to be able to forge connections outside our respective institutions, especially since the motivating questions and intellectual touchstones can be quite different across departments. I would love to have more discussions about underutilized archives, surprising discoveries, and theoretical touchstones and questions that drive our scholarly work.  

    You have mentioned the small market of academic jobs in the field, and the need to build bridges between scholars from different institutions. What advice would you give to a young person considering a career in architectural history or a related field?

    Often I think of academic life as an equivalent of professional sports or Hollywood with much less lucrative compensation packages, not just because of the importance of luck and circumstance, but also because one needs good bearings and a thick skin. Graduate school was an absolutely fantastic time for me—I made brilliant, incredible friends, my work evolved in ways I didn’t expect, and it was just a lot of fun. In retrospect, the path I had from getting my PhD in 2018 to faculty position was remarkably straightforward, but it’s a pretty exceptional case now. The realities of the job market make me hesitant to encourage anyone to do a PhD in architectural history, but at the same time, there’s so much vital work left to do.

    Thanks for you time and insights, and we will all look forward to seeing you online at this year's conference and in person for your panel in Pittsburgh in 2022.

    *The image above shows the prospective plans for downtown Santa Barbara from the 1920s (Architecture and Design Collection at University of California, Santa Barbara).


    SAH members engage with the history of the built environment through a broad array of specializations, professional fields, and areas of interest. Member Stories is a regular feature that recognizes the expertise and unique experiences of our members.


  • Method Acts: Graduate Students and Emerging Professionals Discuss Approaches to Scholarship

    by Helena Dean | Mar 09, 2021

    screen shot of Method Acts workshop

    Screen shot of the Method Acts workshop on “Ethnographic and Material Methods”

     

    The COVID pandemic rendered public archives, collections, and libraries inaccessible. Widespread protests for racial justice during the summer of 2020 called for a greater understanding of  bias and exclusion, and prompted academics to interrogate their positions and privileges. This combination of circumstances spurred the SAH Graduate Student Advisory Committee (GSAC) team—Jia Yi Gu, Jonah Rowen, and Jessica Varner—to ask: How are early-career scholars of architectural history acknowledging their own place in the histories they are writing? How do these acknowledgements take place, and where? And will this moment mark a shift in scholarship?

    Our premise started from understanding historical methods as inherently political practices. The question of who gets to write history is inextricable from the politics of how they write it. These factors of scholarly orientation include: the scope, subject, and mode of address, as well as the evidence that is available at any given moment, and which conditions our encounters with historical events and objects of study.

    Additionally, as increasingly varied forms of evidence beyond visual analysis provide the basis for the history that we write, the team asked how our encounters with sources are different in the current moment. In situations in which archives are unavailable, non-existent, or inaccessible, how are scholars continuing to engage with the sources that are available to them without sacrificing depth and details? Barred from travel, how would our field nonetheless retain ambitions toward more global architectural history? As scholars realign research towards engaged, activist, and decolonial methods, we asked how people were using the present moment as an opportunity to shape a more inclusive and interdisciplinary field.

    The SAH GSAC members arranged the “Method Acts” conversations along two broad themes, featuring a total of five presenters. For the first, on “Narrative and Documentary Methods,” Charlette Caldwell and Pollyanna Rhee presented their work using Black-owned newspapers, immigrant census surveys, and other popular media to enfold lived experience into architectural history. Shajjad Hossain presented his scholarship using GIS data, which brought up questions of objectivity, subjectivity, location, and the mapping of myths on Indigenous land. For the second event, on “Ethnographic and Material Methods,” Macarena de la Vega presented her interviews with architectural historians in Australia and New Zealand, which foregrounded questions of gender and relations between center and periphery. Alberto Sanchez-Sanchez outlined his project preserving a single centuries-old building in Spain and its transformations over time, as COVID forced him home. The presenters selected short excerpts of other authors’ written materials that encapsulated their approach. These materials were pre-circulated among an audience of graduate students, emerging professionals, and other colleagues. Rather than a typical seminar-style format (with a leader and assigned reading), the workshop format encouraged a horizontally-structured conversation discussing works in progress. Participants described a breadth of approaches and their own projects in relation to those of the presenters.

    This series of conversations confronted questions of methodology directly. The group asked how new methods may prompt reconsiderations of content and practice, both familiar and not. The conversation considered how architectural history utilizes and learns from methods and practices common in anthropology, science and technology studies, media archeology, environmental history, translation studies, critical race theory, and feminist, gender, and queer studies, among other fields.

    Scholarly practices have been upended over the past year in unexpected, challenging ways. Yet those circumstances led to opportunities as well: a recognition that now is an ideal time to reconsider our approaches at every level. The Method Acts conversations provided a forum for engaging with other scholars who are doing the formative work of remaking the discipline of architectural history during a period of isolation.

  • SAH Graduate Student Lightning Talks Introduces Virtual Workshops

    by Miles Travis | Feb 19, 2021

    Zoom gallery view of graduate student lightening talks

    "Politics of Historic Preservation" Graduate Student Lightning Talk Workshop

     

    The Graduate Student Lightning Talks at the SAH Annual International Conference have been welcoming student presenters at all stages of their graduate student careers for a number of years. In the session, each presenter delivers their talk in 5–7 minutes, thus condensing a great volume of research and information into a clear and succinct argument. The session has grown tremendously since its founding, making the conference accessible to an ever-expanding number of graduate students across the United States and overseas. This year, with the benefit of our increased virtual meeting capacity, the Lightning Talks also included a series of four virtual workshops—an opportunity for students to receive feedback from established scholars in the field of architectural history and preservation, as well as from their peers and co-chairs. The first two sessions, "Global Modernisms" and "Politics of Historic Preservation," took place in late January and early February, and the remaining will commence prior to the annual conference. The session and workshop co-chairs are Aslihan Gunhan of Cornell University, Leslie Lodwick of UC Santa Cruz, Chelsea Wait of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Hongyan Yang of University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

    The first session, “Global Modernisms,” was co-chaired by Aslihan Gunhan and faculty mentor Dr. Esra Akcan of Cornell University; presenters included Rebecca Lemire, Ernesto Bilbao, Kimberly Gultia, and Ciprian Buzila. The themes ranged from Indigenous cultures and production of modernism in the US to Pan American Conference in Quito, from Filipina Mestiza identity and post war housing to museums and nation building in Romania. Prof. Akcan provided a brief introduction to what the audience may expect from a five-minute talk, and how to balance content, analysis, and arguments. She further offered bibliographical suggestions for the authors, and extensive feedback for each of the projects. Tensions in cross-cultural exchanges, afterlives of buildings, womanhoods, racial and Western hierarchies of historiography, different forms of post-colonial identities, microhistories, were among the topics that Prof. Akcan raised. The workshop went far beyond providing feedback for the conference talks, and instead cultivated rich intellectual discussions on recent scholarship. Participant Rebecca Lemire commented, “I am now seeing how I can really improve my presentation for the talks in April.”

    The second set of graduate student presentations, “Politics of Historic Preservation,” was co-chaired by Leslie Lodwick and the faculty mentor was Dr. Jeffrey Klee, Vice-President and Senior Director of Architecture for the Classical American Homes Preservation Trust. Presenters included Pamudu Tennakoon, Enam Rabbi Adnan, James J. Fortuna, and Delnaaz Kharadi. Themes featured the architectures of luxury boutique hotels in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and their relationship to the ruins of colonial bungalows, Panam Nagar as a colonial settlement and the role of its domestic architecture in narratives of colonization, the political goals of the architectural renovations of Ellis and Angel Islands, and the Parsi fire temples in Udvada, India. Each panelist posed urgent questions about the stakes and implications of preservation for their sites and Dr. Klee offered graduate students valuable feedback on their own work, as well as guidance on effective presentation styles. In his feedback, Dr. Klee urged panelists to continue to consider and develop the political implications of these issues of preservation at their sites. Presenter Enam Rabbi Adnan agreed, “Preservation doesn’t get top priority,” and gestured toward the sites being demolished in Panam Nagar, Bangladesh—part of why his own activism and scholarship argues for the preservation of these nuanced places in order to better understand issues of local and national identity and agency.

    The Graduate Student Lightning Talks will host two more virtual workshops. The first, “Methodologies,” will be co-chaired by Chelsea Wait and the faculty mentor will be Dr. Sahar Hosseini of the University of Pittsburgh; presenters will include Sophia Triantafyllopoulos, Xiaohan Chen, Teonna Cooksey, and Gunce Uzgoren. The final session, “Architectural Epistemologies,” will convene just before the annual conference. The session will be co-chaired by Hongyan Yang and the faculty mentor will be Dr. Kateryna Malaia of Mississippi State University. Panel presenters will discuss how ancient theories, modernization, and technologies contributed to the development of different architectural epistemologies, featuring Harriet Richardson Blakeman, Jonathan Duval, Lorena Quintana, and Annie Vitale.

    During the SAH Virtual Conference, attendees will be able to tune into the Graduate Student Lightning Talks to view polished presentations growing out of the workshop series. The session will convene on April 15, 12:30–2:40 PM CDT. More information is available at https://app.oxfordabstracts.com/events/1344/program-app/session/17402.

    Zoom gallery view of a graduate student lightening talk

    "Global Modernisms" Graduate Student Lightning Talk Workshop
  • Revising the Institutional Survey: Less Can Lead to More

    by User Not Found | Jul 20, 2020

    Welcome to The SAH Data Project’s process blog, a series of short-form reflections and interviews about the Society’s study of architectural history in higher education. By Sarah M. Dreller, Postdoctoral Researcher in the Humanities. #SAHDataProject

    Like many of you, the SAH Data Project team has also spent the past few months assessing which aspects of our work might contribute to our community most and developing strategies to continue in ways that don’t overburden the people we’re trying to serve. The factors to consider are varied, interconnected, and constantly shifting and we are a small team with limited resources. But we are definitely trying and I thought sharing some new details here about one part, how we tightened up the institutional survey, might be of particular interest.

    If you haven’t already heard, the institutional survey is what we originally referred to as the survey for department chairs and program administrators. This is the keystone in the structure of the project’s public-facing data gathering effort. It’s where we’re asking core quantitative questions about who has been teaching and studying the history of the built environment in the United States over the past decade, what forms that work has taken, and the ways in which institutions have supported their faculty and students in the process. Our ability to share meaningful observations about the health of our field in the final report will necessarily rely on the amount and quality of the information you provide via this survey now.  

    I’m going to be honest with you here. Our concerns back in March about the pandemic leading to reduced response rates have unfortunately proven correct. And, more recently, doing the urgently important work necessary to increase equity in American life might also be leaving little mental space for doing something like our institutional survey. The result is that the current data set just isn’t as robust as it might have been during a more typical spring term. It’s understandable, but still not quite what will satisfy the project’s full potential.

    So, what concrete steps are we taking to turn this survey into a task that you can more reasonably complete within the context of today’s chaotic living conditions? A task that will leave you feeling it was worth your investment of time and intellectual labor?

    infographic

    This is a visual representation of the SAH Data Project’s Institutional Survey showing the type and number of questions that have been retained. The base diagram shows all of the questions as originally distributed in the survey; each question is a separate cell in this diagram with questions that focused on change over time data represented as a trend chart and those that requested current “snapshot” data indicated with a camera. Removed questions have a gray semi-transparent layer here, retained questions do not. This question-by-question assessment process resulted in a revised Institutional Survey that is approximately 35% shorter than its original pre-pandemic iteration. Infographic by Sarah M. Dreller.

     

    Last month’s process blog post by Advisory Committee chair Abby Van Slyck outlined one major change, which is to expand the criteria for who can complete the survey on behalf of their department. We’ve also set up open support times on Zoom so that anyone can drop in to ask questions and get help directly from me. We’re extending the closing dates for all the project’s surveys to give you a chance to track down the information you need. And we’re doing other more behind-the-scenes things, too, to make sure as many different kinds of people as possible hear what the SAH Data Project is about. But the part of all this that I’m especially excited about at the moment – and what I suspect might really help more of you contribute your voice now – is what the team has done over the past month to strategically reduce the density of the information we’re asking from you. In retrospect, we took a kind of “less is more” approach, auditing the survey question-by-question to identify and retain only those questions most likely to address the project’s fundamental focus on change over time. The newly released institutional survey has a much stronger emphasis on how enrollments, faculty and student demographics, and course offerings have evolved over the past ten years, data we hope we’ll be able to synthesize into descriptions of our field’s key academic trends.

    Trimming back the survey to its most essential components was easier in some ways and harder in others. On the one hand, we were very grateful to those of you who have already completed this survey because your responses provided some very useful data about the paths that different kinds of respondents have been cutting through it. Things like who skipped which types of questions, how the wording of certain questions early on led to confusion later, etc. really helped us be strategic. On the other hand, the decision to keep some questions and cut others wasn’t as simple as mapping the preferences of past respondents. Rather, it was primarily about evaluating questions from the point of view of people like most of you, the survey’s potential future respondents, to determine whether the information we were likely to get from any given question would really add enough to the project to justify asking you to spend your time answering it. This was a tough thing to do, but the team ultimately decided that about twenty-five percent of the survey could be removed without jeopardizing the data that we really need.

    I should add that we absolutely did the same thing meticulously, repeatedly in the fall, too. Our expectations calculus was different then, however. Everyone has more on their plates now, a whole lot more, in some cases. So, we’re offering a new leaner version of the institutional survey in hopes that you’ll give it a serious look.  And, if you are in a position to complete it, we hope you find both it and the process of completing it substantive in all the most meaningful ways. Thank you, in advance, for your contribution.

  • Evolving Strategies for Collecting Institutional Data

    by User Not Found | Jun 04, 2020
    The SAH Data Project Process Blog welcomes the chair of the project's Advisory Committee, Abigail Van Slyck, as the first guest author. 

    If you read nothing more of this blog post, be sure to read this one line: We are asking faculty, who may be more motivated than their department chairs, to complete what we are now calling the Institutional Survey (formerly the Chair/Administrator Survey).

    When I was offered the chance to contribute to the SAH Data Project process blog, I jumped at the opportunity to make visible some of the work that has been taking place behind the scenes. As chair of the project’s Advisory Committee, I have been closely associated with the project from the start and have derived great pleasure from my involvement in this deeply collaborative undertaking. Followers of this blog have a sense of just how many people are devoting their time and attention to making the project a success.  So, I begin with a big thank you to everyone who has touched the SAH Data Project in some way.

    Of course, the work continues, albeit complicated somewhat by the COVID-19 pandemic. The April 15 process blog post outlined the steps that we took to encourage you—whether you are a student, a faculty member, or both—to complete the surveys we launched in the weeks before the pandemic hit. Indeed, the faculty and student surveys will be open until June 30, so if you have not done so yet, there is still time to complete one or both, depending on your situation.

    Topmost in my mind right now, however, is the third survey, the one aimed at gathering the institutional data that is so important to understanding the state of architectural history in institutions of higher education in the United States. I will talk more about the goals of this survey below, but I will say up front that you—especially the faculty among you—have a role to play here. Initially, we had imagined department chairs or other administrators responding to this survey and several had done so before the pandemic pulled them away to more pressing matters. It is now clear that department chairs and other administrators are unlikely to have the capacity to respond to our survey; if they are not themselves architectural historians, their motivation to make time for what is admittedly a data-heavy survey will be low. So, we will be reaching out to those of you teaching architectural history (broadly defined, of course, to include landscapes and cities) to ask you to provide the data for your institution via what we are now calling the Institutional Survey. You may need to ask your department chair or others for help, but you are in the best position to make that ask, explaining why gathering this data about our discipline is important to you. In short, we will be asking you to take the lead at your institution.

    Rest assured that we are not sitting back to wait for data to pour in. Quite the contrary. We are working proactively to meet our ambitious goals for this part of the project. Ideally, we would gather data from 100 colleges and universities. Given that there is no such thing as a 100% response rate, this means we need to solicit input from many more schools than that.  At the same time, this is more than a numbers game. That is, the value of the information we are gathering is also directly dependent upon the range of institutions and programs represented in the data set, as well as on their regional variation. We want data from national and regional universities—both public and private; HBCUs; national and regional colleges; and community colleges.

    Morgan State University
    We will be soliciting institutional data from Morgan State University and other HBCUs that offer architecture or design-related programs. Their Center for the Built Environment and Infrastructure Studies was designed by Hord Coplan Macht in association with The Freelon Group. Photo: Mark Herboth


    The range of program types is even more varied, as architectural history (again, broadly defined) might be offered in departments of architectural history and art history; in schools of architecture, landscape architecture, and planning; in historic preservation programs; and in some instances in related departments, including archaeology, history, public history, and cultural studies.  And, of course, we need to ensure that we have data from schools throughout the country.

    To guide our outreach efforts, the project team has developed a spreadsheet that is prompting us to identify 200 programs that—collectively—will cover all these types of institutions and programs. We are putting the finishing touches on populating it and adding contact names. In the coming weeks, we will share it with members of the Advisory Committee, so that they can volunteer to encourage colleagues to become the point person for the SAH Data Project that their institutions.

    The spreadsheet is not an exclusive list. We want data from any program offering instruction in architectural history. If you are willing to act at the point person for your institution, please contact the project researcher or me. We will be happy to get your started!

    Thanks for your continued interest in this project and for everything you have done—and will do in the future—to make it a success.


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SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
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Chicago, Illinois 60610
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