SAH Blog

  • An Imagined Ottoman City in Istanbul

    by Helena Dean | Jan 12, 2022

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

    A Detour and a Different Kind of Reconstruction in Istanbul

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

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

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

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


    Taksim Square against the Forces of Urban Transformation

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

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    Figure 1. Republic Monument and Taksim Mosque in the back


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

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

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    Figure 2–4. The New Ataturk Cultural Center


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

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    Figure 5–11. The new Taksim Mosque


    Urban Renewal in Two Istanbul Neighborhoods: Tarlabasi and Balat

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

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    Figure 12–16. Rundown and Renovated Tarlabasi buildings


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    Figure 17–23. Taksim 360 project in Tarlabasi


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

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

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    Figure 24–38. Balat neighborhood


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


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



    A New Mosque on the Hill

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

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    Figure 42–66. Camlica Mosque


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

    2 Ibid

    3 Arıcan, Alize. "Care in Tarlabaşı amidst Heightened Inequalities, Urban Transformation and Coronavirus." Radical Housing Journal, December 6, 2020.

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

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

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

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

  • Architectural Reproduction vs. Reconstruction in Postwar Warsaw

    by Helena Dean | Dec 01, 2021

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

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

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

    Figure 1-Carmelite Church

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


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

    Figure 2-Warszawa Centralna

    Figure 2. Warszawa Centralna Train Station.


    Figure 3-Palace of the Culture

    Figure 3. Palace of Culture


    Figure 4- Housing blocks

    Figure 5- Housing blocks

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


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

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

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

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

    Figure 6-Krakowskie Przedmiescie

    Figure 7-Krakowskie Przedmiescie

    Figure 8-Krakowskie Przedmiescie

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


    Figure 9- Old Town

    Figure 10- Old Town

    Figure 11- Old Town

    Figure 9–11. Reconstructed Old Town Warsaw


    Figure 12-Old Town destroyed

    Figure 12. Marketplace in Old Town, after the war


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

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

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

    Figure 13-Styles

    Figure 13. A clash of architectural styles, Warsaw


    Representations of Warsaw in Polish Art

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

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

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


    Figure 15-Bernardo Bellotto, Miodowa Street

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



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


    Figure 17-Marcin Zaleski ,Plac Teatralny

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


    Figure 18-Nowy Swiat

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

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

    Figure 19-Witold_Wojtkiewicz_-_Manifestacja_1905

    Figure 20-Witold_Wojtkiewicz_manifestacja_uliczna_-1905-

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


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

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


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

    Figure 22-Antoni Lyzwanski, Warsaw Exodus 1945

    Figure 22. Antoni Lyzwanski, Warsaw Exodus, 1945. Photo:


    Figure 23-antoni teslar, pigeons on Bugaj Street

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


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

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


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

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


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

    Figure 26-antoni teslar

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


    Figure 27-antoni teslar, MDM, 1952

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


    Figure 28-MDM

    Figure 29-MDM

    Figure 30-MDM

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


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

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

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



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


    Figure 33-Witold Chmielewski

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


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

    Figure 34-Wojciech Fangor, Murarze, 1950

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


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

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

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


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

    Figure 36-St Mary Basilica

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


    Figure 37-St Mary Basilica,Interior

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




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

    2 Ibid, 94.

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

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

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

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

  • The Many Shapes of Postwar Reconstruction in a Divided City

    by Helena Dean | Nov 02, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


    Figure 2 Arcade Houses

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


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

    Figure 4_Stalinallee Phase 1

    Figure 5_Stalinallee Phase 1

    Figure 6_Stalinallee Phase 1

    Figure 7_Stalinallee Phase 1

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


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

    Figure 9_ Stalinallee Phase 2

    Figure 10_ Stalinallee Phase 2

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


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

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


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

    Figure 13, Walter Gropius 1

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


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


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


    Figure 17, Oscar Niemeyer

    Figure 18, Oscar Niemeyer

    Figure 19, Oscar Niemeyer

    Figure 20, Oscar Niemeyer

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


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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

    Figure 24, Nikolaiviertel

    Figure 25, Nikolaiviertel

    Figure 26, Nikolaiviertel

    Figure 27, Nikolaiviertel

    Figure 28, Nikolaiviertel

    Figure 29, Nikolaiviertel
    Figure 24–29, Nikolaiviertel


    Visible Ruins 

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

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

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

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

    Figure 30, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

    Figure 31 Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

    Figure 32, Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church

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


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


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


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


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

    Figure 37, Anhalter Bahnhof

    Figure 38, Anhalter Bahnhof

    Figure 39, Anhalter Bahnhof

    Figure 40, Anhalter Bahnhof

    Figure 41, Anhalter Bahnhof

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


    Figure 43, Franziskaner-Klosterkirche

    Figure 44, Franziskaner-Klosterkirche

    Figure 45, Franziskaner-Klosterkirche

    Figure 46, Franziskaner-Klosterkirche

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


    Invisible Ruins: Berlin’s Parks 

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

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


    Social Housing from East, West and Unified Berlin

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

    Figure 48, Marzahn

    Figure 49, Marzahn

    Figure 50, Marzahn

    Figure 51, Marzahn

    Figure 52, Marzahn

    Figure 53, Marzahn

    Figure 54, Marzahn

    Figure 55, Marzahn

    Figure 56, Marzahn
    Figure 48–56, Marzahn


    Figure 57, Gropiusstadt

    Figure 58, Gropiusstadt

    Figure 59, Gropiusstadt

    Figure 60, Gropiusstadt

    Figure 61, Gropiusstadt

    Figure 62, Gropiusstadt

    Figure 63, Gropiusstadt
    Figure 57–63, Gropiusstadt


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

    Figure 64, Alvaro Siza

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


    Figure 66, John Hejduk

    Figure 67, John Hejduk

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


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


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


    Figure 71, Aldo Rossi

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


    Figure 73, damaged mosque, Baghdad

    Figure 74, damaged mosque baghdad

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



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

    2 Ibid, 63.

    3 Ibid, 50

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

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

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

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

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

    9 Ibid, 46.

  • Berlin: Post-War Reconstruction (or Destruction)

    by Helena Dean | Oct 04, 2021

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


    From Baghdad to Berlin

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

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

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

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

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

    Topography of Terror Museum

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


    Excavated Gestapo prison cells make up the outdoor exhibit 

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

    The Humboldt Forum 

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

    A snapshot of recent articles following the opening of the Humboldt Forum


    The newly opened Humboldt Forum, view from the Spree River, Berliner Dome on the right


    Reconstructed baroque facades against the modern concrete grid of the eastern facade


    Reconstructed baroque facades against the modern concrete grid of the eastern facade


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

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

    The newly reconstructed baroque facades of Humboldt Forum


    Humboldt Forum and Berlin Television Tower (Berliner Fernsehturm) to the right 


    The Atles Museum viewed from inside the courtyard of Humboldt Forum


    An interior courtyard in the Humboldt Forum where modern and baroque walls meet


    Close up of the reconstructed baroque details in the interior courtyard of the museum


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

    Sketch_Understanding the History of the Site (click to view full-size image)


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

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

    History of the Site


    The Palace of the Republic lives on in the museum store as keychains and cups among other things 


    Marx and Engels Statue remains in Marx-Engels Forum in front of the former Palast Der Republik and the current Humboldt Forum



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

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

    3 Topographie Des Terrors,

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

    5 Ibid,

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

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

    8 Ibid.

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

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

  • Another Year with the Graduate Student Lightning Talks!

    by Helena Dean | May 13, 2021

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

    GSLT workshop
    "Global Modernisms" Graduate Student Lightning Talk Workshop

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

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

    What are the Lightning Talks workshops?

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

    Read about the 2021 workshops

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

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

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


    "Politics of Historic Preservation" Graduate Student Lightning Talk Workshop


  • Member Stories: Charlette Caldwell

    by Miles Travis | May 04, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Member Stories: Macarena de la Vega de León

    by Miles Travis | Apr 07, 2021

    Work from Home

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Can you briefly summarize your current work?

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

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

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

    How can SAH support young professionals?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    When and how did you become involved with SAH?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Member Stories: Pollyanna Rhee

    by Miles Travis | Apr 07, 2021

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

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

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

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

    Does your current work still involve urban landscapes and environmentalism?

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

    State Street perspective

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Has SAH enriched your work and experience with architectural history?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    by Helena Dean | Mar 09, 2021

    screen shot of Method Acts workshop

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

  • SAH Graduate Student Lightning Talks Introduces Virtual Workshops

    by Miles Travis | Feb 19, 2021

    Zoom gallery view of graduate student lightening talks

    "Politics of Historic Preservation" Graduate Student Lightning Talk Workshop


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

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

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

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

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

    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.

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    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).

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    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.

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    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.

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    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.


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