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

    by Helena Dean | Mar 09, 2021

    screen shot of Method Acts workshop

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

  • SAH Graduate Student Lightning Talks Introduces Virtual Workshops

    by Miles Travis | Feb 19, 2021

    Zoom gallery view of graduate student lightening talks

    "Politics of Historic Preservation" Graduate Student Lightning Talk Workshop


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

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

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

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

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

    Zoom gallery view of a graduate student lightening talk

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

    by User Not Found | Jul 20, 2020

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

  • Evolving Strategies for Collecting Institutional Data

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • From Displacement to Quarantine

    by User Not Found | May 14, 2020

    Aymar Mariño-Maza is the 2018 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    In last month’s post, I ended by saying that I would use this final reflection to see if it was possible to move past displacement. I planned to turn to the Balkans for inspiration, to use the countries that once made up former Yugoslavia as the multicolored field from which I might harvest some of the ideas that surround the “homecoming” of the displaced. This was late February 2020 and the coronavirus had begun its dramatic appearance in Europe through Italy. I ignored the warning signs in the news and the guidance of my family and friends. I left my family—with a casual kiss on each cheek—in a Madrid that was still feigning normality and set off for Belgrade. It seems clear to me now that I was, ironic though it may be, unwilling to come home. But it wasn’t long before warnings became regulations and I found myself rushing past closing borders to catch a last-minute flight back to the United States. I was forced to leave what research I had begun unfinished, many sights unseen, and the possibility of writing that last post with a semblance of qualification in the gutter.

    The abrupt way my travels were cut short was a trivial omen of the global crisis humanity is currently facing. So, instead of writing about the homecoming of the displaced, it seems the only homecoming I am qualified to write about now is my own: the homecoming of the forcibly replaced traveler. In normal circumstances, I would write about my experience the way previous SAH Brooks Fellows have, summing up the things they learned on the road and how they intend to use this newfound knowledge in their future work. A month ago, this would have come easily. But I can’t help thinking that, in the climate we currently find ourselves, introspection is insufficient. In the same way I am currently quarantining myself as an act of solidarity with my society, so must I look back over the past year as a chance to contribute what I can to the current situation. In other words, how can what I have learned about displacement speak to the current health crisis and the manifold repercussions it will have on humanity? This is what I will attempt to do instead.

    I always felt there was a beautifully inadequate symmetry in writing about displacement while on the road—with funding, a working passport, and the easy feeling of knowing I could always go home. Sure, I had given up my Chicago apartment and put all my things in storage, so technically I was without a home. But it should be self-evident that the homelessness of the deliberate traveler has no parallel with that of the displaced person past the purely superficial “lack of home” and the shallow definition of “home” that it presupposes.

    Now I feel a similar lopsided symmetry between displacement and quarantine. But what does it mean to compare these two states? And, even though it is an inadequate comparison, what can knowing about the former tell us about the latter?

    Most obviously, they are both spatial. In displacement, we find the fracturing of a social unit’s space of habitation from its original physical and/or mythical socio-spatial frame. In quarantine, the space of habitation is restricted and partially disengaged from its original physical and/or mythical socio-spatial frame. But let me translate that into English. When displaced, a person or a group of people can no longer live in the place they consider “home” or depend upon the emotional, historical, institutional, and symbolic safety nets that this space provides. When quarantined, a person or group of people can live only in the narrowest space of what once was their “home” and no longer have access to many of those same safety nets that displaced people have to fully do without.

    It should go without saying that the degree of loss is disproportionate, just as degree of loss from quarantined person to quarantined person is disproportionate. In displacement, the socio-spatial frame is nearly entirely fractured, while in quarantine many of the frame’s elements may still keep. For example, I can shake my useless fist at the notice below Amazon’s shipping estimate telling me it will take a few more days than usual for my copy of Michael Mann’s thrilling four-tome textbook, The Sources of Social Power, to arrive at my doorstep, but I’m still fairly sure that it will arrive in perfect condition, whenever that happy day may be. As I mentioned in last month’s post, this is one of the many things I can still take for granted, one of the many expressions of my own privilege that still survive within quarantine, and which will most likely survive well past it.

    As in displacement, the preexisting conditions of the quarantined reveals even more glaringly the inequalities that already existed among people. And much like displacement, quarantine looks different for each person it affects. A teenage boy living with his family in rural Vermont cannot experience quarantine in the same way as a resident of a high-density Hong Kong neighborhood, nor can a retiree living in a Madrid nursing home experience it in the same way as a Delhi street vendor. Not only is this pandemic revealing the inadequacies of our governmental bodies and our sanitary standards, it is also revealing the inhumane consequences of a world built on inequality. I beg forgiveness to all those travelers who may have come to the conclusion that we are all the same, but no, actually, we are not. Most of humanity lives within an economic, political, and social framework that depends on hierarchy in order to function and changing differences in order to evolve. It is only by taking a closer look at these differences that we can begin to take the necessary steps of promoting that ever-necessary evolution. Ignoring the differences in our world does not bring humanity closer. In fact, it might tear it apart.

    This is a lesson one finds repeated in so many of the histories of human displacement, where the desire to homogenize humanity, to dissolve difference, and to leave the governed body as an easily digestible whole comes with brutal ramifications. From the expulsion of the ethnic Germans from Eastern Europe after World War II to the expulsion of dissenters from within the Soviet Union, the mass and violent forced displacement of people seems inexorably linked to this idea of homogenization. Now, I’m not saying that displacement will be one of the outcomes of this pandemic. Though, it would not be too farfetched to imagine that countries with underlying xenophobia would take the crisis as an impetus to legally cleanse their population of unwanted difference.

    Another way that we can compare displacement and quarantine is by looking at the relationship each state has with movement. On first glance, one may be inclined to say that displacement is to mobility what quarantine is to immobility. But that’s not the way I see it. That starts from the premise that the state of displacement exists solely within the period of exodus. But displacement extends well past the exodus, into various states of immobility. Take the refugee camp. The camp is a quarantined hub of habitation for persons without a readily approved space of habitation. People in refugee camps can remain immobilized for decades. The kind of immobility that the inhabitant of the refugee camp experiences is disruptive on all levels of how we define humanity. Think of humanity as social, historical, emotional, and intellectual—and the kind of immobility we find in a camp affects all these aspects. The camp is an extreme situation but not the only one in which a displaced person can find him or herself immobilized in this way. In the life of displacement, forced mobility is usually accompanied by an underlying immobility.

    The effects of this immobility are manifested in quarantine. Here, social fabrics are unwound, work structures disrupted, and the public space abandoned—the framework of social life so indispensable to humanity ceased to exist as it did at the start of the year. Here we see a strong parallel with what happens during displacement, where the displaced lose, among so much else, this very framework. Forced to move away from it, they must find creative solutions to the newfound problem of social space. In displacement, the framework lost is either replaced by that of another community, recreated in other environments, or even reimagined to create entirely new social forms. In no instance does social space simply disappear. In the quarantined world in which we currently find ourselves, much of this seems to be happening as well. With people unable to go to work, to school, or even to a bar to meet friends, digital communication has taken the place of person-to-person interaction. Morning video chats with my sister in Austin, Texas, my brother in the outskirts of Madrid, my sister in Madrid’s city center, and my parents in Washington, D.C., have become a daily routine. I’ve been messaging, calling, and video-chatting old friends with whom I’d long ago lost contact. New friends I’d only known for a couple of days before the quarantine have become my go-to persons to call anytime something happens to me—in any other context these things would have been unworthy of mention. In other words, my social network has restructured itself to fit the new context and its formal expression has changed to work within the new parameters of social space. The nostalgia many of us currently feel for our mode of life a few months ago and the sense of indignation we have for our current standards of living might help us all to gain a measure of empathy for the struggles that displaced people face.

    Looking at the forms of immobility caused by this pandemic on the psychological, economic, and social landscape, one can see traces of the kind of stagnation and destruction that displacement causes on the communities it affects. As always, the long-term effects of this quarantine will most likely look nothing like the short-term ones do. It will be interesting to see which elements of the current situation are maintained, which return to normal, and which evolve to create something new. From the restrictions imposed on travel to new sanitary standards, the long-term effects of this crisis will inevitably change the way we act within the social sphere. What’s more, it wouldn’t be too strange to imagine that this crisis may even force us all to redefine the social sphere itself.

    So, my twelve months of travel are up and I am in quarantine. After a year of changing beds weekly, if not daily, I am relatively sure I will be sleeping in this same bed, in this same room, in this same house, in this same city, and in this same country until the end of summer. It is safe to say I’m a bit disoriented by the change—or by the lack of change. But, if there’s one thing this fellowship has taught me is that the only thing that is certain is uncertainty. We are in uncertain times—nothing is more certain than that. My father, whose need to proselytize seems to be growing within confinement, told me that this is the time to analyze, that analyzing the situation is our responsibility. An avid reader of current events and a lover of tracking trends on excel sheets, he was talking specifically about the pandemic. I laughed off his comment at the time, but of course he is right. All of us have a responsibility, a single and impossible responsibility, to take a deep and critical look at what is happening during this pandemic. Under the umbrella of such analysis, we must look closely at the world in which we have lived, the one in which we are living, and the one in which we will soon be living. Because, in this time of uncertainty, we have the opportunity to choose how we want our world to change.

  • Early excerpts from the SAH Data Project’s COVID-19 Snapshot Questionnaire

    by User Not Found | May 11, 2020

    Last month the SAH Data Project started circulating our COVID-19 Snapshot Questionnaire, a brief set of questions about how people who study, work, and volunteer in architectural history around the world are experiencing the coronavirus pandemic right now. The idea was to give you a chance to contribute to the project in a way that might also help you cope—and hundreds of you responded to that call.

    There was so much demand in the first hours that, in fact, the questionnaire platform itself briefly crashed. The problem was resolved a short time later so if you tried and failed to access the questionnaire during that period, feel free to try again now.

    Meanwhile, to honor your level of engagement in this initiative, we’ve decided to share a few representative excerpts a full month earlier than originally planned. So here, for the first time, are some of the things you’ve been telling us about the challenges, anxieties, and support you’ve experienced during this extraordinarily difficult time.

    We’re leaving the questionnaire open until May 27, so don’t worry if you haven’t had the time or ability to contribute yet. We welcome you when you are ready. Thank you and be well.

    SAH Data Project chart

    This scatter chart indicates the relative frequency of common words across the three groups of respondents that completed the SAH Data Project’s COVID-19 Snapshot Questionnaire most often during the initiative’s first few weeks. Students led references to archives/libraries and jobs, faculty overwhelmingly referenced time and being online, and non-higher ed professionals referenced access to archives and sites by a clear margin. Research was referenced with virtually the same frequency by everyone.



    5. What is the biggest challenge you're facing in your architectural history-related studies right now?

    I will no longer be able to do my preliminary dissertation research this summer, so I will be behind when I go to being working on the dissertation this coming year. This will put me almost a year behind where I would be.
    — PhD student in the U.S.

    6. Please describe at least one action that a person, organization, and/or institution could take that would help you with the challenge you described in question 5 above.

    Possibility to visit the archive alone, on a fixed scheduled time.
    — Master’s student outside the U.S.

    7. Please describe at least one action that a person, organization, and/or institution has taken that has reduced the pandemic's impact on your architectural history-related studies. 

    My institution luckily has encouraged long distance learning and enabled us to have remote access to specific software that we do not have at home.
    — Bachelor’s student in the U.S.

    8. In what ways has the COVID-19 pandemic already disrupted or otherwise affected your life? And how do you expect this crisis to alter the direction of your life going forward?

    My research has come to a halt, completely. I am a PhD candidate writing my first chapter and I feel despondent about the possibility of finishing. I can't travel to my sites and archives, and due to their geopolitical locations, I don't know when I will ever be able to return. My university has not extended any funding or delayed any requirements for graduate students, despite offering such life boats for faculty. At the same time that I am worried about being hospitalized…I also have to worry about what might happen if I can't make my chapter deadline. These things are utterly incongruent and should not be given equal measure in my mental space. But they are. Fellowships and grants are few and far between, and the process of fellowship cycles is one that is already unkind to mental health. At times, I think I may just give up if some break doesn't come through.
    — Ph.D. student in the U.S.

    This public health crisis has made me think carefully about what work will be most important going forward. Studying the built environment can give us important information about how and why we use space the way we do, and how it informs and informed by larger cultural shifts. But in this moment, it is perhaps most important to make things as easy as we can for everyone—make sure that everyone has a place to be that is safe and comfortable, thinking through the ways that we can make public space as it exists better able to facilitate interaction while social distancing, finding historical examples of these things that can help inspire action and hope for our own future. Moving forward, I'm concerned about my ability to find work that will provide material stability, and am reconciling myself with remaining in unstable conditions. As a working class person, this isn't new for me, but I was certainly hoping that an advanced degree would ameliorate the situation. In the long term, I'm sure it will. In the short term, I'm just hoping to do some good.
    — Master’s student in the U.S.


    5. What is the biggest challenge you're facing in your architectural history-related studies right now?

    It's hard not to have feedback from student body language. And they're all overwhelmed.
    — Full-time contingent/postdoc/VAP with contract of more than one year, outside the U.S.

    6. Please describe at least one action that a person, organization, and/or institution could take that would help you with the challenge you described in question 5 above.

    If we move forward to actual online courses (as opposed to remote teaching), having a platform for sharing best practices would be great.
    — Professor in the U.S.

    7. Please describe at least one action that a person, organization, and/or institution has taken that has reduced the pandemic's impact on your architectural history-related studies. 

    Hats off to the undergraduate students I am teaching this semester.  They've been very supportive and often write in "thank you" into the chat at the end... something they never did in class.
    — Associate Professor in the U.S.

    8. In what ways has the COVID-19 pandemic already disrupted or otherwise affected your life? And how do you expect this crisis to alter the direction of your life going forward?

    There has been a complete collapse of a healthy work/life balance as emails and Zoom calls have completely dominated my calendar. My own academic research has become severely limited because of having to pivot mid semester to offer my classes online, and for the amount of time we are now expected to engage with students. Some within the University administration feel that since faculty are no longer holding classes in person, we suddenly have additional time to take on other projects, including as acting as a psychological counselor to our students, a position that none of us are professional trained.
    — Assistant Professor outside the U.S.

    Our university relies on tuition numbers to exist. If we see a dip in enrollment faculty with my type of contract (adjunct with an annual contract) will be the hardest hit. I could come out of this pandemic without a job. They will continue to need class-to-class adjunct because they're super cheap and easily disposable. FT faculty will protect themselves and their jobs. But those of us who do the equivalent of FT work for 1/3 of the pay (calculated by the number of units taught and administrative duties) will be the hardest hit.
    — Part-time contingent/adjunct in the U.S.


    5. What is the biggest challenge you're facing in your architectural history-related studies right now?

    The biggest challenge has been in the Historic Preservation curriculum and in courses with Digital Humanities content, which we run more as hand's-on workshops than as typical lectures or seminars focused on shared readings.
    — Chair/administrator in historic preservation in the U.S.

    6. Please describe at least one action that a person, organization, and/or institution could take that would help you with the challenge you described in question 5 above.

    Capsule information about different digital tools/platforms by fellow historians who have used them would be helpful.  It's hard to know where to start when you have not taught online before and have to do it all of a sudden.
    — Chair/administrator in a professional design program in the U.S.

    7. Please describe at least one action that a person, organization, and/or institution has taken that has reduced the pandemic's impact on your architectural history-related studies. 

    The university offers online teaching training and has extended deadlines for graduate students
    — Chair/administrator in art history in the U.S.

    8. In what ways has the COVID-19 pandemic already disrupted or otherwise affected your life? And how do you expect this crisis to alter the direction of your life going forward?

    After the initial crisis management phase of the situation, I see my institution now entering the financial panic moment, when one of the most pressing issues I am currently grappling with is the desire to embrace seemingly easy solutions that threaten to disrupt or entirely halt critical efforts towards creating a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive educational environment, despite the fact that the pandemic has revealed just how deep these inequities are across institutions of higher education at all levels. I envision multiple challenges moving forward, among them a rapid escalation and exacerbation of austerity measures, bottom-line thinking, rapid expansion of online education, and other measures taken to try to generate tuition dollars without any regard for pedagogical, educational, or intellectual values. I can already see the ways in which there is a move to use COVID-19 as an excuse to implement previously unpopular ideas, whether it is in the sudden drive to expand online teaching far beyond the necessary response of this semester and the coming academic year, or in the move to make the most vulnerable among us—especially on the staff side and on the side of adjunct and general faculty (lecturers with long-term employment in my institution)—work even harder in less stable and secure positions.
    — Chair/administrator in historic preservation in the U.S.


    5. What is the biggest challenge you're facing in your architectural history-related studies right now?

    Completing onsite fieldwork and photography and research at libraries and other repositories. Not everything is online.
    — Historic preservation independent scholar/consultant in the U.S.

    6. Please describe at least one action that a person, organization, and/or institution could take that would help you with the challenge you described in question 5 above.

    Increased digital access to research archives
    — Independent scholar/consultant in historic preservation in the U.S.

    7. Please describe at least one action that a person, organization, and/or institution has taken that has reduced the pandemic's impact on your architectural history-related studies. 

    Some sites working out ways of reducing the number of trades on site so that social distancing can be observed but work can go on.
    — Design professional in historic preservation and museums/historical societies/curatorial, outside the U.S.

    8. In what ways has the COVID-19 pandemic already disrupted or otherwise affected your life? And how do you expect this crisis to alter the direction of your life going forward?

    My work also includes managing schedules and budgets for the museum's exhibitions, and we have had to scramble to rearrange several of our own exhibitions both in-house and traveling at the moment. With so much uncertainty, this is still not clear, but we are trying to make decisions that will also benefit other museum partners. We are also starting to discuss what reopening the main museum building will look like—including what our staff and our visitors' comfort levels are about coming back. This means re-prioritizing the work of the museum for exhibitions and installations as well. Because the museum depends largely on in-person visits, this is very important. We have developed online content, but ultimately the in-person experience is what we are about.
    — Professional in museums/historical societies/curatorial in the U.S.

    Over the past decade, it's been my experience that the contribution of the (degreed) architectural historian in historic preservation planning has diminished. Even among architects and engineers, the information we sometimes bring to the table is regarded as irrelevant and reflecting "elitist" concerns. I fear that with society facing such grave challenges, concerns about maintaining the authenticity of important historic architecture will likely become increasingly obscure.
    — Independent scholar/consultant in historic preservation, publishing/criticism, and non-profit advocacy, in the U.S.

    For my business in historic preservation I can't travel to work on assembling National Register nominations, can't utilize archives that aren't on line, can't meet with clients in their homes or visit interiors of comparable buildings. Can’t work on tax incentive projects to take photographs.
    — Independent scholar/consultant in historic preservation and publishing/criticism, in the U.S.


    5. What is the biggest challenge you're facing in your architectural history-related studies right now?

    I volunteer as a docent at multiple historic house museums; all had to cancel tours due to shelter-in-place orders.
    — Volunteer in museums/historical societies/curatorial in the U.S.

    6. Please describe at least one action that a person, organization, and/or institution could take that would help you with the challenge you described in question 5 above.

    Not much can be done until people can gather once again.
    — Volunteer researcher/community lecturer in six different sectors of non-academic architectural history work in the U.S.

    7. Please describe at least one action that a person, organization, and/or institution has taken that has reduced the pandemic's impact on your architectural history-related studies. 

    Various organizations are already providing virtual tours and lectures.
    — Volunteer in historic preservation and museums/historical societies/curatorial in the U.S.

    8. In what ways has the COVID-19 pandemic already disrupted or otherwise affected your life? And how do you expect this crisis to alter the direction of your life going forward?

    I only hope that the libraries and architectural sites where I volunteer my time with have the funding and ability to continue their work after the pandemic is deemed over. Most are non-profits who have lost considerable revenue. Tourism will probably take a long time to get back to its earlier impact on certain sites.
    — Volunteer in historic preservation, museums/historical societies/curatorial, libraries and archives, and non-profit advocacy in the U.S.

  • test

    by Matt Chriest | Apr 30, 2020
  • SAH Data Project Update: The pandemic’s impact so far and how our plans have changed

    by User Not Found | Apr 15, 2020

    The SAH Data Project team launched our three big surveys in late February. Developed through a very collaborative and iterative process that took nearly a year, these surveys ask department chairs/program administrators, faculty, and students in the U.S. a pretty comprehensive range of questions about their architectural history-focused lives. While not the only research methodology we’re using, these surveys are certainly the most extensive and most public facet of our work to date.

    And we were excited. Excited as we opened the surveys because so many different kinds of people who teach and/or study the history of the built environment were going to have a chance to make their voices heard. Excited for the opportunity, in a few months’ time, to begin using the data we’d gathered to learn what our project’s constituents had to say about their courses, careers, and senses of community. Excited for the moment, at the end of this project, when we’d publicly share new insights into the status of the field that could eventually lead to meaningful change.

    You probably already know where this part of the story is going; the surveys were just starting to really gather steam when, on about March 13th, the rate of response to all three dropped to essentially nil. You, our project’s constituents, suddenly had other things on your minds—and rightly so.

    The SAH Data Project team is working together remotely to determine how the pandemic is impacting the project and to keep gathering information now that will be helpful to the architectural history community later. This Zoom meeting on April 13th included Helena Dean, SAH Director of Communications (upper left), Sarah M. Dreller, Postdoctoral Researcher in the Humanities (upper right), Victoria Young, SAH First Vice President (bottom left), and Pauline Saliga, SAH Executive Director (bottom right)


    It has now been about a month since the pandemic’s reality started to become clear. Each week we’ve seen a slightly higher response rate than the week before for all three surveys but the distance between where we actually are and where we wanted to be to achieve the project’s ambitious goals is increasing much faster. And even when response rates become more robust again, the way many of you answer some of our questions now will inevitably be different from what you would have said during a typical spring. You still have other things on your minds and likely will for a while longer. It’s understandable, certainly not a surprise.

    In short, the SAH Data Project’s major pandemic challenge is to find approaches to data collection that are the least likely to burden your pandemic-extended lives now while also being the most likely to address urgent problems in the future. We are facing this challenge by thinking creatively, working collaboratively, and trying to always stay true to our data humanism commitment. Here’s the plan:

    • The SAH Data Project has started circulating a very short “snapshot” questionnaire that invites anyone who works, studies, or volunteers in the field of architectural history to share how the pandemic is impacting them right now. We hope asking you directly how you are doing and what you need will be a welcome break from the care-work that so many of us are engaged in at the moment across our personal and professional lives. Read the project team’s open letter about the questionnaire for more details.
    • The project team has decided to leave the three existing surveys for U.S. higher ed chairs/administrations, faculty, and students open and encourage you to just answer the questions as best you can within the context of your own current situation. The surveys already included plenty of short-answer comment boxes and we urge you to use those to reflect on how your answers might have been different during a typical spring. We expect this information will be especially valuable in helping illuminate areas of the field that are thriving and areas where more targeted support might be warranted.
    • We’re extending the survey open period an additional six weeks; they now close June 30th. That’s about 50% longer than originally planned and we hope this will enable you to focus on your spring semester/quarter responsibilities if they are part of why you have not been able to respond so far.
    • We’re expanding the scope of our FAQ to include information about how the pandemic is impacting the project
    • We’re developing a series of short webinar-style presentations to answer your questions and solicit ideas about the best uses of this data for the post-pandemic reality.
    • And we’re exploring how to extend the end of the project into 2021 a bit to provide adequate time to conduct our other non-survey-based research and develop relevant, substantive analyses.

    This is an evolving plan so we encourage you to subscribe to the project’s email newsletter and reach out if you have thoughts to share. I’m working from home but available via email, as always.

    On behalf of the SAH Data Project team, I would like to thank you for taking the time to read this update and for continuing to support the project. We wish you and your loved ones well during this extraordinarily difficult time.

  • The Journey To Displacement

    by User Not Found | Apr 06, 2020

    Aymar Mariño-Maza is the 2018 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    In Cat Ba, a small island off the northern coast of Vietnam, I nearly died. I was visiting a cave in the island’s national park, a well-trodden tourist destination, when the inner Indiana Jones I’ve been letting slowly out of her cage over the last year got the better of me. Disregarding the clearly illuminated walkway, I took a turn down a dark path. I managed a few confident steps, feeling the earthen ground below my beat-up sneakers. Then the unexpected happened. I lowered my foot once more toward the ground, but this time nothing caught me. My foot fell into emptiness, taking my body down with it. I tried to counterbalance my weight on the other foot, but again, I found nothing. I was freefalling into absolute darkness—like Alice in Wonderland, but without the talking animals. By the time I realized what had happened, I was on my back, five meters into what should have been my death and a few inches from a Machu Picchu rock formation that ought to have been my deathtrap. But, thankfully, I’ve still got a few lives left in this body, albeit one with a few too many scars to prove it.

    The moment I took a step into the void, the moment the ground I’d been expecting was no longer there, I realized the extent to which I take space for granted. Not once did the possibility of losing the ground below my feet cross my mind that entire day, that week, or even that year. But the moment I lost it, I realized this was not the first time I’d had that feeling. A few times in my life, I have come face-to-face with the possibility of not having a roof over my head, and it gave me the same sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. The interesting bit, though, is not the feeling itself but how quickly I forgot it. Many of us have experienced this. We adapt to our surroundings, create expectations about the environment we live in, and we accept certain possibilities as facts. Like a manuscript read over and over only by its author, space is riddled with mistakes, gaps, and inconsistencies. It takes a fresh pair of eyes to notice. As the saying goes, four eyes see better than two.

    figure 1
    Figure 1: Visitor taking a picture in the Holy Sepulchre, Jerusalem


    I was once told by a professor that there are only two types of people who look up at buildings while walking through a city: tourists and architects. Sadly, from what I can tell, he might have been right. Walter Benjamin once said that architecture “is consumed by a collectivity in a state of distraction,”1 and writers like Voltaire, Zola, and Dickens have always alluded to the blindness with which people move through the spaces they inhabit, unaware of the deep impact their surroundings have on their psyche.

    Now, no one has ever asked me why I chose to study displaced people. It is such a trendy topic nowadays that my interest seems self-explanatory to everyone I meet. It would be easy to say that my interests in the subject are humanitarian or that I believe it is a global crisis that needs to be better addressed. These are both true, of course. But there is another reason underlying my deep interest in displacement studies. I believe displaced people are another type of person you see looking up at buildings as they walk through streets. Of course, I mean this metaphorically. Displaced people combine the newborn curiosity of the tourist with the creative potential of the architect. This combination has the potential to significantly impact space. For good or bad, that depends on the effort taken to positively integrate existing values with new ones.

    figure 2
    Figure 2: Layers of division mark the strangely open Western Wall Plaza in the Old Town of Jerusalem. In the background, the Western Wall marks the edge of the Noble Sanctuary (also known as the Temple Mount), while in the foreground the barrier divides the area for female (right) and male (left) worshipers. Floating above, a walkway gives access to the worshipers entering the Noble Sanctuary.


    My aim in this article, as it has been in this project as a whole, is to analyze the spaces of displacement from a historical perspective. Not only can it help us to better understand the experience and role of displaced people within contemporary society on both global and local levels, but because it can also help bring to light many aspects of the role of space for humanity as a whole. Because it should not be just a select few who look up while walking.

    As I write this text, my year-long fellowship is reaching its bittersweet end. Twelve beautiful months that have opened my eyes and my mind in more ways than I thought possible. I have to thank the Society of Architectural Historians for that. But more than the SAH, I have to thank history itself and by that, I mean the writers of history, the builders across that history, and the people who lived, preserved, and then, like a parent dropping off a child on the first day of school, passed that history into my hands.

    And yet, though I hate to say it, the climax really is anti-climactic. I’ve finished this journey only to find that I’ve reached no final destination. So, in lieu of a description of any such unattainable destination, what I will do is take you on a journey, the one I was given the chance to take: through the world of books, of buildings, and of other peoples’ memories. We’ll call it the journey of displacement. We will wind across cultures, dig our way through voices both known and unknown, dip into my memories, wade across a larger-than-life history, and struggle up the hills of ideas both of us will feign to fully understand. We won’t reach the final destination we were hoping to reach. But, as the movies always tell us, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.

    figure 3
    Figure 3: Tombs on the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives overlooking the Old Town of Jerusalem


    Part I

    The journey of displacement doesn’t begin with movement. It begins farther back, at a moment much harder to pinpoint but one of so much power that it doesn’t go unnoticed for long. The journey begins with dissent.

    On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-five Theses to the Archbishop of Mainz. This event marks the start of the Protestant Reformation, which led to the forced conversion and displacement of Protestants who were subsequently persecuted by the Catholic powers. Though a dramatic and memorable moment in history, the moment Luther mailed his theses is not the one I am interested in here. The beginning of our journey came before pen was put to paper, before the theses were discussed, before the clandestine meetings were held, and before people even knew there were others who felt as they did. Before the written word, before the spoken word. The journey begins with the fledgling: the very thought of dissent.

    In most post-apocalyptic movies, there is a common trope: the lone wolf doesn’t survive for long. This is a not-so-subtle commentary on the inevitability of society, the emotional and structural importance of community, and the all-too-obvious statement that anarchy is dead. But in real life, where the crowd attracts attention to itself, the lone wolf is able to slip by unnoticed. We can apply the same rule to a thought. Yes, a thought is dangerous, but only when it is expressed, be it through actions, words, or a mailed envelope. Unless that happens, a thought may be daring, mind-blowing, extraordinarily revolutionary, and yet, utterly and hopelessly insignificant. Once the lone wolf howls, the footsteps of his followers can be heard. And that sound is dangerous. That sound marks the second leg of our journey: when dissent becomes spatial.

    figure 4
    Figure 4: The bold red of the Cinema Rif facade in the center of Tangier. The city was once the historical hub for criminals, artists, and radicals in Morocco. It also served as a hub for the post-WWII counterculture movement known as the Beat Generation. Though both the movement and the city’s character have long since evolved away from what they once were, traces of that countercultural essence can still be found in the city. One such example is the Cinema Rif, a focal point for an easily identifiable group of artists, thinkers, and hipsters that one does not see so often in the rest of Morocco.


    Part II

    Elias Canetti opens his book Crowds and Power with the following line: “There is nothing that man fears more than the touch of the unknown.”2 That is, the author writes, until the touch comes from within a crowd. When one has surrendered to the crowd, touch loses its invasive feeling, its danger. “The more fiercely people press together,” Canetti writes, “the more certain they feel that they do not fear each other.”

    Of course, anyone who has been to a protest knows that a crowd can be one of the most dangerous places to inhabit. Within the heightened state of alert we currently find ourselves as we watch the rapid spread of the coronavirus, it is easy to immediately think of the danger of infection when imagining a crowd. When the first mentions of the outbreak were being broadcast, I had just arrived in Bangkok. It was Chinese New Year. Like every other tourist in the city, I bought a face mask and, foolishly thinking it could prevent my contamination, stepped boldly into the crowd. It was the kind of crowd only Southeast Asia knows how to make, the kind where I could swear I heard my USDA-grade personal bubble pop. Even with the limited information I had about the coronavirus, I still felt the unnerving prickle of fear as I inched my way through the crowd of like-masked people. But it isn’t the danger of viral contagion from within I’m talking about, but that of physical, social, and ideological attack from beyond. Let me explain.

    figure 5
    Figure 5: Cooks serving food to the crowds at an outdoor food stall in Bangkok’s Chinatown on Chinese New Year


    In his account of the 1991 coup d’état in Moscow, David Remnick recounts the words of Nadezhda Kudinova, a factory seamstress taking part in the human barricade around the White House, the democratic stronghold during the coup. Her words tell it all: “The people in the White House ordered us to step aside, not to jump on the tanks if they came, but we knew that if the tanks came, we would step in front of them.”3 How many times in your life have you felt that? I can tell you with an utter lack of shame that I never have. She didn’t say I knew, but we knew. Not only was she telling Remnick that she would lay down her life, but that the crowd would. Dissent had gone from the unspoken thought of an individual to the life-blood of a collective, literally and not just symbolically keeping them alive.

    Crowds occupy space. A collective of people is a collective of power and, like all powers, it demarcates its space. The people standing alongside Nadezhda weren’t standing aimlessly; they were defending their space. They were defending the White House, the architectural icon of their ideology, their hopes, and their dissent. Lewis Mumford, in his near-biblical text, The City in History, describes the historical evolution of nascent power. His argument is that power needs to spread in order to survive. One of the many forms in which power grows is spatially. The more space you control, the more powerful you are seen by weaker powers, and the more dangerous you become to those with more power than you. Power is like a hot potato: it does not last long in anyone’s hands.

    figure 6
    Figure 6: Ruins of a temple at Sukhothai, the first capital of the kingdom by the same name, which ruled the region from 1238 BCE until 1438 BCE. It was eventually annexed by the Ayutthaya Kingdom, then overthrown by the Burmese Konbaung dynasty, then the Rattanakosin Kingdom, leading to what we now know as Thailand. The city currently stands as a historical monument of a moment in a long history of wars over the territory.


    Once a group marks out a space for itself, it must be ready to defend it. Groups that dissent from a majority will be attacked, either physically, ideologically, or financially. Because if there is something humanity knows how to do, it is to persecute. From the schoolyard bully to the office gossip to the totalitarian ruler, there is a culture of persecution in every social circle, in every hierarchy, and even in every household. It even happens unintentionally by people bettering themselves, because if one goes up, another usually must come down.

    Sometimes the defense is unprepared, the barricade is unstable, and the stronghold is easily taken. Sometimes it stands strong, defiant. Either it doesn’t have enough power to remain or it does—for the time being. This is where the story of displacement as people commonly know it begins. Far too late in the story, if you ask me. I believe it begins at the moment difference becomes a collective. Because, it is at that point in dissent’s life that some form of persecution becomes inevitable. Power will always seek to eliminate its competition, either by destruction, absorption, or expulsion.

    figure 7
    Figure 7: In the foreground, resorts frame the Israeli coast of the Dead Sea, essentially privatizing access to it. The Israeli government built a national water conduit that redirected water away from the Jordan River. Jordan and Syria responded by diverting the course of the Jordan and Yarmouk rivers. This competition has caused drops in sea level and irreversible ecological repercussions for the region. The sea has been partitioned for desalination and commercial purposes, in an embattled attempt at returning some level of ecological stability to the region—but even this is being politically and economically driven and halted by the many stakeholders in this space.


    What does this spatial power look like? A barricade of bricks pulled from the street, furniture pulled out of homes, road signs pulled off their poles, mattresses, scraps, dumpsters, and reckless courage—an image out of a Victor Hugo novel. A hill adorned with small stone houses, whitewashed, blue-shuttered, flocked with a scattering of cattle, and at the crest of the hill a single proud structure, a steep pitch rising high over the small world below it, and the sound of a bell ringing out past the confines of that small community, as peaceful as it is dangerous. Another layer of paint brushed on in the dead of night, a bridge that won’t fall, a flag that rises over and over from a sea of bomb craters. A painting on a wall, a fortress, an underground cave, a temple. The truth is that there is no human-built structure beyond the field of power.

    So spatial manifestation comes at a cost. The power of groups, like everything with a pulse, has a lifespan. These lifespans, like those of flowers or Buddhists, are cyclical. They come and go, and then they come again in different forms, under different names. The form a power takes depends on the context in which it reincarnates. It is when the flower is in its most beautiful, most open, most fragrant state, that the florist cuts her at the stem and sells her off.

    figure 8
    Figure 8: Port of Tangier, Morocco


    Part III

    The sea between Tangier in Morocco and Algeciras in Spain is ready to start a fight the day we set sail from Africa. The waves cut short-lived ridges up over the horizon and, with each cut, my stomach does a back flip. The clouds hang low over the water before us, a sight I take as a warning. But my fear is well confined in the pit of my stomach. This is no real danger here. The Spanish passport safely stowed in the front pocket of my backpack, the smartphone in my hand, and the millennial gusto seeping from my every pore are the waving flags of my parachute, that safety net I cannot fully appreciate until the moment it is gone. But even then, I am quick to forget the moment it returns.

    In Cat Ba, I fell. Then I got up. I raised my scratched and bruised body out of the hole and back onto solid ground. I was lucky. But what of those who are not so lucky? What of the times when the foot doesn’t find ground and just keeps falling? When space itself doesn’t grant you support, what is left?

    The noted Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński wrote that “a nation that does not have a state seeks salvation in symbols.”4 Can the same be said of a group of people? Canetti coined the term “crowd symbol” to describe collective units that stand in for the crowd and thus mark a sense of unity among people. The sea, he says, is the crowd symbol of the British people just as the exodus is the crowd symbol of Jewish people. Exodus, in its innumerable reincarnations, is the crowd symbol of the displaced from all across history and all across the globe. It is a humble symbol, burdened with the memory of the forces that led to a need to escape. It is a violent symbol, bursting with memories of death, abuse, and humiliation. But it is also a powerful symbol, if only as an image, of a people, of a crowd, bound together so intimately, moving as one, and desperately depending on each other to survive.

    figure 9
    Figure 9: Floating markets in the Ha Long Bay. The inhabitants of the floating villages depend on the cooperation that goes on at these markets, where they are able to trade their goods for basic necessities. Though seemingly separated from the mainland, these communities have strong economic and cultural ties among themselves and with the mainland.


    So, the exodus commences. When studying the spatial expression of displacement, it is easy to focus on the before and after pictures. Studying the process of movement is much harder because documenting the spatial traces of migration is like trying to document the breadcrumbs left behind by Hansel and Gretel. There are, however, some spatial markers of migration: its vehicles. Trains stuffed with bodies pressed one against another; rickety boats where slave masters toss food below deck like they are feeding chickens; the carriages, trucks, and carts of people making their way across deserts, across forests, across Siberia itself. In his novel Imperium, Kapuściński tells the horrific tale of a general who was transported to a Siberian camp locked in a wagon-coffin that would topple over and be dragged for miles by the horses before anyone noticed. This, the general reminisced, was a privileged mode of transportation during so many Soviet purges.

    Apart from these objects, we have another spatial element we can analyze, but it isn’t always tangible the way architects might wish it to be. It is reminiscent of the Songlines of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia, those networks of walkways that transverse the continent, linking icons, monuments, and communities as isolated as anything in the Outback is wont to be. But the Songlines are spatial traces of spiritual migration. Imbued though they may be with the historical weight of a displaced people, they themselves are not the migration lines of displacement. But other examples exist, notable among them is the Trail of Tears, the path taken by the Native Americans forced out of the Southeastern United States and onto reservations west of the Mississippi River; the Holocaust trainlines, the tracks of the Deutsche Reichsbahn that were used to deport Holocaust victims to Nazi-run concentration camps; and the Central American migrant caravans, the paths along which hordes of migrants flee gang violence by migrating north toward the U.S.–Mexico border.

    Displaced people leave traces as they move. Footsteps. But in the study of history the ones that matter most are those that survive the first rainstorm, and the second, and the hundredth. These are the traces carved into the collective conscience of future generations. As iconic as Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs and just as difficult to analyze spatially, the paths of forced displacement we previously mentioned are these very traces. They serve as the icons of some of the most significant events in human history. And yet they, like any other space, are only imbued with sociological meaning by the people who write, read, and interpret history. And a collective conscience is like a great history lesson: the teacher will always be biased, and the student will always be easily impressionable and just as easily distracted. A collective conscience is a tricky thing to study, but it is inevitably where we must turn if we wish to understand the spatial significance of displacement.

    figure 10
    Figure 10: Wild horses in the Outback, somewhere between Alice Springs and King’s Canyon in Australia’s Northern Territory


    Part IV

    So, we stop moving. What comes next?

    When I was growing up, my family lived with a cat. I’d say we owned a cat, or that she was part of our family, but the actual situation was more like unrequited love on our side that quickly turned into emotionless cohabitation. She came to our house one day when my father was grilling some sardines and she never left. We never knew her age, why she didn’t have front claws, or where she came from. We called her Camila, but she never responded to the name. The only thing she responded to was someone taking a broom out of the closet, at which point she would disappear as quickly as she had appeared. We never figured out why she did that either, but it added to the hypothesis we had been forming. Camila made herself at home despite our presence. Every night when we went to bed, she would hop on one of our beds and get to work. She stepped lightly over the bed, gingerly pawing at limbs covered in blankets. She was slow about it. She had the unhurried strategy of an expert. She went up and down the bed like that, teasing, feeling, judging. Judging what? I’ll never know. At some point she would make a decision. Then came the trickiest part. In an almost imperceptible way, she raised the intensity of her pawing, pressing out and down, digging herself the space she needed. When she was done, she would curl her body into a circle, perfectly filling the space she’d made herself. She was so good at her work that some nights I didn’t realize what had happened until I was halfway off the bed and she was already purring me into submission. Other nights I wasn’t so willing, so I pushed back. Either way, by the time I woke up she was gone.

    figure 11
    Figure 11: Horses find relief in the sliver of shade below the red stone gorge walls of the Siq, in the ancient city of Petra in Southern Jordan


    Sometimes, victims of displacement have restless feet. Get comfortable, but don’t stay comfortable. Be where you are but remember where you come from. And sometimes victims of displacement are victims of so much more. That little circle of space carved out within someone else’s space, no matter how small it is, is still in someone else’s space. Some victims of displacement are forced to have restless feet, caught between a space that is no longer theirs and a space that will never be theirs. They can paw their space out, maybe even fall asleep, but the feeling that they will be pushed off the bed is hard to get rid of. Putting down roots has a whole new level of complexity within this psychological frame.

    Simon Weil said that “to be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.”5 But how do we root ourselves, as people, as a community, as a society? I’ve tried to give a few examples of just this act in the previous articles, examples of peoples that have attempted just that, under different circumstances, through different means, and to different degrees of success. But throughout all those examples, one aspect is constant: the sheer lack of constancy. One thing is certain: how people root themselves will always be complicated by the inevitability of change. No space or people remain the same for very long, so rooting oneself means constantly uprooting and rerooting. In the day-to-day, this constant process can go on unnoticed, or at least typically undervalued. New buildings replace old ones, new groups of people move in to replace others, businesses close and others open, and until we realize this all flows into a single current, we do not usually give the process of change too much thought. Once we realize it, however, the flow of that current suddenly feels more like an avalanche. We see everything in relationship to that current. At that point, we might begin to see some of those links that can be drawn between the experience of displaced communities and those of humans simply living within a constantly evolving space. At that point, though, it might be too late to start looking up.

    figure 12
    Figure 12: Women posing for pictures in front of the Notre Dame Cathedral under construction in Ho Chi Minh City's District 1. Originally constructed during the French colonial period in Vietnam, now it stands as a reminder of the occupation period and a symbol of the Catholic minority in Vietnam.



    I recently read a quote by the writer Michael Jackson that stuck with me. “Life,” he wrote, “cannot be pressed into the service of language.” Any attempt to tell a story is bound to be a summary, an abbreviation, a SparkNotes butchery. Because language, and the concepts that language has defined, cannot explain a story fully. Life, thankfully, far exceeds what we have been able to describe. And that’s the only kind of conclusion I’m comfortable writing down at this point. Today, we’ve taken the journey to displacement. Next month, we’ll see if we can’t take the journey away from it.

    figure 13
    Figure 13: A street in Hoi An, Vietnam, at night



    1 Benjamin, W. (1968). “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Illuminations (Trans. H. Zohn). New York: Schocken.

    2 Canetti, E. (1978). Crowds and Power (Trans. C. Stewart). New York: Continuum.

    3 Remnick, D. (1994). Lenin’s Tomb: The Last Days of the Soviet Empire. New York: Vintage.

    4 Kapuściński, R. (1994). Imperium (Trans. K. Glowczewska). New York: Vintage International.

    5 Weil, S. (2002). The Need for Roots: Prelude to a Declaration of Duties towards Mankind (Trans. A. Wills). New York: Routledge.

  • Crowdsourcing an FAQ

    by User Not Found | Mar 10, 2020
    Welcome to The SAH Data Project’s process blog, a series of short-form reflections and interviews about the Society’s study of architectural history in higher education. By Sarah M. Dreller, Postdoctoral Researcher in the Humanities. #SAHDataProject

    The SAH Data Project just launched the most public part of the study to date: a set of online surveys about architectural history at postsecondary institutions in the U.S. for department chairs, faculty, and students. Constituency-focused efforts like ours need an FAQ and with a project this ambitious the urgency is even greater. Building an FAQ that is authentic and genuinely meaningful is more challenging than it first appears, though. Here you are, specializing in being fully immersed in your project, and suddenly you have to try to imagine what someone on the outside looking in might ask. Moreover, it’s not just what they might ask but also how they might phrase their questions and, because FAQ answers should be as concise as possible, which of the many salient details you keep in your head at any given time might make the most sense to share.

    If you haven’t done this before, perhaps you’d think that all I’d have to do is go back through the communication I’ve received—emails, comments on the process blog, social media, etc.—to find the questions that have been asked so far. I did that and it yielded some good ones. The complication is that people are busy so they often don’t reach out when they wonder about something. Or, in other cases, they may not even realize they don’t understand a certain aspect of the project until the confusion manifests itself in another way. So that’s where the interesting work of anticipating what the project’s community needs and wants to know really begins.


    SAH staff—Anne Bird, Carolyn Garrett, Beth Eifrig, Helena Dean, and Christopher Kirbabas—helped build the project’s FAQ.


    This part of the task started with SAH’s staff brainstorming on your behalf. It should not surprise anyone to learn they came up with lots of fantastic entries; after all, they field questions from members and the wider public with patience and empathy all day long.

    And now I’m inviting you to look over this list and let me know what we’ve left out, what we should change, what can be dropped. You can leave a public comment here or we can have a more private conversation via email or phone. Whatever is most accessible to you is fine with us.

    Crowdsourcing isn’t always the most effective or appropriate way to gather information. But we’re creating this as a resource specifically for you, our FAQ’s crowd, so we thought you’d want a chance to have a hand in it.




    About the project

    What is the SAH Data Project?

    When did the project start and when will it end?

    Why is SAH conducting this research?

    What kind of data is this project gathering?

    Why is this project focused only on higher education in the United States?

    How will the data be used?

    Can I receive email updates about the project?


    About the project team

    Who is collecting and analyzing data for this project?

    What is a stakeholder meeting and who are the stakeholders?

    How can I participate in the project?

    Who do I contact for more information about the project?


    About the online surveys

    What are the SAH Data Project’s online surveys about?

    What kinds of data are the surveys collecting?

    How do I know if I’m eligible to complete a survey?

    Am I eligible to complete a survey if I’m not an architectural history professor or student?

    Am I eligible to complete a survey if I’m a foreign national teaching/studying in the U.S. or an American citizen teaching/studying abroad?

    What do I do if I am eligible to complete more than one survey?

    How anonymous is the survey?

    Do I have to complete the survey in one sitting?

    Can I change my answers after I submit the survey?

    How do I share the surveys with my colleagues?

    How can I complete a survey if my campus is closed due to COVID-19 and I don't have reliable internet at home?

    I am a department chair/program administrator. How do I complete my survey if I don't have access to departmental data due to COVID-19 campus closures?


    About the project’s other (non-survey) data research

    Besides the online surveys, what other kinds of research methodologies are being employed?

    How did the project team decide which methodologies to employ?


    How the data will be analyzed & reported

    What platforms will you use to analyze the data?

    What form will the data reporting take?

    Will you post preliminary impressions of the data along the way?

    Will the raw data be shared publicly?

    Can I have a copy of the final report?


  • At the Edge of Burma

    by User Not Found | Mar 09, 2020

    Editor’s note: We recognize that Burma has been called Myanmar since the ruling military government changed the country’s name in 1989. The author deplores the human rights abuses of the current government of Myanmar, particularly the recent abuses of the Rohingya Muslims, and therefore she chooses to not to recognize the ruling military government of Myanmar. As a result, throughout her article, she refers to the country as “Burma.”

    figure 1

    Figure 1: Fisherman on Inle Lake


    “Sucede que me canso de ser hombre.” It so happens that I am sick of being a man. This is the solemn first stanza of Pablo Neruda’s “Walking Around.” The poem is in the collection Residencia en la Tierra, an anthology that exposes the poet’s feeling of alienation within his society. Channeling the 19th-century French poet Charles Baudelaire, Neruda proudly wears the robe of the flaneur in this poem, strutting through the city of Buenos Aires with a melancholy that borders on aggression.

    Burma is nothing like Argentina, walking around Yangon is nothing like walking around Buenos Aires, and I, to my own chagrin, am nothing like Pablo Neruda. Or perhaps the difference is not so clear. Both countries, for example, were significantly marked by colonial influence, both cities show the architectural expression of that influence, and both Neruda and I (along with a large and unhappy portion of humanity) attempt to see oceans within the buckets of water around us. So perhaps it’s not so strange that I find myself drawn to this particular poem as I begin to make my way through Burma. Walking around Yangon, I can’t help but read lines out of that poem in my head. In them, I see Neruda struggling with the character he was playing in his day-to-day life. He was struggling with the sterility of his bureaucratic job and went searching in the dirtiest recesses of his city for a more honest expression of life.

    What do you see when you escape the frame of your everyday? It doesn’t take much, a wrong turn, an extra stop on the train line, an alternate route to avoid traffic. Disengage from your typical and see what you can find in the strange. I fear that what Neruda found was nothing new. No escape, no better way, no way out. Because for him the problem didn’t lie in one space; it revealed itself to his person everywhere he went. For him the problem was held within that first stanza. The problem was “being a man.”

    figure 2

    Figure 2: Boat captain taking his daily route across the floating village in Inle Lake


    Traveling is on some level a form of escapism, like the Marxist “leisure” in the life of the modern capitalist worker. But just like Neruda, and Marx before him, any traveler will quickly find that there isn’t such a thing as true escape when the problem is as Neruda defined it: being a man. Southeast Asia is filled with long-term travelers living out their escapist fantasies in cheaper beers and emptier beaches. But behind the initial image they find is another landscape, the one Neruda saw in Buenos Aires:

    Yo paseo con calma, con ojos, con zapatos,
    con furia, con olvido,
    paso, cruzo oficinas y tiendas de ortopedia,
    y patios donde hay ropas colgadas de un alambre:
    calzoncillos, toallas y camisas que lloran
    lentas lágrimas sucias.

    [I stroll along serenely, with my eyes, my shoes,
    my rage, forgetting everything,
    I walk by, going through office buildings and orthopedic shops,
    and courtyards with washing hanging from the line:
    underwear, towels and shirts from which slow
    dirty tears are falling.]

    Con furia, con olvido. With rage, with forgetting. This line doesn’t translate well into English, especially the way the translator chose to rewrite it. But Neruda traveled with these things. He carried them into these spaces. Neruda didn’t travel forgetting everything, he traveled with his forgetting. Unlike his translator, he was fully aware of his role in the poem and he reminds the reader of that role, so that when we reach the end of his poem we know that the tears that fall from the clothesline are none other than his.

    figure 3

    Figure 3: Façade of Regional High Court, a British Colonial building in Yangon


    So, when it comes to finding the strange, I think I’ve come to the right place. Yangon is a strange city. British colonial structures crumble above a street scene that is halfway between the insular Burmese city it once was and the globalized city it is becoming. But even calling a city Burmese is strange. The country formerly known as Burma, now known as Myanmar, is a country with over 135 classified ethnic groups and with cultures as distinct as they have been secluded. So to say that something or someone is Burmese is only really admitting to being ignorant of the history of Burma. It is easy to be confused about the naming of the country and its people since the country was virtually inaccessible to foreigners for five decades while under sole control of the military junta. Even now, some areas still caught in civil war are restricted, namely the regions to the north.

    Walking through the city, I passed a few hidden mosques tucked away in the urban fabric. I would have never noticed them if it weren’t for the Arabic script drawn into the facades, a single line of text repeated ad infinitum across architecture. My first guess is to think these mosques are the unused remnants of Rohingya Muslim minority whose discrimination, genocide, and expulsion from Burma have elicited international outcry in recent years. But as I look closer I notice a world around these facades, a tense (though perhaps I am the one bringing the tension), unhurried, and vibrant sea of people making their way past the surface of words I can’t help but focus on. Around these mosques at least, Muslim communities still thrive, and with all the recent international attention, they are also beginning to petition for the mosques that had been closed to be reopened.

    Each time I stop to take a picture of another mosque I am met with the inquiring look of a local merchant. I do not pass by unnoticed in Burma, not even in this city where every face I see reminds me how multicultural this country truly is.

    figure 4

    Figure 4: Selection of facades in downtown Yangon



    figure 5

    Figure 5: Colonial-era facades in downtown Yangon


    The Border Concept

    What does a border look like? That’s a funny question. So funny it almost verges on ridiculous. Because no two borders look alike. More than that, a single border doesn’t last very long unaltered. Geography, climate (political and otherwise), time, and a myriad of social factors fundamentally alter what a border “looks like.” To ask what a border looks like is kind of like asking what shelter looks like. It can look like anything. And yet, in Bagan, somewhere between visiting one and a thousand more temples, I met a Japanese woman who asked me that very question. We got to talking about our travels and I told her I had come to Burma through the Mae Sot–Myawaddy border crossing, one of the few accessible border crossings between Thailand and Burma. Being Japanese and only ever knowing a borderless island, she was curious. In Japan, she told me, when we want to look at our borders, we look out over the ocean and up toward the sky. We never see another country’s land.

    In my attempt to answer quickly, I told her a border was like a customs line at an airport. You go in from one side, slip through a vacuum, and come out the other side. But anyone who has walked across a border knows that this comparison is inapt. Like many who experienced the creation of the European Union, I still feel a certain rebelliousness passing over what were once strictly enforced borders within Europe. Like many who have been on either side of an unequal border, I have been forced to acknowledge the stark image of inequality caught in that divided landscape—and how useless an image as powerful as that has been when it comes to creating any change. And, like many who have crossed over a border between warring countries, I have experienced the tension that can be held along a single line. I should have known better than to compare the two, since I have seen enough of both forms of division to know that a customs line, in all its own complexity, looks nothing like a physical land border.

    figure 6

    Figure 6: View of fishing boats and houses from U Bein Bridge at the Taung Tha Man Lake in Mandalay


    In his theory of “bare life,” wherein he studies those who live outside the judiciary and political frame of society, the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben calls refugees “a border concept.” What he means is that the refugees by their very existence call into question the national frame from which they are exempt. That is the conceptual power of the refugee, a power that many theorists who believe nationalism is best left in the past would like to extend to the rest of society. These national lines that divide the earth aren’t entirely stable—nor have they always existed.

    The seeming fact of the nation state quickly turns into a question for many who study the situation in Burma. It is as easy as looking back in time. Where once the region of Southeast Asia was a scattering of individual ethnic groups and power bases, now it is a grid of border crossings and ethnic fault lines. In Burma specifically, one need not look further than the accepted tourist destinations to see the breakup of this region. With so many distinct ethnic groups, it is difficult to believe the monocultural tract the current government is still advancing—or is it? It is relatively typical for nascent governments to attempt to unify through a purge of diversity, which can even happen in a new democracy, as is the case in Burma.

    figure 7

    Figure 7: Narathihapatae Hpaya Temple in Bagan


    The Image of Unity

    The Buddhist temple has become the icon of Burmese identity in Burma. With a large majority of Buddhists in the country, it serves as a powerful image of their community and values. This is problematic, of course, when considering the Christian and Muslim minorities whose identity and way of life has been disregarded and whose people have been persecuted by the national government. The fact is that Burma has a history of ethnic conflict that predates the colonial period. Though not specifically termed “ethnic,” the distinct groups within the country have long battled over land and power. The “ethnicity” element of the conflict is intimately tied to the colonial period, when the English came and designated five categorical classifications to separate the people of Burma.

    It is interesting to think of the history of Buddhism in Burma. Ironically, it is quite multicultural. One early form of Buddhism that took root in the country is Ari Buddhism. It was highly influenced by Hinduism, Mahayana, and Tantric Buddhism, as well as naga worship, both in ideology and imagery. The significance this form of Buddhism had in what is now Myanmar attests to the mixture of Indian, Chinese, and Sri Lankan influence on the people of this region at the time. This mixed aesthetic can be seen across Burma in the various temples, stupas, and pagodas that dot its surface from north to south. Bagan was the capital of the first unified Burmese power, the Pagan Kingdom, which ruled over what is now Myanmar from the 9th to the 13th centuries. Within this kingdom, before the more orthodox form of Theravada Buddhism took root in the 11th century, the more unrestricted Ari Buddhism predominated. Some of its structures can still be seen in the thousands of religious structures in Bagan.

    One historian notes influences from both India and Sri Lanka well into the 11th century in Bagan. As Win Than Tun writes, “Some changes, such as the increasing popularity of small buildings in the later period, certainly must have been connected with Pagan’s contacts with Sri Lanka and thus with the change in the Sangha…The change from the predominance of stupa over temple in the early period to the ascendancy of temple over stupa in the later period as well as the change in painting style very probably resulted from the influx of Indians.”1 Nowadays, biking through Bagan’s immense landscape of stupas, temples, and pagodas, it is easy to lose track of which structure is which and when each was built. Even with a keen eye for detail, the mirage-inducing sun will quickly make you its next victim.

    In a country where religion has been a source of so much division and violence, it is sobering to remember the origins of these distinct faiths weren’t as pure as some may think. If we look back far enough, we find a mix of people, ideas, beliefs, and imagery that attests to the interconnectedness of such a universally human part of life as faith. Within such a light, the Buddhist structure serves as a beautiful reminder that even when we are most divided, on some level we will always be connected—if only in history.

    figure 8

    Figure 8: Sunrise in Bagan

    figure 9

    Figure 9: Sunset in Bagan


    But the complexity of the Buddhist structure within Burma doesn’t stop at aesthetics. The Sule Pagoda in the urban center of Yangon is—much like the city it inhabits—strange. It acts more like a roundabout centerpiece than an integrated urban community space. It reminds me ever so slightly of the many roundabouts along Madrid’s Castellana Boulevard, whose arches, fountains and statues serve as historical monuments, tourist-photo backgrounds, and little else. That’s the danger of the roundabout—what do you do with that leftover space? In Yangon’s downtown grid, the central roundabout became the unlikely and uncomfortable space for a temple. Surrounded by a circle of shops, it looks more like a football stadium than a religious monument. The only architectural elements that reveal its role are its golden roofs, which poke out behind power lines, shopfronts, and street signs. And even in its anonymity this is the symbolic unifier of Yangon’s (Buddhist) identity, as cardinal points across the nation are measured against this site. It was also the site of the 1988 uprising and the 2007 Saffron Revolution, as well as the massacre that occurred during the latter.

    Like any person interested in the links between space and society, I am drawn to spaces of rebellion, especially those that occur where the power structure is heavily articulated. A single glance around the Sule Pagoda and any notion of an indivisible power structure dissipates before your eyes. Governmental buildings stand back against a powerful crowd moving before it; the pagoda hides behind layers of living, breathing infrastructure; and the old colonial buildings seem to disappear into the background. As always, I am carrying too much with me to paint an honest picture, and the impression of a first glance is nothing against the fact that most crowds don’t transform themselves into a power of revolution—they get transformed, at which point they do not act, but serve.

    figure 10

    Figure 10: Street view of Sule Pagoda in Yangon


    When I think about the many displaced groups—Rohingya among so many others—that have been forced to flee persecution and civil wars in Burma, I can’t help but think about these spaces of power, in this case the temple, the capital city, and the border. These refugees are framed, defined, and moved by these spaces of power because their existence as refugees is bound to the power that makes them the exception. So, to make the definition of the architecture of displacement even messier than I have already, here I bring spaces that express the power that makes the refugee into the fold.

    figure 11

    Figure 11: Mingun Pahtodawgyi outside Mandalay


    In Burma it seems to me that these expressions of power can serve as a metaphor for the complexity of the country—culturally, politically, and ethnically. This complexity, as happens so often, can create cracks, dismemberments, and collapses. Burma is no exception: its complexity, so beautiful, enigmatic, and rich, has been and continues to be fraught with all three creations. So, to finish off, let me speak of one final structure. It is perhaps the strangest one I came across during my time in Burma. In the tourist-ready town across the river from Mandalay stands the monolithic brick structure of Mingun Pahtodawgyi. It is the unfinished project of King Bodawpaya, who attempted to build the largest pagoda in the world in 1790, a goal that his subordinates did not share. The construction project was executed by prisoners of war and was a heavy economic burden on the people in his kingdom, to the point that the project was slowed down until the king passed away, at which point it was left unfinished. One-third of its intended size, the structure that remains standing is as amazing as it is haunting and as impressive as it is pathetic. An 1839 earthquake opened massive fissures to reveal the sheer thickness of the monolithic walls, and laid on another layer of humiliation on the king’s impossible dream. When I struggle with the horrible, seemingly hopeless state of so many displaced people across the world, I try to visualize images such as these, which help to remind me of the weakness of abusive regimes. It might not exactly seem like an uplifting reminder, but it is one that puts any situation into perspective, one that I can always count on to clarify: the historical perspective.

    figure 12

    Figure 12: Sunrise from U Bein Bridge at the Taung Tha Man Lake in Mandalay


    1 Tun, W. T. (2002).  Buddhism Of The Pagan Period (Ad 1000-1300). Mandalay: Mandalay University.

  • SAH Field Seminar: Japan

    by User Not Found | Feb 11, 2020

    Japan Field Seminar 
    Study Program Fellowship Report
    6–18 December 2019


    Architecture in the Japanese archipelago is as varied and complex as that of any other part of the world one could choose to study. And yet, we still might begin by asking, “what is Japanese architecture?” Of course, the answer to this question cannot be distilled, and we must avoid the temptation to essentialize Japanese architecture. What we can do, however, is search out common themes: threads that traverse time and space, bringing us to a better understanding of the fabric and history of Japan’s built environment. Professor Ken Tadashi Oshima designed and led the Society of Architectural Historians 2019 Japan Field Seminar (6–18 December 2019), an exciting and densely packed tour of significant architectural and urban sites in the Setouchi Region of Japan. Questions that I wrote before the trip helped me focus during this whirlwind trek around Japan’s Inland Sea. Based on the field seminar itinerary, I considered how the historical and sacred sites have added galleries and facilities for visitors to view holy treasures, learn, and relax. How do these institutions handle growth and transformation? Does an addition like Shigemori Mirei’s garden at Tōfuku-ji play to or against historical precedent? How do Andō Tadao’s gallery at Shikoku-mura, the Ōhara Museum of Art, and the museums around the Kurashiki Ivy Square function with respect to their respective pasts? I was—and continue to be—fascinated by the cultural biographies of these spaces and delight in potential interpretations.

    Jinny McG - fig_001_metamorphosis
    Figure 1: During our sojourn, I kept my eye out for visual markers of a more catholic view of metabolism—including not limited to ideas of the twentieth century Metabolist movement. In these images, from left to right, I found metamorphosis represented as: symbolic, via family crest (kamon) tiles of the swallowtail butterfly (ageha no chō), metaphoric as the butterfly’s transformation and rebirth within Buddhist conception, and literal during a silent moment at the summit of the youth war memorial by Kenzō Tange.


    In the field seminar blog that follows, I write mostly about the experiences that resonated with the three themes that unify the sites that we visited. The first two of these are metabolism—in this context meaning regeneration, transformation, metamorphosis, and rebirth (Figure 1)—and the Japanese concept of ōku, or inner space.1 The third theme relates to an aspect of my study of modern Japan: the idea of a liminal modernity, which is a reading of the juxtaposition of “tradition” and “modern” as an intentional commingling that is, in its own right, a form of modernism.2 Many of the historical sites we visited were important for the field seminar in that they demonstrated the modern architects’ interest in continuing to engage with the spatial and material practices of older Japanese building traditions.

    Several highlights worthy of mention here include our meeting with Tadao Andō (this was a once-in-a-lifetime treat!) and our visit to see two architectural exhibitions: “Portraits of Architecture in Japan: Stories of its Protagonists” at the Kagawa Museum, and “The Works of Architect Shizutaro Urabe” at the Ivy Square in Kurashiki. All photographs in the blog are by the author except for the group shots, which were most likely taken by our local Japanese field guides, Nawa-san and Yumiko-san. I have uploaded to SAHARA many of the images included here and others from the field seminar.

    Day One: Kyoto, 8 December 2019

    From the Kyoto Hyatt Regency Hotel where we lodged for the first three nights, we were not far from the Buddhist temple, Sanjūsangen-dō (1164, 1266), and the Kyoto National Museum (1895, 2014) which I had a nice view of from my hotel room. In the morning, Professor Oshima gave us a brief informal lecture and then we walked from our hotel to the Sanjūsangen-dō. The temple, more formally known as Rengeō-in, was established in 1164 and rebuilt 1266. The air was crisp and clean, and the temple was already busy with visitors as we made our way around the garden pond within (Figure 2). The day of our visit was auspicious. In Japan, the 8th of December is celebrated as the Buddhist holiday on which the historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, attained enlightenment at the bodhi tree.

    Jinny McG - fig_002_sanjusangendo

    Figure 2: The garden and pond (left) and East Gate (right) at the Rengeō-in temple, outside the Sanjūsangen-dō hall, Kyoto, 1164 and 1266.


    Sanjūsangen-dō refers to the long hall that houses over a thousand religious sculptures, the name literally meaning “the thirty-three space hall” (三十三間堂). The porch on the long side of the hall has thirty-three spaces between the columns (Figure 3). We entered the hall on the short side after removing our shoes, the wooden floor smooth and cold through my socks. As we traversed the long hall, we viewed the ranks of a thousand standing figures of Kannon (Avalokitesvara or Guanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion) as well as many other figures of bodhisattvas and Hindu gods. Frankly speaking, the multitude of glittering Kannon sculptures—with their unflinching gaze and piercing halos of light rendered in gilded wood—has an overwhelming effect. The central Kannon, bringing the total to one thousand and one, is much larger and seated on a lotus. Raijin (雷神) and Fūjin (風神), the Shinto gods of thunder and wind, respectively, flank the rows of sculptures as the far ends of the hall. These two gods often appear together as an iconic set in Japanese art (click here for an example). They are easily recognizable by their active, threatening postures, fierce expressions, and billowing hair and clothes. Raijin’s iconography includes a long halo of drums, and Fūjin holds in both hands a long bag of wind forming a halo around his figure.

    In plan, the temple precinct at the Sanjūsangen-dō demonstrates an aspect of ōku. The “layers” a visitor must traverse to reach the heart of the temple—ostensibly the large Kannon figure inside the Sanjūsangen-dō—include the outer temple gate, an inner barrier for ticketing, the space that includes the garden and ablution pavilion, the space for removal of shoes, and then passage past five hundred standing Kannon figures. The temple complex lacks a central axis of traversal, a controlled vista, and symmetry often associated with monumental sacred or official spaces in non-Japanese contexts.

    Jinny McG - fig_003_JJMsanjusangendo

    Figure 3: Outside the Sanjūsangen-dō, the hall is very long and not easily photographed in its entirety.


    After viewing the figures and other relics at the Sanjūsangen-dō, we crossed the street to make our way to the Kyoto National Museum (KNM). The museum is located at the site of the no longer extant Hōkō-ji, a temple from the time of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, one of the three great unifiers of Japan. There are two prominent buildings at the KNM: the Meiji Kotokan (Figure 4) and the Heisei Chishinkan (Figure 5). Katayama Tōkuma’s design for the Kyoto Imperial Museum (as it was called in 1895 when it opened) is a coral-colored brick building with a neoclassical façade and portico. Yet, Tōkuma foiled its overall imported impression by adding to the pediment the reclining figures of Bishu Katsuma and Gigei Tennyo, the Japanese gods of sculpture and the arts.3

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    Figure 4: Katayama Tōkuma, Kyoto Imperial Museum, Kyoto, completed 1895. Originally the main hall of the museum, Katayama designed the building in a globally modern fashion of the time so that it would be readily readable as a museum.


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    Figure 5: Taniguchi Yoshio, Chishinkan, Kyoto National Museum, Kyoto, completed in 2014. The hall is used for displaying museum artifacts, as the Kotokan has been closed to the public for some time. One of Rodin’s Thinker statues sits pensively in the courtyard between the Meiji and Heisei era museum buildings.


    At the time of our visit, both of the KNM halls were closed to the public. However, on a previous visit a few years ago, I did have the pleasure of experiencing Taniguchi’s hall. I recall that on the upper level, the architect designed a long window gallery that overlooks Kyoto. I was able to visually identify: the location of the Hōkō-ji (for the archaeological project, a protective structure had been erected on the site), the sculpted figures of the gods of sculpture and the arts on the pediment of Katayama’s hall, the Sanjūsangen-dō, Rodin’s Thinker in the courtyard below, modern Kyoto’s dense urban skyline, and even the Kyoto Tower. Taniguchi designed the expansion of the Heisei Chishinkan to contrast the existing Meiji-era building by Katayama. However, I also think that there is another compelling interpretation. The juxtaposition of architectural styles visible from that vantage point on the upper level reinforces the sense of historical continuity rather than just difference. It emphasizes the passage of time and signals the global status of Japanese architects today (eight of the Pritzker winners have been Japanese architects!).

    Afterward on our visit to Tōfuku-ji Temple (1185–1333), we encountered another site with a comingling of historical and modern Japanese design. In the temple precinct, the area nearest to the Hōjō (Abbot’s Hall, rebuilt in 1890) is dotted with stalls for treats and sundries. Shigemori Mirei redesigned the Zen gardens of the Hōjō at Tōfuku-ji in 1939. The Western Garden there features azalea shrubs trimmed into neat squares (Figure 6). This design and those of the Eastern Garden and Northern Garden have an abstract quality that resonates with the abstract new art of the previous couple decades (Professor Oshima suggested De Stijl for comparison). And yet, they are harmonious with the quiet, serious, and serene atmosphere of the Hōjō in a way that prevents a sense of discontinuity that could arise from such juxtaposition.

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    Figure 6: Shigemori Mirei, Western Garden of the Hōjō, Tōfuku-ji, Kyoto, completed in 1939.


    Day Two: Nara and Uji, 9 December 2019

    On the second day of the field seminar we visited three temples that form the backbone of canonical Buddhist temple architectural history in Japan: Hōryū-ji, Byōdō-in, and Tōdai-ji. We also visited the Nara Centennial Hall and witnessed one way in which a contemporary architect chose to engage with local historical architecture while still being avant-garde.

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    Figure 7: Hōryu-ji, Nara Prefecture, 7th century. In the group photo at Hōryu-ji, the disruption of an axial symmetry can be seen in the background, as the pagoda is off-center.


    Hōryū-ji (607) and Tōdai-ji (749), having been constructed closest to the time that Buddhism was adopted in Japan, have notably stronger axial symmetry in plan compared to Byōdō-in (1052), as the architectural style would have been originally imported from China. At Hōryū-ji this symmetry is upset by the central space divided between two structures, the Five Story Pagoda (gojū no tō) and the Main Hall (kondō) (Figure 7). The site of Byōdō-in began as a villa belonging to the Fujiwara family, but was transformed in 1052 as a Buddhist temple. The Phoenix Hall (Hō-ō-dō) was built the next year (Figure 8). The hall—and more generally speaking, Japanese art and architecture—came to be more widely recognized internationally after it was used as the basis for the Hō-ō-den (1893), which represented Japan architecturally at the Columbian Exhibition in Chicago.

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    Figure 8: Phoenix Hall, Byōdō-in, Uji, completed in 1053. The central enclosed pavilion of the Phonix Hall (Hō-ō-dō) houses a large Amida Buddha and fifty-two praying bodhisattvas on the interior walls.


    While there is meaningful effort to keep the heart of the temple true to its historical self (maintenance and archaeological work at the site and for its relics are a constant ongoing process), the Byōdō-in’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site means a steady stream of domestic and international visitors throughout the year. As such, viewing of relics and national treasures are available in an up-to-date modern museum designed by Kuryū Akira, the Hōshōkan (鳳翔館), which opened in 2001. This museum was built into a hill of the natural terrain so that it would not upset the overall balance of the existing buildings of the Byōdō-in. The concrete structure gives a sense of solidity and strength to the portion underground, while the glass exteriors give the building an unobtrusive air within the setting of the other buildings and the temple gardens (Figure 9).

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    Figure 9: Kuryū Akira, Hōshōkan, Byōdō-in, Uji, 2001. When visitors enter the Byōdō-in temple grounds, they pass an exposed part of the museum on the right.


    Impressive as the temple edifices of Hōryū-ji and Byōdō-in are in grace and elegance, Tōdai-ji (749, 1692) far surpasses other Japanese temple structures in sheer size. The South Gate (nandaimon) built in 1199 contains two monumental guardians (niō) sculpted by Unkei (Figures 10 and 11). The main hall houses the famous Tōdai-ji Giant Buddha (daibutsu) (Figures 12 and 13). The daibutsu is a depiction of the Vairocana Buddha, the universal Buddha.

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    Figure 10: South Gate (Nandai-mon), Tōdai-ji, Nara, 1199.


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    Figure 11: Unkei (the sculptor), one of the Niō guardian figures, South Gate, Tōdai-ji, Nara, 1199.


    On the left and right as one passes through the South Gate, giant guardian figures bear down on visitors, with a barely contained wrath (Figure 11, left). The bracketing system, which is ubiquitous to Chinese and Japanese traditional wooden architecture of elevated status, is exposed and easily viewed from the ground because of the monumentality of the gate (Figure 11, right).

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    Figure 12: Giant Buddha Hall (Daibutsu-den), Tōdai-ji, Nara, 749 and 1692. When the hall was rebuilt in 1692 after a fire, the hall was only about two-thirds of its original size.


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    Figure 13: Daibutsu-den interior, Tōdai-ji, Nara, 1692. As one approaches the sculptural deities within the Daibutsu-den, the monumentality of their figures imparts a feeling that your own self is but a small part of the grand order of the universe.


    Isozaki Arata’s Nara Centennial Hall (1998) can be viewed as a response to the nearby Tōdai-ji because of its monumentality and several features of its construction (Figure 14). The external form of the building and its use of concrete and glass certainly add to the modern and contemporary sense of the building. However, the impressively large spaces experienced within would seem to be in dialogue with the monumentality of the Buddhist structures we visited earlier in the day. Upon entering the space, I was surprised that it is lit by natural light, and another curved wall within suggests additional layered spaces like a shell (Figure 15, left). Furthermore, the overlapping tiles on the surface of the wall inside are a warm color and slightly curved, suggestive of the roof tiles used with traditional Japanese wood construction (Figure 15, right). And like the open bracketing system we saw at Tōdai-ji, structural elements from the building of the performance hall are openly visible. The walls of this concrete structure are hinged around the mid-point and were opened vertically to create the space (Figure 16).

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    Figure 14: Isozaki Arata, Nara Centennial Hall, Nara, completed in 1998.


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    Figure 15: Interior and surface tile detail, Nara Centennial Hall, 1998.


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    Figure 16: Interior performance auditorium, Nara Centennial Hall. The hinges of the back walls are visible behind the seating.


    Day Three: Awaji Island, 10 December 2019

    By the third day when we left Kyoto to cross the Inland Sea, our itinerary included more contemporary buildings, many of which are constructed with reinforced concrete. On Awaji Island (Awaji-shima), in the sea between Honshū and Shikoku, we visited Tadao Andō’s Water Temple (1989–1991) and Tange Kenzō’s Youth Plaza (1967). In its design, Tadao Andō’s intended theme for the Water Temple (Mizumidō), the main hall of the Buddhist temple Honpuku-ji, “is the time and space of the dramatic shift from the profane to the sacred.”[4] Like other temples we had visited (e.g., Sanjūsangen-dō and Hōryū-ji), the ground was covered in small white and gray pebbles (Figure 17). I noted at one point that these pebbles make walking slower and more deliberate.

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    Figure 17: Tadao Andō, Water Temple (Mizumidō), Honpuku-ji, Awaji, completed in 1991. The initial path leads to an unadorned gateway, the outer wall gives no hint to what lay within.


    As we approached, the path to the heart of the temple was obscured—this time with ōku taking part in the “dramatic shift” that Andō had desired. Passing through the unadorned gateway lead to an unpaved path between the outer wall and another curved wall, until we reached a bend (Figure 18). At this point the visitor suddenly encounters a lotus pond in the shape of an ellipse (the major axis is 41 meters long). Looking out beyond the pond, the area around us was lush and green, and in the distance just sky. The stairway leading down to the temple beneath the pond bisects the major axis (Figure 19). The passage is liminal: we go from the profane to the sacred, with the lotus pond as our roof. Andō suspects that his idea for the Water Temple originated in a visit he had to India when he saw a temple in the distance beyond a lotus pond during rainy season, envisioning it as a “Buddhist paradise.”[5]

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    Figure 18: Tadao Andō, Mizumidō, Honpuku-ji, 1991. The path between two concrete curved walls suddenly opens up to a large elliptical lotus pond.


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    Figure 19: Tadao Andō, Mizumidō, Honpuku-ji, 1991. Like the unadorned gateway, the stairway down to the temple makes no formal announcement.


    Later, we traveled to the other end of Awaji-shima where we visited Tange Kenzō’s 1967 Youth Plaza (若人の広場公園). This is a memorial to Japanese youth who died during the Pacific War. The ground surrounding the plaza, a series of shifting terraces, is paved in some areas and covered in small white and gray pebbles in others. I began to think of the stones as an indication of hallowed ground. The memorial itself is blocked from view by imposing stone walls (Figure 20). On a high terrace at one far end of the plaza, we had the long view down the full length (Figure 21). A monumental memorial marker in the shape of a conic or paraboloid section terminates the plaza at the other end (Figure 22). Close up, the design leads the eye up and up, into the sky, with the intersecting pattern evoking aircraft contrails (Figure 23). Tange included an indoor museum space that is used to present artifacts and information about youths who were engaged in the Pacific War (Figure 24). The barrel vaults are reminiscent of the shape of aircraft hangars, and the imposing walls were tomb-like.

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    Figure 20: Tange Kenzō, Youth Plaza, Awaji-shima, completed in 1967. Note the pebbles and fortified stone walls.


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    Figure 21: View down the full length from the far end of the Youth Plaza.


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    Figure 22: The conic memorial marker at the culminating end of the Youth Plaza.


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    Figure 23: View looking up the cone.


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    Figure 24: Interior museum space, Youth Plaza, 1967.


    Day Four: Takamatsu, 11 December 2019

    Our fourth day of the seminar was spent in Shikoku, the smallest of the four major Japanese islands. We were fortunate that our visit to Takamatsu coincided with an architectural exhibition that Professor Oshima had a hand in putting together: “Portraits of Architecture in JAPAN: Stories of its protagonists” at the Kagawa Museum. This was an ambitious kind of exhibition that had its aim to tell the story of modern architecture in Japan as a narrative strongly tied to architectural history—which was perfect for the SAH Field Seminar group, of course. The exhibition was divided into three parts: “History Invented,” “Creation from Tradition,” and “Region, Climate, Community.” The first was a careful look at how an early protagonist of this narrative, Japan’s first architectural historian Itō Chūta, helped to craft the history of premodern Japanese architecture. The second part dealt with how modern Japanese architects approached design that would be both “Japanese” and “modern.” Having a “history” helped define the elements of building traditions, but what exactly could and should be viewed as “Japan-ness” for architecture?6 This part of the exhibition examined various approaches such as the Imperial Crown style to postwar works like the Kagawa Prefectural Government Building. The final section presented contemporary architects’ shifting focus to local concerns for their designs—and where there is overlap with traditional practices and aesthetics, these newer design similarities seem to arise instead mostly from designers’ careful study of the context, meaning the environment and climate of the site, as well as community needs.

    From the buildings that we visited during the field seminar, we saw how various architects approached the design of modern architecture, from Katayama (e.g., Kyoto National Museum) to Hiroshi Hara (e.g., Umeda Sky Building). In a building such as the Kagawa Prefectural Cultural Hall by Ōe Hiroshi (Takamatsu City, 1965), the form, materials, and ornament imply older Japanese building traditions, while still utilizing concrete and glass preferred by his contemporaries. The façade of the Kagawa Prefectural Cultural Hall is human-sized and unpresuming, but refined (Figure 25). At the entrance, Ōe used a wood screen exterior that is matched on the interior (Figure 26). Like other concrete buildings that we saw during the seminar, the use of wood softened the overall impression of the building (Figure 27). On the other hand, Ōe eschewed concrete in the design of the performance hall, which is more reminiscent of Edo period kabuki theater design (Figure 28). Looking up, I noticed that the ceiling is a traditional square grid motif, for example also seen in the Daibutsu-den at Todai-ji (Figure 13).

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    Figure 25: Ōe Hiroshi, Kagawa Prefectural Cultural Hall, Takamatsu City, completed in 1965.


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    Figure 26: Entrance detail, Kagawa Prefectural Cultural Hall.


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    Figure 27: Interior detail, Kagawa Prefectural Cultural Hall.


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    Figure 28: Interior performance hall, Kagawa Prefectural Cultural Hall.


    While driving in Kagawa, we stopped briefly to see Tange Kenzō’s Prefectural Gymnasium (Takamatsu City, 1964). The building is currently unused and would need a fair amount of work and earthquake retrofit in order to be reopened to the public. In comparison to Ōe’s Prefectural Hall, there is little to read from the exterior that would suggest a connection to building practices of the past (Figure 29). However, the Postmodernist approach (the building is in the shape of a boat!) gives a direct visual link to the historically important geographic position of Kagawa on the Seto Inland Sea.

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    Figure 29: Tange Kenzō, Kagawa Prefectural Gymnasium, Takamatsu City, 1964.


    We also visited two sites that are meant to preserve the past and present it to present day audiences: Shikoku-mura and Ritsurin Garden. Shikoku-mura opened in 1976 in Takamatsu as a place to preserve premodern buildings, such as folk houses. Like Meiji-mura on Honshū—where Frank Lloyd Wright’s lobby for the Imperial Hotel stands today—Shikoku-mura is an outdoor architectural museum. Open-air architecture museums in Japan offer a unique engagement for visitors due to their practice of dismantling historical buildings and reconstructing them at museum sites outside of major cities. These heterotopias create a newly built environment that operates across space and time, transporting the visitor to an imagined past that is physically accessible. As warned by David Lowenthal, however, we should be reminded to read these spaces as modern.7

    In addition to folk houses, Shikoku-mura preserves buildings that are meant to characterize older ways of life. The kabuki theater at Shikoku-mura has outdoor seating, and is an example of the double roof that is a feature of early modern vernacular building in the Tokushima and Kagawa region (Figure 30). On many of the buildings, roof construction is easily viewed since visitors can walk around and go inside most of the structures. The thatched buildings for sugar cane presses were round to accommodate the oxen that would provide the power for the press (Figure 31). 

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    Figure 30: Shodoshima Farmers’ Kabuki Theater at Shikoku-mura, presumed to be a late Edo period construction, originally from Obu Village on Shodoshima Island, 1976.


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    Figure 31: Sugar cane press, late 19th Century, Shikoku-mura.


    There is an art gallery at Shikoku-mura, designed by Tadao Andō. Unlike the new museum at the Byōdō-in in Uji, the gallery at Shikoku-mura does not seamlessly blend in with the rest of the site. There is a crisp boundary between the historical architecture of the Shikoku-mura and Ando’s museum. Just beyond the grave of Jingoro Hidari, an Edo period sculptor in Takamatsu, visitors must pass through a gate to reach the concrete and glass art gallery (Figure 32).

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    Figure 32: Entrance to the art gallery designed by Tadao Andō, Shikoku-mura, Takamatsu, 2002.


    In Takamatsu, we also visited the Ritsurin Garden (Figures 33 and 34). Beginning in the late sixteenth century, samurai lords of the Takamatsu domain owned the garden. It became public in 1875, not long after the Meiji Restoration of 1868. The garden was lovely on our visit, but the biggest take-away for me was that we were introduced to the concept of shakkei. And when you see it once, you begin to see it everywhere in gardening, landscape architecture, and architectural design. Shakkei is the Japanese (and Chinese) gardening principle of borrowed scenery in design.8 For example, a mountain in the distance would be taken into consideration during design so that it is framed from particular points of view within the garden.

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    Figure 33: Ritsurin Gardens, Takamatsu, began in the late 16th century with significant additional work in 1625, 1745, and 1875. The teahouse at the Ritsurin garden was open for guests on the chilly day when we visited. 

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    Figure 34: Views of the vermillion bridge at Ritsurin change dramatically depending on the season.


    Day Five: Takamatsu and Sakaide, 12 December 2019

    On the fifth day when we were still in Takamatsu, we visited Tange Kenzō’s Kagawa Prefectural Hall (Government Office) (Figure 35). Inokuma Genichiro’s brightly colored abstract mural and the use of wood in the lobby gave the interior a welcoming feeling (Figure 36). I noted that the ceiling had a square grid pattern similar to the performance hall at Ōe’s Kagawa Prefectural Cultural Hall (Figure 28) and the Tōdai-ji Daibutsu-den. Building construction of the Government Office was completed in 1958, but recently the building underwent an extensive earthquake retrofitting. We were allowed to visit the lowest level of the building where the engineered system was installed. It was an intense technical undertaking, and the components that allow for movement so that the structure is resilient are monumental in themselves.

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    Figure 35: Tange Kenzō, Kagawa Prefectural Hall view from the garden side, Takamatsu, completed in 1958. 

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    Figure 36: Inokuma Genichiro, Wakei seijaku mural, Kagawa Prefectural Hall, Takamatsu, 1958.


    The Seto Island Sea Folk History Museum (Yamato Tadashi, 1973), like its postwar contemporaries, effectively uses wood to soften the impact of an otherwise cold concrete structure (Figure 37). Here we learned about the region’s maritime history and the important “three whites” that were produced in the region: salt, sugar, and cotton. Yamato designed the exterior walls with a masonry style reminiscent of fortified Japanese castle architecture (Figure 38). The ceilings use the square grid pattern that we previously saw at Tōdai-ji and the lobby of Tange’s Kagawa Prefectural Government Office (Figures 37 and 39).

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    Figure 37: Yamato Tadashi, interior of Seto Island Sea Folk History Museum, Takamatsu, 1973.

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    Figure 38: Yamato Tadashi, storage building at the Sea Folk Museum. The storehouse appears as fortified as a medieval Japanese castle.


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    Figure 39: The inside of the storage building at the Sea Folk Museum is a treasure trove.


    We also visited an art gallery on the Seto Inland Sea designed by Taniguchi Yoshio, the Higashiyama Kaii Setouchi Art Museum (Figures 40 and 41). Like the Kyoto National Museum’s gallery on the second level, Taniguchi frames a selected view from within the museum (Figure 42). The scene of the calm sea from the long row of windows is very much like shakkei, or the borrowed view, used in Japanese gardens. Instead of showcasing Kyoto’s impressive eclectic styles of architecture, here Taniguchi captures the sea and landscape that the Setouchi region is known for.

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    Figure 40: Taniguchi Yoshio, Higashiyama Kaii Setouchi Art Museum, Kagawa, 2005. 

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    Figure 41: Taniguchi Yoshio, Higashiyama Kaii Setouchi Art Museum, Kagawa, 2005.

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    Figure 42: View from the cafe, Higashiyama Kaii Setouchi Art Museum, 2005. (Click here for the museum website page with a clear photograph of the view.)


    Day Six: Naoshima, 13 December 2019

    Some of the smaller islands that used to thrive on industries that are no longer viable—whether it was agriculture, fishing, producing salt, or other material processing—have sought to revitalize in the past few decades. We visited two of the islands, Naoshima and Teshima, where planners have turned to art as their answer, giving the communities a chance to undergo a special kind of metamorphosis. We arrived at Naoshima in the morning at the Ferry Terminal at Miyanoura Port designed by SANAA (Figure 43). The terminal overlooks the water, utilizing very thin pilotis and glass for the enclosed area to keep the view as open as possible. We were pleasantly surprised to encounter one of Kusama Yayoi’s iconic Naoshima pumpkins at the port (Figure 44).

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    Figure 43: SANAA, Ferry Terminal, Miyanoura Port, Naoshima, 2006.

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    Figure 44: Kusama Yayoi, Red Pumpkin, Naoshima Miyanoura Port Square, 2006.


    Naoshima's city of Honmura has a project that began in the late 90s, where older houses are converted into art installations. For the Ando Museum in Honmura, Andō retained the outer structure of an existing house and created a new concrete interior. In fact, Andō has been involved in many of the projects on Naoshima, and at Honmura he collaborated with James Turrel on “Minamidera” (Figure 45). The exterior is made of a wood that has been charred—an older building tradition in Japan that works as a preservative. The interior is a light installation that begins with the visitors sitting in total darkness. Another interesting art house is the “Haisha” by Ohtake Shinro (Figure 46). All of the surfaces on the exterior and interior have been remade for an eclectic total work of art. I was surprised on the second level to discover a two story Statue of Liberty inside the house.

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    Figure 45: James Turrell and Tadao Andō, “Minamidera,” Honmura, Naoshima, 1999.
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    Figure 46: Ohtake Shinro, “Haisha,” Honmura, Naoshima, 2006.


    Honmura also happens to be one of the locations discussed in the exhibition that we had visited on the fourth day of the tour, “Portraits of Architecture in JAPAN.” Driving past Naoshima Hall on our bus, the building looked to be all roof (Figure 47). The large pitched roof resembles the (archaeologically reconstructed) roof types of both the “pit dwellings” and shrine structures. However, the roof form of Naoshima Hall was actually based on careful scientific research and modeling (e.g., computational fluid dynamic simulation).9

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    Figure 47: Sambuichi Architects, Naoshima Hall, Honmura, Naoshima, 2015.


    Day Seven: Teshima, 14 December 2019

    On Naoshima we had stayed overnight at one of the hotels designed by Andō, the Benesse House Park Lodge, and were given the morning on the seventh day to explore the grounds (Figure 48). Concrete and glass are tempered by water, sky and greenery (Figure 49). I walked along the seashore and came across another one of Kusama’s pumpkins. When we met up with the tour group later, we traveled to the Lee Ufan Museum (Figure 50). Like Andō’s Water Temple, simple geometry and shifting planes of concrete wall make for a complex spatial experience. There is a play with the natural outdoors as well, as the visitor is neither “inside” or “outside” in the space leading to the museum entrance. In front of the walls of the museum, the landscaping includes sculptural elements (Figure 51). Like the garden concept of shakkei, the outdoor design at the Lee Ufan Museum borrows the natural water, sky and mountain scenery at the site.

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    Figure 48: View from a guest room, Tadao Andō, Benesse House Park Lodge, Naoshima, 2006.


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    Figure 49: Benesse House Park Lodge


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    Figure 50: Tadao Andō and Lee Ufan, Lee Ufan Museum, Naoshima, 2010.


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    Figure 51: Lee Ufan Museum


    In the afternoon, we then traveled by boat to another art island, Teshima, by way of Honmura Port (Figure 52). The design of the ferry terminal in Honmura is also by SANAA. It is almost whimsical, but it successfully suggests something organic—something metabolic. The Teshima Museum and gift shop are stark white but their forms blend into the gentle hills at the site (Figure 53). From the ticketing office, visitors follow the meandering concrete path through a forested area before circling back to the entrance to the museum (Figure 54). The museum is unlike anything I have seen before. The large space inside the smooth white concrete shell is silent and invites visitors to enter a kind of meditative state. (You can read more about the Teshima Museum here.

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    Figure 52: SANAA, Naoshima ferry port terminal, Honmura Port, Naoshima, 2006.

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    Figure 53: Ryue Nishizawa and Rei Naito, Teshima Museum, Teshima, 2010.

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    Figure 54: Ticketing office of the Teshima Museum.


    Day Eight: Kurashiki, 15 December 2019

    We spent the eighth day of the field seminar in Kurashiki. In Japanese, kura means storehouse and that is, indeed, how the city got its name. Along the canal there were many storehouses, as the city was a rice distribution center during the Edo period. The hotel that we stayed at, the Kurashiki Ivy Square (1889, 1974) was originally a factory (Figure 55). The area now caters to tourists, offering its own history as a source of interest and partaking in premodern and Meiji era nostalgia as well. The Kurashiki canal walkways were filled with tourists when we were there, the shops and eateries bustling with patrons (Figure 56). There are still storehouse buildings along the way, with the telltale namako-kabe method of water and fire protection visible from a distance (Figure 57). The Ohara Museum of Art stands out with its neoclassical façade (Figure 58). The museum of Western art is stepped back from the main thoroughfare at Kurashiki, but because of its elevated height, it can be seen from the walk along the waterway.

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    Figure 55: Urabe Shizutarō, Kurashiki Ivy Square, view of the interior courtyard, Kurashiki, 1889 and 1974.

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    Figure 56: Kurashiki waterway with storehouses.


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    Figure 57: Storehouses are distinctive by the general shape as well as the namako-kabe.


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    Figure 58: Ohara Museum of Art, Kurashiki, 1930.

    We also attended the exhibition at the Kurashiki Ivy Square Ivy Hall Exhibition, “The works of Architect Shizutaro Urabe.” Urabe Shizutarō designed and worked on many of the projects that transformed Kurashiki into a city that could retain its heritage but also survive as a modern economy. He designed the Kurashiki International Hotel (Figure 59). The monumental set of woodblock prints at the Kurashiki International Hotel are by Munakata Shikō (1903-1975), one of Japan’s most well known print artists in the postwar period (Figure 60). Not far from the International Hotel and the Ivy Square, Tange Kenzō designed the Kurashiki City Hall (Figure 61). In 1983 the building was repurposed as the city art museum. As a motif we are well acquainted with now, the lobby uses selected moments of wood and color to soften the impression of the concrete interior (Figure 62).

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    Figure 59: Urabe Shizutarō, Kurashiki International Hotel, Kurashiki, 1963.

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    Figure 60: Munakata Shikō, “The Great Barriers of the Universe” (originally, “From Men to God”), woodblock print, Kurashiki International Hotel.

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    Figure 61: Tange Kenzō, Kurashiki City Museum (formerly Kurashiki City Hall), Kurashiki, 1960.

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    Figure 62: Lobby of the Kurashiki City Museum.


    Day Nine: Himeji, 16 December 2019

    On the ninth day we visited the castle, Himeji-jō (1333, 1580, 1609) (Figure 63). Our visual focus is often the main keep of Japanese castles because of its height and complexity of form. However, people did not spend most of their time there, as its purpose was to be fortification in case of attack. Residents had living quarters in other parts of the castle. The rooms for ladies of the court were along a very long passage, not directly connected to the keep (Figure 64). Japanese castles are maze-like in plan and included special features to make it more defensive. For example, holes in the wall above the fortified stone gave advantage to the defending castle samurai in the case of attack (Figure 65). At Himeji-jō we find more examples of ōku, with the layers of space defined by the architectural arrangement of walkways, passages, and gates (Figure 66).

    Jinny McG - fig_063_himejijo

    Figure 63: Himeji-jō, Hyogo Prefecture, 1333, 1580 and 1609.

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    Figure 64: Ladies room at the end of the long Hyakken-roka corridor of dormitories, Himeji-jō.

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    Figure 65: Fortified stone walls within the castle.

    Jinny McG - fig_066_2019JJM1216004

    Figure 66: Visitors must pass through a series of massive gates to reach the castle keep. It is typical that family crests of powerful samurai appear on these mon.


    Day Ten: Osaka, 17 December 2019

    Osaka and the surrounding urban areas are densely populated and offer an exciting variety of architectural results. Many of the lots are long and narrow because of the types of structures that were originally built in the early modern city layout. When older structures are demolished, homes such as the House in Nipponbashi require a significant amount of creativity to make the most of the space (Figure 67). The house in the center of the photograph shown below is known as the “Pencil House.” It is very narrow because of the building lot, but through ingenious design is efficient and comfortable in its final execution.

    Jinny McG - fig_067_pencilhouse

    Figure 67: Waro Kishi, House in Nipponbashi, Osaka, 1992.


    Some streets have covered arcades, such as the Kuromon Market. These are common to urban life in Japan and have evolved to attract foreign tourists. At Kuromon, the most famous shopping arcade in Osaka, the colorful cloth indicates the entrance to this market known for its street food and fresh seafood (Figures 68 and 69).

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    Figure 68: Kuromon Market, Osaka

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    Figure 69: Interior, Kuromon Market, Osaka


    In the final afternoon of our field seminar, Professor Oshima took us to Tadao Andō’s Office and Annex in Osaka (1973, 1980–1, 1989-91). SAH gave each of us a new copy of Andō’s book, Tadao Ando 0: Process and Idea (Tokyo: TOTO, 2019). Andō personalized our books with an autograph made out to each of us (Figure 70).  He and his staff were most gracious with their time and energy. And for many of us, it was the ultimate icing on the cake for a wonderful architectural adventure in Japan. When we met with Andō, he advised that we see his “Green Wall” at the Umeda Sky Building (Hara Hiroshi, 1993), and so we did (Figures 71 through 73). Beneath the 9-meter tall skeleton structure covered in living plants, there is greenery, stone, and water compressed within a circle to form a complex garden from simple geometric shapes and a limited color palette.

    We took an elevator to the top of the Umeda Sky Building for lunch. Improbably tall, the Umeda Sky Building includes an escalator—which only traverses a part of the height, but still manages to give the visitor a sense of warping from the realm of the sky back down to the earth (Figure 74).

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    Figure 70: The SAH field seminar group with Tadao Andō at his offices in Osaka. 


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    Figure 71: Tadao Andō and Sekisui House, Wall of Hope (“Green Wall”), at the Umeda Sky Building, Osaka, c. 2013.


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    Figure 72: Tadao Andō’s Green Wall dramatically changes the urban landscape of metal, glass, concrete, asphalt with a lush screen.


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    Figure 73: Inside the Umeda Sky Building (Hara Hiroshi, 1993), the poster explains the Green Wall located on the ground level outside.


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    Figure 74: Escalator at the Umeda Sky Building.



    Lowenthal wrote that, “All the lineaments of the present are historical, yet they are continuously reborn in the minds of every culture and of every generation.”10 We cannot see the true past—even with our best efforts of reconstruction and preservation—but what generations have left behind is reborn in us when we encounter the remnants of their built environment. For every modern architect who studied the past, what they saw was reborn, and from that they dreamed new buildings for Japan. Sometimes the endeavor was to connect and at other times maintain a distance from that past. But each is a metamorphosis of an idea, the transformation of what is observed into a modern concept.

    What is particularly intriguing about Japanese architecture is the purposeful commingling of the past and future, or what I call a liminal modernity. Shigemori Mirei’s garden at Tōfuku-ji is not just a Modernist interpretation of the Zen garden. His designs fit seamlessly into the older existing aesthetic while evoking the global new art of his generation. The Ohara Museum of Art may have begun as a staunchly “Western” neoclassical style building to hold “Western” art that was considered equivalent to “modern,” but it was not very long, only a few decades, before extensions were built to exhibit more than oil paintings that fall into line with the art historical canon. My favorites at the museum were the Munakata Shikō prints exhibited with the mingei folk art. We also saw many examples of the architects’ search for “Japan-ness,” which might appear sometimes as wood lattice details used against heavy concrete walls, or allegorical figures of Japanese gods in a pediment. I argue that the architect can have both without inherent contradiction.

    I cannot stress enough what an intellectually and physically engaging trip the SAH Japan Field Seminar was last December. We walked, hiked, and were ferried by chartered buses and boats. We saw ancient temples and state of the art earthquake retrofit technology. We ate delicious foods and even met an architectural giant. Professor Oshima crafted a trip that was meaningful and fun. My thanks also go to the fantastic scholars and adventurers who took part, because half the joy was simply having the experience with kindred spirits who never want to stop learning.

    Jinny Jessica McGill is a doctoral candidate in art and architectural history at Penn State. Her dissertation, “Science Visualized: Art, Architecture, and the Display of Modern Japanese Science, 1851–1938,” is an investigation into the connections and disruptions between traditional practices and modern reimaginings in architecture and art as they pertain to nationalism, modernity, and global science culture. Jinny has an undergraduate degree in astronautics from the University of Southern California, a graduate degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Maryland, and previously taught courses at Howard Community College, Montgomery College, and at Penn State.

    1 Mori Museum. “Sakaide Housing Complex,” Metabolism: The City of the Future. Tokyo: Mori Museum, 2012, 136-7. Koolhaas, Rem and Hans Ulrich Obrist. Kayoko Ota with James Westcott, editors. Project Japan. Köln: Taschen, 2011. MAKI, Fumihiko, "The City and Inner Space," Ekistics 46, no. 278 (1979): 328-34.

    2 S. N. Eisenstadt, “Multiple Modernities,” Daedalus 129, no. 1 (2000): 1-3. Eisenstadt argues that there is no single modernity, but many different kinds arising from different cultures. “Liminal modernity” is the term that I have coined for Japan’s modernity.

    3 Alice Tseng, The Imperial Museums of Meiji Japan: Architecture and the Art of the Nation (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 2008), 112.

    4 Tadao Andō, Tadao Ando 0: Process and Idea (Tokyo: TOTO, 2019), 186.

    5 Ibid., 196.

    6 For more on this, see contemporary books such as Isozaki Arata, Japan-ness in Architecture, translated by Sabu Kohso, and edited by David Stewart (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006).

    7 David Lowenthal, “Past Time, Present Place: Landscape and Memory,” Geographical Review, Vol. 65, No. 1 (1975): 1-36.

    8 Wybe Kuitert, “Borrowing scenery and the landscape that lends—the final chapter of Yuanye,” Journal of Landscape Architecture, 10:2 (2015): 32-43, DOI: 10.1080/18626033.2015.1058570.

    9 Portraits of Architecture in JAPAN: Stories of its protagonists (Kagawa Prefectural Museum, 2019), exhibition catalog, 291.

    10 Lowenthal, “Past Time, Present Place,” 36.

  • Morocco's Streets of Many Ways

    by User Not Found | Feb 10, 2020
    Aymar Mariño-Maza is the 2018 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    tanneries in Fes

    Figure 1: Tanneries in Fes


    Does anyone remember the grey area? Well, it’s coming back, like the winter cold your snotty-nosed nephew just gave you, which his snotty-nosed classmate gave him, and which he then gave his parents and his grandparents and, most importantly, you. You’ll give it to your colleagues at work and to your friends and to strangers at the bars, trains, lobbies, and elevators. The grey area is the kind of thing that spreads. But, much like that same cold, it doesn’t look the same everywhere you go. By the time you got your nephew’s cold, it was only really a headache but when you give it to that woman you chatted with on the sidewalk, it will keep her in bed cursing you for a week. Last time, we talked about the lack of adequate information that surrounds many historical experiences of displaced people. It was grey like the grey skies that hang low over the buildings across England. This time, we’ll see it in shades of gold leaf and Berber silver, cobalt blues and greens as tempting as paradise itself.

    Morocco is an overstimulated area of overlapping histories, many of which get buried by the heavy weight of life itself or, as we’ll see later on, even get burned to the ground. We’ll trace her histories, reaching as far north as Andalusia, as high up as the Atlas Mountains, and as deep into the desert as the footsteps of the Tuareg people.

    The Cross of Agadez

    While doing what my generation does best (getting lost in the internet), I came upon a legend about the enigmatic Berber clan of the Tuareg. Now, let me be clear here: I have absolutely no faith in the credibility of the sources and for all I know this legend is either a hoax for tourists or the product of a highly imaginative Wikipedia writer. All the same, I will tell it to you because I’ve long since given up hope of trusting any source fully and because I just like the story. Just for good measure let me mention Roland Barthes, the French philosopher and semiotician, who wrote the following line, which I will take out of its context and appropriate here: in this study we are not “concerned with facts except inasmuch as they are endowed with significance.”1 

    The story tells of a legend that lives around the mythical “Cross of Agadez.” According to this legend, the cross is a traditional symbol passed down from father to son. The father handed the pendant to his son with the words, “I give you the four corners of the world, because one cannot know where one will die.” The sentiment is a beautiful one, even if it is just a myth. Barthes might remind us at this point that we would be hard pressed to find anything considered significant within our society that isn’t myth—but more on him in a bit. First, let me tell you a bit more about this strange and enigmatic cross.

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    Figure 2: Weaving loom in the attic of a Berber carpet shop


    The Tuareg are one of the remaining nomadic tribes of the Sahara, inhabiting a notoriously inhospitable area in this already inhospitable region of the world. The legend of the cross expresses the significance of the symbol as an amulet, emblem, and heirloom. The Cross of Agadez, supposedly named after their city of Agadez, has a curious resemblance to an abstract representation of the cardinal directions. On a dirt path near the Kasbah in the Imlil Valley, a man described the cross as “the Berber map.” But word of mouth isn’t considered to be an altogether accurate source. Word of mouth, just like any other form of empirical evidence, just as ethnography on a whole, is a tricky source in historical studies. One thing that it does well, perhaps better than many other forms of evidence, is speak to the mythical elements of life.

    The “true” origin of the symbol is shrouded in mystery while the symbol itself has been appropriated by mainstream markets. Travelers can find it all across Morocco, dangling from shopfront boards in the winding streets that surround Marrakesh’s Jemaa el-Fnaa, lain out on Berber blankets on the mountain paths crossing the High Atlas, and adorning trinkets, pottery, and any other object you might be searching for in one of the many markets across the country. The form of the symbol is the same, more or less, but its meaning has evolved.

    As Barthes tells us in “Myth Today,” the last chapter in his seminal book Mythologies, that “myth is a type of speech.”2 What he means, and what he clarifies soon after, is that myths are things within our world that express meaning. Sure, a pendant is just a pendant, he would admit, but it is not just a pendant if used by a nomad to assure himself of his sense of place, to help him navigate not just the physical desert but the lack of home, structure, and safety that come with a nomadic life. And it isn’t just a pendant if a tourist believes the previous story, appropriates it within her own life, and then wears that pendant to help herself navigate her own inhospitable world.


    Figure 3: One of the many small villages perched on the mountainsides over the valley of Imlil, High Atlas


    The High Atlas

    In the High Atlases near Marrakesh, I went on a hike against my better judgment. This judgment, as always, begged me to grab a book, a cup of coffee, a few too many blankets, and curl up in front of the beautiful panoramic view of the aptly named Panorama Hotel. But, alas, I ignored my judgment.

    Ignorance: that is the idea we’ll discuss here. To ignore, to not read the signs, to not know how to read the signs, and perhaps even to not know how to read at all: we’ll get to all of these, though I fear we’ll skim over them, because this is a blog post and I don’t have the time to spare in my year-long sabbatical or the knowhow to do anything more elaborate than skim over the surface of this concept.

    In Fes, our tour guide showed us street signs in the medina. Some of these were written in three languages: Arabic, French, and Berber. The last of the three is the one that is most interesting, mainly because the Berber language (or, to be more precise, Standard Moroccan Berber) received official status in Morocco just nine years ago in 2011 as part of the revised constitution.3 Berber languages are primarily oral, and until recently did not have a formal written form though the first inscriptions in Berber date back to the second century BCE.4 In part because they have a predominantly oral tradition and because the groups who speak Berber languages were traditionally nomadic, there are strong dialectic differences among the various forms of Berber. And yet, the street signs in Morocco seem to distill this complex tradition into the platonic geometries of this written form.

    Detail in Cherratine Medersa, Fes

    Figure 4: Detail in Cherratine Medersa, Fes


    When I was first told of the integration of this language into the fold of Morocco’s linguistic makeup, I saw it as such a pure expression of the intention of integrating this culture into the fold of what it means to be Moroccan. But the reality is not that harmonious. It took a five-hour hike for me to realize the extent to which it is not all that harmonious.

    Picture this: mountains surround a valley freckled with earthen houses, tipping dangerously over rough folds of rosy earth, dusty golden brush, the crisp December sun-kissed wind, and over all of it, the never near enough snow-capped ridges of the Toubkal—and then there’s me, face like a pink marshmallow, fingers the size of sausages, knees wobbly, worn city sneakers slipping and sliding, and three layers of sweaters wrapped around my waist like I’m trying to bring back the nineties. Sure, I wasn’t a pretty sight, but I didn’t let that stop me from keeping up a lively conversation with our guide who (bless him) didn’t stop asking if I needed to take a break.

    As we passed a sign, I noted how it was only written in French and Arabic. Strange that it’s not written in Berber, I said, seeing as the people who live in the valley are Berber.

    Not so strange, my guide said, keeping his stride in an unbearably nonchalant I-do-this-for-a-living kind of way. The sign is there for the tourists. And anyways, no one in the town would know how to read it if it were written in Berber.

    I pressed him. He explained how the language was still taught orally from generation to generation. Families spoke in Berber at home and amongst themselves, but very few knew how to read or write it (the majority also spoke Arabic, French, and even English, because tourism was the primary source of business of the townspeople). This brings me back to the Barthian myth, which is like a double helix of signification, a second (hidden) layer of meaning interlaced with a first (more obvious) one. Let me explain: the signs written in Standard Moroccan Berber script express an idea—that the Moroccan cultural identity can encompass and celebrate the identities of the various peoples that inhabit its lands and that integration is a possible and positive solution to the divisions that once marked society. But of course there is another layer of significance that is hidden in these signs: that in creating and imposing a standard and written Berber language, something essential about Berber culture is being buried, namely that its expression is neither standard nor written.

    We need to learn to read the signs. Not just the messages they intend to speak but also the ones they accidentally whisper. Illiteracy. On first read one will almost inevitably assume that it is something to be remedied, a social evil to be eradicated. And in many ways this is a logical truth. But here in the mountains outside Marrakesh I found that literacy didn’t sprout solely from the pages of a dictionary and that one was not illiterate simply by virtue of not knowing how to read a book. Just as quickly, I also found myself doubting my own literacy, my own ability to read. But the fact remains that the only thing I truly know how to read is that which has been abstracted for my understanding, simplified into narrow messages, and spoon-fed by way of a language that speaks in concepts I have learned to accept as truths.

    And when it comes to integration, be it that of the Berber peoples that live across North Africa or the refugees flocking across Africa toward the northern coast, it is essential to deal with the idiosyncrasies of the modes of thought on a fundamental level instead of applying a single mode indiscriminately across the surface of life. That is the difference between integration and assimilation, a difference that is easier identified from afar than upheld in one’s own life.

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    Figure 5: Street scenes in the medina of Chefchaouen


    Blue is the Warmest Color

    Chefchaouen is a small town in the Rif Mountains halfway between Tangier and Fes. It’s got the kind of paint job that the neighborhood kid down the street would do. You know the one, the one that’s got eyes like the surface of one of those sandstone canyons in Arizona. He gets roped into painting his parents’ garage. He gives up halfway up the wall, a look his parents leave in a naïve attempt at teaching the kid a lesson. In the same do-it-yourself fashion, the brilliant blue of Chefchaouen’s walls reaches up over the sun-tanned walls in staggered blocks, marking a sharp contrast with the rough natural texture of the upper stories. Sometimes it does reach the roofline, giving all sufferers of OCD a moment of relief. Other times, you get a wonderful gradient of blues, the distinct hues layered up over each other with the historical beauty of the rings in a tree trunk.

    This blue tells an unexpected story. Until the 1930s the town was actually whitewashed with green doors typical of Muslim towns. The blue paint that currently adorns the walls is a 20th-century addition, a recreation of a 15th-century touch by some of the town’s first settlers.

    Place El Haouta

    Figure 6: Place El Haouta in Chefchaouen


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    Figure 7: Street scenes in the medina of Chefchaouen


    Half of the charm of any mountain town comes, unsurprisingly, from the setting. I can only imagine such a setting as the Rif Mountains would have had on the people who decided to make it their home. The peaks that surround Chefchaouen are not only the namesake of the town but also a source of refuge for various groups. These peaks were once the base for the Berber tribes fighting the Portuguese invasion. Then in 1471, displaced Andalusians founded the city of Chefchaouen into the mountains. These refugees were some of those Muslims and Jews expelled from Spanish Iberia as part of the religious cleansing of the peninsula after its unification under Christian rule.

    Whitewashed as it once was, the town can be easily confused with any one of the white towns in Andalusia, built into the cliffs near Cadiz and designed with a similar urban character. This isn’t surprising, seeing as what is now Andalusia was the epicenter of Al-Andalusian power before the Spanish took the region in the 15th century. When the refugees settled in Chefchaouen, the Jews used blue as a way of differentiating their homes from those of the Muslims, who painted their doors green in order to mark their own individuality. Nowadays, the Muslim population has wholly outnumbered its Jewish counterpart and the blue has been appropriated by the town as a whole. It serves as a definitive marker of the town’s character in a strangely commercialized derivative of those early refugees’ expression of group identity.

    Zaouia Sidi Ahmed Tijani

    Figure 8: Zaouia Sidi Ahmed Tijani mosque/mausoleum in Fes


    A City between Two Riverbanks

    It might be sunny outside, but you would never know it from within the maze that is Fes. Chipped walls rise up three or four stories, many of them windowless to the point of bringing out a claustrophobia I didn’t know I had, and the winding pedestrian streets they frame can get so narrow you’d think they were built for that scene in Being John Malkovich. But I won’t let that stop me from getting lost in the city. I scrunch up my American-fed frame and wiggle into the kinder-sized alleyways with the hope that at the other end I’ll find yet another doorframe or fountain or wall, each more beautiful than the last—but what I find is a scene that is downright offensive to the rest of the medina.

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    Figure 9: Qued Bue Krareb is the river that crosses Fes that once marked the boundary between the Al-Andalus and Kairouan enclaves


    No, what you’re looking at is not on the edge of the medina. It’s smack dab in the middle of Fes el-Bali, the walled medina that comprises both banks of the river. The river itself has been encased in a concrete canal and framed by structures that look like an architecture student’s first attempt at 3D modeling. In the background, you’ll even spot that student’s fun afternoon discovering the mesh command. But, believe it or not, this river in all its bygone glory was once a significant juncture in the urban fabric of the city.

    The river marked the split between the two fortified cities that are the foundation of Fes. Both cities were the product of displacement. To the southeast lay the Al-Andalus settlement, created by the Muslim refugees fleeing persecution in Cordoba, while to the northwest grew the settlement of those fleeing the Kairouan uprising in Tunisia. (The Kairouan uprising was part of the Berber Revolt that severed Umayyan rule from parts of the Maghreb and Al-Andalus in the early 740s CE.) At the beginning of the 9th century, Moulay Idriss II named Fes his capital, consolidating the two walled cities into one.

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    Figure 10: Zaouia of Moulay Idriss II is the zawiya (shrine) dedicated to Moulay Idris II, considered the founder of Fes and the man responsible for encouraging the three early refugee immigrations to the city


    I spent four hours with a tour guide walking around the city and pestering him about the refugees that founded the city (yes, I have spent the majority of this fellowship pestering people and no, I haven’t made many friends from it). But getting him to acknowledge any influence of these refugees in the urban fabric was like pulling teeth. The division between the two groups barely lasted four years, he kept saying, as if after four years two groups could seamlessly integrate into one. I’m not looking for strife between the two groups but rather any cultural difference that may have marked the spaces they created or evolved within this new setting. The problem, he repeated, was a lack of information. I knew that already. I’d previously pulled the internet’s teeth but only managed to extract a couple half-formed cavities.

    According to my guide, the Kairouan refugees from Tunisia were a more introverted people, wealthier but socially and economically insular, while the people of Al-Andalus who came from Cordoba were more extroverted, engaging in more open social and economic exchange. The traces of these supposed characters seem contradicted by the current urban expression one finds in the city. The Kairouan side is vibrant, open, and bustling while the Al-Andalus side is drowsing in the calm day-to-day of an urban residential area.

    There are a few notable architectural monuments that remain from the two refugee settlements, none of which are accessible to non-Muslims. Notable among them are two mosques, the products of the vast inheritance of two sisters from Kairouan, Fatima and Miriam al-Fihri. Fatima sponsored construction of the Kairouan Mosque on the western bank and Miriam that of the mosque of Al-Andalus, which was located on the eastern bank and constructed by the refugees from Cordoba.5 I only had the ability to peek into the open gate and catch a glimpse of the courtyards that mark the entrances to these religious centers, trying to imagine the richness, both architectural and literary, that I know hides just beyond those walls. The Kairouan library is considered one of the oldest libraries in the world and—more importantly for me—the great literary legacy of the first refugees who helped found the city of Fes. Due in large part to these two institutions, considered by many the oldest universities in the world, Fes became such a thriving intellectual center while it was the capital of Morocco.

    The problem, let me repeat, is the lack of information. But more than a lack of information, it is a lack of information available to me. Without the access to institutions such as the Kairouan University, I am at the mercy of the ever-creative tour guides, some of whom tell historical facts the way my mother tells chismes, with embellishments that border on lies. With that in mind, I’ll give you a few photographs of the beautiful embellishments I found in Morocco because, because if I’m being honest, I myself am easily blinded by the beautiful embellishments that adorn, distort, and hide the world around me.

    Saadien's Tombs

    Figure 11: Plaster and tile details of Saadien's Tombs in Marrakesh


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    Figure 12: Wood and plaster details in Bou Inania Medersa courtyard, Fes


    Nejjarine Fondouk

    Figure 13: Doorframe detail of Nejjarine Fondouk in Fes


    Behind Walls, On Fire

    For the better part of my life I have been caught in a tug of war between my two great loves: architecture and literature. The war erupts with renewed strength at this happiest time of the year. As the year comes to a close, it seems my family wishes to also bring to a close all unanswered questions floating around their lives. I couldn’t tell you why, but it just so happens that my person is the subject of many of these questions. One of them is the following: “After all this, after this year is done, are you finally going to be an architect?” I hear the second question barely concealed within that sentence, which is this: “What are you doing wasting your time writing about architecture when you could be creating it?”

    The underlying assumption is that the built world is somehow more than the written one. After this year, I am more certain than ever that both forms of creation have the same capacity to exert power, the same radius of influence, and the same Achilles heels. These heels are what I find most fascinating. As one of my greatest teachers, an Englishman by the name of Kyle Dugdale, would say, buildings, much like writing, can be read. Both are vulnerable to the intention of their creators and the interpretation of their readers. What’s more, these same readers have the power to forget, cover up, modify, and even destroy these creations. Like any creation, they are at the mercy of the people’s whims.

    When Queen Isabel of Spain came to Granada, she came with the intention of destroying the imposing Islamic monument that towered over the city. Granada was to be the urban icon of her conquest of Iberia, which meant that the Alhambra had to be torn down. Destruction is a gesture as royal as a crown; the invading power tears down the past expressions of power to build its own future one. Isabel’s mistake was stepping into the Alhambra. Luckily for us, the significance of the Alhambra is easily read in the stuccoed walls, stalactite ceilings, hydraulic system, intricate woodwork, and never-ending network of rooms. The journalist Edward Rothstein called it “a monument to the Andalusian sublime” though not entirely in a good way (for those interested, his psychoanalysis of Andalusian architecture from the New York Times is well-worth a quick read).6 Even Isabel must have had to admit that such a monument belonged in the annals of human history. Instead of destroying it, she made pointed alterations into the existing structure, initially introducing Christian iconography and appropriating the citadel without destroying its essence.

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    Figure 14: Facade reconstruction at the Mosque of Cordoba


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    Figure 15: Facade reconstruction at the Mosque of Cordoba


    Other times, we don’t get so lucky. Just a kilometer down the hill from the Alhambra, the Plaza Nueva de Granada is an unremarkable square. Pleasant in a very Spanish way, with enough chocolates con churros, cafes con leche, and cañas con tapas to keep any Spaniard contented. In 1499, during the Spanish Inquisition, 5,000 Arabic manuscripts were burned in this square (the numbers, as always, vary from source to source). These books were the product of a period of cross-cultural productivity and harmony known today as La Convivencia. Though the level of harmony that existed at the time is called into question by certain scholars, the wealth of creative artifacts in written, object, and architectural form that still exists attests to the productivity experienced in Al-Andalus during that time.

    Many of the books that were burned were from the extensive Islamic collection in the library of Cordoba, which was destroyed in 1013 by the invading Berbers. But not everything was lost. One source notes the Jewish translations of some of these texts survive to this day.7 Another source states that the Arabic translation of Classical Western works contained in that collection was invaluable in the development of Renaissance ideas.8 This later influence depicts the complex forms the legacy of such works can take. Like a phoenix rising from the ashes of that bonfire, that library lives on in the people who managed to read, interpret, and adopt some of its thousands of works.


    Figure 16: Oratory walls in the Medersa of Granada


    Then there are times when we get ridiculously lucky, as is the case with the wonderful medersa in Granada. If we are talking about glorious displays of phoenixes in flight, this story seems an apt example. Founded by Nasrid ruler Yusuf I in 1349, this center for religious learning was the first university in Granada. When the Spanish entered Granada, the major part of the medersa was torn down. The sole room left was the oratory, a small octagonal domed space, which was covered with wooden sheets and decorated for use as a Christian basilica. Years later, the space was incorporated into the home of a wealthy merchant, who kept the courtyard that fed into the oratory as a showroom for his textiles. On a fateful night, a fire erupted in the courtyard. It spread into the oratory, finally revealing the beautiful plaster and tile work that had been almost miraculously preserved under the wood panels all those years.

    And yet, in the end, this is not a story about fire. From the book burning in Granada’s square to the fire in a wealthy textile merchant’s home, we must look through the fire to see what lies behind, but we do so much in the way I had to (and still) look through the opaque walls of Fes. With a restricted, piecemeal, and censured material history at our disposal, the only thing that’s truly visible is the bit I still find the most fascinating. It’s the Achilles heel of my two great loves: the very people who try to read the stories architecture and literature have to tell.  

    Nejjarine Fondouk

    Figure 17: Interior courtyard at Nejjarine Fondouk in Fes. Fondouks were traditional inns in Morocco for traveling merchants and craftsmen. Today, some are open to the public; this one, for example, serves as a museum.


    1 Barthes, R. (1972). “Myth Today.” Mythologies (Trans. A. Lavers). New York: Noonday Press.

    2 Ibid.

    3 Naylor, P. (2009). North Africa, Revised Edition: A History from Antiquity to the Present. Austin: University of Texas Press.

    4 Cline, W. (1953). “Berber Dialects and Berber Script.” Southwestern Journal of Anthropology, 9(3), 268-276. Retrieved from www.jstor.org/stable/3628698; Ennaji, M. (2014). Recognizing the Berber Language in Morocco: A Step for Democratization. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, 15(2), 93-99. Retrieved from www.jstor.org/stable/43773631.

    5 Naylor, ibid.

    6 Rothstein, E. (Sept. 27, 2003). “Was the Islam Of Old Spain Truly Tolerant?” New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/27/arts/was-the-islam-of-old-spain-truly-tolerant.html

    7 Ramm, B. (June 29, 2017). The 100 year old Arab poetry that lives on in Hebrew. BBC. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20170616-the-1000-year-old-lost-arab-poetry-that-lives-on-in-hebrew

    8 Prince, C. (2002). “The Historical Context of Arabic Translation, Learning, and the Libraries of Medieval Andalusia.” Library History 18:2, 73-87, DOI: 10.1179/lib.2002.18.2.73

  • Teaching Architectural History to Architecture Students: An Interview with Mohammad Gharipour

    by User Not Found | Jan 13, 2020

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

    Like many of the SAH Data Project’s stakeholders, I landed in my first architectural history course while in architecture school. It was the basic introductory survey and I recall it being mostly populated by the architects and buildings that I later recognized as the standard Western canon. Unexpectedly, though, my professor taught the whole thing in reverse chronological order, systematically working backwards from Postmodernism. His point was to expose the whole foundation of constructed genealogies that position the current moment as more advanced than previous epochs and the creators of the past as significant insofar as they contributed to the evolutionary trajectory that led to the present. I didn’t have the contextual knowledge to appreciate the revolutionary spirit of this choice at the time but I still remember quite vividly his passionate explanation during our initial class meeting. I’m sure starting out this way influenced my own approach when I began teaching, both as a model for experimentation and as a demonstration of how meaningful the experience can be for students when professors embrace transparency to the classroom.

    This episode has been on my mind a lot lately as I help the SAH Data Project develop avenues for architectural history program administrators, faculty, and students to share their own insights into how courses have been or could be taught. Determining what the project needs to ask in order to really uncover—in the form of analyzable data—the most impactful aspects of our field’s current and potential pedagogy has been a pretty challenging task. Fortunately we can seek guidance from the SAH Data Project Advisory Committee, twelve thoughtful people who themselves bring a very wide range of architectural history education experiences and opinions to this work.


    Mohammad Gharipour at the SAH 2019 Annual International Conference in Providence, RI.

    I recently reached out to one of the SAH Data Project’s Advisory Committee members, Mohammad Gharipour, to gain his perspective on teaching history to architecture students and to give you a chance to hear directly from him, too. Trained as both a historian and an architect, Gharipour is now professor and director of the Program in Architecture at Morgan State University. He has authored and edited eleven books on Islamic buildings, cities, and landscapes and is the director and founding editor of the International Journal of Islamic Architecture. His forthcoming book is on healthcare facilities in the pre-modern era.

    SMD: What is the historian's role in a professional design program today?

    MG: In my view, my role in teaching architectural history is to enhance critical thinking, to help students think globally, to make connections between past and present, and to teach them how to enjoy architectural history through readings and real-world observations.

    SMD: What were the major milestones in your career path toward your current position? What advice would you offer someone who would like to teach architectural history to architecture students?

    MG: The major milestone in my career was founding the International Journal of Islamic Architecture. After almost nine years, this journal has become the main reference in the field of Islamic architecture and is making an impact on architectural history teaching.

    I would advise my young colleagues to be themselves, to find their own strengths, and to not let conventions block their creativity. I think it's important for each of us to see how we can contribute to the field and how we can personalize the teaching of architectural history in a way that helps us have a stronger contribution to our students’ education.  Furthermore, I believe the old techniques are slightly outdated as they neglected the diversity of students and their needs. The student body is quite diverse these days, and this requires using different techniques and tools to make our classes more effective.

    SMD: How is your approach to being an architectural historian related to the fact that you teach in an architecture school?

    MG: When you teach in an architecture program, and especially if you are involved in teaching design classes, you need to stay more relevant and make the teaching of history more connected to the students’ design education.

    Many of us are teaching in NAAB accredited programs, so whether we like it or not what we teach is being influenced by the NAAB criteria. But what else can we offer and how can we make the teaching of architecture history more design-oriented in a way that not only helps students understand it but also enables them to apply that knowledge in their design projects? I know that many of my architectural historian friends don't like this kind of approach.  Some of us may say that we don't need to justify why learning architectural history is significant and that its relevance does not lie in its relevance to design.

    Nevertheless, I think that we can't just expect students to simply learn history and feel passionate about it. We need to know our audience, and we need to see what is more effective in their education and careers. In fact, the impact of our classes lies in what happens beyond our history classes.

    SMD: Which aspects of your history classes elicit the strongest responses from your architecture students these days? How has this changed during your teaching career?

    MG: I have almost always avoided exams in the graduate classes that I have taught in the last ten years. Instead, I have found individual research projects to be great tools to personalize education and internalize architectural history. I want my students to realize that architectural history is not about just memorizing information—it's way more than that. I use architectural history as a setting to teach students how to conduct an in-depth research project on architecture, and this is crucial in professional architecture programs where students are not as exposed to research and writing as they are in the humanities. They learn macro and micro skills to comprehend the complexity of architecture and how it addresses contextual issues. Over the years I have learned to become more flexible and to come up with techniques to make both lectures and assignments more engaging and enjoyable for students. 

    SMD: In what ways have you contributed to student design reviews/critiques as a historian? What are some memorable examples of students incorporating architectural historical knowledge in their design projects? 

    MG: As a historian who teaches thesis research and design studios, I tend to raise questions that challenge my students’ understanding of history and push them to analyze historical precedents in a meaningful way. My goal is to make students more conscious about the relevance of architectural history in their design projects. They may not remember our lectures or specific information on buildings or architects in a few years, but my questions and comments could influence the way that they experience, study, and design architecture for a long time. 

    I have many stories of students incorporating their historical knowledge in their projects. But I would rather students internalize this information than claim they are using it in their design projects. In other words, I think our teaching becomes more and more invisible as it is adopted by students and as it subconsciously affects their work.

    SMD: Is there a pedagogical reason your program at Morgan State University refers to its required graduate history surveys as Built Environment History I and II instead of Architectural History I and II?

    MG: Yes, our graduate department at Morgan State University, for which I am responsible as the department chair, consists of three different graduate programs: architecture, landscape design, and urban planning. The way that architectural history classes are being taught here reflects the inclusive approach dominant in our graduate program. Traditionally, we have looked at built environment history as a phenomenon that covers a wide range of topics, such as urban design, planning, landscape design, and architecture. For me, personally, there is no way to separate buildings from landscape and cities, and this multi-scale approach is reflected in my publications and classes.

    SMD: How do you describe the importance of teaching history in a professional design program to people who are not in the architecture community?

    MG: The fact is that in the professional design programs we are training future architects, not academics and researchers. Architects will be dealing with real issues and making design decisions on a daily basis. And that's why the more we try to make architectural history relevant to their design education, the more we can influence their careers. Another aspect of our job is to help our students utilize architectural history as a tool for critical thinking so that they can become visionary architects who can go beyond codes and rules.

    SMD: What do you hope the SAH Data Project will tell us about the state of the field of architectural history?

    MG: One thing that I should emphasize is that in the last five years I have been collaborating with scholars in health-related fields, such as medicine, public health, and psychology and I have been really amazed by how inclusive these fields are when it comes to interdisciplinary collaboration. Honestly, I feel that we as architectural historians are a bit tense and less welcoming to transdisciplinary collaborations, especially with scholars whose fields seem distant from architectural history. I have personally learned so much from these partnerships, so I do hope that the SAH Data Project helps us find ways to make the field more accessible to practitioners and scholars in other fields, to open doors to this new world of opportunities and possibilities.

  • Australia's Unsettled Settlers

    by User Not Found | Jan 07, 2020

    Aymar Mariño-Maza is the 2018 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    figure 1

    Figure 1: Stuart Highway


    Out Back

    One of the first things I learned about Australia is that the Outback isn’t an actual place. The Outback is that mythical, terrifying, and beautiful “place” that most of us non-Australians imagine either as a scene out of Mad Max or as a live-action Crocodile Dundee. Saying you are going to the Outback is kind of like saying you are going to Europe as opposed to, say, Prague. The Outback is not a homogeneous, easily identifiable place but rather a vast, variegated space—seemingly endless once you are in it and filled with mysteries we could not begin to grasp. Its vastness is daunting, especially because it is largely uninhabited.

    When I crossed from Melbourne to Darwin along Stuart Highway, I was able to get a glimpse into a single strip of that vastness, a single strand of the mysteries it holds. Stuart Highway suddenly became an architectural section cutting across so many other lines, most of which were invisible to me but which mark the ground all across Australia. I am alluding to the Songlines, of course, but also to historical paths in general, paths that cut across the country but which have been lost to the collective memory of humanity. What westerners call the Songlines are actually called “the Footprints of the Ancestors” by the various indigenous peoples of Australia.1 The Songlines are a network of pathways that cross Australia, linking natural monuments—the totems of these mythical ancestors. The term also refers to the ritual walks along these pathways, those which bind the walker to the ground and to the myths rooted within it. The walker follows in the Footprints of the Ancestors, celebrating and constantly reliving history.

    figure 2

    Figure 2: Stuart Highway


    Learning about the Songlines, one begins to appreciate the way these groups have found a way to keep history alive. It is somehow reminiscent of what Aldo Rossi called permanent urban artifacts. Rossi distinguished between two types of permanence in urban artifacts: historical (those which continue to function and which we continue to experience) and pathological (which stand aberrant and static within society).2 But Rossi was writing from a narrowly western perspective, where the notion of history was as of yet unperturbed by such thinkers as Foucault. (Reading any of his works will effectively kill whatever respect you used to have of history in the traditional sense). The Songlines blur the distinction between Rossi’s two forms of permanence because history is not as cleanly parceled out in the collective imagination of these people. History is part and parcel of the lived experience. One can’t compare the Songlines to a tour of historical monuments or to a reenactment of a historical event because the people who believe, live, and celebrate the Songlines do not see their walks as distinct from the mythological past; they are not “reliving” the past in the same way that a Civil War reenactor does.

    It makes one wonder about the innumerable historical paths that mark our world (no, not just physically) and those that have been lost to our collective memory. There is an Australian myth that the country has “little history.” This remote country with so much open, uninhabited land could easily give the impression of having little history—it was an egalitarian society of pioneers, colonized not so long ago. But the seemingly barren land that stretches as far as the eye can see is hiding a network of histories that weave over and across each other. We will try to unravel one of them here.

    figure 3

    Figure 3: Facing Heaven Archway, a Sister State gift from Jiangsu Province, Melbourne

    From Gold to White Australia

    The Gold Rush swept across Australia in the 1800s. Waves of temporary workers from China followed in its golden wake. These men left families behind, sailed to Australia, and then found themselves moving around the red-earthen country to follow the gold. They usually lived near and around whatever site they were mining, camped out in tents and generating the workings of a small temporary town. It was economically impossible for the majority of these workers to bring their families along with them, due in part to the cost of the journey but also to the payment that was required to mine the land. As a result, these campsites were filled with single men.

    By the time the Gold Rush died down, most of the temporary workers returned to their countries of origin. A few remained, usually congregating in larger cities such as Sydney and Melbourne. Small ethnic enclaves formed within these cities, spaces which have now evolved into Chinatowns with distinct character that sets them starkly apart from the surrounding urban space.

    figure 4

    Figure 4: Former Sum Kum Lee building in Chinatown, Melbourne


    But what is it that sets these spaces apart? Architecturally, one would be hard-pressed to find anything traditionally or even distinctly “Chinese” in Melbourne’s Chinatown buildings. A few distinct elements stand out: a couple dragons framing the corner of a building, the gateways that break up Little Bourne Street, and the Facing Heaven Archway. All of these elements, however, were twentieth-century additions to the urban fabric, which in and of itself is not actually any different from the streets surrounding Chinatown. I’d go as far as to say that the truly distinctly Chinese part of the street is the stuff that fills it: the signs, the food, and the goods.

    figure 5

    Figure 5: Chinatown, Melbourne


    figure 6

    Figure 6: Chinatown Gateways, Melbourne (built in 1976)


    Australia’s image as a settler-society is partly mythical. Many of the people that have filled (or attempted to fill) this vast country were not settlers but temporary workers whose prospects of staying were thwarted by a historical policy of racial exclusion. By 1901, the Immigration Restriction Act banned further migration into Australia. Over the next several decades, a set of not-so-subtle regulations known as the White Australia policy thwarted non-European migration into Australia. Although the Migration Act 1958 abolished regulations aimed at keeping non-whites out of Australia, it was only in 1973 that the full extent of the White Australia policy was dismantled.3 Since then, migration from China and Pacific Islands has increased substantially. Nowadays, the effects of that migration can be easily seen in cities such as Melbourne and Darwin, where a vibrant multiculturalism is an intrinsic aspect of these spaces.

    Melbourne’s Chinatown, for example, had once been small and contained within a couple square blocks but now spills out into neighboring streets that are not officially declared part of “Chinatown.” The edges of that space are blurred, much like the distinctions between the different people that inhabit the city. But of course, it’s not all sunshine and butterflies. Even though places such as the Immigration Museum might advertise a new age of Australian multiculturalism, many writers on the topic still bring attention to the persistent racism and anti-Asian sentiment that marks Australian culture.4

    figure 7

    Figure 7: View from the entrance of Chinatown in Sydney


    Housing John Chinaman

    Who’s telling the story? Anyone who has had a good literature teacher knows that’s the question to ask. Can I trust this narrator? Jean Baudrillard throws that question in the reader’s face when he opens his book Simulacra and Simulation with a quote he attributes to Ecclesiastes: “The simulacrum is never what hides the truth—it is truth that hides the fact that there is none. The simulacrum is true.”5 Harmless on first read—except, of course, for those who have studied the Bible. There is no such line in Ecclesiastes. Baudrillard made it up.

    It is now one of the most famous misquotes in literary history. A beautifully executed piece of writerly critique and a perfect crash course into the subject of simulacrum. The message is clear: dear reader, you can be fooled. No, let me rephrase that. Dear reader, you are always, every day, from the moment you are born until the moment you die, being fooled. A question to ask, once we’ve processed this call for critical thinking, is: does knowing he is the author change the significance of what we read in that line? In other words, does it take away its validity? And does it turn the line into a lie—or something else maybe? Baudrillard, in writing that quote and getting you to believe it was really written in Ecclesiastes, created a simulacrum: not a lie exactly, but a new reality, one that exists (bear with me) only as an image of reality, i.e., not the line as an actual verifiable quote in the Bible, but as the image of a quote whose legitimacy the reader has taken for granted and simply accepted. Our duty as critical thinkers is to fact check everything while also accepting the inevitable truth that we will never escape the simulacrum that surrounds us.

    figure 8

    Figure 8: Mural at the entrance of Golden Dragon Museum, the Chinese Garden, in Bendigo


    In 1927, J. A. Makepeace translated and published a collection of letters written by Hwuy Ung titled “A Chinaman's Opinion of Us and of His Own Country.” In these letters, Ung describes the culture in Australia from the eyes of someone seemingly transported not from another place, but from another time. Noting such things as the audacity of women and the strangeness of the attire, Ung seems to epitomize a traditional and markedly un-western Chinese perspective.

    It just so happens that Makepeace was not the translator but the author of the letters. This is an extreme example of a much larger problem. The image of Chinese Australians has been historically seen through the eyes of the white Australian narrator as opposed to the Chinese immigrant’s own perspective. As a result, the image generated of this group within Australian society has been largely misrepresented, from the image of the first temporary workers to the social culture that existed in predominantly Chinese neighborhoods.

    This stereotype is in and of itself problematic, but it’s also problematic because this image feeds on itself, fattening a derivative reality wherein the Chinese Australian experience is only understood through the lens of this simulation. As Baudrillard puts it, “There is no crisis of reality. Far from it. There will always be more reality, because it is produced and reproduced by simulation, and is itself merely a model of simulation. The proliferation of reality, its spreading like an animal species whose natural predators have been eliminated, is our true catastrophe.”6 This catastrophe is repeated across the historic landscape of humanity’s depiction of “the other” because we can’t help but see the objects, places, and people around us through this proliferation of a reality of our own making.

    figure 9

    Figure 9: Chinese Museum in Bendigo


    Now, let’s do a quick recap. I’ve just brought in Baudrillard into a conversation supposedly about architectural history. I have proceeded to do an inadequate job of distilling some pretty complicated philosophical ideas and then have unapologetically appropriated them for the sake of a fairly shaky argument. I’ve done exactly what Baudrillard’s writing critiques. Not only that, but I have also critiqued a historical narrative for being biased and incorrect while I, a white Spanish-American, am writing about Chinese Australians. Yes, dear reader, I am aware of the irony.

    figure 10

    Figure 10: Penjing collection at the Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney (built in 1988)


    Walking through the Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney, I was impacted by the sharp contrast I saw between the space itself and the city that surrounded it. Opened in 1988 as a commemorative monument to the friendship between the sister cities of Sydney and Guangdong in Southern China, it is a series of interconnected pavilions in a beautiful and peaceful garden. It was clearly designed as a respite from the rest of the city. And yet, everywhere I looked, I found myself confronted with views of Sydney skyscrapers in the background of the perfectly curated space. Almost instinctively, I was reminded of the Makepeace text, where his fictional Chinese character sees the contemporary western world of Australia from the “traditional” Chinese perspective (whatever that is). I couldn’t help but flip the story and apply it to myself. I became the foreign viewer, seeing this space and the image it presented through the ever-visible frame of the world from which I came.

    Fun fact for the movie lovers out there: Baudrillard’s ideas influenced the 1999 film The Matrix. Like any good sci-fi story, the film had very real and transparent commentary on the contemporary society of the audience watching it. Similarly, I’d say that this text isn’t just about “the other.” But I leave it to the readers to decide how much of this text applies to their own lives.

    figure 11

    Figure 11: Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney (built in 1988)


    1 Chatwin, B. (1998). The Songlines. London: Vintage.

    2 Rossi, A. (1982). The Architecture of the City. Cambridge: MIT Press.

    3 Ibid.

    4 Eds. Couchman, S. Fitzgerald, J. Macgregor, P. (2004). After the Rush: Regulation, Participation, and Chinese Communities in Australia 1860-1940. Fitzroy, Victoria: Arena.

    5 Baudrillard, J. (1983). Simulacra and Simulation. Los Angeles, California: Semiotext(e).

    6 Baudrillard, J. (1972). For a Critique of the Political Economy of the Sign. New York: Verso.

  • SAH Study Day: A New MoMA! (Lee Fellowship Report)

    by User Not Found | Jan 03, 2020

    Exterior of the Museum of Modern Art on 53rd Street. Photograph by author.

    Confession: I don’t always make it to the museum exhibitions, especially, and embarrassingly so, some architecture exhibitions I want to see despite my best efforts, intentions, or proximity. I still laugh over how I managed to plan a trip to New York after college only to have missed the outdoor presentation of the five full-size model houses constructed for the exhibition Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling at the Museum of Modern Art by a single day. Instead, I peeked through the chain-link fencing to catch a a glimpse of the dwellings and thus the empty lot that has since been developed into an 82-story Jean Nouvel-designed luxury residential tower, providing the additional space for the Modern to expand its permanent collection galleries on the second, fourth, and fifth floors by over 30,000 square feet in what, after a $100 million gift, is now known as the David Geffen Wing. Not all was lost, that visit was still my first visit to MoMA, so there was plenty else to see and get to know. The following year, amidst the chaos that surrounds any move, let alone one to New York, compounded with starting a master’s program, I just flat out ran out of time and energy to make it the 30 blocks and cross-town bus to catch the exhibition Frank Lloyd Wright: From Within Outward at the Guggenheim before it closed. At the time during those two weeks of overlap, a trip to Bed Bath & Beyond was about all I could handle. So, I was glad to be an SAH Study Day Fellow, along with Sarah Horowitz and Elizabeth Keslacy, to participate with colleagues in the SAH Study Day: A New MoMA! on November 1, 2019, to see the museum’s $450 million expansion and renovation by Diller Scofidio + Renfro firsthand, just over a week after its public opening on October 21.

    Floor 3 gallery with extensive seating and photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto of and in dialogue with the Sculpture Garden outside. Photograph by author.

    Our day all about the new MoMA began at the old MoMA: we convened together in a 6th floor conference room in the original 1939 building, designed by Phillip L. Goodwin and Edward Durrell Stone. After a welcome from SAH President Sandy Isenstadt, Martino Stierli, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, along with Sean Anderson, Associate Curator of Architecture and Design, led our group through the features of the museum’s physical expansion and renovation, and what that meant for the curatorial approach and collaboration necessary for the newly imagined permanent collection galleries—no longer separated by departmental disciplines—that interweaves individual, thematic, curatorial department-led galleries within a larger, singular arrangement organized, like before, chronologically: 1880s–1940s on Floor 5, 1940s–1970s on Floor 4, and 1970s–Present on Floor 2. It’s admirable, ambitious, and genuinely laudable—and also a little complicated to grasp on the first go-around. Fortunately, a video, which we viewed more than once, helped to untangle the physical interventions made to increase public space (an additional 21,000 square feet for a total of 104,000 square feet), ease vertical circulation through extending the Bauhaus staircase to the ground level and engineering a stunning new staircase dubbed the “Blade” with attendant elevator bank, and add 47,000 square feet in new and renovated galleries for a total of 166,000 square feet of exhibition space.

    Introductory label and floor plan for Collection 1880s–1940s on Floor 5. Photograph by author.

    A floor plan helped to make sense of the other signal maneuver of the new MoMA: the permanent collection galleries will be completely new every 18 months, allowing more works to appear on view among different themes and groupings, the impetus to telling a more complex, dynamic, and diverse story of modernism. In effect, each floor is divided into three sections (each section a suite of individual galleries) with one section reinstalled every six months, so that after 18 months each section will have been rotated once and therefore the whole floor refreshed, anew, so on and so forth, ad infinitum. It’s astounding, really. A flex of the depth and extent of MoMA's holdings, combined with a commitment to acquire new artists, areas, and geographies, but also because, frankly, it’s a lot of work. Such regular, frequent rotations and rethinking of the permanent collection galleries are not just the work of curators or curatorial departments; it’s the work of the entire museum, involving registrars, art handlers, conservators, designers, technicians, educators, and security, among others. The whole undertaking is visionary, exciting, and unprecedented at this scale, but a 30% increase in overall gallery and exhibition space for the permanent collection and temporary shows without, as I understand it, an increase in the requisite staff to make it all happen will test any institution, no matter how determined, efficient, or seasoned. Time will tell. At the very least, and since 1971, museum staff are organized in a labor union, part of MoMA Local 2110.

    Installation view of exhibition, Taking a Thread for a Walk. Photograph by author.

    Oriented, we set out into the museum to tour the architecture and design galleries with the curators. The day was a whirlwind through the museum; lunch, some free time to explore, and a final wrap-up with Anderson also happened. Previously, the architecture and design galleries were contained on Floor 3, separated by a sky bridge and a Bell-47D1 Helicopter (thankfully, the helicopter is still there). The spaces have now been repurposed into galleries for temporary exhibitions (all the opening shows are drawn from the permanent collection), including an excellent exhibition, Taking a Thread for a Walk, about textiles and fiber art. Integrating architecture and design into the expanded, multimedia permanent collection galleries elsewhere frees up this space and exhibition to become a deep, concentrated dive into a design topic, rather than needing to serve as a comprehensive survey of modern design in a single room as it previously did, which is for the better.

    Martino Stierli discusses Frank Lloyd Wright’s St. Mark’s Tower (1929) in the Vertical City Gallery. Photograph by author.

    Deftly navigated through the permanent collection galleries by the curators, who did their best to wrangle a group distracted by all the art we were just walking past, we paused to focus on the architecture and design galleries: The Vertical City, Design for Modern Life, Architecture for Modern Art, Architecture Systems, and Building Citizens, along with Sheela Gowda’s Of All the People, and works by Sheila Hicks and Sou Fujimoto up on Floor 6, part of the exhibition, Surround: 11 Installations. I’ll spare a recap, namely because the other fellowship reports provide good observations, but also because, in a practice that all museums should be doing, MoMA puts the permanent collection gallery introductory label, checklist linked to the individual object record, and installation images online. Recognizing that despite the nearly 3 million people who visit the museum every year, even more engage with it on the website, thereby making the collection, its contents and presentation available to those who cannot visit or want to revisit, and continuing MoMA’s pioneering feat in digitizing valuable material from their archive, especially their exhibition history. The day was a thrill, but it was also just a start; I knew I’d be coming back the next morning.

    Museum floor plan graphic and wayfinding on Floor 4. Photograph by author.

    I spent an additional four hours on Saturday, going through the entire museum. While I knew I’d “need a snack” for energy and a “ball of string” for navigation, and had just been there the day before, left to my own devices, I was still not fully prepared for quite how big MoMA is to take in on a single visit. Looking at a floor plan now, instead of seeing an elegant sequence of three sections in continual rotation, I recalled any experience at an IKEA, where to navigate the large floor plate requires knowing the built-in shortcuts from, say, kitchenware to plants, in order to bypass the meander around lighting and bed linens. But meandering is what the remixed reinstallation is all about, and with great affect. Though each curatorial department maintains “ownership” of an individual gallery, their adjacencies and their careful planning, individually and as a whole, mean that they blur and bleed together, reinforcing shared themes and ideas between and among creative disciplines in the larger cultural project of modernism. For example, I delighted seeing film stills and a poster for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), after having realized that they shared opposite sides of the same wall in different galleries, Machines, Mannequins and, Monsters for photography and The Vertical City for architecture. That the poster is then paired with a wall showing excerpts from 1920s and 1930s films focused on the changing city makes for a seamless connection across galleries and departments. A subtler connection, which might go unnoticed depending on one’s patience or knowledge, was On Kawara’s Date Painting, MAY 20, 1967, in the Idea Art gallery, which displayed its accompanying box, lined with that day’s New York Post article, “Man with a Plan to Beautify the Ghetto.” This profile of I. M. Pei, who passed away earlier this year in May, about his “Superblocks” plan with landscape architect M. Paul Friedberg in Bedford-Stuyvesant, was a smart curatorial crumb that led into the theme of the adjacent Architecture Systems gallery about all-encompassing architectural schema from component parts.

    All this art and museum meandering, with an eye trained on architecture and design, did make me wonder what this means for architectural history and the training of architectural historians. Here, with architecture as an independent and interrelated discipline to art, design and other media, and with most curatorial positions and collections separated between “modern” (i.e. historical and the past) and “contemporary” (i.e. the new and the now), the different academic pathways through primarily art history programs or architecture schools, even professional practice, while disorienting at times, probably serves our field and our scholarship for the better. Meaning that we are able to produce work from a variety of perspectives and methods, able to speak to different people interested in architecture, landscape, the built environment. That said, I look forward to following the process and eventual report of the SAH Data Project, to provide a snapshot of architectural history at this moment and going forward.

    Installation view in Idea Art gallery with detail of newspaper-lined box featuring I. M. Pei article, part of On Kawara’s piece, MAY 20, 1967. Photograph by author.

    In the new MoMA it’s easy to get lost, in the good serendipitous sense and also in the “How did I get here and how do I get there?” sense. The new floor layout for the permanent collection on Floors 4 and 5 is expansive, possible because of the purchase and demolition of the Tod Williams and Billie Tsien-designed American Folk Art Museum (2001) and in the aforementioned base of the Nouvel-designed tower. It’s a seamless extension, “smart, surgical, sprawling, and slightly soulless.” Which begs the question: If the 2004 Taniguchi expansion prided itself on being able to “make the architecture disappear,” then what, ultimately, could any expansion and renovation in the same language of restrained minimalism have looked like, except more of the same? Despite dark steel-framed door surrounds and subtle changes in flooring that demarcate the different buildings, the slickness and sameness of it all made me lament the loss of the American Folk Art Museum that much more, with its bronze origami-shielded façade that unfolded within into a complex, split-level sequence of galleries and staircases, a building full of character and personality. While I understand that the floor plates may not have aligned, or something like that, I will always wonder whether if, instead of a real estate transaction of plot value, that the building itself had been acquired, accessioned as an object into the museum’s permanent collection, then adapted as part of the expansion and renovation, rather than an obstacle to be bulldozed. Museums acquire and maintain modern buildings for their inherent aesthetic and cultural significance all the time. In this instance, the past is already buried and built over, but it also makes me think about the important role, even responsibility, curators and museums have as public advocates for preservation and landmarking in their own cities as civic and cultural leaders.

    With a bold, wall-size work reading “Hello. Again.” by the artist Haim Steinbach overlooking the new, sunken gift shop, detailed in blond wood and complete with freestanding glass elevator, the similarity between the new MoMA and an Apple store is clear and has been pointed out elsewhere, but I’ll go one step further since, during this visit to New York, I also made a point to visit the new Foster + Partners-renovated flagship store, Apple Fifth Avenue, which originally opened in 2006, designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. The underground retail space has been rebuilt, expanded in floor size and ceiling height and now includes 18 skylights to bring in more natural light, with the original glass staircase and elevator remade in glass and stainless steel, among other improvements. While the 32-foot jewel-box glass cube of an entrance has stood on the same footprint, over the years it has been refined with fewer glass panels and reduced framing supports, the result of advancements in material and construction technology. The relentless march of progress, one of continual refinement, whether MoMA or Apple, seems to occur on a roughly 15-year cycle now. Our culture and our capitalism, like modernism, blur and bleed.

    Craig Lee is the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow in the Department of Architecture and Design at the Art Institute of Chicago, where, among other projects, he assists with modern architecture and design rotations in the permanent collection display, Past Forward, and conducts research and cataloguing on the Bruce Goff Collection. He is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Art History at the University of Delaware.

  • SAH Study Day: A New MoMA! (Keslacy Fellowship Report)

    by User Not Found | Dec 17, 2019

    MoMA Sculpture Garden viewed from a new 2nd floor lounge. Photograph by the author.

    The times they are a-changing … and the currents of change are sweeping up even those dominant museum institutions who have historically conferred significance on a mostly white, mostly male, and thoroughly Western cadre of artists, designers and architects through restrictive acquisitions policies and canon-enforcing exhibitions. But in a #metoo world in which the Merriam-Webster word of the year is the singular pronoun ‘they’ and the so-called ‘post-racial’ promise of the Obama years has been thoroughly, completely debunked, the exclusivity of the western canon is past-due for a reckoning. Following on the heels of major reorganizations at peer institutions like the Tate and the Pompidou Centre, the venerable Museum of Modern Art has undergone a physical expansion and renovation as well as a complete reimagining of the permanent collections—all with an eye toward increasing access and prying open the canon through the values of diversity and inclusion.   

    On November 1, 2019, members of the Society of Architectural Historians were privileged to come together for a day-long, in-depth look into the changes afoot at MoMA, which I was honored to join as a Study Day Fellow. Led by Martino Stierli, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, and Associate Curator of Architecture and Design Sean Anderson, the group was treated to a series of presentations, tours and discussions about the physical and intellectual reorientations recently undertaken by the institution. I was curious to understand how architecture and design, so often subordinated to the fine arts of painting and sculpture, would be integrated into a more cohesive presentation. Furthermore, given that architecture as a professional practice has had race and gender problems perhaps even more egregious than the art world, I was keen to see what curatorial changes the values of diversity and inclusion would motivate. Finally, I knew that the museum planned to address issues of access, and I wondered in particular how they would solve their enviable dilemma of owning a permanent collection that far outstrips the capacity of its exhibition spaces, and the resulting widespread lack of access to a warehouse full of objects that sits idle in deep storage while the canonical crowd-pleasers hold audience in the galleries.

    Addressing these and other issues, the museum conducted a total restructuring of the curatorial vision and the corresponding gallery organization while the museum was temporary closed for renovation and expansion. One decisive change made in the new vision is to fully integrate architecture, design, photography and drawings into the same exhibition experience as painting and sculpture, which were previously segregated from one another. Objects of all types from the permanent collections are now shown on three floors that hew to a chronological set of three periods. The ideal visitor first visits the 5th floor for early modernism and the avant-garde to the end of the second world war (1880s-1940s), then the 4th floor for post-war, midcentury objects (1940s-1970s), and finally the 2nd floor for those produced from the 1970s to the present, thereby doing away with separate “contemporary” galleries.

    To increase access to the permanent collection, the museum has developed an ambitious plan to rotate objects sesquiennially, with one third of the galleries to be reinstalled with different works every six months. So, instead of the less than 5% of the permanent collection that was previously on view at any one time, a diligent museum goer could experience something closer to 20% of it over a year and a half of visits. Addressing the question of access another way, two ground-floor galleries on the western end are freely open to visitors without the purchase of a ticket.

    In the department of architecture and design, the ethos of diversity and inclusion is most visibly manifested at the scale of the individual gallery. Rather than installing the galleries according to a single narrative of avant-garde Modernism, or even a single continuous chronology, the galleries feature a multiplicity of interpretive lenses, interests and stories that are expressed through explicitly titled themes. The thematic approach allows curators to take a variety of cross-sections through the permanent collections, highlighting affinities, debates, or continuities that wouldn’t emerge through a flatter, single historical narrative. It also allows curators to mix well-known works with deeper cuts, thereby exposing the visitor to a broader constituency of artists and designers. And while each gallery is “owned” and programmed by a single curatorial department, the curators work collaboratively to install a variety of media in each room to most fully engage the chosen themes. Most significantly for an architectural audience, architecture and design are no longer segregated from the rest of the museum, but are rather fully integrated into and prominently located on each of the permanent collections floors.

    For example, on the 5th floor “The Vertical City” gallery Martino Stierli explores the emergence of the skyscraper in the late 19th century and its early 20th-century developments. The centerpiece of the installation is undoubtedly two large models of unbuilt Frank Lloyd Wright skyscraper designs—the San Francisco Call Building (1913) and St. Mark’s Tower (1927–29)—as well as what might stand as the single most canonical Modernist image, Mies’ charcoal rendering of the Friedrichstrasse Skyscraper project (1921). To round out the theme, the curators included architectural photography by Edward Steichen, Berenice Abbot and Alfred Stiegliz, El Lissitzky-designed covers of avant-garde Russian journals, pencil drawings of a less familiar housing design by the German brothers Heinz and Bodo Rasch, and the famous film poster for Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1926). The biggest innovation, however, is the inclusion of motion picture clips from films like Dziga Vertov’s Man with a Movie Camera (1929) and Walter Ruttmann’s Berlin: Symphony of a Great City (1927). Within those film loops, one can see another canonical moment in the history of Modernist architecture, but this time come alive with motion: Le Corbusier’s disembodied hand not just gesturing at the Plan Voisin, but animatedly sweeping across it.

    Flip clips projected in the “Vertical City” Gallery. Photograph by the author.

    The Department of Architecture and Design, like the rest of the institution, has seriously contended with the new mission of diversity and inclusion. The “Building Citizens” gallery on the 2nd floor responds particularly thoughtfully to that mission, addressing questions of community and belonging through a collection of projects on houses and housing. Set amid a large-scale projection of clips from The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (2011), curator Sean Anderson assembled a variety of projects from the speculative to the built, including drawings from Peter Eisenman’s House VI (1972–1975) and sketches and photographs of Alvaro Siza’s SAAL S. Victor Social Housing project built in Porto, Portugal (1977). The gallery also presents a number of the museum’s splendid collections of architectural models: before-and-after models of Lacaton and Vassal’s Tour Bois-le-Prêtre (2008), Ryue Nishizawa’s Moriyama House (2005), and OMA’s Maison à Bordeaux (1998), among others.

    Architectural models on display in the “Building Citizens” gallery. Photograph by the author.

    It is in this gallery that one finds important evidence of the museum’s new commitments: a selection of photographs by the architecturally trained, Chicago-based visual artist, Amanda Williams. Taken from her Color(ed) Theory series (2014–16), the photographs depict abandoned houses in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood slated for demolition that she painted with bright colors associated with advertising geared toward African Americans. Contributing the crucial voice of the artist-activist, her work reveals the economic, social, and political forces at work in the built environment that are beyond the power of any single building to resist. Surprisingly, Williams stands as the first female African-American to have works acquired for the permanent collection in architecture—and it was a decision not without controversy, as some in the acquisitions committee felt the works were more suitably placed in the department of photography. While the new curatorial agenda engenders a variety of benefits—more integration among art forms, and a greater diversity in both creators and themes to understand their work—the mandate of collaboration seems also to have injected some difficulty, in that now curators must address not just their own baggage of disciplinary bias, but their sister departments’ as well.

    The museum seems to be extending the ethos of inclusion beyond the categories of human identity to make room for new kinds of objects subject to acquisition. In the “Architecture Systems” gallery on the 4th floor one is confronted by the first and only instance of a large-scale mass-produced fragment of an existing building in the permanent collection: three panels of original curtain wall from the iconic United Nations Secretariat in New York City (1952). As one of the first applications of curtain wall technology to a skyscraper in the United States, the United Nations fragment serves well as the anchor for the gallery’s theme of rules-based systems in architectural design. Installed in the center of the gallery, clips from Jacques Tati’s Playtime (1967) are visible upon entering through the green glass and aluminum mullions of the wall. Viewing Tati’s playfully absurd rendering of the office landscape is made all the more poignant when viewed through the screen of the curtain wall that undoubtedly witnessed some less aesthetic but more frustratingly bureaucratic version of the modern workplace. Monsieur Hulot’s inability to navigate the social and spatial logic of the office stands in stark contrast with the rest of the gallery’s architectural propositions, which celebrate the top-down imposition of complex systems to their sometimes rational, sometimes farcical, conclusions. There it is joined by urban proposals by Constant, Peter Cook, and Kisho Kurakawa, furniture design by Ettore Sottsass, and Mies’ well-known collage of his Chicago Convention Hall project (1954).

    Jacques Tati’s Playtime visible through a fragment of original curtain wall from the United Nations Secretariat building. Photograph by the author.

    These architectural works are joined by a series of studies by the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark, whose early formalist, two-dimensional paintings were similarly motivated by a strong internal logic of compositional rules. The wall text explaining the gallery’s theme is too succinct to make explicit connections between the architectural and artistic propositions. Rather, the visitor is left to interpret the inclusion of Clark’s drawings visually or formally, or the motivated guest can mine the museum’s website where short audio clips and longer written texts are made available. For those desiring to dive more deeply, MoMA’s non-western research program, entitled Contemporary and Modern Art Perspectives (C-MAP), provides deeply researched essays on artists and movements from Africa, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, and Latin America published on their website, post.

    The new curatorial directions undertaken by the museum are spatially underwritten by the museum’s physical expansion, most recently designed by Diller, Scofidio and Renfro working in collaboration with Gensler. (See an explanatory video of the overall project here.) The expansion involved the construction of a new building on the site of the former Folk Art Museum, expansion further west into three floors of the Jean Nouvel-designed 53W53 residential tower, and a total reconfiguration of the museum’s existing quarters. The result includes a vastly opened up ground floor with a particularly spectacular sunken, double-height retail space that is visible through the 53rd Street façade.

    View of the MoMA Store from 53rd Street. Photograph by the author.

    Diller, Scofidio and Renfro, known for their own spectacular work on the High Line and the Broad contemporary art museum in Los Angeles among others, has managed an elegant and understated renovation that eschews the complex geometries found in their recent projects, but beautifully utilizes the sectional play of variable ceiling heights and corresponding diagonal views between floors that the firm is fond of creating. The centerpiece of the new addition is an exquisitely detailed, six-story stair called “The Blade” that facilitates vertical circulation on the western end of the building and a dazzling, unobstructed view out into the city. Some of the most spectacular spaces in the newly configured MoMA are those devoted to special exhibitions, temporary installations, and experimental media. There one finds some of the most voluminous spaces designed to accommodate large scale works, new media and performance, and they often feature large areas of glazing admitting natural light that would harm older, more delicate objects.

    Views of the Diller, Scofidio and Renfro-designed “Blade” stair. Photograph by the author.

    The physical and curatorial changes at the Museum of Modern Art are new, and it seems clear that the curators are still exploring what’s possible at the intersection of the institution’s long history, the facts of its permanent collections, and its ambitions to practice the values of social justice and inclusivity. The institution’s willingness to engage in self-critique and course-correction is laudable, and I’m excited to see what new voices and new interpretive lenses the curators will bring in to public view.

    Elizabeth Keslacy is Assistant Professor of Architecture at Miami University of Ohio. She is an architectural historian whose work centers on the museology of architecture and design, the intellectual history of concepts like ‘decoration’ and ‘design’, and the reception of postmodern architecture. She is currently at work on a monograph tracing the history of the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum. Her work has been published in the Journal of Architectural Education, Footprint, Thresholds, and Lotus International. Keslacy earned a M.Arch from the Southern California Institute of Architecture and a Ph.D. in architectural history and theory from the University of Michigan.
  • SAH Study Day: A New MoMA! (Horowitz Fellowship Report)

    by User Not Found | Dec 09, 2019

    What are the intersections between art and architecture in the design of exhibition spaces and new museums? What are some of the challenges associated with exhibiting architecture in a museum dedicated primarily to modern and contemporary art? How can we present histories of modern art and architecture in new and refreshing ways? These are just some of the many questions I considered as an attendee of the SAH Study Day: A New MoMA! on Friday, November 1, 2019.

    1. New MoMA lobby at 53 Street Entrance
    New MoMA lobby at 53rd Street Entrance. Photograph by the author.

    The day began with an introduction given by Martino Stierli, The Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design, about the recent renovation and expansion of the MoMA galleries by Diller, Scofidio + Renfro in collaboration with Gensler. Participants saw firsthand how the architects reconceived the museum’s existing Goodwin and Stone, Johnson, and Taniguchi buildings while at the same time creating additional exhibition spaces on the western end of the museum site. A film produced by the firm showed how spaces in the current museum buildings were reconfigured to allow for enlarged, open circulation areas and additional galleries. We also learned how the architects sought to create a seamless transition between the east side of the museum and the new west end via a connector. New galleries are positioned as a series of interlocking blocks in the space once occupied by the American Folk Art Museum (demolished, 2014) as well as on the bottom floors of Jean Nouvel’s 53W53 tower that stands next to MoMA’s main buildings. In addition, Stierli explained how the architecture and design exhibition galleries were arranged spatially into three zones encompassing the second, fourth, and fifth floors of the newly expanded museum.

    2. West stairwell between The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries and the new David Geffen Wing
    West stairwell between The Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Galleries and the new David Geffen Wing. Photograph by the author.

    Next, Stierli led a tour of the new architecture and design galleries. Prior to the renovations, there was not much overlap between curatorial departments in permanent collection displays. One of the major aims of the renovation and expansion project as explained by Stierli and Sean Anderson, Associate Curator in the Department of Architecture and Design, was to foster interdisciplinary collaboration amongst the various curatorial departments at MoMA, inciting new narratives and community dialogue about modern art. By placing architectural drawings and models side-by-side with photography or film, MoMA curators sought to transcend disciplinary boundaries and provide visitors with a multimedia experience. Arranged in roughly chronological order, galleries are divided up into themes that tackle major ideas about the evolution of modern architecture.

    Our tour began on the fifth floor of the new David Geffen Wing housed in the Diller Scofidio + Renfro addition. We focused on three newly installed permanent collection galleries—The Vertical City, Design for Modern Life, and Architecture for Modern Art. Each gallery highlighted major themes in the history of modern architecture. For example, The Vertical City concentrates on the emergence of the skyscraper during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Europe and America. Unbuilt designs—Mies van der Rohe’s iconic Friedrichstrasse Skyscraper Project, Berlin-Mitte, Germany (1921), for instance— are paired alongside architectural models such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s St. Mark’s Tower project (1927–1928) also unrealized. In addition, photographs of the New York City urban landscape by Alfred Stieglitz and Berenice Abbott are exhibited in tandem with a series of film excerpts by Walter Ruttmann, Paul Strand, Charles Sheeler, Francis Thompson, and John McAndrew depicting the frenetic movement of the city’s expansion in this period.

    3. Installation view of Mies van der Rohe, Friedrichstrasse Skyscraper Project
    Installation view of Mies van der Rohe, Friedrichstrasse Skyscraper Project. Photograph by the author.

    4. Installation view of Frank Lloyd Wright, St. Mark’s Tower project
    Installation view of Frank Lloyd Wright, St. Mark’s Tower project. Photographs by the author.

    5. Installation view of films and photography in The Vertical City gallery
    Installation view of films and photography in The Vertical City gallery. Photograph by the author.

    Moving away from the public space of the modern city, our tour ventured into the more intimate space of the modern home and office in the adjacent Design for Modern Life gallery. The gallery’s centerpiece—Grete Lihotzky’s Frankfurt Kitchen from the Ginnheim-Höhenblick Housing Estate, Frankfurt am Main, Germany (1926–1927)—positions women designers as instrumental to the re-envisioning of domestic space during the early 20th century. Other examples of design from the Bauhaus and the Soviet Union present narratives about the workplace and new technologies of communication and transportation. Like the previous gallery, a range of media are exhibited—photography, drawing, printmaking, film, design objects—drawing attention to the interdisciplinary nature of architecture and design.

    6. Installation view of Design for Modern Life gallery
    Installation view of Design for Modern Life gallery. Photograph by the author.

    7. Interior of Grete Lihotzky, Frankfurt Kitchen
    Interior of Grete Lihotzky, Frankfurt Kitchen. Photograph by the author.

    8. Installation view of Design for Modern Life gallery
    Installation view of Design for Modern Life gallery. Photograph by the author.

    9. Bauhaus Workshop designs
    Bauhaus Workshop designs. Photograph by the author.

    The final gallery on the fifth floor, Architecture for Modern Art, explores relationships between museum architecture and the works of art on display. Dynamics between art and architecture in museum spaces are presented via examples of proposed designs for the Museum of Modern Art from the 1930s, photographs of exhibition installations, as well as works that address dialectics among art, architecture, and viewer experience. Visualizing an architectural history of the MoMA building and galleries—from George Howe and William Lescaze’s unrealized staggered blocks to the completed Philip L. Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone’s white box with glass curtain wall façade—the gallery aims to contextualize the evolution of MoMA as a site for innovative displays of modern art in the early 20th century. This aspect of MoMA’s history is juxtaposed with other canonical examples of twentieth-century museum architecture such as Frank Lloyd Wright’s model for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (1943–1959) and works by Herbert Bayer, Frederick Keisler, Hans Richter, and Mies van der Rohe that once again remind visitors of various ties among disciplines of art, design, and architecture.

    10. Installation view of George Howe and William Lescaze, The Museum of Modern Art, New York (S
    Installation view of George Howe and William Lescaze, The Museum of Modern Art, New York (Scheme 4, First Variation). Photograph by the author.

    11. Installation view of Philip L. Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone, The Museum of Modern Art, N
    Installation view of Philip L. Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone, The Museum of Modern Art, New York City, New York. Photograph by the author.

    12. Installation view of Frank Lloyd Wright, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (Model)
    Installation view of Frank Lloyd Wright, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (Model). Photograph by the author.

    Our group next moved down to the fourth floor gallery, Architecture Systems, which examines the output of designers and architects in the postwar era. The focal point of the gallery—a fragment of the original façade of the United Nations Secretariat Building in New York by Wallace K. Harrison, Oscar Niemayer, and Le Corbusier (1952)—offers a screen through which to view an excerpt of Jacques Tati’s 1967 comedic film about the banality of the mid-20th century American corporate office environment. The display of an actual part of the original building transcends the boundaries of what it means to exhibit architecture in the space of the museum and transforms one’s experience of a media intended to be viewed in three dimensions.

    13. Installation view of Architecture Systems gallery with United Nations façade and Jacques Ta
    Installation view of Architecture Systems gallery with United Nations façade and Jacques Tati, “Playtime”. Photograph by the author.

    Following a lunch break, our tour continued in the afternoon on the second floor with Anderson, curator of the gallery, Building Citizens, which grapples with ideas surrounding the “death of modern architecture” and the emergence of new forms of contemporaneity via the subject of the home. From Chad Freidrich’s film, The Pruitt-Igoe Myth (2011) to Amanda Williams’s photographs from the series Color(ed) Theory Suite (2014–2016), the gallery installation incorporates a diverse range of media, approaches to, and perspectives on design’s engagement with what it means to live in today’s society. The demolition of the public housing complex, Pruitt-Igoe in the mid-1970s signifies modern architecture’s obsolescence, while Williams’s photography demonstrates how condemned buildings can be transformed into visual metaphors for deeper social and political issues surrounding race and gentrification. Williams’s photographs are a recent acquisition to the architecture and design collection, and Anderson explained how the department faced some difficulties convincing the museum’s acquisition committee of accepting it into the collection since it doesn’t fit within the traditional categories of architecture with a capital A. What are the limits of these curatorial categorizations and how do they impact exhibition and collections practices? In MoMA’s case, the rejiggering of the encyclopedic narrative of modern architecture aims to dispel fixed classifications of art and design and instead engages with more open ideas of what architecture can be.

    14. Installation view of Chad Freidrich, The Pruitt-Igoe Myth
    Installation view of Chad Freidrich, The Pruitt-Igoe Myth. Photograph by the author.

    15. Installation view of Building Citizens gallery with Amanda Williams, Color(ed) Theory Suite
    Installation view of Building Citizens gallery with Amanda Williams, Color(ed) Theory Suite. Photograph by the author.

    At the end of the day, our group reconvened for discussion with Anderson about the challenges and opportunities afforded by the new MoMA and how to meaningfully exhibit architectural works in light of the museum’s new interdisciplinary mission. Despite a concerted effort to reinsert architecture and design within broader historical narratives of modern and contemporary art, MoMA’s new displays remain largely canonical. Diller, Scofidio, + Renfro’s expansion of the galleries does not alter our perceptions of the archetypal modern art museum; instead, the white cube exhibition spaces reinforce a logical and predictable chronology. Creating dialogue between objects of various media is one step towards breaking down disciplinary boundaries among art, architecture, and design, but what other curatorial interventions could be made to further expand our notions of these categories? As an invigorating architectural and exhibition space, I have no doubt that the new MoMA will continue to grow as an experimental venue for the display and interpretation of cultural production, whether that means architecture, painting, sculpture, or anything in between.

    16. 53 Street Entrance
    53rd Street Entrance. Photograph by the author.

    Sarah Horowitz is a PhD student in the history of art and architecture at Boston University. Her research focuses on relationships among art, architecture, and display in the design of museums and cultural institutions from the postwar era to the present. Prior to attending BU, she was the curatorial assistant at the Picker Art Gallery and the Longyear Museum of Anthropology at Colgate University where she organized a number of permanent collection and special exhibitions. She received her M.A. in Art History from the University of Massachusetts–Amherst and B.A. in Art History and Museum Studies from Marlboro College.

  • Dig or Die: Fighting for Refuge in Vietnam

    by User Not Found | Dec 05, 2019

    Aymar Mariño-Maza is the 2018 recipient of the H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship. All photographs are by the author, except where otherwise specified.

    figure 1
    Figure 1: Hien Luong Bridge, known as The Freedom Bridge

    “Welcome to North Vietnam,” he said. Vu Van, our trusty historian and tour guide, pointed to his right over the bridge we were crossing to another, smaller bridge. “That is the Freedom Bridge.”

    The unintimidating structure spanning the short distance across the Bến Hải River hid its significance well under its weathered paint—half baby blue, half Easter yellow. But I already knew that Hiền Lương Bridge had a long and troubled story to tell. Located along the 17th parallel, this bridge served as a strategic point between the North and South Vietnam during the Vietnam War (also known as the Second Indochina War, the American War, or the Resistance War Against America). It was built by the French, destroyed by the Viet Minh in 1945, rebuilt by the Vietnamese in 1957, used as a strategic transport passage by the Viet Cong, and then repeatedly targeted by the Americans in the infamous Operation Rolling Thunder. All this until it became less of a strategic point of interest than a symbolic one.

    figure 2
    Figure 2: Freedom Bridge as seen during time of peace (left); Aerial of Freedom Bridge and land North of the Ben Hai River taken after the bridge was blown up (right)

    Another similarly strategic-to-symbolic bridge is the Thanh Hóa Bridge, located some 400 kilometers north of where we stand. Also known as the Dragon’s Jaw (for its uncanny resemblance to the open mouth of that mythical creature), it crosses the Song Ma River.

    The indestructibility of both these bridges has made them symbols of Vietnamese reunification. Every time either bridge was bombed by U.S. missiles, it was rebuilt by North Vietnamese hands. As one U.S. writer and retired Air Force colonel wrote about the Dragon’s Jaw, “after seven years, 871 sorties, tremendous expenditure in lives, 11 lost aircraft, and a bewildering array of expended munitions, the Dragon’s Jaw was finally broken.”1 But of course, it has since been rebuilt—though the writer failed to mention that at the end of his article.

    We parked the car along the edge of the road and stepped out. The flat landscape around us did little to shield us from the harsh midday sun that came down through the cloudless sky. We were caught between the hot and rainy seasons, so that we had to trade our raincoats for sunglasses every few hours.

    figure 3
    Figure 3: Aerial of the DMZ north of the Ben Hai River taken during the war

    We looked out over the Bến Hải River. As Vu spoke, I learned how the colors of the Freedom Bridge hold more significance than I could have guessed on first glance. Nowadays, the blue and yellow contrast across the north-south divide like two friends extending hands, but during the war that same contrast was a running “joke.” According to Vu, anytime the South would paint the southern half of the bridge to differentiate it from the northern side, the North would rush to paint theirs the same color, displaying a resilient defiance to Vietnamese division that would foreshadow the ultimate outcome of the war.

    Behind us, a lone flagpole rose high to meet the sun, the Vietnamese flag flapping above our heads. This flag was another target of the Southern forces, who kept blowing it up only to see it quickly rebuilt. Now it stands over the DMZ and its cratered earth, which has been adapted into rectangular shrimp fields by the locals who have returned to claim this once depopulated land.

    figure 4
    Figure 4: A note written on a chalkboard in the ruins of a Buddhist school in Quang Tri advertising a school reunion. The Buddhist school was one of the two structures that survived the War.

    They have returned to take care of their ancestors, Vu told us. Ancestral worship was introduced to Vietnam by the Chinese, who occupied the area intermittently from 111 BCE until 1427 CE. Nowadays, the practice remains a strong part of Vietnamese spiritual life. In keeping with this tradition, after the war ended many people moved back to the lands where their ancestors had been buried. A member of the families that once lived here, usually the youngest male son, would return to lands marred with bomb-craters and hiding lethal mines because of this strong sense of ancestral lineage.

    Here we see how the geography of refuge can be redrawn by the influence of cultural traditions. It’s not that these spaces marked by ancestral significance serve as some form of social refuge (though of course they do) but that they represent a sphere of spiritual refuge within the people’s conscience that counterbalances the instinct to find immediate refuge. It isn’t unlike the nationalism that leads civilians into war, with the understanding that protecting the integrity and power of the nation ensures the survival of their own future, lifestyle, and values—their social refuge.

    As a child of a society that has never felt “the sorrow of war,” to quote the Vietnamese author Bảo Ninh, I am unable to grasp the power of such counteracting forces. I look upon the decisions made by these men and women who were forced to be much braver than me, and I can only create a fiction around their humble and heroic decision to return home. Home may have not been where their heart was leading them, but where it lay buried.

    figure 5
    Figure 5: Man reenacting the way Viet Cong soldiers would come in and out of the small hidden entrances to the Cu Chi Tunnels

    Back in ’54

    Bắc 54 was the term used to identify the group of people that migrated south from North Vietnam in 1954 under the Operation Passage to Freedom, a U.S. Navy and French military initiative. Among those who moved south were Catholics, whose religion was now supported by the new president in the South. Christians were a small minority in Vietnam, but that did not stop them from holding power under Diem’s presidency. In Quang Tri, the remains of a concrete church built in 1955 stands as a testament to this power. One of only two buildings made of concrete in the area, it survived (though not unscathed) the ravages of war. The plaque that adorns the otherwise unkempt plot of land around the ruins of this church explains to the visitor that this is “a relic of the war… the memorial of the bravery of our soldiers and people,” not a relic of the Catholic religion or of a small group of people making a home for themselves. This is a small reminder that no meaning is permanent, that the significance of a place or thing is applied, be it through a congregation of people praying or through a round of bullets incrusted into a concrete wall.

    In 1954, southerners were also allowed freedom to go north. Many of the soldiers who were in the south during the fighting returned—but not all. Some soldiers remained as sleeper agents in the south, biding their time until the war would inevitably start up again. These sleeper agents are the origins of the Viet Cong, whose stealthy approach to war played a major role in the subsequent North Vietnam victory. 

    figure 6
    Figure 6: One of the booby-trapped entrances designed by the Viet Cong at the Cu Chi Tunnels

    Ideological Home

    No Man’s Land. I had never fully questioned the term before I found myself in the Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ. It is a term that carries its poetic meaning right on its branded military-issue sleeve. The mere sound of it is enough to bring up notions of death, inhumanity, and futility. But there is another layer of meaning in the words. No Man’s Land is a land that does not belong to anyone. But it did once belong to someone. Before it was chosen as the space of No Man, it belonged to some man or woman, to a family or community. It was someone’s home, someone’s inheritance, someone’s entire livelihood. So what happened to them?

    In the south, the civilians that once populated the fertile lands in the DMZ were shepherded into refugee camps under the Strategic Hamlet Program begun in 1962. Under the leadership of Ngo Dinh Diem, South Vietnam’s first president, the Strategic Hamlet Program was an attempt to thwart communist influence in South Vietnam by separating rural villagers from Viet Cong insurgents and to develop a political population base for Diem’s party. These camps were also meant to provide the inhabitants with a higher standard of living, but this was far from the case. A report from the Pentagon found only 20% of the completed hamlets met the U.S. standard of living. By 1963, after a military coup carried out against President Diem, the program was dismantled.

    Though the Strategic Hamlet Program is the best known, it was not the first program within Vietnam that used human displacement for ideological purposes. Others include the 1957 transfer of tens of thousands to uncultivated tracts of land in the center and south of the country or around the Mekong Delta, which was carried out with the intention of eradicating the nomadic lifestyles that still existed in the highlands and of fostering a sense of national solidarity.2 After insurgency mounted in 1958, the government implemented the agroville program, which entailed moving inhabitants from the Mekong Delta into small agrarian hamlets.

    figure 7
    Figure 7: Remains of Long Hung Church in Quang Tri. Its concrete structure made it a likely spot of fighting during the war and resilient enough to survive—one of the two structures that did so. It was built in 1955 and remains a remnant of the North ’54 Christians who migrated south.

    The hamlets were spaces but can be studied as pieces of architecture. We can analyze the materials, techniques, and structure used in their construction. We can dissect them aesthetically. We can probably learn a lot in doing so. But I would like to study them another way (through a concept that I probably have no right to appropriate): the dialectic.

    This is a dangerous little word. In the world of philosophy, the dialectic has had minds spinning in circles since the days of the Ancient Greeks. It is easy enough to explain, but not so easy to employ. Simply put, life is filled with seemingly irreconcilable contradictions. The dialectic method is the attempt to reconcile these differences by putting them in conversation. This conversation can take on many forms, including some that are less dialectical than they are confrontational, but mostly it can have many outcomes, from clean answers, to messy answers, to more questions, to non-answers.

    But whatever differences arise, the intention behind the use of the dialectic remains relatively constant. I believe it was the late Marxist philosopher Georg Lukacs who put it best when he wrote that the imperative of the dialectical method is “to change reality.” To change reality we must think through reality. A problem I have with programs such as the Strategic Hamlet has to do with the isolation they engender, with the conversation they eliminate. They are attempts to change reality by force and, whether or not they are successful, the method they employ is dangerous. They take away the dialectic.

    In a homestay in Ninh Binh, I sat across from an Israeli who is living proof that people can change their minds (and sorry, but I do mean this in the metaphysical sense). Raised Orthodox, he left the faith and took the mantle of nationalist, settler, and soldier, then left that faith and became a left-wing advocate of Bedouin rights and representation. He spoke to me of his passion for education and his desire to understand indoctrination, dissent, and the loops that the human mind can do around these two poles. His faith in the elastic power of the human mind brought to my mind a thought I had not anticipated. Yes, that elasticity is fascinating, but it also has its limits. In other words, though the mind can jump ship, it does not usually jump into the abyss. It jumps from ship to ship—from ideology to ideology, from belief to belief.

    Thinking about these government housing programs, mulling these ideas over, and looking out over the villages scattered across the DMZ, I begin once more to ask myself a question that many reading this will probably already be asking themselves: what does this have to do with architecture? The problem, I realize, is that I cannot give a good answer to that question. Architecture, the way I’ve been taught to understand it, ought to be disengaged from questions of indoctrination and dissent. It ought to be autonomous. Laugier’s Primitive Hut floats easily into the back of my head as I think of all the times architects have been drawn back to their roots, removing style, context, and anything else that may muddy the ideal concept of Architecture.

    And yet, I fear the image doesn’t hold the same sway over me as it once did. More and more I find it unbelievable that there are architects who still stand under the banner of an autonomous architecture. To study space is to study its politics, its philosophy, and its history. To study space is to study the bodies that inhabit it, make it, and break it. Studying space as an autonomous entity is like abstracting a political party down to a slogan. It can be done and it is useful, but once it is done it needs to be brought back into conversation with its context.

    figure 8
    Figure 8: Entrance to the Vinh Mốc Tunnels

    The Underground

    In the North, an entirely different approach was used when it came to war refugees. Children and the elderly were moved away from war zones, but all able-bodied men and women were made to remain as a civilian militia meant to help fight the South. These “volunteer” civilians went underground—both metaphorically and literally.

    The Vịnh Mốc Tunnels are just one example of the 3.5 kilometers of underground tunnels that the North Vietnamese burrowed beneath and around the DMZ. Used for housing ammunition and people, they were complex networks equipped with booby traps, escape routes, ventilation systems, as well as kindergartens, medical centers, kitchens, and cisterns.

    Still above ground and on our way from the car, we passed the hollowed-out trenches that served as a secondary network over the tunnels where children born in the tunnels attended kindergarten, soldiers transported weapons, and farmers went to and from the few fields they were still able to cultivate. I can picture them almost hopefully surviving, separated as they were from the direct fighting. But of course the image in my head is just that—an image.

    figure 9
    Figure 9: Naturally hidden ventilation shaft made in the ant hills, using bamboo rods to bring air down to the tunnels.

    From 1968 until the Paris Peace Accords of 1973, a small fishing village occupied the second of three levels that still make up the Vịnh Mốc Tunnels. Set against a steep hillside that meets the ocean, these interconnected levels were staggered both vertically and horizontally as a safety measure. The result? A surprisingly strong sea breeze flowed through the dark and narrow passageways. After having crawled and sweated through the Cu Chi Tunnels, I caught myself almost accepting the conditions of those living in the Vịnh Mốc Tunnels. Not too shabby, I heard myself say, finding that I could walk with my head held high. But these words sank to the pit of my stomach as Vu began speaking of the terror that the inhabitants must have felt as the bombs would make the world of clay around them shake.

    Vu showed us the couple square meters that a family would have called home: simple holes dug at repeated intervals into the long passageway. He stopped where women would have given birth, a slightly larger hole that opened up into that same long and winding passage. In a segment of the passage that widened no more than three meters to make the sole meeting place in the complex, Vu noted the corrugated walls with shallow enclaves where mats would have been placed—a small kindness. We kept going, always further down. We sidestepped a couple workers making repairs, whose voices we had been hearing since our eyes first began to adjust to the darkness. We poked our heads into the two-level space that served as a bathroom and into others that were used for storage. We kept going, the sea breeze intensifying, blowing salty hope to our bodies so unaccustomed to the claustrophobia we had been denying we had.

    When we finally poked our heads out of the shelter, the sea welcomed us with the mellow sprays of its wreaking waves. And I fear that my use of the word “welcome” cannot fully express the impact of the sight after spending just a little while within the tunnels. The fact that these tunnels, unlike so many others across Vietnam, met the sea was no small thing.

    figure 10
    Figure 10: View of the beach from the waterfront entrance of the Vinh Mốc Tunnels.

    One of my favorite quotes is by the playwright Antonin Artaud, who stated, “It is not opium which makes me work but its absence, and in order for me to feel its absence it must from time to time be present.” Sometimes we can forget the impact that our surroundings can have on us, physically, psychologically, and emotionally, until we experience its lack. As a college student, I spent five years in a campus whose long winter months came with clouds, clouds, and more clouds. But it was only on the lucky days when the sun came out that I would realize how easily those rays could lift my spirits.

    Experience—that’s another word that rests at the tip of the tongue of many thinkers, from philosophers to scientists. Its taste is somewhere between palpably real and unreliably false. It’s a word that I have heard architecture professors use with either whimsy or disdain—but not so often with critical application. (I have even heard one professor advise an entire class not to give a second thought to the way people experience architecture). An exception that comes to mind is the late Bonnie MacDougal, whose earnest attempts to get my fellow students and I to understand the world in which we were to help build a new world earned her a permanent space in my conscience. But the experience of space is something designers should neither take for granted nor simplify to the superficial genres of materiality or geometry. Architects should be thinking of the experience of space on the levels of culture, history, or psychology. It may sound extreme, but we should be thinking about it on the level of human survival.

    Architects should be constantly questioning and learning about the human experience of the world as it is. From the farmer pulling unexploded mines from their field, to the shoe store security guard sleeping on the job, to the child victim of Agent Orange handcrafting mother of pearl artifacts for tourists—and these are only momentary slivers of the world in Vietnam. Because Bonnie had the right idea. What right do we have to build upon this world if we don’t understand it? The past few months have made the truth in that perfectly clear to me. And my visit to Vietnam has reminded me that I’m not even close to understanding it.

    figure 11
    Figure 11: Stairs leading up from the waterfront tunnel entrance up to the other entrances of the Vinh Mốc Tunnels.

    1 Boyne, W. J. (Aug. 2011). “Breaking the Dragon’s Jaw.” Air Force Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.airforcemag.com/MagazineArchive/Documents/2011/August%202011/0811jaw.pdf.

    2 Catton, P. (1999). “Counter-Insurgency and Nation Building: The Strategic Hamlet Programme in South Vietnam, 1961-1963.” The International History Review 21 (4): 918-940. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/40109167.

  • What does success look like? and other questions from SACRPH 2019

    by User Not Found | Nov 13, 2019

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

    The SAH Data Project just passed a milestone of sorts: earlier this month, I answered audience questions during the Society for American City and Regional Planning History’s conference in Arlington. Without context, this may not seem like an important step forward. Participating in disciplinary conferences is a standard facet of academic culture, after all. Actually, though, this was the first time I’ve met a cohort of our project constituents on their own turf. Every other opportunity I’ve had to discuss this work with people outside the core project team (and there have been quite a few such opportunities, I’m pleased to say) has been as phone calls or in various virtual spaces or in person at SAH’s conference and Chicago headquarters. But listening to people face to face in the places that are comfortable to them can make the interaction more valuable in myriad ways that extend beyond our immediate data-gathering goals. This kind of proactive engagement has been part of the project vision from the outset for a very good reason, in other words. And it was time to start.

    During our SACRPH 2019 session, “Shaping the Field of Planning History,” my fellow panelists and I discussed various opportunities our projects offer to planning historians. My comments highlighted ways for planning historians to make their voices heard within the SAH Data Project. Dr. Deborah Hurtt (left), a Senior Program Officer with the Division of Education Programs at the National Endowment for the Humanities, emphasized two NEH grant programs that could enable more planning history-focused events and workshops. And Dr. Eliana AbuHamdi Murchie (right), the Global Architectural History Teaching Collaborative’s Project Manager, described how planning historians with global expertise can contribute to the GAHTC’s library of survey teaching modules. Image credit: Dr. LaDale C. Winling (session chair)

    My current schedule of disciplinary conference travel has been available online since we launched the SAH Data Project’s website last summer.  I invite you to have a look at that and reach out to me with questions you’d like me to address during any of those trips. I also invite you to check back regularly because we’re constantly updating that schedule as we determine more about what architectural historians need and want from this project.

    After more of the details have been hammered out in a few months’ time, I hope to use the process blog to reflect more broadly on our planning approach. So keep an eye on this space, too.

    In the meantime, I thought it might be helpful to share some key ideas I just discussed in Arlington in case questions like these are on your mind. And, as always, please leave a comment or write me an email in response because I’m eager to know if this helps or there is anything I’ve missed.

    What role does planning history play in a project about architectural history?

    The definition of “architectural history” for the purposes of the SAH Data Project is quite broad. In addition to the history of buildings, the project also encompasses the history of landscapes, cities and planning, engineered structures, and interiors. Those five subfields of architectural history are what we’re calling our “expertise scopes.” Gathering data about who, where, and how people are studying and teaching these different scopes is a big part of what we’re doing.

    Does the SAH Data Project want to hear from independent scholars?

    The project is focused on architectural history in higher education but otherwise participants are definitely not limited in any way by tenure-stream status. That means that any independent scholars who study, teach, and/or make curricular decisions about architectural history coursework are strongly encouraged to give their input. We want to hear from as many people like this as possible, in fact.

    Is the study gathering data about what motivates people to enter the field or is it only about what people are doing once they’re already students and/or faculty?

    We definitely want to know what has motivated people to enter the field. Actually, right now we are in the middle of determining what data we need to describe the “pipeline” process for architectural history, i.e. the various kinds of factors that contribute to people pursuing architectural history studies. We’re thinking of this in qualitative terms as part of our commitment to the project’s data humanism approach.

    What are the most important ways planning historians can contribute to the SAH Data Project?

    Three things come to mind. First, completing the survey when it is posted online or lands in your inbox is absolutely crucial for everyone – not just planning historians. That’s not the only way we are gathering data but it is certainly how we’ll be getting much of the qualitative information that will ultimately help us tell meaningful human-centric stories. You can sign up for the newsletter to receive email updates on when the survey will launch.

    Second, we will also be relying on everyone, including planning historians, to actively encourage their program chairs and anyone else who makes curricular decisions about architectural history coursework to complete their version of the survey. That’s because those people aren’t necessarily architectural historians and therefore won’t necessarily appreciate the importance of what we’re asking them to do, yet they’re the people who have access to enrollments, demographics, and other quantitative data that the project really needs.

    And, third, since planning historians haven’t made their perspectives known to us yet as much as, say, historians of buildings or landscapes, it would be helpful for planning historians to really start reaching out to us about what is important to them. Emailing me directly, commenting on a process blog post, and engaging on social media would go a long way toward expanding planning historians’ overall presence in the project.


    When can planning historians start completing the survey?

    Everyone will be able to complete the survey at the same time regardless of their architectural history expertise scope. The current survey launch is scheduled for January 2020 and right now we expect it to remain open until after SAH’s annual conference in May.

    I should add that although each respondent will complete only one survey, we are actually developing three different versions of it. That’s because we are asking a slightly different mix of quantitative and qualitative questions to students, faculty, and people who make curricular decisions. I am planning to write a process blog delving into the key differences between the three surveys at some point during the open survey window so I recommend subscribing to the e-newsletter if you don’t want to miss that.

    What does success look like for the SAH Data Project?

    The SAH Data Project will be successful if the findings report represents the state of architectural history in higher education accurately, even if aspects of that description are unpleasant. Thinking more expansively, though, there is the hope that the SAH Data Project’s findings might eventually inspire or inform some kind of meaningful positive change in the field like new grant opportunities, revised course offerings, and so on.


SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
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