• Gold Coast’s Buried Relics: Artifacts from the Charnley-Persky House Dig

    by User Not Found | Sep 06, 2013

    Visitors to the Charnley-Persky House Museum in Chicago have a chance to peek into the butler’s pantry behind the dining room on the first floor. Displayed in the cabinets are rusted pots and pans, medicinal bottles and jars, and shards of broken china dishes. These artifacts were discovered when the historic house and current headquarters of the Society of Architectural Historians was undergoing extensive renovation work in 2002. Construction work on the foundation and vaulted sidewalk required digging an eight-foot deep trench along the foundation wall in order to install waterproofing material below grade. Beneath the driveway on the east (back) side of the house, the workmen discovered a late 19th-century midden with a variety of refuse left behind by the inhabitants of Gold Coast from about a hundred years ago.

    Beginning in the mid 2000s, staff members at SAH worked to categorize, document, and preserve materials from the area. In 2009, in the hopes that a professional excavation would uncover further insight into the development of the Gold Coast neighborhood and the lifestyles of the families that resided here, Pauline Saliga, executive director of SAH, contacted Rebecca S. Graff who had been a doctoral candidate in anthropology at the University of Chicago at the time. (Graff is now a visiting assistant professor of anthropology at the Michigan Technological University.) With experience in leading urban excavations of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition site in Chicago’s Jackson Park already under her belt, Graff led a field school for DePaul University students during the summer of 2010. The undergraduate students had the opportunity to learn the tenets and practices of historical archaeology including stratigraphic excavation and soil sampling.

    Most of the collection consists of glass bottles and jars that contained medicine, cosmetics, food and other condiments. Some of them were imported from across the pond, such as cologne from the Parisian perfumer Ed. Pinaud, attesting to the affluence of the families that lived in this neighborhood. A few of the bottles are local, such as from the Schiller Company, an apothecary that was just a few blocks away on the northeast corner of Clark and Schiller streets. Broken shards of fine china from France, Germany, England, and Asia were also found in the midden.

    This medicinal bottle is embossed with the name of the local Schiller Pharmacy whose store sat on the northeast corner of Clark and Schiller streets, just three blocks west of the Charnley-Persky House. As the embossing “Tel North 442” shows, the telephone numbering convention in 19th century Chicago was a name followed by three digits.

    The ownership of the garbage salvaged from the pit remains a mystery. It seems unlikely that a cultured family such as the Charnleys would have buried trash next to the house. Moreover, a graduated nursing bottle and a tiny clay toy in the shape of a pipe indicate that the artifacts of young children were in the midden. According to the 1900 census, however, the residents of the house were James and Helen Charnley, their 26-year-old son Douglas, a boarder the same age as the son, a brother-in-law, and two Swedish servants, Hannah Larson and Annie Carlson, with no evidence that a young child lived in the house. Rather, these items may have belonged to the Potter Palmer household whose grounds originally included the land on which the Charnley-Persky House was constructed. They also may have come from the 1890s apartment building immediately to the east of Charnley House. Although these items may or may not have belonged to the Charnleys, they do date to the period of the Charnley occupancy and are representative of the types of items that would have been used in their household.

    Ed. Pinaud’s Cologne, Paris.

    As part of my summer internship at SAH, I was able to photograph about 100 of these artifacts. The image gallery on the Charnley-Persky House Museum website highlights some of the retrieved items. From these buried relics, we can surmise fascinating stories of the Charnley House’s former occupants or their neighbors – someone was interested in photography and developed albumen prints, while another was occupied with perhaps filling in a bald spot with hair growth tonic – providing a retrospective glimpse into the daily lives of the Gold Coast’s well heeled society in the late 19th century.

    Christine Shang-Oak Lee is a 2013 Jeff Metcalf Fellow at the Society of Architectural Historians and a fourth-year undergraduate at the University of Chicago studying art history. She is currently researching Western-style architecture in Korea built during its colonial period. On campus, you can find her in the projectionist booth with her hands tangled in old film reels at the student-run Doc Films or drumming away infectious beats in the traditional Korean percussion group.

  • The Right Textbook

    by User Not Found | Aug 22, 2013

    It wouldn't be late August, if I weren't gripped by the annual anxiety that I have chosen the wrong textbook for the imminent architectural survey starting in a few days. The year-long survey (ancient to medieval in the Fall, Renaissance to late modern in the Spring) is a staple of our teaching whether in departments of art, architecture, or art history. This year's anxiety comes with the realization that I have taught a version of this survey continuously for a decade and in a range of public, private, small, and large universities. But I also realize that I have never used the same textbook two years in a row. Every April an inevitable sense of disappointment with the current textbook throws me into a crisis that translates into a different choice for next year's bookstore order. As the new academic year lurks around the corner from summer's pedagogical distance and scholarly satisfaction, the text book choice of April (the cruelest month) comes with a dose of self doubt. My seasonal anxiety was heightened this August after finding a new package in my departmental mailbox, a review copy of Richard Ingersoll's revised Spiro Kostof in World Architecture: A Cross-Cultural History (2013).

    Teaching architectural history is a complex enterprise with competing narratives, methodological styles, and philosophies. Like our fellow art historians, we face a finite set of options 
    (Gardner, Janson, Stokstad) established by publishing houses that contribute to our students' amassing of debt. Based on my own conflicted experiences, this is how I map out the textbook terrain for a general college-level introduction to architecture.

    The High Road
    . One classic approach to architectural history is to keep it elevated within the realm of high art. Educated in a Warburg School academic genealogy, Marvin Trachtenberg's Architecture: From Prehistory to Postmodernism (1986) was my point of entry. As a specialist in premodern architecture, in particular, I marveled at Trachtenberg's ability to animate the canon with the spirit of the liberal arts and the ideals of high culture. Although serving well advanced art history majors, Trachtenberg proved to become more and more unworkable with a general student pool. David Watkin's History of Western Architecture (1986) is another alternative, but its brevity on ancient architecture always discouraged me from adopting it. Built on the tradition of Nikolaus Pevsner's Outline of European Architecture (1943), the high road proudly asserts that architecture is a cultural expression superior to ordinary building, after all, "a bicycle shed is a building; Lincoln Cathedral is a piece of architecture." Thanks to the migration of Germany's prominent architectural historian, the high road flourished in the late 20th century, replacing older American models, such as Banister Fletcher's comparative method or the associationist tendencies of Ruskinian aestheticism.

    The Social Edge
    . For those trained in a more vernacular or anthropological approach, Spiro Kostof's A History of Architecture: Settings and Rituals (1985) has been an obvious choice. In spite of my scholarly anthropological affinities, I had always found Kostof more difficult to teach, as it failed to essentialize in ways that were expedient and necessary for the art-historical curriculum. Kostof seemed especially weak in Trachtenberg's periodic strengths and my own fields of interest in the Middle Ages. As Robert Ousterhout noted, Kostof's Byzantine chapter is one of the weakest, which is strange considering that he was a native Constantinopolitan. Ingersoll-Kostof's new World Architecture fills me with hope, although sadly the book came too late for this year's choices. Ingersoll has complemented Spirof's "democratic" approach with broad global strokes. Organized under 20 chronological periods that are defined by date alone, rather than by civilization, Ingersoll offers tackles three settings with its period. Although one fears that this might prove too complicated for a teleological schema, Ingersoll opens up the possibilities of selecting one's personal narrative from the 60 case-studies. So it is possible to tell the good old story of Romanesque begetting Gothic, the Renaissance begetting Baroque, etc.

    World Architecture
    . It has become increasingly difficult to teach western architecture in isolation. Nevertheless, western architecture is a tradition that, if diluted too much, fails to have a disciplinary force. Seeking to satisfy a global breadth, Building Across Time: An Introduction to World Architecture (2008) maintained the canonical western sequence but added substantive sections on Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Michael Fazio, Marian Moffett, and Lawrence Wodehouse have made the shift from western to global as easy as it can be. I have enjoyed their approach very much, although the non-western chapters struggle to fit with the western story of prominence. Bridging the divide of cultural versus social expression, Fazio, Moffett, and Wodehouse seemed to have succeeded in producing a well illustrated textbook. I would have staid more loyal to the enterprise had the later chapters been as strong as the earlier ones. The last section on late modernism and beyond seems to have disintegrated into a list of options.

    Building Language
    . What teachers of architectural history confront is an utter illiteracy among the students on how to read visual form in the built environment. Whether western, global, or sociological, the standard textbooks had assumed some kind of foundation in the virtual world. Since the survey of architectural history is commonly the only architecture class that students may take, building a linguistic basis for understanding the constructed world becomes an increasing need. This challenge had already been clear to historians teaching in schools of architecture, where the past offered the linguistic foundation for design. Francis Ching's Architecture: Space, Form, Order (1975), Steen Eiler Rasmussen's Experiencing Architecture (1959), and Christian Norberg-Schultz's Meaning in Western Architecture (1975) have all been wonderful primers to the phenomenology of architecture, but have not made good substitutes to the historian's discipline. Leland Roth's Understanding Architecture: Its Elements, History, and Meaning (2007) is the best alternative for an integrative linguistic approach. Roughly a third of this compact book is devoted to the Vitruvian architectural basics (utilitas, firmitas, venustas) before tackling the albeit short chronological sequence. I know that a few other architectural historians invested in "understanding" buildings have abandoned textbooks altogether. Others use Carol Strickland's sparse Annotated Arch: A Crash Course in the History of Architecture (2001) that complements with original sources material and hands-on exercises.

    Thematic Entanglements
    . When the Oxford History of Art series adopted a thematic approach to its textbooks, I was very excited. Dell Upton's Architecture in the United States (1998) truly rocked my world and gave me countless hours of productive discussions in seminars geared to the American scene. Similarly, Barry Bergdoll's European Architecture 1750-1890 (2000) remains my favorite primer to that complicated century-and-a-half of proto-modernity. Unfortunately, the thematic approach is inconsistent in both chronological coverage and quality. Even in times where I have succeeded in weaving a tapestry of thematic readings, the students have become frustrated with the different voices confronting them with every turn. I have found it impossible to string along enough thematic textbooks for an extensive survey. The verdict is not out, of course, but  it seems that the students flounder in a thematic framework because most lack the rudimentary chronological foundation. I find that many students love architectural history because it gives them a primer in the sequential dialectic of cultural and social expression. Their architectural history might be their only college level history and they crave a coherent textbook.

    Perhaps I'm restless. Perhaps I expect wonders from a textbook. Perhaps I put too much value to these choices. But I don't find myself alone in lacking confidence when asked, "What is your standard textbook?" Even after ten years of trying, I am still searching for a stable textbook to partner with for the next decade. I need a book whose exorbitant cost I can at least justify to the students in good faith. By testing different books each year, I make my job harder, needing new images, new dates (which range wildly from textbook to textbook), and new assignments. At the same time, switching textbooks keeps me focused on some pedagogical concerns. I would like to think that one day, we'll have enough digital resources to make this nagging choice go away. Most likely, the choices will multiply and in their cheapness become more burdening. 

    I thank my students over the years for test-driving all these expensive choices. I am sure that they are all well served considering the chaotic alternatives. If you have a favorite textbook in your survey, please, tell us about it. I look forward to a permanent relationship. 

    "The Tree of Architecture" above, comes from Banister Fletcher's old classic, A History of Architecture on the Comparative Method for Students, Craftsmen & Amateurs (1st ed. 1896; last ed. 1986)

  • Architectural History: College Prep 2013

    by User Not Found | Aug 07, 2013

    Can architectural history empower? John Ruskin answered affirmatively with pragmatic initiatives that challenged the obvious associations of architectural capital and hegemony. Ruskin made his students at Oxford strip to their waists and build roads, he published letters to working class readers (Fors Clavigera), established utopian NGOs (Guild of Saint George), and developed curricula for technical schools. As Dolores Hayden has shown, the "power of place" and social justice have been an integral component of architectural discourse in the U.S. In the spirit of Ruskin's, however, architectural history's engagement with the community needs constant reaffirmation, especially recently, when educational resources for the arts and humanities have been dwindling in secondary education.

    With Ruskin in mind, I decided to take up a challenge raised by Daniel Porterfield, President of Franklin & Marshall College where I teach. For three weeks, I taught a class for high-achieving high-school students from under-represented groups. Porterfield recognizes how the landscape of liberal arts education is changing and seeks new strategies like the College Prep Program (see here and here). For a pricey private college like mine, this is a critical conversation to have. So, I joined a group of seven fellow faculty members in teaching 72 students that came to our campus from 13 states, typically from extremely urban or extremely rural settings. The task of each class was to immerse the rising juniors into a college-level academic environment and inspire them to seriously consider the possibilities of college. The program hopes to inspire the students towards the necessary steps required for college planning during senior year, but also to help them decide what type of college fits them best. A few College Prep students end up applying to liberal arts colleges, which were previously not part of their familiar horizon.

    In this post, I would simply like to share some of my lessons from this experience of teaching architectural history to high-school students. The conceptual framework for my class was to teach the students a rudimentary framework (ancient, medieval, modern), as well as a crash-course in methods of historical analysis. The strategy can be summarized in a few points.

    • JSAH's Vitruvian motto "Utilitas, Firmitas, and Venustas"  provided the conceptual framework, guided by James O'Gorman's beloved textbook ABCs of Architecture. The Architecture Handbook developed by the Chicago Architecture Foundation was another alternative. With function, construction, and beauty as the core conceptual unities, the students learned how to produce the requisite plans, sections, and elevations. My history lessons were condensed and sought to produce a basic framework that moved across the conceptual triad.
    • Using our college campus as a virtual laboratory, the students learned how to make analytical drawings (measured and sketchy) as a way to substantiate observations about architectural meaning. We focused on four buildings, a Gothic Revival Main Building (1856), a Richardsonian seminary (1893), a Colonial Revival science building (by Charles Klauder, 1925), and a college center (by Minoru Yamasaki, 1972). Forced to distill all observations in a sketchbook, the students were able to see history in action as it unfolded across these four buildings. The classical, medieval, and modern traditions were recognized as coherent vocabularies with their own elaboration on the function-structure-beauty synthesis.
    • None of the students had any background in architectural drawing. Although rudimentary at first, the sketchbooks proved to be a good discipline (see examples below). At the end of the seminar, the students formed teams and measured the facades of two designated buildings. The objective was to produce a drafted final drawing.
    • Field trips provided additional inspiration. We visited our college's Archives to look at original architectural drawings produced by Klauder's and Yamasaki's offices. We also visited our college museum, where we analyzed architecture represented in paintings, and asked the question of what is the intended representational content of architecture in art. Our day-long field trip to Lancaster gave us a chance to talk about the American city from the Colonial period to urban blight and post-industrial revivals.
    • At the end of the seminar, the students presented their work to the rest of the students and faculty at a final Fair. A studio component taught by my colleague Carol Hickey concluded with the design of a primitive hut in the tradition of Vitruvius and Laugier. This pavilion was sited among the historical buildings that the students had already measured in my documentation exercises.

    What did I learn from this program? For one, it was a great pleasure to teach students from a diverse socio-economic background where architecture was not simply another item of consumption. It dawned on me that architectural history must serve under-represented social classes in different ways. If the upper social classes live in newly-created architectural fabrics (McMansions, suburbs, etc.), the lower social classes become the occupants of the abandoned older housing stock. Even if they share the dream of leaving the dilapidated inner city or rural farm behind, they are the rightful custodians of its heritage. Economic mobility translates into geographic mobility, which typically takes place across a historical journey from old discarded architecture to fancier, better maintained, newer architecture. But getting out of the old should not be the only form of empowerment. Understanding the old, which is now yours, offers a different kind of ownership, of intellectual rather than real-estate capital. Architectural heritage has an interesting class component. Poverty and historical residue coincide.

    With the social polarization of college education, architectural history is increasingly an interest to a social class uneasy with the architectural realities of American cities. The majority of my students come from the suburbs. They feel extremely uncomfortable in the city, unless it is the manicured commercial experience of Manhattan, or any other gentrified downtown. When we take trips into the cities-of-old to witness masterpieces of historical architecture, we must also confront social realities. Teaching to non-elite kids proved to be completely different. There were no touristic obstacles to be overcome. The old was part of home.

    I must confess that my foray into Ruskinian social justice has been new and novel. I know that many members of the SAH have been doing this for much longer than I. The experience has opened my eyes and introduced me to similar programs like the The Social Justice Research Academy at the University of Pennsylvania, where landscape architect Michael Nairn teaches on public space and urban sustainability. I also learned about tour classes offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation and the initiatives by other universities to provide summer experiences on architecture: Career Explorations in Architecture at Tulane University, ArcStart at the University of Michigan, Experiment in Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Career Discovery at Notre Dame,  Exploration of Architecture at University of Southern California, and others. Such programs are hosted by design schools and focus on the profession of architectural practice. An agenda in architectural history and interpretation has a slightly different trajectory and expectations.

    It would be interesting to hear from other architectural historians that have had similar experiences in reaching out to high school students. I would love to post your experiences on this blog, please send me an email at kkourelis@gmail.com.

    I conclude with a couple of drawings from the students; sketchbooks:

    Quick sketch exercise by Zachary Maneval comparing two 19th-century churches, Trinity Lutheran and James Episcopal in Lancaster. Although not professional or measured, the sketches illustrate the spatial and aesthetic difference between two radically different spaces and denominations.

    Quick sketch exercise by Lara Elizabeth Vera of interior facade of Central Market, Lancaster, investigating the relationship between structural material and visual order.

  • Study Day: Los Angeles

    by User Not Found | Aug 02, 2013


    On July 19th a group of 10 SAH members spent the day exploring two museum exhibitions on postwar architecture in Los Angeles, guided by the curators. The exhibitions were among a series of events this spring and summer associated with Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A., an initiative of the Getty Foundation. The morning was spent at the Getty, where Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990, a survey of the period, was on display. The tour was co-led by the curators, Wim de Wit, head of architecture and contemporary art, the Getty Research Institute and Christopher Alexander, assistant curator of architecture and contemporary art, the Getty Research Institute. The afternoon was spent at the Hammer Museum exhibit A. Quincy Jones: Building for Better Living, curated by Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher, head of department and associate curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, with the tour by Ellen Donnelly, curatorial fellow. The event was coordinated by SAH board member Kenneth Breisch.


    Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A., an initiative of the Getty Foundation, was a series of exhibitions and events in the spring and summer of 2013 at institutions throughout Southern California. Following up on 2012's Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945–1980, a spectacular project with over 60 institutions participating, this year's was more narrowly focused on architecture and design and on a more modest scale, with eleven exhibitions at nine institutions. If last year's PST made clear the significance of Los Angeles in this period, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, architecture was somewhat underrepresented, with just one major show at LACMA and a few smaller exhibits on specialized topics. This year's PST remedies that with a variety of approaches to this productive period of architecture in Los Angeles.


    The Getty Museum's Overdrive: L.A. Constructs the Future, 1940-1990, a survey of this period in Los Angeles architecture, served as a useful orientation for the initiative as a whole. The SAH study day tour was led by curators Wim de Wit and Christopher James Alexander (and incidentally, the Getty equipped us with wireless headset gizmos which allowed wandering without missing any of their comments).

    The show was organized thematically rather than chronologically, the themes a mix of the urbanistic and the typological. The exhibition opened with
    Car Culture on the urbanism of the "strip" and the pop-modern architecture associated with it, and Urban Networks on the infastructures of the city -- including freeways of course, but also the now-lost streetcar system, the channelized L.A. river, and the airport. The remainder of the show focused more on buildings: Engines of Innovation, a bit of a catch-all for the high-growth industries of the postwar era: entertainment, aerospace, international trade, higher education; Community Magnets on cultural complexes, shopping centers, and churches, with a section dedicated to the 1984 Olympics; and Residential Fabric a survey-within-a-survey of housing in all its forms.

    The materials on view were mostly archival and from the Getty's own collection, including renderings, period photographs, and models, with some working drawings but an emphasis on accessible material. An unexpected highlight was the inclusion of a number of beautiful ink presentation renderings by Carlos Diniz, an independent artist who worked with many prominent architects in the 1960s in L.A., and later nationwide. Indeed it seemed to me one unstated theme of the show was the recognition of figures like Diniz, prolific and practice-oriented, who seldom appear in conventional surveys. The postwar "second generation" of Southern California like Gregory Ain and Pierre Koenig were here as well, but I thought it refreshing to see less familiar names alongside. While often considered derivative or second-tier, such designers were hugely influential in shaping the built environment -- precisely on account of their being mainstream and practical, and productive. Arguably they are as important historically as more prominent and stylistically-influential architects, just in a different way. The show was also inclusive in stylistic terms: beyond the familiar California modernism of glassy openness and indoor-outdoor living, we saw other trends of the day, the experiments in decorative ornament and historical reference that were still distinctly modern.

    Most of the period covered at the Getty was one of rapid economic growth, a period in which there was simply a lot of work for good architects (and bad ones too). During this boom Southern California led the way in producing the new American forms of automobile-based urbanism. Today the region is probably the best archive of how cities were built in this period, for better or worse. Not that L.A. was a blank slate, a point the show illustrated well in its presentation of infrastructure -- for example in highlighting the enormous scale of the streetcar system that was dismantled after WWII, yet had established urban patterns that remain today. Still, in the 1950s and even 60s, large swaths of undeveloped land remained, and this was a key condition of what L.A. became.

    The exhibition ventured into the later 1970s and 80s in some areas, notably the material on the Olympics and some houses of the 1980s "LA school." Considering the scale of the show, large but by no means sprawling, it succeeded remarkably well in presenting the trajectory from early postwar to postmodernism. But to cover the period up to 1990 was perhaps too ambitious, in that the final decade or so of that period saw the emergence of dramatically different conditions on many fronts: culturally, politically, in attitudes toward the city and toward growth, within the discipline of architecture and society in general.

    The most distinctive historical dimension that emerged from the material on display was the normative nature of modernism in the 50s and 60s, spanning the worlds of "high" architecture and fashion and the mass market. The curators were admirably inclusive: presenting googie coffee shops and tracts of single-family homes built by developers, even vernacular urbanisms of working class communities -- alongside the "high" architecture of downtown's music center and a section on "visionary houses." To my mind this approach was quite successful, and implied a redefinition of modernism in more expansive terms -- and in a manner true to the specific historical reality of Los Angeles rather than appealing to artificially-abstract universal "modernism."

    This is an important point given the non-specialist audience for a museum show like this, and the rather distressing distance between architectural discourses and popular ideas of architectural history. Architectural modernism is a case in point: cartoonish simplifications are common, whether the images are negative (prison-like housing projects) or positive (Mad Men glam). Closer to home, I was reminded of last year's LACMA show, California Design, 1930-1965: Living in a Modern Way, which was disappointingly uncritical and, in the end, blandly affirmative in the manner of a sales pitch for reproductions of "classic" modern furniture. This year the Getty presented a more complex picture. It touched on darker aspects of modern planning: the casual destruction of the Chavez Ravine community in order to build Dodgers Stadium, the transformation of the river into a concrete drainage channel. It illustrated political and social ideals of the period, the individualized every person's dream of a suburban home, but also the achievement of a racially-integrated community in the Aliso Village housing project. While the focus of the show remained on architecture, it resisted isolating design from the realities it is implicated in. I see no reason a general audience cannot engage with these questions; in fact I would argue the other way around, that the presentation of architecture as purely aesthetic and buildings as isolated objects is an approach that insults everyone's intelligence.


    The tour at the Hammer Museum of A. Quincy Jones: Building for Better Living was led by Ellen Donnelly, Curatorial Fellow, in lieu of the curator, Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher. A very different sort of exhibition than that at the Getty, this was a survey of one architect's career, a format which tends naturally toward a biographical narrative and an exploration of individual authorship, rather than sweeping historical conceptualizations. Interestingly I found the two shows touched on some of the same issues, and that the material at the Hammer added a provocative depth in its specificity and detail, especially in my thinking about periodization -- how we might define the postwar or "late modern" era.

    A. Quincy Jones (1913-1979) had a career that spanned the same decades covered in the Getty show, with his most vital work done in the 1950s and 60s. While best known for houses in a stylish postwar modern mode, his production was actually quite diverse, and included office buildings, churches, academic facilities, libraries. One can discern the typical career path of a successful practice, with more large-scale projects in later years, but Jones never abandoned the smaller scale, he continued designing houses. He also had a special interest in urban planning, and how that interest informed his residential designs is one of the most interesting aspects of his work.

    One highlight of the exhibit was the model and renderings of Case Study house #24 of 1961, produced in partnership with Frederick E. Emmons, as was much of his work. Meant as a prototype for a large suburban development, the house was half buried underground with a strip of clerestory windows and number of outdoor terraces, both open and covered, acting as light wells. A rather unusual design, but in fct a pragmatic solution to the environmental challenges of the hotter, more inland parts of Southern California, as well as to the provision of privacy in middle-class suburbs where lots were typically not all that spacious. The project was never realized, in part due to regulators' resistance to the proposed unconventional ownership structure, with large common areas -- a situation which highlights several important issues, about Jones as an architect, and about the discipline of architecture at this time in America.

    The project was unusual in another sense, in being a prototype for middle-class housing to be produced in series. In that it followed the original intent of the Arts & Architecture case study house program, which by this time had shifted toward luxurious one-off houses, and toward an aesthetic enabled by the use of expensive steel-frame construction. The resulting split personality of the program lends it a potent historical resonance, even if that complexity is lost in the popular view, dominated as it is by the familiar glamorous visuals of the later houses. The Jones exhibit brought this tension into focus in a particularly effective way.

    In the early postwar period, 1946 to 1950, Jones was a key figure in the collaborative Mutual Housing Association project, a housing cooperative in the hills on the west side of Los Angeles. While only partially realized, this was a milestone in translating the architectural ideas of modernism into an American context. The project was conceived in a spirit of idealism, in the provision of expansive common areas and shared facilities, and in the intent to be multi-racial, without restrictive covenants that were common at the time. This explicit leftist politics was in continuity with inter-war European modernism, while the planning engaged with the Southern California landscape, and the houses projected a vision of modern life that was distinctly American. If this was not mass housing, but more middle-class housing for a clientèle with an artistic bent, the project perhaps pointed toward the mass middle-class society that was emerging -- toward what that society might be. Later, Jones and Emmons would contribute more directly to this social imaginary with their prototype designs for Eichler housing developments in Northern and Southern California, today considered exemplars of quality design on a budget.

    This was only part of the material on display at the Hammer; Jones was a busy practitioner with a variety of clients, and projects that ran the gamut of programs, although generally not large in scale, and no really tall buildings. Some of his houses were large, notably the sprawling Annenberg estate, "Sunnylands." The exhibition presented such projects in their own gallery, "Living Large," which struck me as the right move, treating these as a different sort of architectural problem than Jones's more modest residential designs.

    Jones was a professional and pretty much everything on display was quality work, but for me his most compelling historical significance lies in how he sought to cultivate community and re-imagine residential norms, not only norms of formal design but even norms of property ownership. His path seems characteristic of the postwar trajectory of American modernism: truly engaged with a social mission for architecture, but in real projects rather than visionary plans (and in Jones's case even real prototypes not theoretical ones). In those terms his later work is somewhat ambiguous, but the explanation for that may be less biographical than disciplinary -- how his career spanned a period when the role of the architect in society changed, as did the economic conditions of architectural production.

    Alex Tulinsky, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Washington

    Alex Tulinsky is a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington in the Ph.D. in the Built Environment, history-theory-representation track. He earned his M.S. in Architecture (history/theory) from the University of Pennsylvania and has a B.A. in political theory from Michigan State University. His dissertation examines residential architecture in Japan in the late 1960s and early 1970s, specifically the small urban house as designed and theorized by three architects: Azuma Takamitsu, Miyawaki Mayumi, and Suzuki Makoto. Recently he has been living in Los Angeles.
  • Race, Space, and Trayvon Martin

    by User Not Found | Jul 25, 2013

    In a few weeks, I’ll once again begin teaching my fall semester graduate seminar on “Race and Space” at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I hold a faculty position. The seminar examines the relationship between the social construction of race and the construction of the built environment (architecture, urban space, landscapes), focusing primarily on the United States. It also examines the relationships that exist among property ownership, race, class, citizenship, justice, and notions of belonging. The course is meant to emphasize the material (read “built”) dimensions of race, and the ideological operations through which the construction of racial identities and the construction of the built environment are and have been intertwined. An interdisciplinary endeavor, the seminar includes writings by historians and theorists of the built environment and of race; and by anthropologists, geographers, and scholars from ethnic studies, American studies, cultural studies, and African-American studies, among others. The course carries the rubric of my departmental affiliation—Landscape Architecture—but it is open to graduate students from any department in the university. It fills each time I’ve offered it; graduate students from departments as diverse as English, History, Anthropology, Educational Policy, Library and Information Science, Art History, and Art Education have filled the course (far fewer students from the expected professional design degree majors have taken the course). In some instances, the seminar has shifted the direction of students’ thesis and dissertation topics. Notably, and perhaps predictably, the course also tends to attract a far more racially diverse group of students than do some of my other courses. Some of you may teach similar courses on your campuses. I hope so. Here’s why: 

    The events of the past week have demonstrated, tragically and again, that race and space are linked, and that they are matters of life and death. Trayvon Martin died on February 26, 2012, because he was a black youth wearing a hooded sweatshirt in a gated community in a United States that remains characterized by high levels of racism and housing segregation. The man who shot and killed him, George Zimmerman, decided that a 17-year-old black youth was literally and suspiciously out of place, even in what has been described as a multi-ethnic gated community. The case is neither simple, nor easily analyzed. It is surely about the laws surrounding gun control, and Florida’s “Stand your ground” law. It is about a legal and judicial system that overwhelmingly targets and incarcerates black men. It is very clearly about race, about the severely limited  and limiting set of representations of black youth that circulate in our culture today, and about our refusal to confront the most serious forms of racism that persist in the United States. All of these matters have been addressed, to varying degrees, by journalists, by scholars, and by rightfully-outraged citizens over the past week.

    But we’ve not heard or read nearly as much about the restricted spatial freedoms that severely limit and even threaten the lives of those not identified as white, restrictions that are among the most debilitating of the racist practices we need to address, but rarely discuss—restrictions that cost Trayvon Martin his life. We may no longer live in an era of sundown towns and lynchings, but Trayvon Martin’s death shows us that blacks and other people of color cannot move freely in parts of the United States without fearing they will be harmed—perhaps even by the very same police charged with offering protections—and/or that they will be entirely without the security of police protection should they be accosted or attacked.

    What do I mean by spatial freedom? I mean the freedom to travel anywhere at any time without being stopped by the police simply because of one’s appearance; I mean the freedom of access to retail environments and the ability to shop at leisure without being suspected of shop-lifting; I mean the equal ability to find housing in any neighborhood one can afford (and fair access to home loans to insure that possibility); I mean equal access to good schools, fresh food, and clean air and water. I mean the ability to go to a convenience store, purchase a snack, and then walk through a gated community where one’s family is a guest without being accosted or shot by someone who considers you a threat because of the color of your skin or the hooded sweatshirt you are wearing.  These are freedoms that involve the spaces we inhabit and our rights to them—cities, suburbs, houses—so I consider them relevant and important for those of us who study the built environment. And so, by the way, did at least one well-known spatial theorist, Henri Lefebvre.

    How might we work towards a greater level of engagement in professional degree curricula with these issues? What role do courses like my seminar on “Race and Space” play in the pedagogical work and praxis we perform as architectural, landscape, and urban historians? How might we shape educational cultures in design schools that permit a greater breadth and depth of intellectual conversation and debate about the connections that exist between structural racism and the built environment, both now and in the past? 

    I’ve been fortunate to teach this course as a graduate seminar, where students elect to engage in what can be difficult conversations. After all, race talk makes most white-identified folks in the United States very uncomfortable. The subject of white privilege is challenging and even disturbing for many students, especially for white students (the majority of the architecture students at Illinois are white—your demographics may vary). Our national conversations about race are ridiculously impoverished; It was a great relief, and perhaps one of the most important moments of his Presidency when Barack Obama finally spoke publicly about his own experiences with racism and spatial mobility on Friday, July 19th, noting that he, too has been followed in retail environments and treated with suspicion on urban streets. Students also may feel ill-prepared to engage in conversations about race since they’ve likely been asked to do so little of it in the years leading up to their graduate work. Moreover, the vast majority of those engaged in (and especially leading) professional practice in the United States are white. The vast majority of teaching faculty in design schools in the United States are categorized as white. The vast majority of students in professional schools of architecture and landscape architecture in the United States are white. Their white privilege allows them the freedom to ignore racism, to see it as something that is outside the realm of professional practice, and even (and more perniciously) to imagine that we now live in a so-called post-racial society. I am white, so I know this very well. I can decide not to think about race whenever I choose to do so, and I can walk through gated residential neighborhoods without having my presence questioned.  

    We owe it to our students and their peers to bring these issues of racial justice into the core of design education. And into our courses in architectural history and theory. As a starting point, perhaps SAH members would like to join me in starting a syllabus exchange for courses that engage with the subject of race and space. I am happy to make the syllabus for my seminar available to anyone who would like a copy (for now, just send me an email request: harris3@illinois.edu). By confronting racism in its many forms, architects, planners, and landscape architects can do their part in the work for racial justice and equality. Hopefully, young black men of the future will have no limits placed on their freedom of spatial mobility, and on their sense of where they belong.  

    * My thanks to Dr. Sharon Irish and Dr. Michael Burns for commenting on drafts of this essay.

    Dianne Harris is professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign specializing in the history of housing and suburban development in postwar America. Her groundbreaking publications on "race and place" include Little White Houses: How the Postwar Home Constructed Race in America (2012), and the collection of essays, Second Suburb: Levittown, Pennsylvania (2010). She is former editor of SAHARA, a regular contributor to JSAH, and the director of the Illinois Program for Research in Humanities.

  • The Revitalized and the Neglected: Rapp and Rapp's Movie Palaces in Chicago

    by User Not Found | Jul 17, 2013

    C H I C A G O

    The red and yellow neon letters of this instantly recognizable marquee sign that brighten up the corner of State and Lake are one of the defining landmarks of the city’s nightscape – immortalized on the posters for the popular musical film Chicago (2002).  The masterminds behind this Chicago emblem were Cornelius W. (1861-1927) and George L. (1878-1924) Rapp who established their own successful architectural firm Rapp and Rapp.  Trained at the University of Illinois School of Architecture, the brother-duo designed several hundreds movie palaces throughout the country in the early twentieth century.  By teaming up with the Balaban and Katz theater chain – the forerunner of today’s Paramount Pictures – the brothers constructed their most famous works in Chicago.

    Rapp and Rapp’s theaters reflect the rapidly changing forms of the movie-going experience in the twentieth century – not only in their initial designs but also, and perhaps more significantly, in what is done with these buildings after their inaugural years.  The exhibition of films originated in vaudeville houses, with the earliest films – which were only ten to fifteen minutes long – being shown as one of the vaudeville acts.  The present-day Bank of America Theatre (1906), which was designed by Edmund R. Krause aided by the young C. W. and George L. Rapp, was initially a vaudeville house.  The theater joined the Orpheum Circuit in the 1920s and later began screening movies in the early 1930s.  The Bryn Mawr Theatre (1914) also originally operated as a vaudeville theater, switching to functioning as a nickelodeon, a small storefront theater charging a nickel for admissions, in its later years before closing in the 1980s.  This modest two-story building which was built right next to the Bryn Mawr Stop of the elevated L tracks on the Red Line has surprisingly survived, currently being utilized as a retail store and storage space.


    With the advent of the feature film and innovations in sound cinema, bigger auditoriums were necessary to accommodate larger audiences – thus ushering in the era of grand movie palaces.  The theaters boasted of excessive ornamentation and utilized motifs of the royal palace, the Exotic, and the Atmospheric in order to fill the audience with awe and wonder.

    Rapp & Rapp’s theaters featured designs that relied heavily on historical references to the Old World.  The Chicago Theatre (1921) – the flagship of the Balaban & Katz chain, the State-Lake Theatre (1919) and Cadillac Palace Theatre (1926) of the Orpheum Circuit, as well as the Riviera Theatre (1918) in the North Side Uptown neighborhood all recall the lavishly ornate designs of the French Baroque style inspired by the Palace of Versailles.  Gold leaf ornamentation, crystal chandeliers, rose marbled walls, towering columns, and successions of lobbies and foyers characterized the interior of these theaters.  Another prominent Old World style was the Spanish Revival that characterizes the Central Park Theatre (1917) and the Uptown Theatre (1925) of the western and northern neighborhoods, respectively.  Despite these overt architectural references to the European royalty, it is interesting to note that the architects' philosophy included the democratization of the theater-going activity.  George Rapp said of one of his theaters, “Here is a shrine to democracy where the wealthy rub elbows with the poor.”


    The Oriental Theatre (1926), now called the Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theater, is an example of theaters that drew on exoticised motifs in order to satiate the cultural hunger for styles of faraway lands.  Inspired by the architecture of India and the Far East, lights consisted of elephant heads with tusks, the walls were adorned with soft silk and regal velvets, and the ceiling was  garishly decorated with plasterwork elephants and other exotic beasts.

    Another popular architectural style that characterized movie palaces was the Atmospheric.  Instead of decorating the ceiling with the standard ornate dome, the plaster ceiling of the Gateway Theatre (1930) was left bare, resembling an Italian outdoor garden complete with twinkling stars and floating clouds.  The open-air illusion reinforced the fantasy world that the architects wanted to create for the theater patrons.

    What the architects wanted to provide for the audience was an all-encompassing experience by creating a total environment.  The original architectural drawings and floor plans held at the Chicago History Museum reveals the elaborate designs with which the imaginative architects decorated every corner of these movie palaces.  What they had in mind was the experience of the moviegoers, carefully planning out the path that they would take as they first came upon the theater's facade, through the doors into the ticket lobby, then into the grand lobby and up the grand staircase, and past the ushers into their seats where they would be able to gaze up to the high ornate ceilings of the auditorium.  The minutest details of ladies' powder rooms and gentlemens’ smoking rooms to the water fountains and grills for the air conditioning vents were deliberated upon and lavishly decorated accordingly.

    With the introduction of personal television sets that brought entertainment for the masses into the home and the burgeoning growth of cinema complexes at the suburban mall, movie palaces experienced a decline of theatergoers in the 1950s.  Many of Rapp and Rapp’s theaters were closed and razed in the 1970s and 1980s.  Luckily, the theaters standing in the Loop have been able to go through major renovations costing hundreds of millions of dollars, due to Mayor Richard M. Daley’s revitalization efforts in developing the North Loop Theater District in the last decades of the twentieth century.  Today, Rapp & Rapp theaters downtown are still bustling hubs of entertainment with the capability of drawing in crowds from around the world for the performing arts (save for the State-Lake whose interior was gutted and converted into studios and offices for the ABC network in 1985).

    The extant theaters in the Northern and Western neighborhoods have been, however, in varying states of disrepair.  Even the Riviera Theatre, which is now a popular concert venue, is covered up with a white tarp across the top arches of its facade. Just down the street, the Uptown Theatre, which has gone through an unfortunate series of failed efforts of renovation, sits frozen in time with its windows and doors boarded up, the marquee baring its rusted metal grating, and its once beautiful arches covered up by a tarp.  The huge spaces inside these buildings have, however, given specific communities in Chicago a place for communal gatherings.  The Central Park Theatre, although it had lost the glitzy shine of its better days, was purchased by the House of Prayer, Church of God in Christ in 1971 and has since been used for congregations.  The Gateway Theatre, now called the Copernicus Center, was acquired by the Polish-American Congress in 1985 and subsequently restored as a place for community gatherings for the huge Polish population in Chicago.

    In the next several years, Rapp and Rapp's theaters will celebrate their hundred-year anniversaries. The active theaters in the Loop will undoubtedly take advantage of this milestone with celebratory events, but it will be important to keep an eye out for the next steps for these neglected theaters in the Northern and Western neighborhoods which have enormous architectural and historical value for the city of Chicago.

    Christine Shang-Oak Lee is a 2013 Jeff Metcalf Fellow at the Society of Architectural Historians, and a fourth-year undergraduate at the University of Chicago studying art history.  She is currently researching Western-style architecture in Korea built during its colonial period.  On campus, you can find her in the projectionist booth with her hands tangled in old film reels at the student-run Doc Films, or drumming away infectious beats in the traditional Korean percussion group. 

    Use these photos for teaching or research! Hi-res versions of Christine's photos can be found in SAHARA: sah.org/sahara

  • Learning from Taksim Square: Architecture, State Power, and Public Space in Istanbul

    by User Not Found | Jun 11, 2013

    In a matter of days, “Taksim Square” has become a household name akin to Tahrir Square, shorthand for a youthful protest movement against the brutality of state power in the Middle East. What began last week as a peaceful sit-in to protest the uprooting of trees from Gezi Park, one of Istanbul’s last open green spaces near Taksim Square, has morphed into a broader Occupy movement against the Turkish government, with massive demonstrations in many Turkish cities, as well as solidarity demonstrations throughout the world. The movement shows the deep discontent within a large cross section of Turkish society against the increasingly authoritarian government, and especially its prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, of the ruling Islamist AKP party. People have reacted with shock at the Turkish police’s disproportionate, brutal repression of the protests, as well as Erdogan’s and other government officials’ apparent contempt for and vilification of the protestors, and their seeming indifference to their concerns. As the protest movement continues to unfold, there has been much analysis about the significance of the protests, the way they reflect class and identity divisions within Turkey and their possible repercussions, such as here, here and here.

    The protests in Istanbul began with public dissatisfaction with urban planning: they reacted against the city’s ambitious ongoing plans to remake the square and its surroundings, that proceeded last week with the attempted uprooting of trees in Gezi Park, one of the last remaining open spaces in bustling, sprawling Istanbul. These grand plans have unfolded with little consultation with the public or those who live and work in that area. Daniel Jost aptly and succinctly describes these plans as “awful,” while Gokhan Karakus likens them to "a neo-Ottoman Las Vegas in [a] 6,000-year-old city." 

    The area of Taksim Square and Gezi Park have always been politically charged for the residents of Istanbul, who are now re-asserting their right to their city. Orhan Pamuk reminisces about the significance of Taksim square, tied to many social movements and demonstrations of the past (see here). In its present form, designed in the 40’s by the French urban planner Henri Prost, the Taksim area is a vibrant section of the city and a symbol of modern Istanbul. When I lived nearby as a Ph.D. student, Taksim and its surroundings were endlessly fascinating and unexpected, where you encountered the wealthiest and poorest of the city, old cosmopolitan Istanbulites as well as immigrants from the Black Sea region, anarchist students and Islamist conservatives.

    For an architectural historian, it is no accident that both the great plans to remake Taksim, as well as the way protestors’ speeches and actions often invoke history and architectural memory to buttress their arguments in the present. Indeed, an interest in architectural history and the historical resonance of place is at the heart of the ambitious urban renewal plans as well  the protests. The centerpiece of the municipality’s ambitious new plans is a rather garish re-creation of the early 19th c Ottoman imperial military barracks (Topçu Kislasi) demolished in 1940 to make way for Prost’s modern vision. The recreated barracks were to house commercial ventures. The interest in reviving Ottoman architecture fits with the sensibilities of what some call the neo-Ottoman Muslim elite, even if it is completely updated to suit contemporary needs of global capitalism and consumerism. A similar vision of history also informs the naming of the planned third bridge over the Bosphorus after Sultan Selim the Grim (r. 1512-1520). 

    In direct opposition, protestors are invoking counter-memories and counter-histories. Protestors object to the glorification of a sultan whom they remember for his persecution and massacres of the Alevis, a non-Sunni Muslim group. Back On Taksim square, protestors are invoking the Armenian cemetery expropriated to make way for that area’s development in the early decades of the Turkish republic. Their slogan is: “you took our cemetery, you won’t be able to take our park.”

    Once at the edge of Istanbul’s urban conglomeration, the area was home to the Saint James Armenian cemetery, established in the 16th century, (in Turkish:  Surp Agop Ermeni Mezarligi), and the 19th century church of St. Gregory the Illuminator. By the early 20th century, the area was becoming one of the most valuable sections of real estate in the city. As detailed here and here through a series of highly contested lawsuits, the municipality managed to appropriate the cemetery from the Armenian community. This process illustrates the relentless power of the state to dispossess a minority community that had survived the Genocide of the Ottoman Armenians in 1915-1922, and unfolds like a series of acts of cruelty and humiliation. As this map shows, the cemetery once stood in the area occupied today by sections of Gezi Park, and surrounding properties, including the TRT Istanbul Radio building and major hotels like the Skidmore, Owings & Merrill-designed Istanbul Hilton (built in 1954). Marble headstones from the cemetery were used to build Gezi Park’s fountains and stairs. As Kerem Öktem clarifies (see here), further appropriations of property in this urban area, principally from non-Muslim (Armenian, Greek and Jewish) citizens continued to unfold over the 50s and 60s, producing the urban ensemble that stands today. (for more historical background on the area’s urbanism, see here)

    Some protestors are memorializing this history of erasure, state power, and the growth of big business by renaming a street in the park after Hrant Dink, the iconic Turkish-Armenian journalist and human rights activist whose 2007 assassination so shook Turkish society (see here).

    These are some of the many stories that are unfolding in Taksim, as the overwhelmingly youthful protestors seem to represent many different  political viewspoints, from right-wing supporters of Kemalism to leftists, “Muslim ant-capitalists,” LGBT groups, even soccer fans. Gezi Park has now become a spontaneous community,  a“festive village” in  Michael Kimmelman’s words, that includes a kitchen, clinic, and even a museum of the protest movement.

    Beyond a commentary against neoliberal urbanism, however, the protests have another crucial dimension: that of concern for environmental degradation and unsustainable urban policies, perhaps especially apparent in the debates surrounding the adverse impact of the planned bridge and canal on the ecosystem of the Marmara sea.

    Where the protest movement in Turkey will go, and what it will or will not achieve remains to be seen. So far, we have been reminded once again, of the resonance of urban history, and the powerful role that public spaces and spatial memories can play in political mobilization.

    Lady in a red dress. Protestor Ceyda Sungur was pepper sprayed at the start of the protests (Osman Orsal/Reuters); Protest Sign at Gezi Park (Nor Zartonk Istanbul)


    HEGHNAR WATENPAUGH is a historian of art and architecture of the Middle East at the University of California Davis. She is interested in cultural heritage, gender, and space. 

  • John Jager: Unknown Prairie Architect in Minnesota. Part 1

    by User Not Found | May 15, 2013

    John Jager (1884-1947) was an artist, intellectual and Prairie School architect whose work has gone almost completely unrecognized, due in part to a career split between Europe and the United States, and in part to his own insistence on anonymity.  Jager was described by William Gray Purcell, his lifelong friend, as the “silent partner” in the firm of Purcell and Elmslie.  Purcell and Elmslie rivaled Frank Lloyd Wright in the number of Prairie School commissions completed, but Jager fell into self-chosen obscurity following the dissolution of Purcell and Elmslie in 1921 and the crash of 1929.  I was fortunate to encounter the work of Jager while working on a National Register of Historic Places Nomination for Wolf Island, MN.  Jager never abandoned the ideals of progressive and organic architecture, and spent well over twenty years of his life crafting Wolf Island into his vision of a perfect organic union of cabin and island, which will be the subject of part 2 of this essay.

    Jager was a Slovenian born in Carniola, Austria in 1871.  He graduated from the Vienna Polytechnicum in 1899 (the height of the Vienna Secession), and immediately went to work on city plan for the earthquake-ravaged Ljubljana. Jager was interested in the idea of a Slovenian national style in architecture, and his work was heavily influenced by Slovenian folk art and architecture. In 1901 as a captain in the Imperial Royal Government Service of Austria, he led the rebuilding of the Austro-Hungarian Legation which had been destroyed during the Boxer Rebellion.  During his time in China, he developed a fascination with Asian culture, and he began his extensive collection of Japanese handicrafts, with a focus on metalwork, textiles, and wood-block printing (not unlike the similar passion of Frank Lloyd Wright).

    Jager immigrated to the United States in 1902, where he married Selma Erhovnic, a Slovenian artist he knew from Austria.   Soon after his arrival, Jager published a booklet on church architecture, hoping to gain clients.  Jager designed the Church of St. Bernard in St. Paul, and the Church of St. Stephen, in Brockway Township, Minnesota (both NRHP properties).  St. Bernard's was one of the first reinforced concrete buildings in Minnesota. The structure is a unique with its Art Nouveau detailing, and is frequently referenced as an icon in a working-class district.  The church at St. Stephen was designed for a Slovenian community from Carniola, and Jager devoted endless hours to managing every detail of the design and construction of the church and its interior.

    In 1904 Jager built his home at 6 Red Cedar Lane, Minneapolis.  Jager, with assistance from Purcell, designed Red Cedar Lane as a subtle but definitively landscaped street above Minnehaha Falls. He personally planned and maintained the eponymous red cedars, and he carefully chose a mix of conifers and deciduous trees that insured Red Cedar Lane was always green.  Jager founded the Hiawatha Heights Improvement Association and encouraged all architecture in the area to achieve a harmony between structure and nature. In his design Jager was insistent that the neighborhood would preserve and enhance the natural beauty of the area, even to the point of presreving the natural contours of the land.  Historian Larry Millett has said, "It would be hard to find a more beautiful street in the Twin Cities."

    Following World War I, Jager went to Yugoslavia as a representative of the American Red Cross agricultural commission from Minnesota.  The commission was headed by his brother, Major Frances Jager, who was a Catholic priest and a respected authority on bees.  John Jager later received the Yugoslav Crown First Class as an award from Yugoslavian government.  The Western Architect (of which Jager was an editorial assistant), described his intended work in words that so well capture the Prairie Architecture ideal we may suspect Jager himself wrote them (1918):

    "Mr. Jager. whose professional abilities are varied and of a high order, will engage in a work unique in architectural accomplishment.  Going from a country where the people as a rule think that any carpenter can "design" a cottage and therefore are satisfied with the "free plans" furnished by lumber dealers . . . he will demonstrate that a wide architectural knowledge fittingly applied can improve the livable qualities of even fifteen-dollar mudhuts."

    Upon his return, Jager enjoyed a period of relative prosperity working for the conservative architectural firm of Hewitt and Brown, who has recently completed the Minneapolis Institute of Art as a staid Classical Revival structure . While working at Hewitt and Brown, Jager also was assisting Purcell and Elmslie in their work, largely out of his love of the progressive architecture designed by the firm.  Jager refused, however, to take credit for the work he did at either.  During these years, Jager formed a close friendship with William Purcell, and their voluminous correspondence reveals a dedication to Prairie School architecture and progressive ideals that continued strong well into the 1950s.  

    While Jager’s friendship with Purcell would last, his architectural career faltered.  In 1928, however, Jager was laid off from Hewitt and Brown, and the crash of 1929 devastated his personal finances.  Jager, under great financial distress, was forced to sell much of his personal art collection to his old employer and fellow Asian-art enthusiast Edwin Hewitt.  The fate of his collection is an excellent example of how his own zeal for anonymity combined with misfortune led to his being forgotten.  Upon his death, Hewitt himself donated his collection to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, including Jager's unmatched collection of 1700 tsuba (sword guards).  Subsequently the Hewitt collection has been on display, and formed the basis of special exhibits.  Largely forgotten is that Jager personally was responsible for the quality and scope of much of the collection.

    From the 1930s onward, Jager was never fully employed or able to exercise his skills and knowledge in a professional capacity.  From 1933 to 1942 he served as the Superintendent of Public Works under the CWA and WPA programs.  How he supported himself on the small salary of that job and through the years of underemployment remains unclear, although he received frequent and ongoing financial support from  Purcell, whose family fortunes weathered the depression.

    Jager occupied his time by participation in the intellectual community of Minneapolis, intense studies of linguistics, and as an editorial associate of the Northwest Architect.  From the 1930s until his death at the age of 88 in 1959, Jager spent innumerable hours organizing the papers of Purcell and Elmslie.  His near-obsessive attention to detail, matched by Purcell's similar organization of his papers, resulted in the spectacular Purcell collections of the Northwest Architectural Archive at the University of Minnesota.  The bulk of Jager’s creative energies, however, went into the design of the cabin, trails and landscape of Wolf Island, where he spent each summer alone.

    The breadth and depth of this intensely private man’s activities will, however, never be fully known.  His eclectic library, as well as his own voluminous writings have largely disappeared (another factor in his relative anonymity).  His widow Selma Jager tried to do some sorting, but in the end, most of his papers were burned on Selma's instructions.  His remaining papers as well as a collection folk arts and crafts are curated at the Slovene Academy of Sciences and Arts. 

    Acknowledgment: Barbara Bezat (Northwest Architectural Archives), Richard Kronick and Mark Hammons provided much need assistance in navigating the voluminous William GrayPurcell papers as well as direction in understanding Jager and Purcell.  Dr. Maja Lozar Štamcar, Senior Curator at the National Museum of Slovenia, has shared information about Jager’s work in

    Fig. 1. John Jager (1918), William Gray Purcell Papers (N3), Correspondence - John Jager, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries
    Fig. 2. Church of St Stephen, St. Stephen, MN (ChipCity/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-3.0)
    Fig. 3. Church of St Bernard, St. Paul, MN (McGiever/Wikimedia Commons/CC-BY-SA-3.0)
    Fig. 4. William Purcell (left) and John Jager (1928), William Gray Purcell Papers (N3), Correspondence - John Jager, Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota Libraries


    Brooks, H. Allen. The Prairie School.  New York: W.W. Norton, 2006.

    Gebhard, David, and Patricia Gebhard. Purcell & Elmslie: Prairie Progressive Architects. Salt Lake City: Gibbs Smith Publisher, 2006.

    Hammons, Mark.  Guide to the William Gray Purcell Papers. St. Paul, MN: Northwest Architectural Archives, University of Minnesota, 1985.

    Hammons, Mark. Purcell and Elmslie, Architects. In Minnesota 1900: Art and Life on the Upper Mississippi, 1890-1915, ed. Michael Conforti. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press, 1984.

    Millett, Larry.  AIA Guide to the Twin Cities: The Essential Source on the Architecture of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Minnesota Historical Society, 2007.

    After a successful academic career at St Cloud State University (Assistant Vice President for Research and Faculty Development, Professor of History and Archaeology), Richard M. Rothaus founded Trefoil Cultural and Environmental, a cultural resource management firm with vast experience in historic preservation and archaeology in Minnesota, South and North Dakota, as well as the Mediterranean (Corinthia, Greece; Cilicia Turkey; etc). His work with the preservation of historic landmarks has led Rothaus to the discovery of John Jager.

  • Syria’s Cultural Heritage: Another Casualty of War

    by User Not Found | Apr 29, 2013

    As I lectured on the Great Mosque of Damascus in my Introduction to Islamic Art class a week ago, I thought: my students may not have a chance to see this masterpiece. It too could fall victim to the devastating violence underway in Syria. And just two days ago, on April 24, 2013, the early medieval minaret of the Great Mosque of Aleppo was reportedly collapsed due to shelling. (Before-and-after photo above from BBC.)

    For an architectural historian of the Middle East, the last couple of years have been both exhilarating and devastating. The Arab Spring continues to unfold, transforming societies and spaces in unpredictable ways. On the one hand, public spaces in cities like Cairo are more vibrant than ever. Tahrir Square has become a household term associated with revolution and youth movements. On the other hand, in Syria, the Arab Spring has devolved into a violent conflict with no end in sight. The human cost is shocking: over 70,000 Syrians dead, and counting.

    Why is it that cultural heritage is an inevitable target in any civil strife, war, or atrocity? As the human cost mounts in the conflict in Syria, cultural heritage has become collateral damage. Some sites have become theatres of war: like the citadel of Aleppo, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world. Some sites, deserted for centuries, are occupied again by refugees fleeing the conflict: The famous dead cities in Northern Syria, unique witnesses to the history of early Christianity. Late antique ruins and catacombs hardly provide the amenities of everyday life to traumatized displaced people. but they are a place to hide for a while.

    And looters, both professional and amateur, are taking advantage of the breakdown of law and order to conduct “informal excavations” in archaeological sites or taking objects from museums. They are harvesting artifacts to sell on the black market.The region includes well established neworks of artifact smugglers. Syria is experiencing a version of what happened in Iraq: museums looted, archaeological sites plundered, a thriving black market. It has been reported that groups are selling antiquities on the black market to buy weapons.

    It is very hard to document the damage to Syria’s cultural heritage accurately and comprehensively. Syrians are extremely proud of and attached to the ancient history of their country; many of them, amateur guerilla reporters and activists, have compiled a mass of raw data, video and information about the destruction of cultural heritage. Emma Cunliffe compiled a sobering report in May 2012. ICOM is in the process to compile a “Red List”, a list of artworks that have or may be looted, as a guide to Interpol.

    What will happen? I stubbornly cling to the hope that Syrians and Syria will get past this conflict, they will rebuild and repair lives and monuments and social bonds. I hope, but in fact, no one knows. 

    I dread the point in this Spring where we will discuss the Citadel of Aleppo, that astonishing masterpiece of medieval military architecture perched on a hill layered with monuments from the most ancient periods of human habitation. I want to show my students the raw footage of the destroyed gates of the citadel, with the now-smashed victory inscription of Al-Zahir Ghazi, one of Saladin’s sons. Our students need to know how fragile the built environment is in conflict and war. We cannot look away.

      HEGHNAR WATENPAUGH is a historian of art and architecture of the Middle East at the University of California Davis. She is interested in cultural heritage, gender, and space. 
  • Study Day: The Woolworth Building @ 100

    by User Not Found | Apr 18, 2013

    Our day began at the Skyscraper Museum, with about two dozen historians, architects, and passionate amateurs clustered in the museum’s bookstore. The only graduate student in the crowd, I was the fortunate recipient of the Scott Opler Endowment for New Scholars Fellowship, which allowed me to participate in this SAH Study Day. Though my primary dissertation research does not directly concern tall buildings, I am teaching a one-week intensive high school course this summer at Brown on the history of skyscrapers. I am hoping to take my students on a walking tour of downtown Providence as part of this class, so the SAH Study Day presented an excellent opportunity to observe how skyscraper scholars use physical buildings and material artifacts as teaching tools. 

    Although I’d visited the Skyscraper Museum before, founder Carol Willis’ introduction shed a whole new light on this unique institution. Processing up the ramp into the main space of the museum, Carol, Gail Fenske, Andrew Scott Dolkart, and consultant Susan Tunick of the Friends of Terra Cotta organization led us on a tour of the current exhibition “The Woolworth Building @ 100.” Featuring many of the original architectural drawings of the building through its various stages of development, the exhibition paints a nuanced and human portrait of collaborators F.W. Woolworth and Cass Gilbert. The exhibit also yields a very visceral understanding of the buildings’ structure and ornamentation, using photographs from the construction, close-ups of the terra cotta panels, and even a block of terra cotta meant to be touched by museum audiences.


    The next portion of our tour took us out into Lower Manhattan’s financial district to examine some essential precedents by Cass Gilbert and his contemporaries. As the winds whipped through Battery Park and temperatures plummeted, we were grateful for a lunchtime in respite of Gilbert’s United States Customs House (1902-1907; now the National Museum of the American Indian). The lush nautical iconography of both interior and exterior recall another age in the history of American commerce, and confirm Gilbert’s impressive command of the classical architectural language. We were particularly lucky to enjoy our lunch in the Collector’s Office, which continues of themes of maritime trade in richly carved wood rather than stone. 

    Ready to brave the cold again, we ventured up Broadway to explore such turn-of-the-century behemoths as the Standard Oil, the International Mercantile Marine Company Building, the Equitable Building, and the U.S. Realty and Trinity Buildings. I have taught many of these buildings in architecture courses before, but did not really have a sense of how the masses of Standard Oil stack together or how the Equitable Building hunkers so imposingly on its plot. 

    After a stop at Cass Gilbert’s West Street Building (the structure that initially caught the attention of Woolworth), we continued on to examine other contemporary structures such as the Liberty Tower and the AT&T Building. Eventually we found our way to the Woolworth Building, where Gail Fenske explained Gilbert’s subtle and evocative use of coloration in the intricate terra cotta cladding. The Woolworth’s massing is undoubtedly more elegant and well-proportioned than many of its predecessors. The turreted facade with its medieval detailing demonstrates that Gilbert was quite at home working in a Gothic idiom as well as a classical one. The proverbial and literal pinnacle of the day was the climb to the Woolworth’s observation tower, soon to be off-limits due to new construction in the upper floors. 15 flights up and 30 back down to reach the service elevator, this was not an ascent for the faint of heart. By some divine providence, the clouds lifted as we emerged onto the deck, revealing radiant views of Midtown. The Lower Manhattan buildings we had just seen from the ground were now visible from above, dwarfed by the (still) impressive height of the Woolworth. Dazzled by the view and still a bit dizzy from the spiral stairs, I ended the day with a glass of wine enjoyed in the resplendent barrel-vaulted lobby with its glittering mosaics and medieval iconography.

    Having worked primarily on the 1920s and 1930s as background research for my work on the New Deal, the turn-of-the-century buildings we toured were somewhat of a revelation to me. Carol, Gail, Andrew, and Susan did a marvelous job of not only conveying the development of skyscraper design in the early twentieth-century but also of evoking the socio-cultural context of the time with its burgeoning monopolies and cut-throat speculative development. One of the other highlights of the day was just seeing how proud Manhattanites are of these buildings. Besides the occasional security guard who objected to twenty-some historians loitering in a historical lobby, most locals we encountered were more than happy to show off the buildings they live and work in. In the lobby of Standard Oil, an attorney stopped to impart some information about the building in the age of the Rockefellers. After this rewarding opportunity to interact with both Lower Manhattan and its people, I feel much more prepared to craft a similar experience on a smaller scale for my high school class this summer.

    Sarah Rovang, Ph.D. Candidate, Brown University 
    Sarah is a Ph.D. candidate at Brown University in the History of Art and Architecture. She received her BA in architectural history from the University of Virginia in 2010. Her prospective dissertation examines the intersection of modernism and rural electrification efforts (particularly those of the Rural Electrification Administration) during the New Deal. She will be taking a break from her predominantly rural topic this summer to teach a high school course at Brown on the history of skyscrapers. 
  • The Loss of a Major Monument at Gettysburg

    by User Not Found | Apr 03, 2013

    In late February and early March, the former Visitor Center and Cyclorama Building at Gettysburg National Military Park was unceremoniously demolished. Designed in 1959 and constructed over the next three years, the edifice was the most ambitious work of its kind in the National Park Service’s ten-year, $1+ billion Mission 66 program, which sought to address the needs of soaring visitation. The building was also the only Mission 66 project designed by an architectural firm that enjoyed international renown at that time, Neutra & Alexander. Richard Neutra considered the commission one of the most significant in his long career and fully immersed himself in all aspects of conceptualization and bringing the scheme to execution. Until its destruction, it was arguably the most important non-residential design Neutra realized and among the most accomplished of his buildings generally.

    photo by Matthew Amster

    Neutra’s devotion to the project stemmed not merely from creating a work at one of the nation’s most hallowed historical sites that would draw many thousands of people annually, but foremost from the opportunity to honor his hero, Abraham Lincoln. Just as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, delivered a short distance away, pleaded for national reconciliation, so Neutra saw his building as a place where leaders from the developing world could offer their visions of global peace. The building was intended not just as a facility where visitors could get oriented, peruse historic artifacts, and view Paul Philippoteaux immense cyclorama painting of Pickett’s Charge, but also as a commemorative monument, where people could draw connections between lessons learned from the battle and the Civil War more broadly and the imperative of co-existence at the height of the Cold War.

    By the 1990s, Park Service officials had cultivated a very different perspective. Spearheaded by the park’s then-superintendent, plans were developed to remove what he regarded as an offensive intrusion on a key site, close to what has often been called the “High Water Mark of the Confederacy.” The fact that Park Service historians had determined some decades earlier that the site was ideal for the visitor center because of that proximity was summarily dismissed. Plans called for a new, much larger visitor center away from important portions of the battlefield and a “restoration” of the “High Water Mark” site to its 1863 state. Even with the building’s removal, the battlefield’s historic landscape can never be so restored, however, as it holds a rich array of hundreds of monuments, to which more continue to be added, and one of the park’s early drives – it is far more a memorial landscape than a raw battlefield. The superintendent made no effort to evaluate the building’s significance; instead he secured the astounding determination from the then-Pennsylvania state historic preservation officer that it was not eligible for the National Register of Historic Places – a determination quickly supported by the then-president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

    In 1997, SAH took the initiative for a more objective and informed assessment, requesting that the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation pursue a determination of eligibility opinion by the keeper of the National Register. After the keeper found the building met applicable criteria in September 1998, SAH sponsored a nomination (written by Christine Madrid French and me) of the building as a national historic landmark. The following May the Advisory Council refuted the superintendent’s contention that the building lacked historical significance, but argued that it was a matter of degree. Neutra’s architecture did not match the transcendent importance of the battlefield as a historic site. This either-or line of reasoning ignored the role of the building as a major, mid-twentieth-century component of the park’s commemorative landscape continuum. At the end of the year, the Park Service’s National Historic Landmark Committee (the professional reviewing body) was nearly unanimous that the building should be so designated. However, in a very rare move, the committee’s recommendation was rejected by the National Park Service Advisory Board, the deciding body. The unstated, but apparently central, reason was fear that retaining the building might impede progress on a pioneering venture to raise private-sector funds for the new visitor center. An appeal to reconsider the decision was made in 2004, but was turned down, again the victim of politics.

    During the past decade the Recent Past Preservation Network sued the Park Service over failure to prepare an adequate environmental impact assessment of the demolition. After years of legal maneuvering, a new assessment was completed in 2012, although it offered far from a evaluation of options. Once the report was issued, the loss of the Neutra building seemed imminent. The fact that the building was an intrusion in the park had become codified within the Park Service hierarchy. Unfortunately, RPPN never pursued the contrary view that demolition would constitute an impairment, an act in direct opposition to the Park Service’s mandate in its founding legislation.

    Many Park Service personnel have long disagreed with their agency’s prevailing view, and some of their concerns have resulted in positive actions. Several other important visitor centers have been saved, including one designed by a then unknown Romaldo Giurgola at Wright Brothers National memorial in Kitty Hawk as well as Neutra’s Painted Desert Visitor Center at Petrified Forest National park in Arizona. Mounting inconsistencies in assessment of Mission 66 projects for compliance purposes led to the commission of a major study of the program’s legacy, resulting in a definitive scholarly volume (Ethan Carr, Mission 66: Modernism and the National Park Dilemma (2007). The understanding of and respect for the mid-twentieth century’s contribution to the parks is far greater that it was fifteen years ago. Still the loss of the Neutra building, especially under the auspices of an agency long considered as a national leader in historic preservation practice, and the condoning of that decision by others then associated with the National Trust, Advisory Council, and Pennsylvania Historic Preservation Office underscores the fragility of work from the post-World War II era even as its popularity is on the ascent.

  • Former U.S. Embassy in Pakistan Saved as Heritage Building

    by User Not Found | Apr 03, 2013
    Designed by the partnership of Richard Neutra and Robert Alexander, the former U.S. Embassy in Karachi, Pakistan, has much in common with the Cyclorama. Both were prestigious commissions acquitting complex briefs scrutinized by powerful branches of government. Both were designed in the 1950s and completed in the early 1960s.

    They shared the same structural engineers, Parker and Zehnder. The strong forms of the Cyclorama and the Embassy, intended as monumental expressions of mid-century American confidence and prowess, were both eventually emptied, their functions moved elsewhere, to await an uncertain fate.

    However, in contrast to the actions of the National Park Service, a group of Karachi citizens led by the Institute of Architects, Pakistan (IAP) succeeded in having the property listed on December 17, 2012 as a heritage building by the Department of Culture, Government of Sindh. Under the Sindh Cultural Heritage (Preservation) Act, 1994, the structure is protected from demolition and any external alteration. It will be sold, rehabilitated and adaptively re-used.

    The embassy complex is located on a pivotal corner in a smart area of downtown Karachi, opposite leafy Frere Park, Frere Hall, and the Sind Club, all developed by the British in the 19th century. The east-facing building servicing main embassy duties comprises a large sleek rectangular glass and concrete four-story structure, its horizontality underscored by bands of louver-clad clerestory windows. Its full-height glass entry façade expressed a transparent democracy, a characteristic typical of Cold War Embassy design. The north façade features a series of louvers fronting glass windows, a strategy Neutra began employing in the late 1940s.

    To the west, a broad lawn fronts a one-story masonry warehouse linked to the main building by an interstitial two-story building. The warehouse is roofed with an array of nine thin-shell barrel vaults. The foot of the eastern most vault curves into the large reflecting pool terminating the angled main lobby, symbolically integrating the warehouse to the larger composition. The team’s careful distribution of landscape elements included reflecting pools, areas for prayer, water channels, and ablution basins for Islamic employees that percolated throughout the compound, even reappearing at the curved entrance driveway. While reflecting pools are a well-known Neutra trademark, seen to great effect at the Cyclorama, here they were even more important because Neutra well understood the significance of water in Islamic architecture and the need for ritual cleansing.

    There was a tortured path through planning and completion. On the heels of the “Red Plot” of the unrealized Eylsian Park Height housing project, Neutra had to defend his loyalty to his adopted land. Alexander’s protest at learning that payment would be tied to the unstable rupee almost lost them the commission. Construction was no easier, in part undertaken by local Pakistani workers unaccustomed to American methods and materials, which were hard to procure in any case. The concrete mix was so erratic that Alexander feared structural failure. Yet a terrible irony awaited the Embassy. During its construction, Pakistan moved its capital inland to Islamabad, 700 miles to the north, away from the vulnerable coast and Raj associations. In 1966, the Embassy was reclassified as a Consulate. Though “hardened” with new security measures, the building could not sufficiently withstand the terrorist attacks that began in 2002. It was vacated in 2011.

    While the U.S. demolished, Pakistan preserved.

    Barbara Lamprecht, Lamprecht ArchiTEXTural

  • Why the Humanities Matter

    by User Not Found | Mar 27, 2013

    How will the Society of Architectural Historians address the financial crisis confronting the Humanities? Many of our peer organizations, the American Historical Association and the American Philological Association, have formally initiated conversations at the local, regional and national levels. Pauline Saliga, our Executive Director, has wisely urged us to voice some support for the general plea for the Humanities but also articulate responses that might be specific to our discipline. As we activate our SAH Blog towards greater connectivity, we should use it as a venue to begin this conversation. 

    Our conversation might begin with a historical perspective, assessing the role of architectural history in the humanities revolution in American education. Louis Menand's The Marketplace of Ideas (2010) offers the most concise historical overview. According to Menand, the humanities were inserted as general education to bolster the development of professional fields in the late 19th century, a process that peeked in 1970. Accordingly, between 1870 and 1900, most disciplines were outfitted with external national organizations that helped define the disciplinary integrity of academic life within the university (ASSA 1865; MLA 1883; AHA 1884). In this respect, our SAH was a relative late-comer, established in 1940. Since 1970, enrollment in the humanities began a reverse trend. By 2000, the number of undergraduates majoring in the humanities was down to 4%, almost half of the number 30 years earlier (7.6%). At the same time, the majors in business have grown to 22% of all college graduates. In contrast to other countries of nationalized education, America prides itself on mechanisms of the free market that can swiftly respond to societal needs, rather than linger in sclerotic bureaucracies. The shrinking demand for the humanities has facilitated an economic crisis in its academic departments and professional organizations. The equation becomes even more complicated when graduate education enters the system. Universities have been adjusting to the humanities crisis by continuing to produce PhD and then exploiting them as cheap labor (see SAH Blog post on adjunct labor). To use Menand's words, "Doctoral education is the horse that the university is riding to the mall." An organization like the SAH can wait it out, ride the crisis and hope for the best. It can also try to highlight "the value" of the humanities with the hope of inserting it back into market demand. Joan Ockman's new book, Architecture School: Three Centuries of Educating Architects in North America, might help us situate the teaching of history in one of our strongest constituents, the training of American designers.

    Architectural history has an added burden in the recent financial crisis once we consider the role that architectural practice has played in contributing to the crisis. On the one end of the spectrum, architecture has contributed to economic speculation by means of the star-architect system that we have implicitly endorsed. Frank Gehry's success at Bilbao has contributed to "the Bilbao Effect," where desperate cities bank the future of their economic development on a brand-name building. This pseudo-urbanist strategy has wreaked havoc, since most Bilbao attempts have failed (see Witold Rybczynski's discussion of the problem in Makeshift Metropolis). The same strategy has been deployed in the speculation over university finances, known as the Edifice Complex. A recent investigation by the New York Times has shown that such real estate binges by college presidents have fallen on the shoulders of tuition-paying students.

    On the other end of the spectrum, architectural history's relationship to domestic architecture indirectly implicates it in the cause of the financial crisis, the housing bubble. The construction industry artificially sustained the American economy through the 1990s but caused its inevitable collapse. When times are good for building, times are also good for teaching architecture. But when times are bad, disintegration is vividly evident in the disintegrating urban fabric. The ruins of Detroit or Camden generate an architectural discourse as objects of reception, excavation, preservation that fall into the domain of our discipline. Thus, on both sides of production and destruction, architectural history has a disciplinary presence. 

    Our discipline has an additional purview in the form of vernacular architecture and alternative forms of dwelling. We must thus turn our deepest attention to the development of new architectural objects like shanty towns, favelas, man camps, or Occupy tent-cities. Both desperate and new, these new architectures offer a fundamental challenge to our natural tendencies towards the collection of architectural masterpieces that fill our surveys. We could, therefore, de-commodify our object of study while also recognizing the risks of losing our standard of quality. Moving far down the masterpiece ladder, for instance, would fold our discipline into Anthropology and would make us extinct. The choice to hold the 2012 Annual Conference in Detroit and to invite geographer Don Mitchell as plenary speaker shows that our institution is developing such sensitivities. "La Casa de Esclavos Modernos: Exposing the Architecture of Exploitation," revealed one way by which architectural history is more vital at a time of crisis.

    The crisis in the humanities is complex. We need to join forces with other disciplinary organizations, while also addressing the particular challenges of our own architectural discipline. Hard questions need to be asked. As Howard Zinn has taught us, historians are never neutral observers. So, where do we stand? Our we part of the problem, or part of the solution?

    Photo above: Detroit Fire Station across from SAH Annual Conference in Detroit, 2012
  • Constructing Orders: From the Vault

    by User Not Found | Feb 20, 2013

    From the Vault is a series of postings on the intellectual impact that the Society’s journal has made on how we think about the architectural discourse of the past. It is an opportunity to reflect on the essays that have made personal impact on the readers or simply stand out vividly in the rolling sequence of memory. If you are interested in posting a similar reflection, please email it to kkourelis@gmail.com.

    I will begin the series by reflecting on two covers from JSAH 62:4 (2003) and JSAH 71:4 (2012), the former orderly, mechanical and measured, the latter sketchy, informal, and layered. Spaced by nine years, the covers testify to the ceaseless relevance of Renaissance historiography with the probing of different modalities explored by Mario Carpo’s “Drawing with Numbers: Geometry and Numeracy in Early Modern Architectural Design” (2003) and Michael J. Waters’ “A Renaissance without Order: Ornament, Single-sheet Engravings, and the Mutability of Architectural Prints” (2012). If Carpo makes the Renaissance relevant to AutoCAD, Waters makes it relevant to cutting-and-pasting.

    Central to both essays is the question of practically reproducing the classical orders. Alberti’s uncoupling of design and building, gave the architectural drawing an autonomy that it never possessed (not even in antiquity). With a series of studies from the 1930s, revised in 1962, Rudolf Wittkower established the canonical reading of Renaissance architecture that we still hold dearly. The Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism offered the precise dose of idealism for the age of barbarity, as experienced by World War II and the Holocaust. But the dominance of modernism after the War, ushered in a new kind of utopian or progressive humanism with little patience for classical imitation. Le Corbusier had so successfully encrypted his humanism, that it took a whole generation to discover it, think Colin Rowe’s “The Mathematics of the Ideal Villa.” Between 1930 and 1980, the Renaissance seemed utterly irrelevant. When revived in the 1980s, theatrically by Charles Moore, religiously by Alan Greenberg, and ironically by Robert Venturi, the Renaissance had become a polemical caricature.

    At least, that is how we taught the story of the Renaissance, a fascinating chapter in the canon of western architecture, relevant when the west was in crisis, abandoned by modernism, and superficially revived by postmodernism. Coherent as this story may have been, it was growing a little dull. I confess, I had personally checked out on the Renaissance in the 1990s. And suddenly, in the Winter of 2003, my issue of JSAH arrived and brought with it a jolt. Mario Carpo took a simple problem. How did Alberti construct the shape of the Doric base? We all knew the answer: by following Vitruvius’s geometrical construction carried out visually on paper. Fast forward to the mid-16th century. How did Vignola construct a similar base? Carpo here shows the proportional measurements printed as numbers on the illustrations. By the 17th century, number-based proportions dominated shape-based proportion, and modern numbers had won the battle over ancient geometry. Although seemingly minor to the big questions of architectural theory (form, function, materials, labor), Carpo’s analysis of growing numeracy offered an architectural window into the mercantile revolution of capitalism and the growing mitigation of print. Carpo’s essay brought architectural history in closer alignment with pioneering art historians like Svetlana Alpers (on 17th-century Dutch art). More importantly, Carpo concludes his essay with a “Morality” challenge. Isn’t the quantification of design similar to our current digital revolution? “The change that is being brought about by computer-based design processes is so drastic that it compares with the consequences of the first rise of architectural numeracy five centuries ago.” What happened between the 15th and 17th centuries becomes hugely relevant to the realities of architectural practice today. The implication is that we cannot successfully tackle our own digitization without understanding its internal history.

    Carpo’s essay had made me so happy. I assign it to many classes and pose the digital challenge to my students. No student leaves my class without learning the Vitruvian/Albertian construction of the Doric base and its afterlife. But in the last issue of JSAH came another jolt. Michael Waters has thrown a wrench in Carpo’s notions “that mechanical reproduction created stable, authoritatively identical reproductions that removed the creative drift inherent in the system of drawn copies.” Waters’ wrench comes from a series of unpublished 16th-century engravings from Ferrara. The drawings show what we might today call collage and appropriation, a dismembering of stable printed images into creative configurations. Print culture, Waters argues offered both stability and instability. The obvious stability that Carpo has so well examined was destabilized by processes of appropriation familiar to us in modernist collage and postmodernist digital manipulation. Through cutting, copying and pasting architectural prints, the early modern architect became a collage artist, an early bricoleur, a deconstructivist.

    Between these two JSAH essays, we have a conversation and a universe of possibilities. Although seemingly antithetical, they reveals two sides of the same coin, as one needs stability in order to destabilize. But most importantly, this double-sided coin has an incredible currency in the concerns of the present. The Renaissance is not a simple style that generations reject (modernism) or endorse (postmodernism), but a problematic. Both Carpo and Waters unleash the powers of the case-study. The present becomes incomprehensible without the aid of the case-studies from the past. The Renaissance is simply unavoidable. We cannot briskly teach over it as a nice period or consume it for its obvious beauty. My own personal interests in the Renaissance are marginal at best. Yet what I do as a scholar on a daily basis depends entirely on Wittkower, or Manfredo Tafuri, or Dalibor Vesely, for whom the Renaissance is an early chapter of the book we are living at this very present.  Carpo’s JSAH essay has been indispensable to my teaching, and I am thrilled to supplement it with Waters’ contrasting voice.

  • Cuba: Day 0 - Miami

    by User Not Found | Feb 06, 2013

    Throughout the day we trickled in to Miami from various places in the United States and Canada in anticipation for our charter flight to Havana the following day. The trip to Cuba is usually a multi-day process in order to accommodate the particularities of taking a charter flight from Miami. You may wonder where I fit into this trip. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in this study tour as the Student Fellowship Recipient. This generous fellowship allowed me, a Ph.D. candidate in art history at the University of Illinois – Chicago, to take part in what proved to be an incomparably enriching experience. This trip is of particular relevance to me as my scholarship focuses on architecture and urban design in Cuba and Puerto Rico. More specifically, my work investigates how the architecture of tourism played an important role in shaping national identity and international relationships, and was tied to the spheres of culture, economics, and diplomacy. This SAH Study Tour was going to take me to see sites and architecture in Cuba that I had never experienced before.

    In the evening, we all convened for an orientation meeting to help prepare us for the days ahead in Cuba. After we covered the logistical details of our upcoming travels, our knowledgeable and charming study tour leader and organizer, Monty Freeman (Belmont Freeman Architects), treated us to a fascinating overview of Cuban history and architecture. Monty, an American of Cuban descent, has been traveling to Cuba for many years, and has also been researching, speaking, and publishing on Cuban architecture for some time.

    Monty’s lecture provided us with a wonderful context for the buildings and sites we were going to experience in the next thirteen days. He painted a broad picture of the history of Cuba while also pointing out details related to the financial and political history that played an important role in shaping the built environment of Cuba. Equipped with newly acquired knowledge related to the Spanish explorers, the coffee and sugar industry, the age of U.S. influence, and the hopes and realities of the country after the Revolution in1959, we drifted back to our rooms at the hotel. We were all eagerly anticipating what tomorrow would bring when we took the short flight (less than an hour) to Cuba—an island so physically close to the United States, yet worlds away in many respects. 

    Erica N. Morawski, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Illinois - Chicago 
    Erica N. Morawski is a Ph.D. candidate in art History at the University of Illinois – Chicago. She received a BA in art history at Tulane University and MA in Art History at the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently completing a dissertation entitled, “Designing Destinations: Hotel Architecture, Urbanism, and American Tourism in Puerto Rico and Cuba.” This work investigates the role of hotels in shaping understandings of national identity, which in turn shaped international relationships, through an approach that systematically ties object and image analysis with social, political, and economic histories. Her work argues that these hotels functioned, and continue to function, like diplomatic cultural attachés—their design shaped politics on the islands, and played a decisive role in shaping past and current international relations.
  • Cuba: Day 1 - Havana

    by User Not Found | Feb 05, 2013
    No sooner had the plane finished its short ascent that it started to descend, swooping in along the northern coast of Cuba and a little bit to the west of Havana for our landing at José Martí International Airport in the afternoon. We exited the airport and were greeted by Osmin Rivero Soto, our ever-smiling Cuban guide from a state tourism agency who was to accompany us throughout the trip. We boarded the bus and immediately started our adventure and Osmin gave us some important information as we drove into the city, not to our hotel, but to Castillo de Los Tres Reyes del Morro.  Commonly referred to simply as el Morro, this military fortification, started in the 16th century, is located on the opposite side of the bay from the main city center. There we took in views of Havana extending from Old Havana out west as far as the neighborhood of Miramar, on the far side of the Almendares River.

    We piled back in the bus, which was to be navigated throughout the trip by our chofer Roberto, and made our way to check-in to what would be our home base in Havana, the Hotel Nacional. Designed by McKim, Mead and White, the Nacional has been one of Havana’s grandest tourist hotels since it opened in 1930. After a quick check-in we reconvened to enjoy a group dinner at one of the near by paladares—private, family-run restaurants that have been allowed in Cuba since the onset of the economic crisis after the fall of the Soviet Union, referred to as the Special Period. 


    Erica Morawski, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Illinois - Chicago 

    Erica N. Morawski is a Ph.D. candidate in art History at the University of Illinois – Chicago. She received a BA in art history at Tulane University and MA in Art History at the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently completing a dissertation entitled, “Designing Destinations: Hotel Architecture, Urbanism, and American Tourism in Puerto Rico and Cuba.” This work investigates the role of hotels in shaping understandings of national identity, which in turn shaped international relationships, through an approach that systematically ties object and image analysis with social, political, and economic histories. Her work argues that these hotels functioned, and continue to function, like diplomatic cultural attachés—their design shaped politics on the islands, and played a decisive role in shaping past and current international relations.
  • Cuba: Day 2 - Old Havana

    by User Not Found | Feb 04, 2013

    Though our camera batteries were dead and our feet were tired by the end of the day, none of us could complain about our day Old Havana. Monty led us on an enlightening day-long walking tour that opened our eyes to the many sides of Havana, the good and the bad, the hopeful and the sad. We considered not just historical buildings, but the role they play within the larger context of Old Havana’s standing as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the restoration and preservation efforts of the Office of the City Historian of Havana, the state branch charged with these duties.

    We started our tour in Plaza de Armas (Arms/Weaponry Square), a square that dates back to the 16th century and is layered with buildings and landscaping that reveal the genesis of the city. One of the highlights of the square is the Palacio de los Capitanes Generales (Palace of the General Captains), which now houses the Museum of the City. Built between 1776-1791, this building is considered one of the fines examples of Cuban Baroque architecture, second only to Havana’a cathedral. As the seat of the Spanish governors in Cuba, the palace’s location in this square, which was used as a military parade ground, helped establish the square as the military and administrative center during the colonial period. The palace was one of the first projects to be restored by the Office of the City Historian and they maintained the exposure of the raw stone, which was how the building had appeared since a restoration in the 1930s, though the building was originally plastered and painted.

    Our next stop was the Plaza de Catedral (Cathedral Square), a plaza that, despite its current name, originally developed as the main square to collect water as this was where the aqueduct terminated. Because Plaza de Armas developed as the administrative center, it was decided that the parish church that stood there should be demolished and rebuilt in what is now Plaza de Catedral. Conveniently, there was already a church project that was started in this square (begun by the Jesuits but abandoned when the Jesuits were expelled from Spanish colonies) and the church was completed and consecrated as the cathedral in 1787. The rest of the square is composed of colonial villas that were privately owned but have now been dedicated to various state enterprises: a restaurant, a museum, and the offices of a branch of the Office of the City Historian.

    In Old Havana, four historically and architecturally important squares have received the attention of the Office of the City Historian (Plaza de Armas, Plaza de Catedral, Plaza Vieja, and Plaza de San Francisco de Assis). The four plazas often form the core of walking tours of the historic city center and ours was no exception. We stopped in Plaza Vieja (Old Square), which developed during the colonial period as a residential square. A tour around this plaza is a lesson in the work of the Office of the City Historian, almost all the edifices are adorned with “before and after” photos that chronicle the massive restoration efforts necessary for the salvation of these buildings. Our tour was punctuated by lunch in the courtyard of a colonial building in this square. 

    While our tour did stop at the four main plazas of Old Havana in a manner similar to other walking tours, our tour was anything but average. Monty led us down the streets that could serve as postcard for the efforts of the Office of the City Historian and he led us down streets untouched and seemingly forgotten by the government. We saw buildings in sad states of neglect, disrepair, and decay, some of which were in the middle of a slow process of collapse. We saw buildings held up by pieces of timber and other types of scaffolding and at times it was hard to tell what were the personal interventions of inhabitants and the efforts of a preservation office that has too many buildings to save and not enough available materials on hand. 

    Our walking tour ended with us cruising through the streets that gave Havana the nickname “the Wall Street of the Caribbean.” We saw a large number of banks built in the 19th and 20th century, both local and foreign and ended with the Banco Pedroso (1952-1954), the last significant bank to be built in Old Havana.

    Our day did not end here! After a few hours to rest at the hotel we were back in Old Havana again, this time in order to enjoy the New Year festivities taking place in Plaza de Catedral. Here we were treated to party favors, a full dinner, drinks, and amazing Cuban music and dancing. Perhaps the highlight of all of this was on-stage salsa dancing by Monty and Carla Yanni!

    Erica N. Morawski, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Illinois - Chicago 

    Erica N. Morawski is a Ph.D. candidate in art History at the University of Illinois – Chicago. She received a BA in art history at Tulane University and MA in Art History at the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently completing a dissertation entitled, “Designing Destinations: Hotel Architecture, Urbanism, and American Tourism in Puerto Rico and Cuba.” This work investigates the role of hotels in shaping understandings of national identity, which in turn shaped international relationships, through an approach that systematically ties object and image analysis with social, political, and economic histories. Her work argues that these hotels functioned, and continue to function, like diplomatic cultural attachés—their design shaped politics on the islands, and played a decisive role in shaping past and current international relations.


  • Cuba: Day 3 - Centro Havana and Vedado

    by User Not Found | Feb 03, 2013

    After a day in the Old Havana, what was originally contained within the city walls, we continued our exploration of Havana by moving outwards to the area the was developed where the city walls used to stand. We started near the beginning of the Malecón, the 8-kilometer oceanfront walk that was started at the turn of the twentieth century. We first visited the Presidential Palace (1920) designed by Paul Belau and Carlos Maruri. Outside the front of the building were some remains of the original city walls. We only got to poke our head in the front door, as the building now houses the Museum of the Revolution.

    Our walking tour continued up Paseo del Prado, an impressive boulevard with large sculptures of lions capping the landscaped, central walkway at the foot of the street and where Paseo meets Neptuno Street. Even before the walls came down this was a chic carriageway to see and be seen. Originally the walls stood on the east side of the street, which has since been developed. Some of the buildings on this side of the street are the Cine-Teatro Fausto (1938), a sleek Art Deco edifice and the Hotel Sevilla (1908/1923), whose original Moorish-inspired façade is on Trocadero Street.

    During this walk we also saw two other structures that reminded me of how cosmopolitan and modern Havana was. The first is the 1930 Edificio Bacardí (Bacardí Building). Originally designed in an Italian Renaissance revival style, the design changed after architect Esteban Rodriguez visited the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in Paris in 1925. The rich exterior and interior of the building, fashioned from materials from around the world, proudly proclaimed the international success of the Bacardi rum company. The second is the Manzana de Gomez (1894-1917). Seeing the magnificence of this building takes a little more imagination as it has fallen into a state of disrepair. However, this building, which is the size of an entire city block (manzana means block), was the first building of its size dedicated to commercial purposes. It is a European-style shopping arcade with two diagonal passageways that cross in the center. Though plants are sprouting from the architecture in various places within the arcade, one can imagine that in its glory it rivaled the great shopping arcades of Paris and Milan. We learned that there is hope for this structure as there are plans to restore the building as a hotel.

    As we continued up Paseo del Prado we passed the Capitolio Nacional (1929). The similarities to another well-known capitol building are unmistakable. The huge expenditure and graft associated with the construction of this building made it a symbol of the corruption of the Machado government, which was overthrown soon after the completion of the Capitolio.

    On our way back to the hotel for lunch we passed by the Solimar Building (1944) by Manuel Copado. As Monty commented in the tour notes, “it is a startling presence in the more traditional fabric of Centro Habana,” and I couldn’t have agreed more. Startling yes, and completely captivating!

    After lunch we continued our walking tour, but this time in the neighborhood of Vedado. Vedado, which means forbidden, got its name from old laws that prohibited the felling of trees in this area. The neighborhood was actively developed in the early twentieth century, and its gridded organization with ample sidewalks and lots of green areas reveals the influence of City Beautiful and Garden City philosophies. We first walked by the Edificio FOCSA (1954-1956). Designed by Ernesto Gómez Sampera and Martin Dominguez, it was the largest reinforced concrete structure in Latin America when it was completed. I can also add the views from the bar at the top are amazing!

    Our walk continued throughout the neighborhood, stopping to admire the exteriors of many early-twentieth century villas that now serve as houses of culture or state. We also saw an amazing Art Deco apartment building, the Edificio Lopez Serrano (1932). The similarities to New York skyscrapers are apparent, and many Cubans jokingly point it out as their Empire State building.

    Erica N. Morawski, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Illinois - Chicago 
    Erica N. Morawski is a Ph.D. candidate in art History at the University of Illinois – Chicago. She received a BA in art history at Tulane University and MA in Art History at the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently completing a dissertation entitled, “Designing Destinations: Hotel Architecture, Urbanism, and American Tourism in Puerto Rico and Cuba.” This work investigates the role of hotels in shaping understandings of national identity, which in turn shaped international relationships, through an approach that systematically ties object and image analysis with social, political, and economic histories. Her work argues that these hotels functioned, and continue to function, like diplomatic cultural attachés—their design shaped politics on the islands, and played a decisive role in shaping past and current international relations.
  • Cuba: Day 4 - Habana del Este, Matanzas and Varadero

    by User Not Found | Feb 02, 2013

    Today took east out of Havana to the towns of Matanzas and Varadero. To leave the city we passed through the Tunnel, completed in the 1950s under the Batista government. As we made our way along the Via Blanca (White Road) we soon came to Habana del Este (East Havana), a huge social housing project built in the early years of the Revolution. The Batista government had been developing the area of land for luxury apartments, and SOM had drawn up designs for these. However, after the new Revolutionary government took over in 1959, this project was reconceived to meet the demands for housing for the average person. Designed and built in under three years (1959-1961), the master plan by Hugo D’Acosta divides the housing into seven sectors, each with its own facilities and outdoor areas. These sectors share one centrally located town square that includes schools, a clinic, and commercial and administrative areas. Habana del Este is anything but a boring social housing project, in fact, as one of the three “Proyectos Grandes” (grand projects) of the early years of the Revolution, it displays an attention to thoughtfully employing modernism on a grand scale for housing. The housing structures range in height and design, as they were conceived by ten different architects, though their variety does not prevent them from existing harmoniously next to one another.

    As we traveled east towards Matanzas the landscape changed. We crossed over hills with steep ravines and the vegetation was lush and green.

    Matanzas, a port city, became an especially important urban area in the nineteenth century, when a large portion of the island’s sugar was going in and out of this city.

    We moved on the Plaza de la Libertad, which was once the Plaza de Armas. After another rousing exegesis of the Laws of the Indies by SAH Board Representative Ken Breisch (we never did find a plaza that adhered to all of the points in the Laws), we visited La Botica Francesa, which now houses the Museo Farmaceutico (Pharmacy Museum). Purpose-built by a French pharmacist named Triolet, the structure houses a wonderful collection of items related to pharmacies and medicine, including ampoules full of strangely colored medicines and beautifully painted ceramic jars for storing and displaying herbs and medicines. The pharmacy stayed in the Triolet family until the son of the original owner turned it over to the government in 1964 to be run as a museum, which he was in charge of until his death in 1979.

    After Matanzas we drove on to Varadero, a beach resort town on a spit of land that boomed in the post-World War II period. We visited the Dupont Mansion, where we enjoyed a lunch overlooking the ocean. The Dupont Mansion was commissioned by Irenée Dupont, who had bought a large amount of land in Varadero, which he subdivided to sell to other wealthy Americans. Completed in 1926, the house is beautifully constructed, including a top floor mirador, or lookout, that has a wonderful colonial-style wooden ceiling. It is now a hotel (though with very few rooms) with a restaurant.

    The icon of the postwar boom in Varadero is the Hotel Varadero Internacional (1949-1950). Designed by Havana-based firm Mira and Rosich (architects of the Edificio Lopez Serrano), the Internacional is a sleek example of International Style modernism with accents of Streamline Moderne that hugs the sandy beaches. Unfortunately the hotel, which currently functions as an all-inclusive resort, is slated for demolition in 2015.

    Adjacent to the Hotel Varadero Internacional is a community of little beach villas referred to as the Cabañas del Sol (Sun Cabins) designed by Nicolás Quintana. We would soon learn that this architect is often referred to as “Quintana el Bueno” (Quintana the Good) as opposed to another architect named Antonio Quintana, though many of us on the trip admired the architecture of both. These tiny villas came in a variety of forms, containing anywhere from one to three bedrooms. While we were wandering through this area some members of the group struck up a conversation with a woman who stilled lived in one the cabins. She was kind enough to invite us all in so we could see the interior of one of these buildings, which she have lovingly kept in great condition. Like the hotel, these cabins are slated for demolition as well, and the area that contains the Hotel Varadero Internacional and the Cabañas del Sol will be re-developed into a large-scale resort.

    Our final stop in Varadero impressed upon me the strong ties between Cuba and the Soviet Union and the hopes that were bound in the earlier years of space travel. We visited the Casa de los Cosmonautos (House of the Cosmonauts), a small hotel built on the beach in 1975 that was meant to serve as a place where Russian cosmonauts could come and relax after their missions in space. Although developed for a very small segment of the Russian population, this hotel did make me think about Russian-Cuban relations, and how they compared to previous U.S.-Cuban relations. Was the notion of Cuba as a playground for Americans, a reputation that Castro fought to squash with the Revolution, simply replaced with a similar a relationship in which Russians viewed Cuba as their tropical paradise to enjoy as they saw fit? While certainly these complex international relationships can’t be reduced to solely the issue of beaches, it does raise questions about Cuba’s long struggle with foreign interest and influence.


    Erica N. Morawski, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Illinois - Chicago 
    Erica N. Morawski is a Ph.D. candidate in art History at the University of Illinois – Chicago. She received a BA in art history at Tulane University and MA in Art History at the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently completing a dissertation entitled, “Designing Destinations: Hotel Architecture, Urbanism, and American Tourism in Puerto Rico and Cuba.” This work investigates the role of hotels in shaping understandings of national identity, which in turn shaped international relationships, through an approach that systematically ties object and image analysis with social, political, and economic histories. Her work argues that these hotels functioned, and continue to function, like diplomatic cultural attachés—their design shaped politics on the islands, and played a decisive role in shaping past and current international relations.
  • Cuba: Day 5 - Havana Modernism

    by User Not Found | Feb 01, 2013

    Today we were treated to a day of Havana Modernism led by Cuban architect and historian Eduardo Luis Rodriguez. The author of numerous books on 20th century Cuban architecture, Eduardo Luis also curated Architecture and Revolution in Cuba, 1959-1969 at the Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York in 2004. We met up with Eduardo at the Colegio de Arquitectos (Institute of Architects, 1944-1947) at the corner of Humboldt and Infanta streets. Infanta is the broad street that delineates Centro Havana from Vedado. Eduardo Luis sees this building as one of the turning points toward modernism in Cuba. The current building replaced a neoclassical structure that used to stand on the same spot. To the left of the building is a later addition, the College of Architects’ Rental Office Building (1953-1956). This Miesian-inspired building is evidence of the Cuban architecture community’s participation in practices of international modernism, though the architects unfortunately did not consider the climate when incorporating a large façade of unshaded glazing in the design. Likewise, Eduardo Luis pointed out an apartment complex across the street done by the same architect who did the Bacardí building. Gone is the Art Deco emphasis on decoration in favor of a more streamlined design focused on rationalism.

    From this point we made our way up La Rampa (The Ramp), the nickname for an area of 23rd Street from its origin point at the Malecón up a number of blocks toward the center of Vedado. This section of the city is testament to the city’s commitment to modernism after World War II. We stopped first at the Seguro Médico (Medical Insurance) building (1956-1958), which now houses offices of the Ministry of Health. Designed by the firm Quintana, Rubio y Pérez Beato, the building won a Gold Medal from the Institute of Architects. We were lucky to be granted access to the two entry lobbies of the building, one that leads to the tower of apartments above, and the other that leads to the base area composed of offices. The architectural composition of the building, a tower-on-podium parti, is similar to SOM’s Lever House in New York. In the lobby to the apartments we saw Boomerang by Mariano Rodriguez, a mosaic mural that references the coming and going of the building’s inhabitants. The other lobby contains a mosaic mural by Wifredo Lam.

    We traveled up along La Rampa, enjoying a view of Juan Campos’s Pabellon Cuba (Cuba Pavilion), which was built in 1963 to house an international congress of architects, as well as terrazzo decorations incorporated in the sidewalk that were designed by a number of Cuban artists for the same congress. A number of us followed Eduardo Luis up a staircase at the Hotel Habana Libre (formerly Havana Hilton, 1958 by Welton Becket and Associates with Nicolás Arroyo and Gabriela Menéndez), we found ourselves on a sidewalk in the sky. An interesting proposition of urban design, mirrored on the other side of the street, this section of La Rampa has a street level sidewalk and an elevated sidewalk, creating twice the walking space and twice the retail opportunities.

    We moved on, passing through the block that contains Coppelia (1966), an amazing example of Revolutionary architecture for the people. The Revolutionary government inherited a cleared city block here, and they took this valuable space and devoted it to an ice cream parlor that can seat more than 1000 people. In more prosperous times Coppelia offered more than 30 different flavors, and although the selection is much smaller now, Cubans can still enjoy a trip to Coppelia for only a few pesos.

    After boarding the bus, we headed to Plaza de la Revolución, where we had a few minutes to walk the giant paved central plaza to take photos. The plaza was conceived in the Republican period under J.C.N. Forestier in 1925 as a civic square to be landscaped and filled with vegetation and benches in the center area and surrounded by government buildings. The project faced many difficulties and it wasn’t until the 1950s that the famous Monument to José Martí was built, the design of which is a hybrid of two designs submitted in competitions for the monument. In 1959 the Revolutionary government started using the square as a gathering place, one of the reasons why it was never landscaped.

    One of the many buildings surrounding the square is the Office of the Comptroller, designed by Aquiles Capabianca and built in 1953. The same year the building was awarded a Gold Medal by the Institute of Architects. The building is now perhaps more famous for the Che Guevara portrait added in 1962 than for the architecture underneath, an impressive example of modernism designed with attention to the climate.

    The afternoon was filled with a number of visits to mid-century houses, some of which we could only view from the bus. One of the houses we visited was the Residence of Isabel and Olga Pérez Farfante. Any early work by Frank Martinez, Eduardo Luis told us how Martinez used to drive through Cerro, a neighborhood full of neoclassical buildings, as he worked to develop his personal style. Thus, the center area that connects the two apartments can be seen as a reinterpretation of the interior courtyard of Cuban colonial houses.

    A highlight for many was the House of Alfred Schulthess (1956), designed by Richard Neutra with associated architects Raúl Alvarez and Enrique Gutiérez. Built for a Swiss banker, it is now the home of the Swiss Ambassador to Cuba. We passed under the spider-leg covered walkway (originally rendered in wood to complement the wood elements of the façade), and enjoyed an interior visit. We had time to walk through the gardens, which were designed by Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx.

    Erica N. Morawski, Ph.D. Candidate, University of Illinois - Chicago 
    Erica N. Morawski is a Ph.D. candidate in art History at the University of Illinois – Chicago. She received a BA in art history at Tulane University and MA in Art History at the University of Texas at Austin. She is currently completing a dissertation entitled, “Designing Destinations: Hotel Architecture, Urbanism, and American Tourism in Puerto Rico and Cuba.” This work investigates the role of hotels in shaping understandings of national identity, which in turn shaped international relationships, through an approach that systematically ties object and image analysis with social, political, and economic histories. Her work argues that these hotels functioned, and continue to function, like diplomatic cultural attachés—their design shaped politics on the islands, and played a decisive role in shaping past and current international relations.

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