SAH Blog

  • An American in Saigon

    by User Not Found | May 06, 2015

    April 30, 2015 marked the 40th anniversary of the Fall of Saigon. This event was highlighted in posters all throughout Vietnam, from Ho Chi Minh City in the south, to Hue in central Vietnam, and Hanoi in the north. The posters displayed images of proud men, women, and children—farmers, graduates, businessmen, and servicemen.1 I was in the capital city of Hanoi on April 30, and expected to witness festivities that celebrated Reunification Day, as the event is officially known in Vietnam.2 This would not be the case, since the activities were directed south toward Ho Chi Minh City—Saigon, the former capital of the Republic of Vietnam. In fact, halfway through the day I forgot it was a holiday at all. I was reminded when the fireworks display above Hoan Kiem Lake commenced promptly at 9:00 pm.

    When I got up that morning I switched back and forth between channels showing the parade in Ho Chi Minh City celebrating reunification and CNN’s coverage of the unrest in Baltimore. As an American who has loved the time I have spent in Vietnam and also my visits to Baltimore, the irony cut like a knife. Physical and emotional scars from the Fall of Saigon still exist in Vietnam and its diaspora. They were hidden under the veil of unity, while the freshly reopened wounds of disunity in Baltimore were being laid bare for the world to see.

    On April 30, 1975, the People’s Army of Vietnam and the National Liberation Front captured Saigon as the remaining U.S. Marines evacuated, along with thousands of South Vietnamese in Operation Frequent Wind. There are many lasting images of the final days of the Vietnam War (or the American War as it is called in Vietnam). Hopeful evacuees rushing the U.S. Embassy grounds, overloaded helicopters lifting up precariously from rooftops. The image of the North Vietnamese tank crashing through the front gates of the Independence Palace is iconic for the Reunification holiday. 

    Vietnam-Figure-1
    Figure 1. Reunification Day poster in Hue, Vietnam. Image of tank at the Independence Palace is superimposed on the number 40.

    HCMC

    Modern Ho Chi Minh City is fast-paced, bustling, and cosmopolitan. It is similar to Addis Ababa in that none of the places I visited in the city were listed as World Heritage sites. This does not mean that the city’s heritage is based solely on the image of a modern metropolis, as it is in Addis Ababa. In fact, the two major centers I visited in Ho Chi Minh City are referred to as historic Cholon (Ho Chi Minh City’s Chinatown) and Saigon. Both of these neighborhoods were previously independent cities that date back to the late 17th and 18th centuries, respectively.3 Chinese merchants settled Cholon, while Saigon was the Viet area. A Khmer minority was also present in the region.

    Vietnam-Figure-2
    Figure 2. Cholon and its waterways. Source: Elisee Reclus, Nouvelle Geographie Universelle. La terre et les hommes (Paris, 1876): 923. The British Library, The Flickr Commons.

    Cholon and Saigon were industrious ports located along the canals of the Saigon River. “HCMC is among SE Asian cities whose first civilizations were founded at water intersection areas,” notes geographer Vu Thi Hong Hanh. Hanh continues “The navigable rivers and canals have served in the past as an important route into the city, often being the main approach to city.”4 The Museum of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Gia Long Palace) covers this early history and geography, emphasizing the various commercial trades of neighborhoods within Cholon and Saigon.5

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    Figure 3. Binh Tay Market in Cholon. “Cho Lon” literally means “big market” in Vietnamese. The original Chinese (in both Mandarin and Cantonese) name for the area meant “embankment.”

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    Figure 4. Exhibit on commercial and artistic trades. Museum of Ho Chi Minh City.

    The Museum of Ho Chi Minh City is one of the lesser-visited sites in the city, but I would argue it is imperative to understanding the complex history of the former capital of South Vietnam. The official mission of the museum has evolved over the years from focusing on the revolutionary past to the city’s past. The revolutionary past still takes a prominent position in the exhibition space; however, efforts have been made to focus on other cultural aspects such as arts, family life, and technology.

    Another important aspect of the museum is the history of the building itself. This is not covered in a thorough manner in the museum, but it certainly should be. The building is an artifact that could aid in one’s understanding of the various political forces that shaped the history of the city. Built by French architect Marie-Alfred Foulhoux during the time of French colonization, the building passed hands from the French to Japanese imperialists back to the French, to the State of Vietnam to the Republic of Vietnam to the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. It was a residence, administrative office, courthouse, and museum. Today it also serves as occasional backdrop for wedding photographs. All of this in less than 100 years.

    Vietnam-Figure-5
    Figure 5. Passageway to bunker that was constructed in 1962 during Diem presidency.

    This schizophrenic past is only lightly interpreted in the building, and focuses on the additions completed during the time of Ngo Dinh Diem, president of the Republic of Vietnam. Diem had a bunker and underground tunnel system constructed under the building when he used it as a residence in 1962. His previous residence, the Norodom Palace, had been bombed and partially destroyed.

    On Reunification

    My favorite singular building in Ho Chi Minh City was the Reunification Palace, formerly known as Independence Palace. Similar to the site of the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City, this building, its garden complex, and its geographical setting within the larger area of historic Saigon are all imbued with the complicated narrative of the history of the city. This 1966 building was constructed on the site of the Norodom Palace, an extravagant building completed in 1875 meant to serve as the residence of the Admiral-Governor of Cochinchina. With the reconfiguration of the French colonies in Southeast Asia the Norodom Palace played a lesser role than originally intended, and sat vacant for several decades, used only occasionally for ceremonial events. It wasn’t until 1955 that the building was renamed Independence Palace, and was later used by Diem as his presidential palace.

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    Figure 6. Palais du Gouverneur General a Saigon (Norodom Palace, later Independence Palace) 1875. Photograph by Emile Gsell. Architect: Georges L'Hermitte. Constructed between 1868-1875. Source: Flickr.

    Members of the Vietnam Air Force bombed Norodom Palace in an unsuccessful assassination attempt on Diem in 1962. Diem survived and moved his residence to the Gia Long Palace, where he constructed the shelter and underground tunnels. The damage to Norodom Palace was significant, and Diem ordered demolition of the building and replacement with a modern palatial structure. Diem was eventually assassinated before the new building was completed.

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    Figure 7. Reunification palace today. Architect: Ngo Viet Thu, 1966.

    French-trained Vietnamese architect Ngo Viet Thu designed the new Independence Palace, which still stands today. Thu studied architecture at École Supérieure d'architecture in Đà Lạt, and later the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, where he won the Grand Prix de Rome in 1955. There is a dearth of literature on Thu and his work, although it appears he had a successful career and international recognition—he was the first Asian architect designated an honorary fellow of the American Institute of Architects.

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    Figure 8. Game room in Reunification Palace.

    Architectural critic Mitchell Owens describes the interior design of the building and its symbolic layout in flowery prose befitting of the amount of opulence and careful contemplation put into the edifice:

    The palace that Thu built is deliriously glamorous, a lip-smacking mix of Turandot melodrama and James Bond cool. Walls sprout gilded sconces the size of industrial-strength woks. Ceilings drip with blocky chandeliers. A reception room is sheathed in gold lacquer and scattered with Parsons tables, while the den is a 1960's rec room writ large, right down to the barrel-shaped wet bar and king-size sectional sofa.6

    Photographer Richard Ross chooses to highlight the other, more sinister side of the building’s design in his visually stunning book Architecture of Authority. He includes bleak images of a communications bunker and underground passageway, necessary components of the design in the fragile status of the Republic of Vietnam.

    Thu’s design for the structure is explained in the display boards throughout the structure. This building is exceptionally well maintained (Owens describes it as preserved in “curatorial amber”—obviously this made me chuckle) and interpreted in a straightforward and explanatory manner, in contrast to its close neighbors the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City and the War Remnants Museum. Most of the interpretation is given over to the history of the building itself, the use of its various rooms, and its design. Explanatory boards offer interpretations in Vietnamese, English, and French.

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    Figure 9. Display board in Reunification Palace.

    The Reunification Palace is a central landmark to the festivities on Reunification Day. The giant government-organized parade that happens in Ho Chi Minh City starts at the Saigon Zoo, runs down Le Duan Street, and symbolically passes through Reunification Palace. Legions of military men march through the streets of Ho Chi Minh City, followed by civilians in colorful outfits celebrating Vietnam’s heritage. The heavy military representation, however, along with the symbolic encounter with Reunification Palace is an annual re-enactment of conquest, a reminder that old Saigon is no more.

    On Remnants

    It was on my visit to the Taj Mahal that I had one of many deep conversations with my friend Roshida about cultural heritage and destruction. Roshida also studied at the University of Virginia, although she was pursuing a law degree while I was pursuing my master’s in architectural history. Our tour guide had just explained that the Taj Mahal was covered with bamboo scaffolding during World War II as a means to divert potential bombing by the Axis Powers.7

    “But it’s the TAJ!” I exclaimed. “Who would bomb the TAJ??!! Someone would actually bomb the Taj??”
    Roshida, slowly and patiently, as if explaining to a five-year-old, “Yes, Amber, someone would bomb the Taj.”
    “I just can’t believe it, I mean, it’s the symbol of India!”
    “Amber, we would bomb the Taj.”

    This was a hypothetical, of course, and I understood the point she was making. U.S.-India relationships have warmed since the Cold War, and President Obama and Prime Minister Modi have committed to supporting each other on several key foreign policy issues. It is highly unlikely that United States would have to take an aggressive military stance towards India, but the comment made me reflect on what I hold as infallible truths. I do not think I operate under a cloak of naiveté when it comes to pondering the extent of man’s capacity to destroy objects of intrinsic, universal value. While I was in India, for instance, news of Islamic State militants destroying historic sites and artifacts in Iraq went viral. Cultural preservationists and lay people alike know of the Taliban’s destruction of the Buddhas in Bamiyan in 2001. I am well aware of the U.S. nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, and also the looting of the National Museum of Iraq after the U.S. invasion of the country. The U.S. military presence added a degree of destabilization that left cultural artifacts vulnerable. The list of World Heritage sites destroyed in the Syrian civil war continues to grow. We have ancient examples, millennia worth, of structures destroyed in the name of war and conquest. It still is unfathomable for me to believe that in this day and age, destruction of irreplaceable heritage is considered a viable strategy for various parties in conflict. My time in Vietnam, however, has been eye opening, pushing me to confront the realities of war.

    Ho Chi Minh City, while retaining the historic infrastructure of canals and prominent streets, does not retain much of its historic urban fabric. This was annihilated during the Tet Offensive of 1968—Cholon suffered heavy damage, the whole neighborhood was practically razed. The Vietnam War was not fought on traditional rules of “warfare” (I have a very hard time understanding how war even has rules, it is all destruction to me, but that is a different blog post for a different day), and forces on both sides of the conflict wreaked extreme havoc on cities and civilians. It took a lot of effort on my part to reimagine historic Cholon while I was visiting. There is very little in the way of interpretation in the neighborhood itself.

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    Figure 10. Cholon after Tet Offensive. Source: www.history.com.

    Two World Heritage sites that were particularly poignant in juxtaposing the remnants of war with the present were the My Son Sanctuary outside Hoi An, and the Citadel in Hue, another site of a major battle during the Tet Offensive. At My Son there are signs marking craters that were telltale emblems of the carpet-bombing by American forces in 1969. In Hue there was a concerted effort to present to the public the vast amount of damage that the Citadel complex suffered during the Tet Offensive, and the tremendous amount of work done to reconstruct the buildings in the complex. A number of natural World Heritage sites in Vietnam were also physically altered by the war, these include Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, and Ha Long Bay. From the obliteration of cultural sites, to neighborhoods, to whole towns, to forests and farms, to the lasting environmental and human effects of Agent Orange, the amount of destruction in the country by both North and South Vietnamese forces and their allies is almost immeasurable.

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    Figure 11. Ruins of My Son Sanctuary. The green space in the foreground is one-fourth of a bomb crater from a U.S. carpet-bombing campaign during the Vietnam War.

    Vietnam-Figure-12
    Figure 12. Exhibit in Citadel at Hue that documents the post-war restoration process throughout the city.

    I felt a manner and degree of shame I was not accustomed to when visiting these complexes. This is where the “we” that my friend Roshida referred to in India comes in. As an American I am a part of that “we.” That “we,” of course, did not refer to Roshida or myself, per se. We, as Roshida implied, was the United States government and military, and as such, we, the civilians, are implicated in the destruction. Or are we? I have spent much time in Vietnam thinking about this question. Wondering if my shame was warranted—I wasn’t even alive during the war. Wondering if my shame was instructive—could these remnants of war be lessons I could teach my students, could they be things I take with me on my day-to-day activities as both scholar and preservationist?

    There is much work to be done in Vietnam around issues of cultural preservation and heritage, particularly as it relates to the “American War.” One could write a book, or several books, on interpretation of historic sites related to the drastic socio-political changes that swept the country, sites like the Museum of Ho Chi Minh City (Gia Long Palace) and the Reunification Palace, about purpose-built sites such as the War Remnants Museum (which will be discussed shortly) and about the UNESCO World Heritage sites that are currently being reconstructed as a response to the growing tourism in Vietnam, such as the My Son Sanctuary and the Citadel of Hue.


    The War Remnants Museum was formerly called “Exhibition House for U.S. and Puppet Crimes” as well as the “Exhibition House for Crimes of War and Aggression,” and “Museum of American Atrocities.” It is important to go into the museum with an understanding of that information, since the narrative of the museum still follows those lines. Cultural geographer Jamie Gillen, who is my contemporary in age, notes:

    I was born after the war ended and in the eyes of the Party I have only a patchwork and biased understanding of the Vietnam War and no understanding of the American War. The narrative driving the museum is of such targeted force and with such contemporary relevance that it is arguably one of the goals of the museum to create a sense of personal responsibility about the American War among tourists like myself who would not ordinarily give it much sustained thought.8

    This is one of the many goals of the museum. It is successful in that endeavor. As cultural critic Mark Edmunson notes, “The museum has an effect on people. American students break down in tears; they talk about being ashamed to be Americans."9 I went as an observer, as a public historian, as a professor of American studies. Certainly I went as an American too, but one with a personally informed view of the events as a black American, and as someone who is close to an uncle who served with the 82nd Airborne in Vietnam.

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    Figure 13. War Remnants Museum.

    There were a few actual war remnants in the front lawn of the museum complex, mainly airplanes, helicopters, and tanks. There was a replica prison and torture cell off to the left. Upon entering one goes to the top floor to follow the exhibit sequence down to the ground floor. The first exhibit room is entitled “Historical Truths” as a means to either: set the record straight, or push forward propaganda, depending on your own interpretation of the events that led to the American War.

    The photography exhibit entitled “Requiem” is striking—it is aesthetically poignant, moving and compelling, at the same time that it leaves one stunned. Stunned from the horror of it all. The museum is light in the way of artifacts, and perhaps this is because the pictures speak for themselves. They are absolutely shocking. There is little contextual interpretation though there are lots of captions. Some are speculative. I found the photography exhibit interesting as a photographer myself. It was captivating to see which countries the photojournalists came from—Vietnam, the U.S., France, Japan, Australia, Austria, England, Germany, Switzerland, Cambodia, and Singapore. These are men who put their lives on the line to document one of the most gruesome chapters in world history.

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    Figure 14. Cover of Bunyo Ishikawa's book Vietnam War Through a Photographer's Eyes. Source: http://mikitimi-books-prints.highwire.com/

    The number of black faces I saw in the museum struck me. And I don’t mean other visitors; I mean black faces on the walls, in the pictures, on the American side. One doesn’t often see black faces in museums unless they are African or African-American themed museums. Here it was clear there was an overrepresentation of black faces. One of the photographers, Bunyo Ishikawa from Japan, even had a black soldier as the cover image of his book, Vietnam War Through a Photographer’s Eyes. I saw my 82nd Airborne veteran uncle’s face on every black soldier in the exhibit. It hurt me to the core to think that these were some of the memories he had hidden deep within his psyche. Things he still won’t talk about to this day.

    When I got back to my hostel that evening, I did a bit of research on the percentage of black soldiers serving in Vietnam. Blacks were overrepresented on the front lines, and a higher percentage of blacks were serving in the war than the percentage of blacks in the States at that time. Part of this is due to the draft, and part of this is due to the dire situation in inner-city communities in the United States—men enlisting to complete a tour of duty and hopefully come home with military benefits granted to veterans. I came across a book while in the museum entitled Memphis Nam Sweden: The Story of a Black Deserter. It made me think of the perilous situation that black active military and veterans faced in the twentieth century, putting their lives on the line in war and facing discrimination at home.

    These observations relate back to the current situation of urban unrest in Baltimore in very real ways. While doing research on architecture in Vietnam I came across an article in the Journal of Architectural Education by urban planner and peace activist Robert J. Heifetz. It was eerily relevant to me as an American visiting Vietnam during the anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, and as a black American watching Baltimore burn while I am abroad. The article, entitled “The Urban Crisis,” was published in October 1969. It was adapted from an address Heifetz gave at the ACSA conference earlier that year. In it, Heifetz calls for a radical new approach to architectural education that is critical of Band-Aid fixes to urban issues and that continually reinforces the architecture profession’s social responsibilities. Additionally, he argues that the organizational structures that govern the profession should be committed to supporting activities meant to “end poverty and discrimination and to improve the quality of the physical, social and economic environment.”10 Heifetz argues that organizations such as the ACSA should protest “the misallocation of over 80 billion dollars to support an enormously inflated military machine … thereby draining the energies and resources away from the essential social, economic and physical reconstruction so essential both at home and abroad.”11 Here, of course, he is talking about American military investment in the Vietnam War. Heifetz quotes Lewis Mumford, who gave an address entitled “Vietnam Before and After” to the Ethical Culture Society in New York City on May 3, 1968, for the Committee of the Planning Professions to End the War in Vietnam:

    What right has the American government to preach law and order, respect for life and property, in American cities, when it has carried lawlessness and disorder, dehumanization and moral degradation to their ultimate limits in Vietnam? The group of architects, planners, engineers and technicians that have come here tonight are right in believing that the state of our cities today is directly connected with the shame of our presence and our actions in Vietnam. They are right, likewise, in believing that the tens of billions of dollars that have been squandered on putting a huge military establishment into Vietnam, and on poisoning crops, burning villages, defoliating vegetation, spraying napalm on innocent civilians, or saturating North Vietnam with TNT bombs by the multimegaton, should have been invested in permanent works of construction and education in the United States. Our moral bankruptcy, our political bankruptcy and our economic bankruptcy have gone hand in hand, one re-enforcing the other.12

    The historical context of Mumford’s statement is crucial. His address was given almost a month to the day after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The anguish of that event was felt around the world, and particularly in the United States as predominately African-American communities in Washington, D.C., Wilmington, Delaware, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Louisville, and yes, Baltimore, were scenes of civil unrest and riots. It does not take a major leap to see how these issues are connected and still relevant in April 2015—in Baltimore and Ho Chi Minh City, former Saigon.

    I have a few more weeks here in Vietnam, and my time will certainly not always be spent looking into the horrific legacy of the war. For a part of me, thinking about these things is natural—I am a historian, I focus on public interpretations of the past, and quite frankly I’m traveling to do just that—to undertake a study of various preservation practices on the international level. The sites I have examined throughout this trip have complicated histories, and are located in countries that face a variety of challenges including reconciling a colonial past with a post-colonial present, struggles with political corruption and/or instability, and, in some cases, burgeoning populations and a high premium for real estate in historically significant areas. 

    In a sense, it is my job to think through the ugly, mangled portions of our collective past, but I like Vietnam too much to continuously go back to the war. Plus, this country has millennia worth of history to examine, and I intend to check out ancient architectural sites that had nothing to do with the ugliness of the Vietnam War. It does not mean I will avoid the topic—it would be intellectually lazy and dishonest of me to do so. I will maintain reverence for the fallen at the sites I visit. I will also enjoy what Vietnam is today—a beautiful, tropical, and lively destination with a friendly, welcoming population and a lot of gorgeous things to offer in the way of culture and history.

    H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Google Map

    Recommended Readings

    Jonathan Burton, “Mobile Guide: Saigon, Then and Now,” Wall Street Journal September 3, 1991: A16

    Jeanne Conte, “Southern Vietnam Today: Where Healing Goes On — Slowly,” World & I 20 no. 11 (November 2005): 5

    Jennifer W. Dickey, “Review: Reunification Palace,” The Public Historian 33 no. 2 (Spring 2011): 152-162

    Elena Givental, “Ho Chi Minh City: Contested Public and Private Space in the Vietnamese Metropolis,” Focus on Geography 56 no. 1 (2013): 32-44

    Erik Harms, “Eviction Time in the New Saigon: Temporalities of Displacement in the Rubble of Development,” Cultural Anthropology 28 no. 2 (2013): 344-368

    Gregg Huff and Luis Angeles, “Globalization, Industrialization and Urbanization in Pre-World War II Southeast Asia,” Explorations in Economic History 48 (2011): 20–36

    Du Huynh, “The Misuse of Urban Planning in Ho Chi Minh City,” Habitat International 48 (2015): 11-19

    Annette M. Kim, “The Mixed-Use Sidewalk,” Journal of the American Planning Association 78 no. 3 (2012): 225-238

    Priscilla Koh, “You Can Come Home Again: Narratives of Home and Belonging among Second-Generation Viet Kieu in Vietnam,” Sojourn: Journal o f Social Issues in Southeast Asia 30 no. 1 (2015): 173-214

    Chee-Kien Lai, “Beyond Colonial and National Frameworks Some Thoughts on the Writing of Southeast Asian Architecture,” Journal of Architectural Education 63 n. 2 (2010): 74-75

    Ann Marie Leshkowich, “Wandering Ghosts of Late Socialism: Conflict, Metaphor, and Memory in a Southern Vietnamese Marketplace,” The Journal of Asian Studies 67 no. 1 (February 2008): 5-41

    John Martone, “Historic Truths / Looking at Earth,” Public Culture 14 no. 3 (Fall 2002): 477-492

    Simon Montlake, “Will Urban Growth Trample Vietnam's Charm?” Christian Science Monitor 99 no. 75 March 15, 2007: 7

    Srilata Ravi, “Modernity, Imperialism and the Pleasures of Travel: The Continental Hotel in Saigon,” Asian Studies Review 32 no. 4 (2008): 475-490

    Carl Robinson, “A Time-Out,” Metropolis Magazine (September 2013) http://www.metropolismag.com/September-2013/A-Time-Out/

    Hue-Tam Ho Tai, “Representing the Past in Vietnamese Museums,” Curator 41 no. 3 (September 1998): 187-199

    Gwendolyn Wright, The Politics of Design in French Colonial Urbanism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991)


    1. I will refer to the city as “Ho Chi Minh City” when discussing present context and “Saigon” in the historical context.
    2. Due to the very complex nature of the war, the day is also known in various Vietnamese communities as Black April, Day We Lost the Country, Liberation Day, National Day of Shame, National Day of Resentment, and Victory Day.
    3. Before the city was known as Saigon, it was Prey Nokor, part of the ancient Khmer Empire.
    4. Vu Thi Hong Hanh, “Canal-side Highway in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), Vietnam – Issues of Urban Cultural Conservation and Tourism Development,” GeoJournal Special Issue: Heritage, Politics and Identity in Southeast Asia 66 no. 3 (2006): 172.
    5. The structure was originally meant to serve as a commercial trade exhibition space, but never fulfilled that purpose. Instead it was retrofitted for the residence of the Lieutenant-Governor of Cochinchina.
    6. Mitchell Owens, “Madame Nhu Almost Slept Here,” New York Times January 12, 2003 http://www.nytimes.com/2003/01/12/magazine/style-madame-nhu-almost-slept-here.html.
    7. The Taj Mahal was covered several other times, during the Indian-Pakistani Wars of 1965 and 1971, and shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
    8. Jamie Gillen, “Tourism and Nation Building at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 104 no. 6 (2014): 1313.
    9. Mark Edmundson, “In the New Vietnam,” Raritan: A Quarterly Review 28 no. 2 (2008): 160.
    10. Robert J. Heifetz, “The Urban Crisis,” Journal of Architectural Education 23 no. 4 (October 1969): 33.
    11. Ibid.
    12. Ibid., 33-34.
  • Notes on the SAH Roundtable, "The Built Environment: Resources for the Next 75 Years"

    by User Not Found | May 04, 2015

    At the 2015 annual conference of the Society of Architectural Historians, members from across the globe could be seen taking notes on paper while juggling their tablets and smartphones—a typical mix of analog and digital practices in a world filled with print and digital media options. On Friday afternoon, a group joined a panel convened by SAH’s Digital Humanities Task Force to imagine and plan for how architects, students, and scholars will be working 75 years from now and in particular, how to prepare the source materials of today for the research environment of the future. 

    Panelists:

    • Dianne Harris, Director of the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities (IPRH) and Professor of Landscape Architecture, Architecture, Art History, and History, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
    • William Whitaker, Curator and Collections Manager of the Architectural Archives   of the School of Design, University of Pennsylvania
    • Ann Baird Whiteside, Librarian and Assistant Dean for Information Services, Frances Loeb Library, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University
    • Tamar Zinguer, Associate Professor of Architecture, The Cooper Union  

    Chair: Abby Smith Rumsey, SAH Board Member, Chair of the Digital Humanities Task Force

    The panelists represented a range SAH members’ interests: pedagogy, libraries and archives, conservation and historic preservation, research and architectural practice.

    Panelists addressed three questions:

    • What is the full scope of resources we need to collect, both digital and analog, to study the built environment?
    • What tools and technologies, such as GIS or text mining, will lead to new understandings and innovative questions?
    • What skills will students, scholars, and practitioners need to work with the resources of the 21st century?

    The first question about the scope of future collections called for speculation about what scholars will be studying in the future. Acknowledging that we simply cannot predict what will interest our successors in 25, 50, let alone 75 years, Dianne Harris noted wryly that we should “keep everything.” But she also noted that the issue of scale will be the critical challenge in the coming decades. Tamar Zinguer and Bill Whitaker noted despite the existing wealth of documentation, we also should be creating some where none now exists—in particular, documenting architects’ practice and even how buildings are used. Creating documentation of a design studio’s working practices, for example, has become relatively easy, considering everyone carries a video camera on their smart phone these days. Graduate students and postdocs could be trained in video documentation and oral history to capture contemporary practices.

    The panel acknowledged the need to step up collecting born-digital sources, as that is the default mode of documentation now in text, image, sound, and also in the design process itself (CAD). The mention of proprietary software used by design firms prompted expressions of dismay about how to deal with rapidly changing software formats and complicated analytical and presentation packages, such as GIS. They are expensive to handle today and will be difficult to render in the future. This is not a problem that the field can solve on its own, but it is widely shared by other disciplines and in professional and for-profit sectors as well. We should look to those sectors for solutions to what is destined to be a universal access problem within a decade or two. That said, it will be very important that digital archives exist alongside complementary inventories of physical artifacts (such as rubber stamps and 35mm slides) for a more comprehensive view of architectural practice. The tools and media of the past will themselves become subjects of study.  

    Ann Whiteside noted that scale—the sheer size of the documentary record—is far from the only challenge the profession will face. Due to the overwhelming amount of data generated each day, the field will need to sort through what new genres, such as blogs and websites, have long-term scholarly value. Moreover, in the digital realm, there’s virtually nothing created that does not come entangled in a thicket of rights issues. These are primarily copyright issues, pertaining to the ownership of underlying legal rights for created works. At present, being able to consult such documents online is virtually impossible. The rights issues will be sorted out over time. But it is difficult to commit to collecting vast amounts of materials that are complicated to manage when their current accessibility to researchers is moot.

    The panels discuss the issues of which tools and technologies to use together with the skills necessary to do research in the digital age—again underscoring that “the digital age” will always be a hybrid environment a mix of analog and digital sources and skills. All panelists called for widening the field’s collaboration with people in other disciplines who are developing, using, and also having to archive suites of digital tools and technologies. Everyone anticipated the growth of scholarly teams to investigate and publish research topics, collaborations that will extend well beyond the field of architectural history to include archaeologists, programmers and software designers, IT professionals, materials scientists, other cultural historians, and so forth. Collaboration is both a resource to use as skill that needs to be cultivated.

    Whiteside and Harris suggested that collaborative partnerships and shared collections (such as SAHARA) are likely to be the only practical way to handle the exponential growth of data. Whitaker talked about the benefits of large data sets and current digital tools, such as analyzing the DNA of building materials, to inspire new scholarly and professional insights—yes, we will be working with geneticists as well!—but worried about the potentially prohibitive cost and complexity of their use. Zinguer alluded to the data visualizations used by surgeons and airline pilots, which are able to quickly and effectively communicate vast amounts of data. Humanists, she argued, should borrow from the perceptual learning technologies in those fields and engage in similar training so their work with data becomes second nature. Echoing Harris and Whiteside, she further encouraged those in architectural history to look outside their discipline and forge alliances with others in the social sciences, computer science, and other professions.  

    At present, the profession has difficulty acknowledging and appropriately rewarding collaborative work, no matter how significant the results of collaborations may be. As Harris noted, this obstacle is a remnant of the traditional nature of academic work, in which many have entered specifically due to the prospect of working independently. However, there does seem to be a cultural shift towards collaboration, which must be acknowledged in teaching practices and by the administration. To address this very issue, SAH is collaborating with the College Art Association (CAA) on developing criteria for assessing digital work, and Abby Rumsey noted that collaboration looms large on their agenda. Panelists were unanimous in agreeing that academics must teach themselves and their students to be effective collaborators, especially in dealing with those in very different disciplines, such as engineering and computer science. 

    Harris discussed the imperative of teaching students how to think critically about digital collections. While the current generation of professors have lived through a transition from an analog to an analog-and-digital world, their students have not, and may lack the perspective to distinguish the digital artifact from "the real thing." For that reason, she argues, students must learn how to digitize and curate collections themselves, so they can recognize and consider what is lost in translation, and how those omissions can be made transparent. Zinguer added that students must also learn the "mastery of language," (i.e., good reading, writing and peer-editing). Skills in reading and drafting plans, she argues, including those on created on older software and on paper, are fading and must not be lost. 

    From a librarian/archivist's perspective, Whiteside argued that learning the necessary technology is far less of a problem for libraries and scholars than a solid understanding of copyright law—to which the audience vocally concurred. To confront the scale of the problem, Harvard has implemented a copyright "First Responder" hotline as part of the services provided by their libraries. In addition to legal issues, Whiteside believes that librarians need a stronger understanding of metadata and data management skills (beyond bibliographic citations) and must think increasingly with a mindset towards collaboration and preservation. 

    The panel was in agreement that the role of scholars, archivists, and students is changing too quickly to master here and now. Each acknowledged their struggle with new roles and responsibilities, and the tug-of-war between excitement and apprehension over what the current generation will leave behind for their discipline. While there were many valuable suggestions offered to the questions posed, the session ultimately underscored the monumental nature of the task. Adjustment to new ways of working demands the attention and commitment of each generation as they not only make their careers, but shape the field as they do so. We should anticipate that each generation of students will arrive with a new set of technological skills but still lacking in the critical skills of architectural literacy that will become more important in undergraduate and graduate education, rather than less, in the next 75 years. The complicated processes of adaptation to and adoption of new information technologies will be one of trial and error, in which our students should be encouraged to experiment, even at the risk of failure, in order to learn and share own knowledge with others. The time to begin is now.

  • Bury the Lantern: The Other Side of Promoting Farm Electrification

    by Kostis Kourelis | Apr 23, 2015

    In the late 1930s and early 1940s, numerous farm communities across the United States gathered to enact lantern funerals, the ritualized interring of antiquated kerosene lamps. Cloaked in the guise of mourning, these parodic rites were actually celebrations of the arrival of electric lighting in the rural landscape. In some cases, the burial plot was marked with a tombstone such as the one seen in Figure 1, which explains that the “coal-oil lamp” has been “abolished for all time” by the advent of electricity. In this example, the tombstone was created for an electric cooperative receiving funding from the Rural Electrification Administration (or REA). REA had been founded in 1935 under the New Deal to promote the expedient spread of electricity to America’s farms and rural communities. At the time of its founding, only around 11% of US farms were connected to central station electricity. To address this lack, REA developed a system of making loans directly to farming cooperatives to fund the extension of existing electric lines or pay for the construction of new generating facilities.

    Figure1 
    Figure 1: Tombstone for a kerosene lamp. The epitaph reads, “Here lies a coal-oil lamp. Buried here May 3, 1941 by the Adams Electric Cooperative as a symbol of the drudgery and toil which its member-families bore far longer than was necessary or right but which, with the energization of their own power system are now abolished for all time.” Image Credit: Record Group 221, Records of the Rural Electrification Administration, Department of Agriculture. Rural Electrification Administration. Photographic Prints of Electrification and Telephone Improvements in the Rural United States, 1936 - 1964. National Archives Identifier: 540048, HMS Entry Number: 221-P.

    At the upcoming SAH 2015 Annual Conference, as part of the panel “Architecture in a New Light” I presented a paper that explores how REA both encouraged and co-opted rural enthusiasm for electric lighting in its efforts to modernize the landscape of the American farm. This paper developed as a natural outgrowth of my dissertation, which examines the architecture and landscapes of rural electrification in the United States from 1935 to 1945. Combing through REA’s papers at the National Archives in Kansas City, I encountered dozens of pamphlets, advertisements, and wiring guides that constitute a print media discourse around rural lighting. REA and its partner corporations, including General Electric and Westinghouse, recognized that electric illumination represented a major transformation of farm life. In these publications, which date from the late 1930s and 1940s, lighting is shown as the harbinger of further electric modernization, part of a larger matrix of electric devices that comprise a comprehensive vision of all-electric farm living. This discourse of rural electric lighting and its promises for farm modernization more broadly are the focuses of my SAH paper. When I was invited to write this blog entry, I thought it would be interesting to examine the flip side—not the lionization of electricity, but the vilification of kerosene.  

    REA’s promotion of electric lighting was part of a institutional practice known as “load-building,” or encouraging farmers to adopt a range of electrified devices in order to ensure that cooperatives were using enough electricity for the government’s loans to be fruitful. Beyond aspiring to recoup government loans, REA hoped to spur the technological modernization of American farmsteads on a larger scale. In line with previous rural reform efforts, REA sought to bring the farmhouse up to an urban standard and to rationalize the farmstead following the efficient model of  industrial production.[1] In REA publications, electric light was used as a synecdoche for technological modernity on the farm—a literal and figurative “enlightenment”of farm life. By contrast, the “old coal-oil lamp” was cast as the antithesis of these ideas.

    In reality, the transition from kerosene to electric light was one of the most significant technological upgrades enabled by electrification. Many farmers already had access to other energy technologies that did not require central station electricity, such as batteries, liquid petroleum gas, and gasoline that powered radios, stoves, and engines. The switch to electricity from these technologies certainly represented a change, but not the same dramatic improvement that electric lighting offered over its predecessor. In the late 1930s, the majority of American agricultural populations still relied on kerosene lanterns for light both inside the farmhouse and on the farm. Dirty, arduous to maintain, and dangerous, these oil-burning lamps became a kind of symbol, as the tombstone epitaph in Figure 1 suggests, of all the “drudgery and toil” of pre-electrification farm living. One study by the American Society of Electrical Engineers Committee on Uses of Electric Light in Agriculture found that electric light saved farmers an hour and a half a day on average doing their chores, halving the required time with a coal-oil lamp.[2]

    Figure2leftFigure2rightFigure 2: (left) Farmhouse Floor Plan with outlets and lighting, (right) Living Room lighting and wiring diagram showing light switches and convenience outlets. Image Credit: Planning Your Farmstead Wiring and Lighting. Washington, D.C: U.S. Dept. of Agriculture, Rural Electrification Administration, 1946.

    Additionally, depictions of rural spaces illuminated by kerosene lanterns were set in contrast to those bathed in the steady, even glow of electric light. Illustrations, such as the one in Figure 2, link electric lighting to a new kind of spatial order, showing the farm as a series of circuit diagrams as farm families were urged to plan ahead for future lighting purchases and additional electrified conveniences. The spaces of kerosene, by contrast, were shown as cluttered, dim, and uncomfortable. For example, the cartoon seen below, captioned “Born Thirty Years Too Soon,” depicts a family attempting to enjoy nighttime leisure, all relying on the glow provided by a single kerosene lamp (Figure 3). As one family member precariously hoists the lamp to search for a misplaced book, the rest of the family is thrown into darkness and frustration. The relatively small sphere of illumination provided by a single kerosene lamp was also dramatized in filmmaker Joris Iven’s 1940 documentary for REA, Power and the Land, which tells the story of one family’s transition to electric power. The first half of the film, which depicts pre-electrification life on the farm, charts the daytime task of scouring and maintaining kerosene lamps and gloomy, atmospheric evenings huddled around a single lamp (Figure 4). Although electric bulbs were in fact 16-20 times brighter than the kerosene lamps they replaced, REA reinforced and even exaggerated the magnitude of this change in print media and film, conflating kerosene with pre-modern spaces and electric lighting with modern ones.[3]

    Figure3
    Figure 3: J.R. Williams, “Born Thirty Years Too Soon,” Rural Electrification News 1, no. 12 (August 1936): 24.  

    Figure4
    Figure 4: Film still from Power and the Land (director Joris Ivens for REA, 1940). Image Credit: Record Group 221, Records of the Rural Electrification Administration, Department of Agriculture. Rural Electrification Administration. Photographic Prints of Electrification and Telephone Improvements in the Rural United States, 1936 - 1964. National Archives Identifier: 540048, HMS Entry Number: 221-P.


    Personifications of the kerosene lantern, such as the one in Figure 5 or the actual lanterns buried as part of mock funerals went even further, suggesting that farmers who still burned kerosene embodied negative rural stereotypes of being behind-the-times, backwards, or stuck in their ways. Yet the burying of the kerosene lamp did not mean the end to this technology. Despite all of this negative publicity, most farm families still kept kerosene lanterns in case of a power outage, a relatively common occurrence during the early years of electrification. As with much of the electrification process, rural America’s conversion to electric light was selective and gradual.

    Figure5
    Figure 5
    : Berg, “Gosh,” reprinted from the Indianapolis Times in Rural Electrification News 1, no. 7 (March 1936): 22.

    Recommended Reading

    Adams, Jane. The Transformation of Rural Life: Southern Illinois, 1890-1990. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.

    Brown, D. Clayton. Electricity for Rural America: The Fight for the REA. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1980.

    Fitzgerald, Deborah K. Every Farm a Factory: The Industrial Ideal in American Agriculture. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.

    Jellison, Katherine. Entitled to Power: Farm Women and Technology, 1913-1963. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1993.

    Kline, Ronald R. Consumers in the Country: Technology and Social Change in Rural America. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000.

    Nye, David E. Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology, 1880-1940. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1990.

    Tobey, Ronald C. Technology As Freedom: The New Deal and the Electrical Modernization of the American Home. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996.


    Sarah RovangSarah Rovang is a Ph.D. candidate in the History of Art & Architecture at Brown University. Her dissertation Modernization and Architecture Under the Rural Electrification Administration, 1935–1945,explores the intersection of electricity, architecture, and the rural landscape in the United States during the New Deal. Her work has been supported by fellowships from the New England Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians and the Wolfsonian Museum in Miami.


    [1] See Kline, Jellison, and Fitzgerald in Recommended Reading below.

    [2] “Electric Lights Save Farm an Hour and a Half a Day in Doing Chores,” Rural Electrification News 4, no. 7 (March 1939): 22.

    [3] Lawrence C. Porter, “Good Lighting Inside and Outside the Farmhouse,” Rural Electrification News 3, no. 1 (September 1937): 3.  

  • Study Day: MoMA and UN Headquarters (Newsletter Report)

    by User Not Found | Apr 13, 2015

    The Museum of Modern Art’s current exhibition, Latin America in Construction: 1955-1980, marks the first time since 1955 that the institution has presented architecture in Latin America. Participants in SAH’s MoMA/UN Study Day on March 27, 2015 were treated to a preview of the show by Dr. Barry Bergdoll, then-Chief Curator of Architecture and Design and currently a professor of architectural history at Columbia University. The goal of the show, he said, was to recalibrate the notion of “Latin America” as an architectural adjective toward a more nuanced understanding of both the parallels and differences in the built environment of all countries in the region. The story of architecture in Latin America, as told by Dr. Bergdoll and revealed through the MoMA exhibition, fits squarely with my interest in a broad exploration of the center-periphery split in modern architectural historiography and the related international-regional divide in modern architecture. The exhibit’s fresh look at architecture in Latin America, rather than “Latin American” architecture,1operates at this intersection of center-periphery issues between the United States and Latin America and within the international-regional modernism debate that was playing out in the US at the time.2


    MoMAposter
    Figure 1. MoMA poster advertising the 1955 exhibition Latin American Architecture Since 1945

    The inventive forms and robust individualism of the architecture in Latin America developed in the early years of the modern movement captivated both the public and critics. The Brazil Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair seemed to point toward “a wholly new experimental modernism,”3 while the completion of the Ministry of Public Education and Health in Rio in 1943 caused Le Corbusier to proclaim that “the [architectural] torch has been passed.”4 

    model 
    Figure 2. Model of the Brazilian Ministry of Education and Health, completed in 1942 by a team of architects including Oscar Niemeyer, Lucio Costa, and Le Corbusier as consultant

    The Museum of Modern Art played a seminal role in the dissemination of architecture in Latin America, first through the 1943 exhibition Brazil Builds and then through the 1949 exhibition From Le Corbusier to Niemeyer, 1929-1949. This exhibition coincided with the construction of the United Nations Headquarters building in New York City, which was designed by an international team of architects that included Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer, and Julio Vilamajo. By the time of the 1955 MoMA exhibition Latin American Architecture Since 1945 most of Latin America was steadily committed to modern architecture, causing MoMA Director of Architecture and Design Arthur Drexler to remark that the quality of architecture in Latin America had surpassed that of the United States.5

    At the midcentury mark interest in the region took a turn toward the negative, however, as the United States shifted its post-war political interests and fractures within modern architectural discourse began to emerge. In 1948 MoMA held a symposium titled “What is Happening to Modern Architecture?” in order to respond to challenges by critics such as Lewis Mumford, who called for greater attention to regionalism and contextualization in modern architecture.6 The New Empiricists in Sweden were calling for a more humanized approach to modern architecture7 while Walter Gropius and Joseph Hudnut were fighting it out over the direction of modern architectural education at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.8 In 1951 Henry-Russell Hitchcock, co-definer of the International Style, found himself trying to justify and salvage its tenets9 and by 1954 American and European architectural critics expressed concern over the individualist and “disordered” modern forms developing in places like Latin America.10 The exclusion of Latin American architecture from MoMA’s 1932 Modern Architecture: International Exhibition presaged these competing strains within the field, signaling what would become a narrowing of acceptable modern architectural form language. Latin American architecture, once offering “a veritable crucible of new inventions in the forms of modern architecture,”11 became a lightening rod for criticism within the larger architectural discourse before facing eventual marginalization within the modern architectural canon. MoMA’s new exhibition on architecture in Latin America utilizes a more contextual approach in order to move the modern discourse beyond traditional stylistic and formal interpretations of narrowly curated ideals, dismantling foundational prejudices that have previously informed the historiography of the region.

    MoMAexhibition
    Figure 3. SAH MoMA/UN Study Day participants examining MoMA’s new exhibition Latin America in Construction: 1955-1980


    Jennifer-Tate-Bio-PicJennifer Tate, PhD Candidate, University of Texas

    Jennifer Tate is a PhD candidate in architectural history at the University of Texas in Austin. Jennifer holds a master's degree in architectural history from the University of Texas in Austin, as well as graduate degrees in political science from Georgetown University and international policy studies from Stanford University. She received her BA with honors in political science and mathematics from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. Jennifer is interested in the intersection of politics and power relations with architecture, especially in the examination of center-periphery issues and the related international-regional divide in modern architecture. She has a secondary interest in modern Turkish architecture. 



    1. see Luis Carranza and Fernando Lara, Modern Architecture in Latin America: Art, Technology, and Utopia (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2014).

    2. “What is Happening to Modern Architecture?” The Bulletin of The Museum of Modern Art, XV, no. 3 (Spring 1948), in Vincent Canizaro, ed., Architectural Regionalism: Collected Writings on Place, Identity, Modernity, and Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007), 292-309.

    3. Barry Bergdoll, “Learning from Latin America: Public Space, Housing, and Landscape,” in Barry Bergdoll, Carlos Eduardo Comas, Jorge Francisco Liernur, and Patricio del Real, eds., Latin America in Construction: Architecture 1955-1980 (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2015), 17.

    4. Barry Bergdoll, SAH MoMA/UN Study Day Tour, The Modem of Modern Art, New York, NY, March 27, 2015.

    5. Berdgoll, “Learning from Latin America,” 18-19 and Arthur Drexler, “Preface and Acknowledgments,” in Henry-Russell Hitchcock, Latin American Architecture Since 1945 (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1955).

    6. “What is Happening to Modern Architecture?” The Bulletin of The Museum of Modern Art, XV, no. 3 (Spring 1948), in Vincent Canizaro, ed., Architectural Regionalism: Collected Writings on Place, Identity, Modernity, and Tradition (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2007), 292-309.

    7. Anderson, Stanford, “The “New Empiricism – Bay Region Axis”: Kay Fisker and Postwar Debates on Functionalism, Regionalism, and Monumentality,” Journal of Architectural Education, Vol. 50, No. 3 (February 1997), pp. 197-207.

    8. Pearlman, Jill, “Joseph Hudnut’s Other Modernism at the “Harvard Bauhaus”,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Vol. 56, No. 4 (Dec. 1997), pp. 452-477.

    9. Hitchcock, Henry-Russell, “The International Style Twenty Years After,” Architectural Record, Vol. 110, No. 2 (August 1951), pp. 89-97.

    10. Carranza and Lara, Modern Architecture in Latin America, 180 and Berdgoll, “Learning from Latin America,” 21.

    11. Berdgoll, “Learning from Latin America,” 17.

  • Study Day: MoMA and UN Headquarters

    by User Not Found | Apr 08, 2015

    The Museum of Modern Art’s current exhibition, Latin America in Construction: 1955–1980, marks the first time since 1955 that the institution has examined architecture in Latin America. Participants in SAH’s MoMA/UN Study Day on March 27, 2015, were treated to a preview of the show by Dr. Barry Bergdoll, then-Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at MoMA and currently a professor of architectural history at Columbia University. Dr. Bergdoll opened the day by discussing the meaning of the exhibition title—construction as a metaphor for the making of architecture, construction of Latin American identity in the 20th century from both within the region and from the outside, and the (re)construction of a dialog between architects, countries, and ideas as Latin American architectural historiography undergoes reexamination. The goal of the show, he said, was to recalibrate the notion of “Latin America” as an architectural adjective toward a more nuanced understanding of both the parallels and differences in the built environment of all countries in the region.

    Photo-One
    Figure 1. Study Day participants exploring issues of housing in Latin America. 

    This theme, which runs through the entire show, was apparent upon entering the first room of the exhibition space. A series of hovering video screens displaying vibrant modern life in Latin America worked in tandem with architectural artifacts in order to convey a region in motion during the first part of the 20th century. Dr. Bergdoll explained that the works highlighted in this part of the exhibit were meant to contextualize pre-1955 Latin America as a region undergoing major development, growth, progress, and modernization—a region well on its way in its own way—rather than an empty receptacle waiting to receive architectural instructions from the United States or Europe.

    The second exhibition space contained drawings, models, photographs, and sketches for the Ciudad Universitaria in Caracas, Venezuela and the Ciudad Universitaria, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City. Participants had the chance to examine various site plans for both projects. The spectacularly detailed watercolor façade study of Juan O’Gorman’s Biblioteca Central on the UNAM campus was one highlight in this section. Dr. Bergdoll explained that architects in Latin America tended to take a more urban approach to university campuses, using them as tools for regionally contextualized urban development. The UNAM, according to the exhibit, coupled the functional city planning of CIAM with the spatial planning of Teotihuancan, allowing for a carefully planned urban environment with an expanded ceremonial center influenced by pre-Columbian cities. Additionally, the university plan took the natural environment and contours of the land into consideration. A beautifully rendered site plan by Mario Pani and Enrique del Moral Dominguez detailed how campus classrooms, living quarters, and landscaping were situated in harmony with the ancient lava flows upon which the UNAM was built.

    Photo-Two
    Figure 2. Drawings and artifacts for the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City. Juan O’Gorman’s 1952 watercolor façade study of the Biblioteca Central is on the far right, and the ink and watercolor site plan by Mario Pani and Enrique del Moral Dominguez is second from the right. 

    As the group progressed to the next space, the link between campus and city in Latin America became clear. In his introduction, Dr. Bergdoll had described campuses in Latin America as urban laboratories and wondered if those campuses should be considered small urban areas or if bigger developments like Brasilia should be considered large campuses. With this in mind the group entered the world of Brasilia, learning that it was intended to represent 50 years of development in 5 years (because of presidential politics, of course!), with an astonishing completion time of only 41 months. Lucio Costa’s schematic plan conveyed the progressive spirit of the capital city, described by Dr. Bergdoll as a ceremonial center and highway version of a garden city. Pointing to Costa’s plan for Brasilia, Dr. Bergdoll then shared a story about the moment he was first handed the drawing—the sheer exuberance of holding in his hands the “birth certificate” of the city.

    Photo-Three
    Figure 3. The winning competition entry for the Pilot Plan of Brasilia, by Lucio Costa in 1957. 

    It was evident from the beginning of the show that each part of the exhibition space was carefully considered. The galleries were arranged to visually reinforce the notion that Latin America’s architectural development intertwined both regionally and globally—walls opened up and long views were created as the spatial progression of the exhibition unfolded. These critical perspectives revealed commonalities between cities, architects, and architectural form language, as well as revealed differences.

    Photo-Four
    Figure 4. Participants exploring in the open, intermingled spaces of the exhibition. 

    The use of architecture to create public grounds and the interrelationship between interior and exterior experience emerged as two such commonalities. The placement of Lina Bo Bardi’s Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo (MASP) model within the exhibition underscored the notion of architecture as a tool for the reorganization of community and public space, with its emphasis on creating simultaneous views of the city and of the landscape beyond.

    Photo-Five
    Figure 5. 1957 model of Lina Bo Bardi’s Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo (MASP) in Brazil. 

    The second part of this whirlwind Study Day took participants to the newly restored UN Headquarters Building, a fitting complement to the morning’s topics of discussion. The group was met by Assistant Secretary General Michael Adlerstein, executive director of the UN Capital Master Plan. Mr. Adlerstein was responsible for overseeing the complex’s recent $2 billion restoration. He described the meticulously restored public entrance of the General Assembly Building—pointing out the first-of-its-kind exposed ceiling ductwork, the functionally and structurally integrated heating and cooling system, and the lyrically curved forms of the balconies above. He then led the group into the iconic UN General Assembly Hall. The scope and magnitude of the entire restoration project was made clear through the experience of this one room. Every element of the vast space, according to Mr. Adlerstein, was painstakingly removed, restored, and reassembled. Original colors and materials were also either restored or maintained. Returning the gold luster to the long vertical slats encircling the podium seemed to be a particularly challenging project, requiring the removal of tar and cigarette stains accumulated over the decades. The slats were not composed of darkly stained wood after all, as one participant had originally assumed!

    Photo-Six
    Figure 6. The recently restored UN General Assembly Hall by Oscar Niemeyer, Le Corbusier, Wallace Harrison, and an international team of architects. 

    The group then wound its way through various meeting spaces in the Secretariat Building, past vast planes of green-tinged blast glass and displays of art and artifacts donated by participant countries. The group was also able to observe a UN Millennium Development Project meeting in progress. Finally, the day concluded with a rooftop reception at the home of participant Konrad Wos, which overlooked the entire UN complex.

    I am incredibly grateful to the SAH for the opportunity to attend the MoMA/UN Study Day as the Scott Opler Endowment for New Scholars Study Tour Fellow. I would also like to thank Barry Bergdoll, Michael Adlerstein, Konrad Wos, and SAH representative and host Sandy Isenstadt for taking the time and effort to provide the participants of this Study Day with an unforgettable experience. 

    Jennifer-Tate-Bio-PicJennifer Tate, PhD Candidate, University of Texas

    Jennifer Tate is a PhD candidate in architectural history at the University of Texas in Austin. Jennifer holds a master's degree in architectural history from the University of Texas in Austin, as well as graduate degrees in political science from Georgetown University and international policy studies from Stanford University. She received her BA with honors in political science and mathematics from Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas. Jennifer is interested in the intersection of politics and power relations with architecture, especially in the examination of center-periphery issues and the related international-regional divide in modern architecture. She has a secondary interest in modern Turkish architecture. 

  • Northern India: The Golden Triangle

    by User Not Found | Apr 08, 2015

    I knew ahead of time that Delhi would be crazy, but I was not prepared for the amount of crazy. Perhaps it is because I chose to stay in one of the most congested portions of an already congested city. Today Paharganj is known for its bazaar, as it was almost 400 years ago. It is described as “chaotic, noisy, and dirty,” on the Delhi Tourism website, and is commonly referred to as the “traveller’s ghetto.” It was exhilarating at the same time that it was exhausting. I had done enough online research to know what to expect, but there is not much one can do in terms of preparation for that type of environment. I had a hotel room with no external windows, which was fine since the decibel level of noise pollution on Arakashan Road was outstanding, even for India. Despite all of that, there was a certain magic to Arakashan Road, as hotel sign advertisements lit up the night sky like Broadway.

    Delhi is a highly fragmented, frenetic city, with old and new quarters existing in stark juxtaposition. As a World Monuments Fund brochure proclaims, “Delhi is not one city, but many.”1 Since Paharganj traditionally lay outside the old city walls it is a transitional, interstitial space. In Paharganj one is a short bajaj ride from Connaught Place (1929-1934), the commercial complex designed to act as a nodal point between Old and New Delhi. It still serves this purpose today.

    India_Figure-1
    Figure 1. 1911 map of Shahjahanabad, noted as “Modern Delhi” in the map, but known as “Old Delhi” today. Paharganj is slightly southwest of the city. Lutyen’s Delhi has yet to be designed and constructed south of Shahjahanabad. Source: John Murray, A Handbook for Travellers in India, Burma, and Ceylon. (London: J. Murray; Calcutta: Thacker, Spink, & Co., 1911). Flickr Commons.

    I was amazed by the pollution in Delhi. I could see it when touching down at Indira Gandhi International Airport. I could feel it when my eyes watered incessantly. An India Today magazine I picked up in the airport had a cover story entitled “Death in the Air.” The Editor-in-Chief, Aroon Purie proclaims “dust from construction, exhaust fumes from vehicles, coal plant and factory emissions, diesel generators, stubble burning in fields, garage fires, and makeshift cooking appliances have made air pollution a public emergency.”2 The articles discussed the rise in the mortality, cancer, and respiratory disorder rates related to the situation in Delhi, and in India more broadly.

    There is no need to enhance a photograph taken in Delhi with a filter. With today’s preponderance of digital photography posted online through sites like Instagram, fancy photo editing techniques are in common amongst the tech savvy population. Filters add atmosphere, hues, tints, and tones, “romantic” noise and dust. They add a special dreamlike ambiance to the image. But in Delhi, there is no need for a filter. The smog from the pollution does that just fine. It is lovely in a deadly, sad way.

    India_Figure-2
    Figure 2. India Gate by Edwin Lutyens, New Delhi (1921-1931). Natural “atmospheric filter” courtesy of smog.

    Incredible !ndia: Delhi and Agra

    Since my time in Delhi would be much shorter than my stays in other major cities along this trip, and since I had a friend meet me in the city I elected to take packaged tours to significant architecture sites. Normally I would do something more organic, wandering my way through the streets and often stumbling upon places that I had not even planned to visit, but time was of the essence. The packaged tour kept me from exploring Delhi in a more in-depth manner, but it was necessary with the limited amount of time I had in the city. The truth of the matter is, I would not have extended my time in Delhi.

    The city tour was arranged by the Incredible !ndia affiliate in my hotel. India has, in comparison to many of the destinations I have visited on this fellowship, a very succinct and smooth tourism industry machine. Incredible !ndia offices with a selection of maps, brochures, and tours have been highly visible in every state I have visited – Maharashtra, Goa, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan – as well as the National Capital Region. This makes the touring aspect of India so much easier than Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, and Mexico.

    In addition to the Incredible !ndia marketing efforts by the Government of India, the permanent delegation to UNESCO submitted “Delhi – A Heritage City” to be included in the list of World Heritage sites. The World Monuments Fund already laid the promotional groundwork, developing the Delhi Heritage Route.3 The Delhi Heritage Route was created in advance of the XIX Commonwealth Games of 2010 to promote tourism in the massively sprawling city. The Delhi Chapter of the Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage (INTACH) developed much of the content for the heritage route and contributed to the publication of 20 informational booklets and 18 walking tours that linked the sites together. It is an impressive promotional collection. Unfortunately most of this literature, which is free and accessible through the World Monuments Fund website, is not found at the sites themselves (I believe it is because these are not money-making ventures). One must know where to look for the information beforehand.

    My pre-arranged city tour started in Old Delhi, or Shahjahanabad. Cultural scholar Shu Yamane states:

    Shahjahanabad was built as the capital of the Mughal Empire, India's most powerful and largest Islamic dynasty. This makes it one of the most pertinent cities for the study of urban formation in the Islamic region.4

    This is one of the reasons I am slightly regretful about not spending more time in Old Delhi. Jyoti Hosagrahar’s JSAH article “Mansions to Margins: Modernity and the Domestic Landscapes of Historic Delhi, 1847-1910,” also made me question whether or not I should have spent more time in the area. Her article details the evolution of the haveli form in Old Delhi from the grand palaces of the elite to sub-divided and multifunctional new spaces for the people:

    In colloquial usage, the word haveli in Delhi has remained a signature of traditional aristocratic living. However, in its many variations the haveli was not a timeless or changeless house form. From princely mansion to modest dwelling and then into a tenement house or a more rational and efficiently designed house, the haveli has undergone a variety of metamorphoses.5

    Granted, these kinds of changes might not be obvious to someone walking through the neighborhood. It might take actually going in and doing more in-depth analysis of the buildings themselves. In the end, for me, it was important to know about the urban fabric and history of Shahjahanabad even if I was not able to spend ample time there myself.

    India_Figure-3
    Figure 3. Jama Masjid (1644-1656), Shahjahanabad.

    These issues are the cursed part of taking a pre-arranged tour. The blessing is seeing countless (although singular) sites in one day. In Shahjahanabad we visited the Jama Masjid and Red Fort, two outstanding examples of monumental architecture of the former Mughal Empire. The use of red sandstone at Jama Masjid and the Red Fort would prove to be a common thread with architectural monuments throughout the region.

    The rest of the day tour included Humayan’s Tomb, the Lotus Temple, and Qutb Minar. All the sites were extremely impressive in their own ways, and we could have gone to more locations if we did not linger so long earlier in the day. The Humayan Tomb (1565-1572) complex was amazing. The title of the site only represents a fragment of the wonders situated there. One can get a sense of the growth of the complex, and see changes that come as a result of additions and subtractions. Some are drastic, like the wall that was blasted through to create an entrance to the Humayan Tomb portion of the complex.

    India_Figure-4
    Figure 4.  Isa Khan Tomb (1547-1548). Photograph illustrates recent restorative work done on building.

    One is greeted by the Isa Khan Tomb upon entering into the complex. It is located off to the right of the central walkway, though it predates the Humayan Tomb. The building is compact, the design is all encompassing. It truly represents what art historians would call a gesamtkuntswerk – if art historians chose to use the term for anything other than Western art and architecture. Isa Khan’s Tomb underwent major renovation with aid from the World Monuments Fund. This project built on a pre-existing public-private partnership between the Aga Khan Trust for Culture Urban Renewal Initiative, Archaeological Survey of India, Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, and the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. The work at the greater Humayan Tomb complex is significant enough that it should be followed over the next few decades. It is a great case study in public-private partnerships, preservation as a means for a larger urban renewal process (with a social equity factor and without the negative connotations that we have in the States), and craftsman training that spans different countries. It is also important as a shining example that history is not dead, and that solid “facts” may change. Archaeological work at the Isa Khan Tomb complex revealed a sunken garden, one that predates any others known in India, changing the chronology and evolution of the garden type.

    India_Figure-5
    Figure 5. Entering the Taj Mahal (1648) garden complex Agra.

    Before I embarked on this trip I always considered Mughal architecture to be typical of what one finds in the whole of India, more so than the Buddhist and Hindu shrines I had seen in central India. My mind’s eye envisioned all of India through an Indo-Islamic lens. My time in Delhi, Agra, and later on in Rajasthan, was rewarding in a sense that I was seeing things that looked familiar to me – especially the Taj Mahal. This is because if and when architectural surveys make a foray into Indian architecture, the Taj is the symbol celebrated as representative of India. What this trip showed me is that it is representative of a specific time and place in India. The diversity of the Indian subcontinent is overwhelming – the differences between the states and cities make India a powerful and compelling place to study not just Mughal architecture, but Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Rajput, Portuguese, and British.

    Princely Rajasthan

    Depending on how you choose to do the Golden Triangle it could be equilateral or obtuse. Equilateral = Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Obtuse includes the addition of Udaipur. After my time in Delhi and Agra I took a quick flight to Jaipur in the princely state of Rajasthan. I took a train from Jaipur to Udaipur, and then flew back to Delhi and off to Vietnam (more about Vietnam in my next post).

    India_Figure-6
    Figure 6. Golden Triangle Google Map. Clockwise from top: sites in Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur. Bottom left cluster of sites are located in Udaipur.

    Tourism in Jaipur and Udaipur was another well-oiled machine. Careful maintenance was evident in the City Palace (1729-1732). The complex housed several unobtrusive shops, and every detail in presentation was considered. The complex is managed by a trust that includes members of the royal family, and is used as both a museum and a residence.

    India_Figure-7
    Figure 7. Ridhi Sidhi Pol. Four gates that form the entrance to the inner courtyard that leads to Chandra Mahal in the City Palace, Jaipur. These gates represent the four seasons and various Hindu gods.

    Other major monuments of Jaipur are easy to reach by foot, so I visited the Jantar Mantar and Hawa Mahal the same day I visited City Palace. The city of Jaipur, the City Palace and the Jantar Mantar are carefully preserved testaments to the deep cultural and scientific interests of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh II, who founded the city in 1727. The layout of the streets of the old city of Jaipur was based on the Vastu Purusha Mandala, creating a grid-like pattern that is still evident in the historic center. The Jantar Mantar (originally Yantra Mantra, meaning Instruments and Formulae) in Jaipur is one of a set of five astronomical observation sites that Sawai Jai Singh created throughout India to act as:

    A meeting point for different scientific cultures, and [give] rise to widespread social practices linked to cosmology. [They were] also a symbol of royal authority, through [their] urban dimensions, [their] control of time, and [their] rational and astrological forecasting capacities.6

    The sculptural quality of the observatory in Jaipur is poetically evocative. Sculptor Isamu Noguchi visited both the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur and in Delhi in 1949 and 1960. The Isamu Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, New York, currently has an exhibit entitled “Noguchi as Photographer: The Jantar Mantars of Northern India” that highlights the sculptor’s photographs of these cosmological wonders. The show runs until May 31. It looks fascinating, and I hope SAH members in the area will take the time to visit the exhibit to see the complexes through the master sculptor's eyes.7

    India_Figure-8
    Figure 8. Screenshot of Isamu Noguchi Museum website.

    I also visited both the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur and Delhi. Since the modern city of Delhi grew around the Jantar Mantar complex it is easily overlooked, standing in the shadows of skyscrapers, markets, and the buzz of Connaught Place. The Jantar Mantar in Jaipur is better preserved due to its proximity to the royal enclosure. While it is easy to appreciate the observatories for their sculptural value, it is much more difficult to understand them for their scientific value. So much of the ancient practice of astronomy and observation has been lost to our culture, as we rely on our smart phones and hi-tech watches to tell us the time of day and to predict the weather, sunrise, sunset, and cycles of the sun and moon. Both observatory sites could benefit from multimedia interpretations to demonstrate how each of the various instruments within the complexes work.

    In all, the Golden Triangle does not disappoint. It is as romantic and magical as the advertisements proclaim. The realities of the growing metropolis of Delhi, however, are hard to ignore. At the same time that the countless public-private partnerships are improving the tourist experience in the city, there needs to be an even greater effort in abating the pollution and traffic issues that plague the city. There is no doubt that visitors to Delhi would spend more time, more money, and discover the “off the beaten path” sites in places like Shahjahanabad if a week in the city were more tolerable. But the concerns about the environment are not only about attracting tourists – they need to address the quality of living in the city in an inclusive manner for residents and visitors alike. In addition to the health concerns, the pollution creates a real threat to the vitality of the same cultural monuments the tourism board is trying to promote.

    H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Google Map

    Recommended Readings

    Salahudin Ahmed, “Jantar Mantar, Jaipur: Implementing the Management Plan,” Context: Building, Living, and Natural 10 no. 2 (Winter 2013/Spring 2014): 141-148

    Catherine B. Asher, “Jaipur: City of Tolerance and Progress,” South Asia: Journal of South Asian Studies 37 no. 3 (2014): 410-430

    Balkrishna V. Doshi, “The City of Jaipur,” Architecture + Design 5 no. 2 (January/February 1989): 96-104

    Shuji Funo, Naohiko Yamamoto, and Mohan Pant, “Space Formation of Jaipur City, Rajasthan, India: An Analysis on City Maps (1925-28) made by Survey of India,” Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering 1 no. 1 (March 2002): 261-269

    Oleg Grabar, “From Dome of Heaven to Pleasure Dome,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 49 no. 1 (March 1990): 15-21

    John D. Hoag, “The Tomb of Ulugh Beg and Abdu Razzaq at Ghazni, A Model for the Taj Mahal,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 27 no. 4 (December 1968): 234-248

    Susan N. Johnson-Roehr, “Centering the Chrbgh: The Mughal Garden as Design Module for the Jaipur City Plan,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 72 no. 1 (March 2013): 28-47 

    Clay Lancaster, “A Critique on the Taj Mahal,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 15 no. 4 (December 1956): 7-11

    K. K. Muhammed, “World Heritage and Archaeological Excavations: Fatehpur Sikri,” Context: Building, Living, and Natural 10 no. 2 (Winter 2013/Spring 2014): 95-102

    Vikramaditya Prakash, “Between Objectivity and Illusion: Architectural Photography in the Colonial Frame,” Journal of Architectural Education 55 no. 1 (September 2001): 13-20

    Sugata Ray, “Colonial Frames, ‘Native’ Claims: The Jaipur Economic and Industrial Museum,” Art Bulletin 96 no. 2 (June 2014): 196-212

    Martin Reinhold, “Local Stone (A Fragment),” Architectural Design Special Issue: Made in India 77, no. 6 November/December 2007Kazi Ashraf, ed.: 56-59

    Siddhartha Sen, “Between Dominance, Dependence, Negotiation, and Compromise: European Architecture and Urban Planning Practices in Colonial India,” Journal of Planning History 9 no. 4 (2010): 203–231

    Jyoti P. Sharma, “Mughal Gardens of the Indian Subcontinent and the Colonial Legacy: The Treatment of Delhi's Shalamar Bagh,” Journal of Landscape Architecture 4 no. 2 (2009): 32-47

    Patwant Singh, “Sir Edwin Lutyens and the Building of New Delhi,” ICON (Winter 2002/2003): 38-43

    Giles Tillotson, “The Jaipur Exhibition of 1883,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Series 3, 14, 2 (2004), pp. 111–126


    1. INTACH Delhi Chapter, Rashtrapati Bhawan and the Central Vista (2012), 1.

    2. Aroon Purie, “From the Editor-in-Chief,” India Today (March 16, 2015)

    3. World Monuments Fund, Delhi Heritage Route website.

    4. Shu Yamane, Shuji Funo, Takashi Ikejiri, “Space Formation and Transformation of the Urban Tissue of Old Delhi, India,” Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering (November 2008): 217.

    5. Jyoti Hosagrahar, “Mansions to Margins: Modernity and the Domestic Landscapes of Historic Delhi, 1847-1910,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 60 no. 1 (March 2001): 42.

    6. UNESCO, Jantar Mantar website.

    7. Disclaimer: I am a huge Noguchi fan, I collected the postal stamps when they came out, and I would love to go to this exhibit myself but I can’t. PLEASE go for me! Whoever you are! And report back.

  • Black Lives Matter

    by User Not Found | Mar 10, 2015

    The Black Lives Matter dossier, published by the Aggregate Architectural History Collaborative, is edited by SAH members Jonathan Massey and Meredith TenHoor and includes essays from SAH members Amber Wiley, Michael Abrahamson, Dianne Harris, and Charles David II. Excerpt from the Introduction republished here with permission.

    What does it mean to put black lives at the center of our thinking about architecture and its history? On the Aggregate website, thirteen new essays by scholars, designers, students, and citizens address the Black Lives Matter movement through architectural and urban research. The edited collection diagnoses sources of violence, identifies forms of resistance, and reimagines Black aesthetics.

    Introduction: Black Lives Matter

    Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.

    —Alicia Garza, “A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement”1

    What does it mean to put Black lives at the center of our thinking about architecture and its history? How do architecture and urban design contribute to violence against black people? How can the tools and knowledge of our disciplines prompt change? Inspired by the scholars, activists, and everyday citizens who have spoken out, marched, and protested against police killings of African-Americans, we present this collection of short essays that directs architectural research to the Black Lives Matter movement.2

    Racism fundamentally shapes architectural and urban spaces. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ devastating Case for Reparations outlines the ways in which Black Americans have been dispossessed of land, excluded from homeownership, and impoverished by redlining and predatory lending from the Jim Crow era to the recent Great Recession.3 As Darnell Moore has argued, in cities ravaged by both predatory lending and gentrification, “Black people will continue to be treated as something other than human as whiteness continues to function as a sign for possession and asset.”4 One hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, houses and subdivisions remain architectural instruments in racialized practices of investment, financing, ownership, maintenance, monitoring, and tenancy. In these and other ways, architecture and urban design in the United States today too often support white supremacy, which we understand, following George Lipsitz, to include “a system for protecting the privileges of whites by denying communities of color opportunities for asset accumulation and upward mobility.”5

    These links between race and space have long been visible in lived experience, and they have been addressed in architectural scholarship.6 But as architect Mitch McEwen has argued, the necessity of an architectural critique of new forms of segregation became undeniably urgent after George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin in the Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated community in Sanford, Florida.7 Because they privatize formerly public functions and spaces, gated communities exemplify neoliberal approaches to housing, and some commentators were quick to identify their role in Martin’s death.8 Yet as McEwen and others have made clear, Martin’s death can not be pinned on form; rather, it must be understood as the result of intersecting spatial, legal, and social operations. Such violence against people of color requires architectural analysis, but architecture cannot account for it alone.

    After the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Kimani Gray, Tamir Rice, and too many others, the vulnerability long experienced by black people in public spaces challenged the legitimacy of the state, even for those protected by white privilege. Streets, sidewalks and playgrounds such as those where Brown, Garner, Gray, and Rice died are sites where racially-biased policing governs access to liberty and life itself. Over the past year, they have been reclaimed through demonstrations, die-ins, teach-ins, boycotts, Black brunches, and “Blackout Fridays.”9 These spaces have also become sites for design interventions that make sites of violence safe for people of all colors.

    While responses to this crisis of space and state can untangle, critique, and resist the conditions that have made Black life too precarious in the United States, recent protests and design projects make clear that architectural responses to the Black Lives Matter movement must also activate the aesthetic dimension of architecture, a dimension that offers resources to sustain alternative visions of Black life.10 This collection of brief essays thus comprise a mixture of aesthetic, critical, historical and theoretical analyses which we have grouped into three categories. The first essay group, Diagnosis: Policing and Incarceration, describes the architectural origins and human effects of racially-biased policing, the “school-to-prison pipeline,” and mass incarceration, identifying ways in which design has helped to create the present crisis. In Resistance: Rights to the City and Suburb, contributors outline forms of resistance developed by black people and their allies through activism, protest, research, and analysis. The third set of essays, Aesthetics: From Cities to Curricula, illuminates architectural practices that figure and reimagine Blackness through a variety of aesthetic, educational, and formal practices.

    When we put out our call for contributions, we aimed to highlight work underway on this topic, as well as to spur further scholarship and reflection on the biopolitical and architectural questions raised by the Black Lives Matter movement. Time was of the essence: We hoped that this writing might nourish political conversations, and that it could be used in seminars and teach-ins this spring semester. We are very grateful to all our contributors for putting this project on the front burner, and for writing and editing so quickly and diligently. As a result of their efforts, the work gathered here directs a wide range of scholarly and activist insights toward the present crisis. But it raises as many questions as it answers, and only begins to encompass the possible responses to the Black Lives Matter movement. We invite you to deepen the discussion by commenting on the work presented here using the links at the end of each essay. We also welcome further proposals for work in a variety of lengths and formats ranging from short photo, video, sound, or text essays to long-form scholarly articles for peer review.

    Continue reading at we-aggregate.org/project/black-lives-matter.

  • Mighty Mumbai: Urbs Primus in Indus

    by User Not Found | Mar 06, 2015

    Palimpsest. Microcosm. Hybrid. Pluralist. Diasporic. Cosmopolitan. Third world. Postindustrial. Postcolonial. Post-Independence. Global. Hypermodern. Slum. Polynuclear. Agglomeration. (Con)fusion. Bombay. Mumbai.

    “Mombay.” I kept typing it. “Mombay.” When I was looking for articles on Mumbai and had little luck typing “Mumbai” I decided to search instead for “Bombay.” The city only officially changed its name in 1996 after the Hindu nationalist party Shiv Sena won elections in the state of Maharashtra. Literary scholar Rashmi Varma characterizes this act as “provincializing the global city.”1 Much of the literature I read discussed architectural and urban trends in “Bombay.” Somewhere along the way, however, “Mombay” was all my brain could manage. Bollywood, a nickname for the Indian film industry, is a portmanteau of the words “Bombay” and “Hollywood.” Bollywood is still Bollywood almost twenty years after the city name changed. Most Indians I spoke to still referred to Mumbai as Bombay. I came across the keywords above in the literature on the city, and my research on Mumbai has led me to understand the city as all these things, but not just any one of these things.2 Most scholars I have consulted agree – more research must be undertaken to understand and analyze the city on its own terms. In many ways, the city I experienced was indeed “Mombay:” the hybrid provincial capital of Maharashtra and the global millennial city.

    Mumbai-Figure-1
    Figure 1. Null Bazaar in Bhuleshwar neighborhood of Mumbai.

    Roots of Mumbai

    The human occupation of the area we know as Mumbai dates back to prehistory. The region that forms metropolitan Mumbai was originally an archipelago of seven islands with fishing villages settled by the indigenous Koli. The patron goddess of the Koli fishermen was Mumba Devi. It is from this goddess that the city derives its current name. The area was successively ruled by separate Buddhist, Hindu, and Muslim kingdoms until the Portuguese gained control in 1534. The architectural heritage from these various political and religious entities includes the Buddhist Kanheri and Mahakali caves, the Buddhist and Hindu Jogeshwari Caves, the Hindu Walkeshwar Temple, the Buddhist and Hindu Elephanta Caves, and Portuguese forts and churches. The name Bombay is a derivation of Bombaim, or “Good Bay,” the Portuguese name for the settlement.

     Mumbai-Figure-2
    Figure 2. Mumba Devi Temple in Bhuleshwar.

    Most of my reading, however, focused on the time period after Portuguese rule. Many architectural histories began with the Portuguese handing over Bombay as part of the wedding dowry for Catherine de Braganza to Charles II of England in 1661. The English East India Company leased the islands from 1668 until 1757 when the company took over rule in the region. The East India Company continued to expand into the subcontinent and gain further autonomy until the Indian Rebellion of 1857. From 1858 to 1947 Bombay was under control of the British Raj.

    On Hybridity and Pluralism

    After writing my preceding entry on Harar and Goa I realized “hybridity” might not be the word I needed to describe the conditions I experienced in both regions. “Pluralist” is. This is an important distinction, not just given over to semantics, because it helps encapsulate the architectural variety. There were aspects of various cultures that remained distinct and clearly identifiable as belonging different architectural traditions. Catholic churches of Goa. Egyptian mosque in Harar. Indian merchant houses in Harar. Portuguese villas in Goa. Italian municipal buildings in Harar. These carry the ambitions and messages of each cultural entity in architectural program, form, and function. Hybridity can only truly be found in the small decorative details – the woodwork in Goa, for instance, or the use of a certain color palette in Harar.

    Architectural pluralism is also central to the understanding of the urban fabric of Mumbai. This is a direct result of the city’s position as a “factory” in the English East India Company. The Company sought to bring merchants, traders, and artisans of high standing from various castes and religions to the city, and therefore offered a freedom of cultural and religious tradition. This included Armenians, Hindu and Jain Banias, Muslim Bohras and Khojas, Jews, Parsis, and Gujaratis.3 The architecture of Mumbai reflects the cultural autonomy of these various groups.

    Mumbai-Figure-3
    Figure 3. David Sassoon Library (1870), Army and Navy Building (1890), and Watson’s Hotel (1869) in Kala Ghoda.

    Sassoon was a Baghdadi Jew, businessman, and philanthropist responsible for funding many projects in Bombay, including the Keneseth Eliyahoo Synagogue. The expansive parking lot in front of this row of buildings is the former site of the statue of King Edward VII, the Prince of Wales (also financed by Sassoon). The statue was called “Kala Ghoda” or Black Horse. The neighborhood derived its name from the statue, which was removed to the Byculla Zoo.

    Mumbai-Figure-4
    Figure 4. Jain temple, Bhuleshwar.

    Mumbai-Figure-5
    Figure 5. Mosque, Bhuleshwar. This mosque has classical details, including double-height Corinthian-inspired pilasters along the main façade.

    I walked extensively throughout South Mumbai: 4 the Fort area, Kala Ghoda, Colaba, and Bhuleshwar. The Fort area and Kala Ghoda immediately took me back to London. The scale and uniformity of the structures, the cool, reserved face of classicism in the Fort and the dark, expressive Victorian Gothic spires. These were mixed in with the major Indo-Saracenic monuments erected at the end of the nineteenth century, and the Art Deco structures of the interwar years. The street scale in Bhuleshwar was much more intimate than that of other areas of South Mumbai. Part of this is due to the fact that Bhuleshwar is located in the high-density area previously known as “native town. As architectural historian Preeti Chopra notes: 

    The British viewed the city in terms of color and settlement pattern. In their eyes the Indians lived in what the British called the "native town" or "black town," characterized by its high population density and intricate network of streets. The Europeans lived in the "European quarter" or beyond the bazaars in spacious, low-density suburbs. In contrast, the complex mapping of the city by Indians included religious buildings, water tanks, statues, markets, and other localities inhabited by Bombay's diverse populations.5

    One can find deliberately hybrid architectural design in its truest form in Mumbai. British architects developed and popularized the Indo-Saracenic style in the late nineteenth century. George Wittet, a major proponent of the style, was the architect of the Prince of Wales Museum, now known as Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, and the Gateway of India. Both structures were erected to commemorate King George V and Queen Mary’s visit to India in 1911.

    Mumbai-Figure-6
    Figure 6. Interior view of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (Prince of Wales Museum). The interior details of the central hall are inspired by architecture from across the country.

    British architects who traveled to India to find work in the late 1800s and early 1900s frequently wrote about the state of architecture in India and the need to create something at once traditional and modern. Articles appeared in the Journal of the Society of Architects with titles like “Characteristic Architecture for India: A Plea for the Saracenic Form,” (1909), “Government Architecture in the East: Indian Architects for India,” (1911), “Architects’ Difficulties in India: The Need of Trained Men,” (1912), “Indian Architecture, and Its Suitability for Modern Requirements,” (1913). These called for the study of traditional Indian architecture, and the necessity for training of architects on the subcontinent (as opposed to England) to promote a new and eclectic style of modern Indian architecture. Architects Magazine, a short-lived British periodical, featured articles on ventilating buildings in India and highlighted outstanding building design, such as the Grant Road residence of Parsi industrialist Jamsetji Nusserwanji (J. N.) Tata.6

    Parsi Patronage

    Parsi patronage of the building arts is one of the most fundamental points to understand the architectural heritage of late nineteenth and twentieth century Bombay. I spent all of my first day in Mumbai being whisked around the city in a cab trying to get technical support for my Apple products. Several of the stores and service centers that had what I needed were in the major shopping area near the Royal Opera House. When I pulled up to the Royal Opera House I oohed and awed. My cab driver stated the Parsis constructed the building. I was confused, as I never heard the term before. In my mind I decided he meant “Farsis,” and instead of saying Persian he accidentally said the language of Persians. I quickly learned of the small, well-connected community of Parsis who had migrated to Bombay from the Gujarati region, where they had settled after escaping persecution in Iran for the religious practice of Zoroastrianism.7 Initially traders, this community penetrated many aspects of commercial and industrial enterprise, and had a favored position in the British trade hegemony.

    Mumbai-Figure-7 
    Figure 7. Maneckji Seth Agiary (1733), second oldest surviving Parsi fire temple. Kala Ghoda neighborhood.

    The Parsi community was active in architectural patronage in Bombay due to the success of various business ventures. One of the most important was the involvement of Parsi entrepreneurs in the cotton production and export industry in the nineteenth century. The American Civil War and port blockades on the exportation of cotton from the South forced England to increase its importation of cotton produced in India. This cotton boom created great wealth and opportunity to turn economic capital into cultural capital. Members of the Parsi business community were some of the greatest patrons of British architects practicing in Bombay. As historian Christopher W. London notes, “The Parsis were not the only benefactors to contribute to the 19th century architectural fabric of the city, but they helped set the tone and they established the precedent.”8

    While London highlights Parsi involvement in building Victorian Bombay, architectural historian Michael Windover shows how Parsi architectural patronage continued in the interwar years. Windover examines patronage of Art Deco structures in general, and cinemas more specifically. While Mumbai is widely known for its amalgamation of Victorian Gothic, Indo-Saracenic, and Art Deco structures, particularly in the historic Fort Area, the Parsi connection to placemaking should be highlighted more. Perhaps it is not emphasized because the community has long been a minority population, and today it has considerably declined. When the nomination of the Victorian and Art Deco ensemble of Mumbai to the World Heritage List does not once mention the Parsi involvement in creating this varied and impressive heritage, something is amiss. 

    Mumbai-Figure-8
    Figure 8. Regal Cinema (1933) financed by Parsi film exhibitor Pramji Sidhwa and designed by Charles Stevens, whose father Frederick William Stevens designed Victoria Terminus (Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus) Station.

    Curating the City

    Mumbai has little in the way of heritage conservation of its industrial infrastructure. For a city that was built on trade and industry, this may seem surprising. Imagine Liverpool, Glasgow, Detroit, or Pittsburgh without an emphasis on their industrial heritage. It would be hard to truly understand the evolution of those cities. As architectural historian Jyoti Hosagrahar notes, the nineteenth century:

    Saw the rise of a new and broad category of institutional buildings, including courthouses, museums, libraries, banks, city halls, elite boarding schools, colleges, and post offices. Railway terminals, factories, bungalows, and a network of dak bungalows (inspection rest houses) were other types of buildings that transformed the landscape of the South Asian subcontinent in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Yet these buildings of the modern age did not find historians until recently and many still await them.9

    Perhaps this is because the areas in neighborhoods such as Girangaon and Parel surrounding former factories and cotton mills reveal the economic disparity that is modern Mumbai.10 It is at once the richest city in India, but more than half of its urban population lives in slums. These neighborhoods spread far beyond the boundaries of the Fort Area, upon which most of the architectural and heritage tourism is focused.

    It is exceedingly important for historians to understand these economic conditions and disparities when making decisions about what and how to conserve. Mumbai in the millennium has moved beyond its colonial and industrial past, yet so much of the urban fabric in the historic core reveals these pasts to us.

    Mumbai-Figure-9
    Figure 9. Beyond South Mumbai the city continues to grow.

    Bombay was the second most populous city in the British Empire after London. It was the “Urbs Primus in Indus.” As such historians have often tried to understand Mumbai in relation to both the history of British colonization and the rise of megacities in the Global South. Geographer Andrew Harris argues for new frameworks in understanding the city today, moving away from a Eurocentric approach to something more dynamic. He contends that we must:

    Challenge conceptions of Mumbai as only a replicator or mimic of urbanisms fashioned elsewhere, whether in 19th-century Manchester or London or 21st-century Shanghai or Singapore. This involves greater acknowledgement of, and engagement with, Bombay’s specific socio-spatial formations of urban modernity and with the fundamental disjunctions into social experience and urban form shaped by colonization.11

    I cannot say that I have succeeded in that attempt, as my frame of reference is mainly Western and therefore tied into the longer tradition that Harris maintains we most move away from. One way to think about this in a useful and theoretical way is to look at urban fabric of Mumbai – its past, present, and future, as parts of the kinetic and static city. Architect and urbanist Rahul Mehrotra put forth this proposition as a means to understanding and reconciling disparate aspects of the urban environment. Mehrotra asserts:

    Today in our urban areas there exist two cities – the static and kinetic – two completely different worlds that cohabit the same urban space. The static city is represented through its architecture and by monuments built in permanent materials. The kinetic city that occupies interstitial space is the city of motion – the kuttcha city, built of temporary material.

    In a way, Mehrotra’s conservation work in Mumbai through the Urban Design Research Institute speaks directly to the intellectual challenges put forth by Harris. Mehrotra is cognizant of two very important aspects of conservation in Mumbai. First, that the Victorian core represents the exclusion and repression of British colonization. Second, that while this is true, the cohesive face of the area is in fact a relief from the sprawling nature of the millennial megalopolis. He does not see these two points as contrary to the need for conservation, but as facts that need to be acknowledged in the planning process. This is the complexity of conservation in the post-colonial, post-industrial, post-Independence, millennial moment.

    Mumbai-Figure-10
    Figure 10. Souvenir coffee mugs at Starbucks in Kala Ghoda district, Mumbai. Image depicts Gate of India in New Delhi by Edwin Lutyens.

    H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Google Map

    Recommended Readings

    Arjun Appadurai, “Spectral Housing and Urban Cleansing: Notes on Millenial Mumbai,” Public Culture 12 no. 3 Fall 2000: 627-651

    Arjun Appadurai, “Burning Questions: Arson and Other Public Works in Bombay,” ANY: Architecture New York 18, Public Fear: WHAT'S SO SCARY ABOUT ARCHITECTURE? (1997): 44-47

    Bill Ashcroft, “Urbanism, Mobility and Bombay: Reading the Postcolonial City,” Journal of Postcolonial Writing 47 no. 5 (2011): 497-509

    Manish Chalana, “Slumdogs vs. Millionaires,” Journal of Architectural Education 63 no. 2 (2010): 25-37

    Sandip Hazareesingh, “Colonial Modernism and the Flawed Paradigms of Urban Renewal: Uneven Development in Bombay, 1900–25,” Urban History 28 no. 2 (August 2001): 235 - 255

    Meera Kosambi and John E. Brush, “Three Colonial Port Cities in India,” Geographical Review 78 no. 1 (January 1988): 32-47

    Rahul Mehrotra, “Constructing Cultural Significance: Looking at Bombay’s Historic Fort Area,” Future Anterior 1 no. 2 (2004): 25-31

    Kaiwan Mehta, Alice in Bhuleshwar: Navigating a Mumbai Neighbourhood (New Delhi: Yoda Press, 2009)

    Radhika Savant Mohit and H. Detlef Kammeier, “The Fort: Opportunities for an Effective Urban Conservation Strategy in Bombay,” Cities 13 no. 6 (1996): 387-398

    Michael Pacione, “Mumbai,” Cities 23 no. 3 (2006): 229–238

    Howard Spodek, “Studying the History of Urbanization in India,” Journal of Urban History 6 no 3 (May 1980): 251-295

    Stuart Tappin, “The Early Use of Reinforced Concrete in India,” Construction History 18 (2002): 79-98

    Michael Windover, “Exchanging Looks: ‘Art Dekho’ Movie Theatres in Bombay,” Architectural History 52 (2009): 201-232



    1. See Rashmi Varma, “Provincializing the Global City: From Bombay to Mumbai,” Social Text 22 no. 4 (Winter 2004): 65-89.

    2. I will refer to the city as “Mumbai” when discussing present context and “Bombay” in the historical context.

    3. Partha Mitter, “The Early British Port Cities of India: Their Planning and Architecture Circa 1640-1757,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 45 no. 2 (June 1986): 102; Meera Kosambi, “Commerce, Conquest and the Colonial City: Role of Locational Factors in Rise of Bombay,” Economic and Political Weekly 20 no. 1 (January 5, 1985): 34. See also Frank Conlon, “Caste, Community, and Colonialism: "The Elements of Population Recruitment and Urban Rule in British Bombay: 1665-1830,” Journal of Urban History 11 no. 2 (February 1985): 181-208 and Amy Karafin, “Around Mumbai in 7 Faiths,” Lonely Planet September, 19 2012 http://www.lonelyplanet.com/india/mumbai-bombay/travel-tips-and-articles/77468.

    4. This is only possible due to nineteenth century land reclamation projects.

    5. Preeti Chopra, “Refiguring the Colonial City: Recovering the Role of Local Inhabitants in the Construction of Colonial Bombay, 1854-1918,” Buildings & Landscapes 14 (Fall 2007): 110.

    6. Tata financed the construction of the Taj Mahal Hotel (1903).

    7. See Gijsbert Oonk, “The Emergence of Indigenous Industrialists in Calcutta, Bombay, and Ahmedabad, 1850–1947,” Business History Review 88 (Spring 2014): 43–71 and Talinn Grigor, “Parsi Patronage of the Urheimat,” Getty Research Journal no. 2 (2010): 53-68.

    8. Christopher W. London, “High Victorian Bombay: Historic, Economic and Social Influences on Its Architectural Development,” South Asian Studies 13 no. 1 (1997): 101.

    9. Jyoti Hosagrahar, “South Asia: Looking Back, Moving Ahead-History and Modernization,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 61 no. 3 (September 2002): 358.

    10. The mills in particular have a rich connection to the labor and freedom movements in India. For research on their history and potential for adaptive reuse see INTBAU India, “Mumbai Mills Report, Analysis & Conclusions of INTBAU India Workshop,” March 2005 and Alain Bertaud, “The Formation of Urban Spatial Structures: Markets vs. Design,” Marron Institute of Urban Management http://marroninstitute.nyu.edu/content/working-papers/the-formation-of-urban-spatial-structures.

    11. Andrew Harris, “The Metonymic Urbanism of Twenty-first-century Mumbai,” Urban Studies 49 no. 13 (October 2012): 2966.

  • Washington State Slept Here: SAH Archipedia and the Question of Significance

    by Kostis Kourelis | Feb 24, 2015

    A couple of months ago I was asked what seemed, to me, an interesting question. As many readers of this blog likely know, SAH is well on its way to completing the first major stage of its SAH Archipedia project, SAH Archipedia Classic Buildings, where all fifty states will feature online entries of its 100 most “representative” buildings. I’ve signed on, along with my former student and now-colleague Robert Franklin, to co-coordinate the SAH Archipedia project for the state of Washington. Hardly claiming to be authorities on the architecture of the state—we chose to marshal several scholars, preservation consultants, professors, graduate students, and even the state architectural historian to help draft most of the entries rather than attempting to do all of them ourselves. 

    Marcus Whitman Hotel, Walla Walla, Washington (photo courtesy of Robert Franklin)

    Marcus Whitman Hotel, Walla Walla, Washington (photo courtesy of Robert Franklin) 

    But that wasn’t the question. The question came about during an email exchange with a potential contributor recommended to me by a colleague.  Having asked the potential contributor whether s/he would be interested in crafting entries from a list of the state’s 100 most “significant” buildings (quotations in the original), I received the following question:

    Also, are there any particular project specific criteria for determining which candidates for inclusion are the most "significant?"

    The question took me somewhat by surprise. I put the notion of significance in quotes in my email largely because I assumed it was common knowledge that “significance” is hotly-contested terrain, and that even hard-line preservationists holding tightly to vestiges of the “fifty-year rule” would understand that the notion of significance can be sliced many different ways—nearly all of which make sense depending upon the narrative. I avoided the term “representative” because—perhaps mistakenly—I assumed that “representative buildings” would raise more immediate questions or concerns, especially because one could easily interpret a “representative” list to focus upon a “one of each” sort of thing, where all eras or styles would be represented no matter what.  

    Still, the question puzzled me. Maybe I assumed that we are well past the point where we need to explain why a single room occupancy hotel once housing Japanese immigrants prior to internment might be just as significant as a fancy, architecturally-detailed commercial building designed by a megafirm in the heart of a metropolis. Of course, to an SAH crowd or even most preservationists these days, the importance of a cultural landscape approach—which brings to the fore several oft-overlooked or understudied aspects that provide a far fuller picture of the built environment than one might have found in more conventional analyses of the previous century—goes without saying.  But to everyone else? 

    This is by no means intended to suggest that the writer of that question was unaware of such an approach or was critical of ours; indeed, s/he was simply asking the question.  As I had neither divulged our criteria for significance nor provided our working list of the 100 most significant buildings in the state of Washington in my initial email, perhaps s/he would have been less enthusiastic to join a growing cadre of writers had s/he known that the criteria was limited to buildings before 1950, or that all buildings had to be high-style affairs, or that a site needed to be immortalized by a significant event or person in the state’s history—the famous “George Washington Slept Here” mantra. I don’t know.  I never asked.

    But the question did give me pause. Maybe the notion of “significance” remains unclear. Maybe, as architectural historians, we are still talking mostly to ourselves, and the word isn’t getting “out” to a less specialized public that may adhere to other impressions of significance. Maybe we are still in the midst of a long paradigm shift towards a more catholic understanding of significance and a broader acceptance of all building types, periods, and design conditions as worthy of recognition—one that may have begun in the 1960s with the build-up to the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966.  

    So I decided to respond, and my response grew from one paragraph into a couple of pages. I’ve revised it slightly since my original response, but the gist remains. As I began crafting my response, I quickly realized I was probably writing something that could be applicable for any state—with some exceptions, of course (not every state features the mid-century modernist timber houses of the Pacific Northwest). But I have no authority to suggest it is a template—SAH Archipedia editors Gabrielle Esperdy and Catherine Erkkila would be the ones to consult for that, although their flexibility and wide-ranging perspectives on the built environment indicates that a similar approach elsewhere would not be unacceptable. 

    In the meantime, I remain curious. Do we need to explain what constitutes something such as “significance?” Are we dealing with a moment when such notions have shifted for academics, but not practitioners or the general public?Should we consider more succinct definitions? I don’t have an answer, but I’ve enjoyed contemplating these questions as I’ve ventured into the extraordinarily challenging task of selected the 100 most significant buildings in the state—a challenge I suspect I share with every other colleague coodinating SAH Archipedia projects across the country. Our working list of buildings is available here and our criteria for significance is below. We now send these to every new writer who joins our project. We realize they are problematic, potentially riddled with contradictions, and only partly representative of the types of structures on our current list. But perhaps that is just the point. 

    What do you think?

    -------------------------------------------

    Dear Washington SAH Archipedia writer:

    Thank you for your interest in contributing to this endeavor. As you have had the opportunity to peruse the list of 100 sites, logically you might have some questions. What are the criteria for “architectural significance?” Why did some sites make the list and not others? Why are some areas, building types, or architects represented and not others? 

    The truth is that we don’t have a perfectly satisfactory answer to that question, other than to say 1) the list is still somewhat in flux (every time we look at it, it seems, we remove one site and add in a different one) and 2) limiting this to just 100 sites is the most difficult thing about this project. But it’s also the most exciting and interesting aspect as well.

    As background, the first version of this list was compiled by Professor Jeffrey Ochsner of the University of Washington. He was initially—and logically—asked to coordinate the project (he has vastly more expertise than we do), but he was unable to oversee it. However, he did share his initial list with us and made a number of recommendations, and our current list of 100 builds upon his. One particular feature of Professor Ochsner’s initial list was an excellent geographical balance, as he worked to include a satisfactory number of sites from the far corners of the state. 

    There is some logic to the current list. We are not experts on any of these sites and many we have not yet seen in person, but at this point we’ve at least looked into all of them and tried to understand them within a broad picture of Washington’s history. In general, however, this 100 list (which is not numbered from best to worst—it’s just trying to keep track of how many we have) is trying to present a story, or several stories, of the state through the built environment. We are less interested in cherry-picking buildings simply for their form, accolades, or notable designers and trying to craft stories around them. 

    To that end, one could argue that there is more of a cultural landscape approach to the Washington SAH Archipedia—it is less a guidebook to spectacular works of architecture. We are hoping that the individual entries we receive—while always keeping the built environment as the centerpiece and, if necessary, telling interesting stories about the designers—will not be a “bird book” type of entry that one is likely find in most architectural guidebooks. One still needs to be careful—the architectural details must be incorporated into each entry, including names, dates, materials, and important additions and alterations. Admittedly, in some cases, the “significance” is mostly an architectural one. And, yes, there are a few targeted examples that might say more about architecture or style than about the state or its history.

    We are aware that the geographical distribution of sites is not perfect, but in general it mirrors a proportional population balance (perhaps more so prior to World War Two than today, when there was a larger rural to urban population). For a state list, too, one ought to try to cover the state. Still, we recognize that there are fewer examples on this list in eastern and central Washington than west of the Cascades. Granted, the examples from eastern Washington might not be considered as aesthetically extravagant as equivalent sites elsewhere, but we did wish to maintain a broad geographical coverage.

    There was also the effort to understand the built environment in its widest possible sense. This meant the inclusion of everything from historic districts; works of engineering; industry; landscape architecture; and building types associated with particular ethnic groups to ordinary and vernacular examples including a campsite, a lighthouse, coke ovens, and a grange hall. This meant that the “famous architect” would not always be a criteria for inclusion, despite this being an online architectural encyclopedia. The vast majority of Washington’s built environment is comprised of works not designed by famous architects—both today and in the past—so we wished to provide more ordinary and non-monumental examples than one might expect to find in a list such as this. Even so, we know this list tends to feature the more extraordinary examples of the ordinary and vernacular. And even more still, there isn’t enough of the vernacular! One easily could look at the list and find a majority of buildings designed by notable architects and well-known historic districts and not nearly enough housing types, barns, diners, drive-ins, or motels, for example. Or in some cases, any at all. But we are not adverse to altering the list should there be a compelling rationale to do so, and we have made several changes to the list since it began.

    Chuckanut Drive, near Bellingham, Washington (photo courtesy of Lynette Felber)

    Chuckanut Drive, near Bellingham, Washington (photo courtesy of Lynette Felber)

    We also tried to include buildings from a variety of different time periods, but to those of a more traditional persuasion there are perhaps more than the fair share of buildings from the recent past on the list. This has more to do with preference: we believe more people associate the Pacific Northwest with a particular architecture that has been best articulated from the mid-twentieth-century onward (although there are perhaps earlier precedents that led to this architecture). Put simply, this relates mostly to an aesthetic that features timber; free-flowing space (both interior and exterior); prominent roof-lines; an overall emphasis on structure; and an attention to the surrounding—usually natural—environment. This overall aesthetic or process can be found most prominently in residential design and perhaps broadly (if stereotypically) wrapped up in the term “sustainable” design. It’s a particular kind of sustainability, however—one that incorporates the various building systems within that Northwest look. And, I think, this is what people imagine when they think of the architecture of the Pacific Northwest—and perhaps that of Washington state more than anywhere else. If there is a theme that runs through the Washington SAH Archipedia, perhaps it is that. 

    But it’s hardly representative of the only type of architecture one will discover on the list. There is plenty here from 1870-1940, even if we might argue that one would be hard-pressed to define much unique about Washington architecture during the time period—save for some vernacular examples of barn types; perhaps more company towns than many states; and maybe the preponderance of big engineering works (although that was not necessarily unique, either). Much of the rest of the architecture seemed to be keeping up with national trends, but not necessarily providing their most spectacular or representative examples. (We recognize that this may engender some debate.) Yet we’ve included several examples of non-unique building types: there is the Carnegie Library, for example, as well as the New Deal-era courthouse, the Gothic Revival church, the Art Deco skyscraper, and the historic district notable for its many examples from the Victorian period. These continue to hold plenty of interest, and the public may raise considerable eyebrows if there were no examples of these types.

    But we are not intending the Washington SAH Archipedia to be a call-to-arms; we did not intentionally include those buildings that are threatened with development pressure or in desperate need of repair; if such examples are on this list, it is because we deemed them significant for other reasons (building type, designers, geographical balance, etc.) However, if SAH Archipedia has the spin-off effect of garnering more attention to help preserve some of these buildings and spaces, then certainly that would be a benefit. But it was not a criterion.

    On a related note, we do not intend this list to be a “memory” piece per se; while we certainly hope that our writers will include earlier versions or no-longer-visible histories of the sites they are assigned, we tried not to choose any sites that have been demolished, are slated for demolition, or are altered practically beyond recognition—unless we determined the alterations themselves to be significant. Thus, sites such as Northgate Mall and Yesler Terrace in Seattle—very significant for different reasons initially and both part of our original list—have been removed. Northgate Mall’s original design has been altered beyond recognition and Yesler Terrace is undergoing major changes to make it arguably less significant as an architectural ensemble (although it could certainly be argued that its significance was not “architectural” to begin with). The Alaskan Way Viaduct—one of the most significant aspects of the built environment in twentieth-century Seattle (albeit not one of the most beloved)—is slated for demolition and might be gone altogether within a few years of Washington SAH Archipedia’s projected “go live” date in 2016. Still, we hope that the Washington SAH Archipedia will have another effect of encouraging the public to go out and explore these sites and to be able to recapture some of the important stories the writers are discussing in their essays—hence the reason for coordinates and maps.     

    We also wanted to include a broad range of design styles—although we know we ended up leaving some out. Sometimes this can be accomplished by just covering a series of time periods, but not always. So if you are curious as to why we might have included something such as the Thurston County Courthouse in Olympia (New Deal era stripped-down classical), or the Lake Quinault Lodge near Olympic National Park (“rustic”-style lodge characteristic of national and state park development in the early part of the twentieth century), it’s because we really had few other examples of the style. Could they be switched out with other examples? Yes—if there is a compelling rationale for doing so.

    You might wonder why there seem to be few single-family residences on this list, save for a few well-known examples (Cutter’s Glover House in Spokane, for example, or those houses included within districts, such as the Hilltop neighborhood in Bellevue or the Alphabet Houses in Richland). Perhaps it’s particularly ironic given that we might consider the “Pacific Northwest” style to have emerged out of residential design more than anything. Beyond trying to balance the list, however, it is important for SAH Archipedia that these buildings be clearly visible from a public right-of-way—particularly for the purposes of photography. We are trying as best as possible to avoid any copyright challenges or hassles, and we should not be encouraging the public to illegally access these sites or trespass. This is certainly not to suggest that many houses are not worthy of making this list.    

    Finally, there are some works on here which are perhaps far more interesting because of their “landscapes” in a broad sense, be that landscape political, cultural, or geologic (Teapot Dome; Panama Hotel; Mt. St. Helens visitor centers).

    So… what is “architecturally significant” about this 100 list? That’s difficult to say. We could have made this a much tighter exercise: picking only works in Seattle, or only the top designers, or only eight or so works per decade, or even holding tight to the fifty-year rule and/or criteria A, B, or C on the secretary of the interior’s standards, but such boundaries might have been even more puzzling to folks later clicking through the site who may never venture to gain a broad sense of what is included and why. So if this list looks a little bit messy and seems to lack cohesion, well, that’s entirely intentional. 

    But it also means that the list is still malleable. Already it has been shaped by suggestions, and that too is representative of significance; obviously, we historians, writers, consultants, preservationists, architects, independent scholars, and critics are part of a larger community of folks who help shape “significance”—the buildings don’t have too much significance on their own.  Since everyone seems to have a different opinion about the notion of significance, to have a smattering of opinions represented here, I think, is representative of significance in the mid-2010s! 

    Another good thing is that because this will be online, the first 100 is just that:  the first 100. There will be room to expand over time—something much easier than publishing this in print. If you look at our list on page two, you’ll see the beginnings of the “next 100,” also divided by region. Some of these are sites that were initially on the list and then were removed from it. Some also have moved back, and might do so again as we continue to learn more about them, and as others continue to chime in.

    Thanks again for your interest in this project. We are looking forward to working with you.

    Yours,

    Phil and Robert

     

     

    Phil-web-bio-pic-300x300Phil Gruen is Associate Professor and Interim Director of the School of Design and Construction at Washington State University. Gruen’s principal research involves American architecture and urbanism. He is particularly interested in the tug-of-war between the presentation of the built environment and its experience in human action and memory. His book manuscript, Manifest Destinations: Tourist Encounters in the Late-Nineteenth Century Urban American West, published in September 2014 (University of Oklahoma Press), explores this issue with respect to boosters and visitors in San Francisco, Salt Lake City, Denver, and Chicago. Gruen’s work also has appeared in Montana: The Magazine of Western History (2011) as well as in textbooks, anthologies, and encyclopedias on subjects ranging from monumental urban architecture in the United States to the planning and design of Disneyland in Anaheim, California. He has provided the introductory essay for Architectura: Elements of Architectural Style (Barron’s Educational Series, 2008). He chaired a session on architectural tourism for the Society of Architectural Historians’ conference in 2014, led the “Legacy of Daniel Burnham; Architect and City Planner” study tour for SAH in August of 2009, and serves on the board of directors for the Marion Dean Ross/Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians.

  • Harar and Old Goa: Architectural Hybridity on the Periphery

    by User Not Found | Feb 11, 2015

    I started the New Year in Harar, Ethiopia, where I was one of few who actually acknowledged the event. The day was like any other day for most Hararis. Ethiopian New Year falls on September 11 (September 12 in the leap year) so there were no fireworks in the sky the night before. It was quite surreal to wake up in a traditional Harari house in this historic walled city and think about the year that lay ahead.

    Over the past month I visited two regions that can be considered “on the periphery” of their respective countries: the Harari region in Ethiopia, and the state of Goa in India. These regions are the smallest in Ethiopia and India, and are often characterized as being in their respective countries but not of their respective countries. It is this air of exceptionalism that attracted Victorian-era intellectuals like poet Arthur Rimbaud and explorer Richard Burton. Harar is the Muslim heart of Ethiopia, and Old Goa the Catholic heart of India. At the same time that they are portrayed as epicenters of great religious devotion, they are often branded as colorful, relaxed, fun, and “other:” a deviation from the norm, a place to break free from the usual.

    Figure-1_WileyFigure 1. Arthur Rimbaud Cultural Center in Harar, Ethiopia. An Indian merchant built the current edifice, now over 100 years old.

    These were trade cities – Harar thrived because of its strategic location along trade routes connecting landlocked Ethiopia to the port city of Zeila in Somalia, the Gulf of Aden, and the Arabian Peninsula.1 Part of the reason I chose to visit Harar was its trade relationship with India. I believed it would be a nice transition between the two countries. Old Goa, a prosperous port under the Islamic Adil Shahi dynasty, fell to the Portuguese in the sixteenth century. Since these were cities with far-reaching cultural and economic contacts they are often defined by their architectural pluralism. Their positions on the periphery, however, often paint them as “exceptional” which is problematic if one is attempting to understand them within the larger context of cultural heritage and preservation studies. As architectural historian Preeti Chopra emphasizes, “Far for being pure, most cultures are a product of diverse influences from others, a result of trade, travel, and conquest.”2

     Figure-2_Wiley
    Figure 2. Church of St. Cajetan (1655), Old Goa, India.

    These regions were contested grounds, important strategically for various empires, dynasties, and religious orders. Trade influenced the development, urban character, and architecture of both the Harari region and the state of Goa. The resulting architectural heritage, then, often highlights structures that facilitate trade such as fortifications, administrative buildings where transactions occurred, and the resultant residential areas and educational and religious facilities that reflect the splendor and magnificence of the trade economy in these areas.

    Harar the Walled City

    If one chooses to visit Harar by air, one must fly into Dire Dawa. Harar and Dire Dawa (formerly Addis Harar) are located in eastern Ethiopia. I spent a week in Dire Dawa, a city established at the turn of the twentieth century that owes its development to the railroad. Although the city acted as an important node from Djibouti to Addis Ababa, the portion of the rail network running from Dire Dawa to Addis Ababa is now defunct.

    The Compagnie du Chemin de Fer Franco-Éthiopien took over railway operations in 1908 after the Imperial Railway of Ethiopia, founded in 1894, folded under financial troubles. The Dire Dawa railroad station is the key architectural edifice associated with the city, and its construction had significant impact on the city’s planning. There is scant literature written about the urban development and architectural heritage of Dire Dawa, and most travel guides treat it as a place one should only visit in transit to Harar.

    Figure-3_Wiley
    Figure 3. Google Map depicting the two major sections of Dire Dawa: Kezira and Megala.

    I found the layout of the city to be quite intriguing. In Dire Dawa there is a stark contrast between the European Kezira section or “new town,” and the older Islamic section, Megala. In Kezira one finds airy restaurants such as Chemin de Fer, housed in a building constructed in 1912, tree-lined streets, shaded villas, and grand boulevards that converge on the railroad station. In Megala one finds a more organic growth pattern, narrower streets, winding roads, and cul-de-sacs. The presence of Indian and Arab traders in Dire Dawa influenced the design details of buildings in both sections of the city.

    Figure-4_WileyFigure 4. Commercial building in Megala, Dire Dawa, Ethiopia.

    Figure-5_WileyFigure 5. Residential buildings in Megala, Dire Dawa, Ethiopia.

    The jugol city of Harar is considered the architectural prize of eastern Ethiopia, and it also stands as the heart of Muslim Ethiopia. Muslim Ethiopians consider Harar to be the fourth holiest city in Islam, after Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem.3 There are an estimated 90 mosques and many Quranic schools within the 48 hectares enclosed by the city walls. Harar was founded in the eighth century, Sheikh Abadir introduced Islam in the twelfth century, Emir Nur built the city walls in the mid-sixteenth century, and the city was an independent emirate from 1647 to 1875. The Egyptians occupied the city from 1875 to 1885, Menelik II conquered it in 1887, and the Italians occupied it from 1938 to 1942. Each phase of governance is reflected through the remaining cultural heritage within and outside the city walls.

    Figure-6_WileyFigure 6. Mosque built during Egyptian occupation of Harar.

    For much of its history the city was closed to non-Muslims, and it was only after Egyptian occupation did the city become more accessible to opportunistic foreign traders and merchants. Today coffee and khat are two of Harar’s primary exports, and while those industries are still important to the lifeline of the city; increased tourism is also a welcome addition to the economic structure. UNESCO recognized Harar as a laureate city in its short-lived Cities for Peace Prize in 2002-2003 and inscribed the walled city on the World Heritage List in 2006.4

     Figure-7_WileyFigure 7. Gidir Magala. Italians built this market structure during occupation of Harar.

    The walled portion of Harar retains much of its urban fabric. When Amir Nur erected the walls in 1567 there were five gates through which visitors to the city had to pass (today there are six). These gates have become a distinguishing architectural feature of the city, and are even imprinted on the bottles of the locally produced Harar beer.

     Figure-8_WileyFigure 8. Courtyard of house with elaborate detailing near the Sheik Abudir mosque, Suqutat Bari area.

    The most celebrated aspect of Harari architectural heritage is the traditional Harari house. I chose to stay in one of the popular guesthouses to get a feel for the everyday use of the structure. The programmatic layout of the house is highly prescribed, following cultural conventions. Women and men have certain spaces dedicated to their use, all with various layers of privacy. There are numerous levels to the seating in the living room (gidir gār) that denote the status of family members and guests. Basketry is a prime decorative ornament for the interior of the houses.

     Figure-9_WileyFigure 9. Interior of model house at the Harari National Cultural Center.

    Modern Harar extends to the west outside the city walls. While it was certainly not my intent to highlight architecture of the Italian occupation in all of my blogs on Ethiopia, I find it necessary to mention here. Whenever I made my treks outside the walled city to document architecture from the twentieth century, people were surprised, curious, and a bit baffled as to my intentions. The heritage of significance, according to the guides, townspeople, and tourists I spoke to, was to be found within the walls. Serge Santelli’s chapter “The Structure of the City,” in Harar: A Muslim City of Ethiopia was most useful to me in this regard, as he treats both the old and new city as what they are—two sides to the same coin. That chapter helped me overcome the disconnect I felt when trying to piece the city together myself. It is true, the richness of traditional Harari culture is concentrated within the walls of the old city, and that should be admired. This should not happen, however, to the detriment and disregard for the rest of the city itself.

    Figure-10_WileyFigure 10. Former Italian municipio in newer portion of Harar, outside city walls.

    Goa: Rome of the East, Pearl of the Orient

    I do not believe Goa to be the Rome of the East. Perhaps in a religious sense it is a useful analogy, if one desires to think about Old Goa as a powerful concentration of Catholic practice. Perhaps. But trying to reconcile the nickname with the reality feels false for two reasons. The first is that Rome, the “Eternal City” is truly incomparable. The second is that Old Goa never reached the complexity in function, design, or development that Rome did. Part of the colonizing project, however, is to recreate the familiar in foreign lands, and to engage in heavy boosterism to spread propaganda for political and economic reasons. All that being said, Goa is a gem. An absolute treasure.

    I spent half of my time in Goa in Panaji (Panjim). It is the capital of the state of Goa. I was surprised to learn that the Portuguese had control of the area until 1961. The second thing that surprised me was the discovery that, along with a distinct architectural style that made a lasting imprint on the region, the Portuguese brought the marigold to India. The practice of Catholicism and the architecture it produces felt very much imported, but the marigold has been thoroughly integrated into the social, religious, cultural, and political customs of India. Hindu, Buddhist, and Catholic shrines are all embellished with marigolds. Marigolds are draped on the shoulders of important figures memorialized as statues. The marigold is a ubiquitous symbol of India.

    Panaji was colorful – a distinction also held by the city of Harar. The main advertised attractions of the city were the Church of the Immaculate Conception and the Goa State Museum. The museum was a gloomy affair – its modernist and geometrical design hinted at the grand intentions behind its erection. The building maintenance and the lackluster curatorial effort, however, belied a slim budget that held the operation back from its potential.

    Figure-11_WileyFigure 11. Commercial building in São Tomé neighborhood of Panaji.

    It was the vernacular architecture of Panaji that stood out the most. I stayed in the Old Quarter, or Fontainhas. This was one of the Portuguese residential quarters, and heritage tourism was gaining a foothold in the area. Boutique accommodations catered to a range of economic situations, and several art galleries displayed a variety of work—from traditional ceramic designs to contemporary Goan expressions.

    While doing research on the region I came across a curious passage in an article about the contested heritage of Goa. Travel writer David Tomory covered the protests against the 1998 quincentenary celebration of Vasco da Gama’s landing in India. Tomory states:

    The beauty of heritage—or the privately run heritage business—is that it doesn't depend on the past, offering only history without tragedy—the simple recreation of history's fun bits, such as food, costume, music and “ambience.” Heritage is the old romantic stuff that nobody minds. You can't see it being as contentious in Goa as “history” can be, but you never know…5

    This passage made me think about the tricky relationship between heritage and tourism and the ability for those who have an appreciation for both heritage and history to gloss over controversy for the sake of tourism. I am writing about the beauty of Fountainhas, but I am not writing about the Goa Inquisition. I delight at the beauty of architectural syncretism as it is manifest in Goa. I wonder what the Hindu-practicing Goans think about this heritage. When I visited the Goa State Museum I cringed at the images of Goans carrying Portuguese men from one place to the next on palanquins. The beauty of the architecture comes at a price—one of religious oppression and cultural subjugation.

     Figure-12_WileyFigure 12. St. Francis of Assisi (1661), Old Goa.

    With those factors in mind, it must be said that the churches and convents of Old Goa are truly exceptional. The crisp white structures stand as strong contrasts to the ultramarine sky. The heavy concentration of religious structures at once reminded me of Antigua, Guatemala, another abandoned capital of a colonial territory.6 I visited Old Goa on a Sunday, Se Cathedral and the Basilica of Bom Jesus had active church services. Tourists (and there were many) were not allowed into the sanctuaries during that time, but they could stand to the side of the entrance and take pictures. The Basilica of Bom Jesus additionally allowed tourists to take a side entrance to visit the relics of St. Francis Xavier, the Jesuit leader entombed in the building. Circulation continued from the tomb to the cloister where a Christmas display was still exhibited, and an art gallery highlighted the work of various artists. This setup made me think of some of the major pilgrimage churches I taught about in class, and how they worked as both sites of visitation and sites of worship.

     Figure-13_WileyFigure 13. Detailed woodwork embellishing the St. Francis Xavier tomb niche. Scholars have highlighted the masterful dexterity of Indian carvers who worked on the churches in Goa, albeit in a Portuguese Baroque style.

    Circulation was an important component of a church’s functionality, one that was often overlooked in art historical texts that focused on paintings and sculpture. I wondered how people related to each other in pilgrimage spaces—were they rushed through and hissed at, as I was at the Basilica of Bom Jesus? Was it always the crowded spectacle I experienced on that Sunday in January? I had, up until my time in Ethiopia and now in India, a very romantic idea of religious pilgrimage—a journey of solitude and quiet reflection. I participated in a great pilgrimage while in Harar, traveling to Kulubi for the feast St. Gabriel. The sea of bodies pressed together, the noise, and the vendors reminded me of my time in a crowd of thousands at the first Obama inauguration. My experience at the Basilica of Bom Jesus, being funneled through passageways for a quick glimpse of St. Francis Xavier’s tomb was reminiscent of my trip to the Louvre and the half-second I spent in front of the Mona Lisa. I have begun to think that the chaos of pilgrimage sites is but a small fraction of what makes the experience exciting for the pilgrims/tourists.

    The big story on the news this morning was President Obama proclaiming that Gandhi would be disappointed in the religious intolerance of contemporary India. I have been in India for less than a month, and I am not an expert on the religious or political situation, but that certainly was the opposite of my impression of the country. While in Panaji I came across a governmental sign discouraging city residents from dumping garbage. It stated, “Cleanliness is Next to Godliness” and displayed religious icons of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity. It was in Panaji, the capital of the Catholic state of Goa, where I visited two active Hindu temples. The imposition of Catholicism on the region did not snuff out other religious practices.

     Figure-14_WileyFigure 14. Cleanliness is Next to Godliness.


    Figure-15_Wiley
    Figure 15. Temple in Panaji. I was unable to ascertain the name of this structure.

    Harar and Goa offer very important lessons about our assumptions of architecture on the periphery. These two areas are “othered” in the critical discourse of their respective countries, but are in fact central to their respective religious communities. Harar and Goa are at once on the edge and in the center. Architectural, cultural, and religious syncretism can be found in these places, and in other cities around the world that have served as major nodes for commodity trading. These cities are not an exception – they are the result of trade, travel, and conquest.

    H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Google Map

     

    Recommended Readings

    Paul Axelrod and Michelle A. Fuerch, “Flight of the Deities: Hindu Resistance in Portuguese Goa,” Modern Asian Studies 30 no. 2 (May 1996): 387-421

    Carlos de Azevedo, “The Churches of Goa,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 15 no. 3 (October 1956): 3-6

    Avishai Ben-Dror, “Arthur Rimbaud in Harär: Images, Reality, Memory,” Northeast African Studies 14 no. 2 (2014): 159-182

    John F. Butler, “Nineteen Centuries of Christian Missionary Architecture,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 21 no. 1 (March 1962): 3-17

    William Connery, “Within the Walls,” World & I 15 no. 12 (December 2000): 184-191

    François-Xavier Fauvelle-Aymar and Bertrand Hirsch, “Muslim Historical Spaces in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa: A Reassessment,” Northeast African Studies 11 no. 1 (2010): 25-53

    “Goan Residences,” Architecture + Design 17 no. 4 (July/August 2000): 76-84

    Elisabeth-Dorothea Hecht, “The City of Harar and the Traditional Harar House,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 15 (August 1982): 57-78

    T. P. Issar, Goa Dourada: The Indo-Portuguese Bouquet (Bangalore: Issar, 1997)

    Rumi Okazaki and Riichi Miyake, “A Study on the Living Environment of Harar Jugol, Ethiopia,” Journal of Architectural Planning 77 no. 674 (April 2012): 951-957

    Philippe Revault and Serge Santelli (eds.), Harar: A Muslim City of Ethiopia (Paris: Maisonneuve et Larose, 2004)

    Isaac Sequeira, “The Carnival in Goa,” Journal of Popular Culture 20 no. 2 (Fall 1986): 167-173

    Tibebeselassie Tigabu, “Dire Dawa's Good Old Days,” Africa News Service November 24, 2014

    David Tomory “Reluctant Heritage,” Index on Censorship 1 1999 67-68

    David Wilson, “Paradoxes of Tourism in Goa,” Annals of Tourism Research 24 no. 1 (1997): 52-75

     


    1. See Richard Pankhurst, “The Trade of Central Ethiopia in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 2 no. 2 (July 1964): 41-91 and “The Trade of the Gulf of Aden Ports of Africa in the Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 3 no. 1 (January 1965): 36-81.

    2. Preeti Chopra, “Refiguring the Colonial City: Recovering the Role of Local Inhabitants in the Construction of Colonial Bombay, 1854-1918,” Buildings & Landscapes 14 (Fall 2007): 124.

    3. This title is disputed, as Kairouanin, Tunisia is also held to be the fourth holiest city of Islam. See John Anthony, “The Fourth Holy City,” Saudi Aramco World 18 no. 1 (January/February 1967)

    4. See Jan Bender Shetler and Dawit Yehualashet, “Building a ‘City of Peace’ through Intercommunal Association: Muslim-Christian Relations in Harar, Ethiopia, 1887-2009,” Journal of Religion, Conflict, and Peace 4 no. 1 (Fall 2010) 

    5. Tomory, 68.

    6. A series of plagues forced the abandonment of Old Goa for Panaji. Constant, deadly, and destructive seismic activity in Antigua forced abandonment of that capital.

  • The Medieval City and the Pilgrimage City: Gondar and Lalibela

    by User Not Found | Jan 05, 2015

    Gondar “The African Camelot”

    I looked at the date on Fasilides Castle—1667—and thought to myself “Wow, this is incredible! If only I had known… I would have taught my history class in a completely different way.” The date was important for two versions of a class I taught. The first version was entitled “History of Architecture: Renaissance and Baroque.” The second version was ambiguously titled “History and Theory of Architecture and Urbanism II.” In both versions of the course the historical trajectory had found its way to England via Inigo Jones and Christopher Wren by 1666. We spent a little bit of one class period on the urban fabric of London prior to and after the Great Fire of 1666. We were completely immersed in arguing about rational plans versus organic growth versus a combination of the two, or even something completely different for London. And here — here in Ethiopia, just one year after the fire, grand palaces were built at the onset of the Gondarine period. I was shocked at how little I knew about this time in African history, and was intrigued by the date as a way to connect with the Western history that I had taught and with which I was most familiar.

    Gondar was an old imperial capital in northern Ethiopia. Emperor Fasilides ruled from 1632 to 1667, and this was the time frame posted near the entrance to his castle. The building was the first constructed in the Fasil Ghebbi compound. The complex hosted several castles erected by a succession of emperors, as well as one building on the far north side erected by a queen, Mentewab.

    Figure-1
    Figure 1. Library of Yohannes I in the foreground, Chancellery of Yohannes I in the background. Fasil Ghebbi complex. The Italians did reconstructive work on the library between 1938–1939.

    The Fasil Ghebbi complex was breathtakingly beautiful. The shapes, outlines, and details of the palaces were so unique that I regretted not teaching about them before (then, how could I, since I did not know them before?). The three most impressive buildings in the complex were Fasilides Castle, Library of Yohannes I, and the Palace of Mentewab. These were also three of the best preserved. It was hard for me to determine what parts were reconstructed and which were simply conserved. These points are hard to extract from a tour guide, although some can be determined through published articles. Various portions of the complex fell victim to time and natural weathering, others to an earthquake of 1704, and also to damages sustained during World War II.

    Figure-2
    Figure 2. Mentewab Palace in the Fasil Ghebbi complex.

    The exterior detailing of Mentewab’s palace set it apart from the other buildings in the complex. The windows and doors were accentuated red tufa details, including carvings that depicted various cross designs attributed to different regions in Ethiopia. This, of course, was a sign of unity and of holiness. These same details can be found in her banqueting hall at the Mentewab-Qwesqwam Palace, a later complex she constructed outside the Fasil Ghebbi compound.

    A mid-1570s castle erected by Emperor Sarsa Dengel closer to Lake Tana influenced these buildings. That castle, Guzara, was the first of the kind that would be described as “Gondarine style” by scholars of Ethiopian art and architecture. The plan of Guzara castle is square with four circular bastions at each corner. Egg-shaped roofs top these bastions, a feature that was repeated in the palace complex of Fasil Ghebbi. Architectural antecedents of the stone and mortar Guzara Castle do not exist in Ethiopia, and various scholars have posited that Sarsa Dengel employed or was inspired by the work of Ottoman Turks.

    Guzara Castle is little more than a picturesque ruin that sits atop a hill outside a small city. There is no major tourism there — the day I visited I was the only foreigner in sight. Slender, young farm boys followed me through the ruin, asking for pens and money. There was no interpretation at the site, and my Gondarine guide was not extremely knowledgeable about the specifics of the construction. I was extremely surprised to find that Guzara was considered contributing to the UNESCO World Heritage listing of Fasil Ghebbi given its remote location and lack of infrastructure and inclusion within the tourism circuit promoted in Gondar.1 What Guzara provided, more than any major illumination on the evolution of the “Gondarine-style” architecture, was a challenging trek and workout.

    Figure-3
    Figure 3. Former Italian Cinema on main avenue linking Fasil Ghebbi to the post office.

    My main reason for visiting Gondar was actually to see and understand the Italian presence in the city. I was introduced to Gondar through David Rifkind’s 2011 article “Gondar,” published in the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians. Every week a different student in my “Architecture, Culture, and Society” class at Tulane presented the hypothesis of an article related to our weekly themes. One theme was “Empire.”  The assigned readings for the week were two chapters from David Brody’s Visualizing American Empire: Orientalism and Imperialism in the Philippines. I presented the etymological roots of words like “Empire,” “Imperialism,” “Culture,” and “Civilization,” found in Raymond Williams’ Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, and illuminated Edward Said’s theories on Orientalism and the process of “othering.” A very engaged student found Rifkind’s article and presented the thesis, tying it to the discussion we had about the relationship between architecture, urban planning, and empire. I remembered her presentation and the article when I was planning this trip, and knew I had to head to Gondar.

    Figure-4
    Figure 4. Villa in the Italian section of Gondar.

    The Italian presence in the city, beyond the walls of the Fasil Ghebbi, is still very evident, as Rifkind describes. The monumental post office, connected to the Fasil Ghebbi complex by a major avenue, the villas, commercial, and administrative buildings to the north are all quite conspicuous. What is missing is any kind of preservation or interpretation of these sites. Given their inclusion in a controversial point in Ethiopian history I wondered why they had not been demolished, and whether local residents felt some sort of antipathy towards their existence. None of the town residents I spoke to had any strong negative feelings towards the Italian buildings in Gondar. In fact, the Italian presence in Gondar was considered inconsequential to many residents, as I was reminded time and again that the Italians never conquered or colonized Ethiopia.2

    On Faith and Pedagogy

    In order to teach a world history of architecture course, one should be prepped with the world history of faith systems and religion. As humans evolved and mastered the basics of sustenance—hunting and gathering, constructing shelter, farming, domesticating animals—man was searching for the meaning of his existence. Monolithic arrangements were constructed to mark death, the moment when man stopped roaming the earth and stayed in one place. The need to situate ourselves in the world and to remember those who were once in existence gave us some of our earliest architecture. Agrarian societies dependent on the changing seasons, the sun, and rain for good harvests began sacred rituals around those things. That is why the granary shape is an important formal typology in Japanese Shinto religion and various African religions as well. Man’s need to mark cycles of life and cycles of nature on earth and in the sky led to the creation of complex structures, the most famous being Stonehenge. The Egyptians believed in the divinity of Pharaoh, and the erection of pyramids strengthened that ideological relationship. Greeks crated temples for the man-like gods. Aztecs created sacrificial temples dedicated to their gods. Christians erected churches to worship their God. It goes on and on.

    I split most of my time in the 16th–18th century portions of my “Renaissance and Baroque/History and Theory of Architecture and Urbanism II” course discussing divergent design trends in the Catholic and Protestant churches. Not once did I cover the Orthodox Church. Orthodox Christianity is a unifying force in most of Ethiopia. In class I talked about Renaissance theories like those of Alberti or the drawings of Da Vinci that focused on the centralized church plans and discussed the fact that the liturgy of the Catholic Church did not support this idealized space. However, Ethiopia has countless centralized churches in addition to basilica plan churches because their liturgy allows for the reconfiguration of space as needed, as long as it abides by one major schematic principal, illustrated below.

    Figure-5
    Figure 5. Schematic from Niall Finneran, “Built by Angels? Towards a Buildings Archaeology Context for the Rock-hewn Medieval Churches of Ethiopia,” World Archaeology 41 no. 3 (2009): 424.

    Figure-6
    Figure 6. Elfin Giyorgis, one of several churches in the Fasil Ghebbi complex.

    Greece is the only other country I have visited where Orthodox Christianity was dominant, and they also have many central plan churches. But even the Greek Orthodox Church has significant differences from the orthodoxy practiced in Ethiopia. I have found a number of religious-cultural practices in Ethiopia to be particularly fascinating as an outside observer. One could easily mistake/conflate/confuse the conservative practices of Christianity in Ethiopia with those of Islam. For instance, taking off shoes when entering into a holy space, and the women covering their heads. There is also a significant amount of circumambulation and prostration that happens both outside and inside the spaces themselves.

    Doing the research here in Ethiopia on Orthodox Christianity was dizzying. Eastern, Oriental, Ethiopian, Greek, Slavic… whew. As archaeologist Niall Finneran reminds us “The Ethiopian Church was tied politically to the Coptic Church and Alexandria and also too, it should not be forgotten, to the west Syrian church as well as the Byzantine world.”3 The ties between these religious practices are very much reinforced by old trade routes that have existed for centuries between some of these ancient cultures and modern day countries.

    “A Necessary but Temporary Evil”

    The first things that one sees when approaching the primary cluster of rock-hewn churches at Lalibela are the large white shelters looming above the internationally famous structures. Let’s just say, the vantage points and pictorial views that are in your textbook are a lie. Except the photographs of Biet Giyorgis (coincidentally it is the most circulated image). UNESCO erected these protective structures in 2008 in a joint project with the European Union, who supplied funds for the construction. UNESCO is upfront in its integrity statement about issues surrounding these structures: “Temporary light-weight shelters have now been installed over some churches and these, while offering protection, impact on visual integrity.”4 Anastase Zacharas, administrator at the European Commission involved with the project called the buildings a “necessary but temporary evil.”5

    Figure-7
    Figure 7. View from outside the second cluster of churches. Lalibela church Biet Abba Libanos with protective shelter. Teprin Associati of Italy designed the temporary structures. This is a modified version from their original commission-winning proposal, which was less visually obtrusive. Façade of Biet Abba Libanos shows cracks on left and center, the right portion of the wall has been replaced. One can see more utilitarian shelter for Biet Lehem in the background.

    The rock-hewn churches of Lalibela faced significant challenges in the twentieth century, including man-made damage. The churches are cut from living rock, and as such have to respond to the shifting of the earth’s surface over the centuries. This led to fracturing and destabilization of the buildings themselves. There is also micro vegetation that has grown in the countless edifice cracks. As Jacek Rewerski, specialist on troglodytes, states “Conserving a cave [building] is a totally different activity from conserving a building made of ‘dead’ stone removed from its environment. A cave building lives, changes and ages with the earth of which it is a part.”6

    In the mid-1950s Italian Sebastiano Console undertook conservation efforts for the churches, adding a “protective” coat of tar to the buildings and covering it with red paint. He also covered the roofs with cement and metal to shield the buildings from water damage that was especially harsh during the rainy season. The rock could not breathe under tar and paint coating, resulting in additional cracking of the structures. In 1966 a joint project between UNESCO, the Ethiopian government and the International Fund for Monuments (later the World Monuments Fund) helped reverse the damaging restorations that were undertaken in the previous decade. The rock-hewn churches at Lalibela would become the first landmark project of the World Monuments Fund.7

    Despite the early attention from the World Monuments Fund, conservation at the site lagged due to the overthrow of Haile Selassie and the rise of the Derg political party. The World Monuments Fund was unable to complete the later phases of its project in the 1970s. International coalitions were not invited to work on the site again until the 1990s. The need for immediate, yet delicate and conservative approaches to preservation work at the site is evident. The UNESCO statement of integrity about the site is telling:

    Structural problems have been identified in Biet Amanuel where an imminent risk of collapse is possible, and other locations need to be monitored. Serious degradation of the paintings inside the churches has occurred over the last thirty years. Sculptures and bas-reliefs (such as at the entrance of Biet Mariam) have also been severely damaged, and their original features are hardly recognisable. All of this threatens the integrity of the property.8

    There are holes in the ground around buildings where previous shelters had been erected. A small section of the Biet Medhane Alem church still bares evidence of the fateful tar and red paint restoration of the 1950s.

    Figure-8
    Figure 8. This image of Biet Medhane Alem illustrates various conservation techniques undertaken at Lalibela over the course of the last sixty years. Original pillars have been replaced. The last vestiges of the tar and red paint are an illustrative reminder of previous harsh alterations to the building. To the right are the posts that hold the canopy of the newest additions—the UNESCO protective shelters.

    Replacement pillars and walls for portions of the buildings that have already failed are conspicuously reconstructed to illustrate the fact that they are not original. In many ways, the work undertaken at this extremely holy pilgrimage site is a case study of best and worst practices for future preservation and conservation students and professionals. Increased tourism is both beneficial and detrimental to the conservation of the site. On the one hand increased tourism means increased tourism dollars being spent in the small town. On the other hand, the churches already receive a significant amount of internal pilgrims from Ethiopia, and the added human presence of foreign tourists can wear down the natural materials of the buildings at an exponential rate.

    Wanderlust: Nomadic Interpretations of Contemporary Africa

    "Have just returned from Ethiopia with a mass of welts from the bed bugs of Seven Olives Hotel in Lalibela,” Colonel Gray wrote in a letter to Richard Howland of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. – one of the [World Monuments Fund] early trustees, "but with the satisfaction of turning over to the Antiquities Administration the completed monument. God preserve me from faraway places."
    - World Monuments Fund: The First Thirty Years

    I guffawed when I read that line. I could relate.9 As I told my father and two younger brothers over Skype on Christmas “It’s nothing like the movies!” My brother Roland asked, “What do you mean, how so?” I replied, “The bed bugs, fleas, mosquitos… wearing the same clothes for days on end… sometimes no hot water, sometimes no electricity.” My dad replied, “So you mean, when Indiana Jones emerges from a cave with a crisp white shirt, it’s not real?” We all laughed. It has been quite the challenge trying to be Indyamber Jones while in Ethiopia. The country’s infrastructure leaves much to be desired, though there are crews working every day to expand roads and make the smaller cities and sites I have visited more accessible.10 The reward, however, is experiencing architectural sites and preservation practices that are so far removed from what I have previously known. Another reward is the opportunity to capture these sites through my photography and share them with the world.

    I am very pleased to announce the inclusion of my photography in an exhibition in the United States while I continue to travel on this fellowship. Several of my works from Ghana and Ethiopia will be a part of the exhibition “Wanderlust: Nomadic Interpretations of Contemporary Africa” at The Project Box, a creative arts space in the Paseo Arts District of Oklahoma City. The show runs from January 2–30, 2015.

    Figure-9
    Figure 9. Wanderlust at the Project Box, Oklahoma City, OK.

    Wanderlust: Nomadic Interpretations of Contemporary Africa” is a group art show highlighting the diversity of Africa through eyes in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Sierra Leone, Somaliland/Somalia and the United States of America. Curated by Afrikanation Artists Organization (AAO), Wanderlust features work by Oklahoma City-based artists Ebony Iman DallasGay PasleyRonna Pernell, Alex Mutua Kathilu, as well as Zena Allen, the Afrikanation International Art Exchange participants, and myself. Jeff Mims, an Oklahoma City-based Afrikanation musician, will play acoustic guitar during the opening reception, which coincides with the First Friday Gallery Walk in the Paseo Arts District.11

    In addition, Afrikanation Artists Organization USA will be collecting much needed youth art supplies to send to Voices for Street Children/Little Voices orphanage in Addis Ababa and professional art supplies to artists in Somaliland/Somalia. My travel to faraway places has allowed me to participate in an international artist community that is particularly rewarding and meaningful.

    H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Google Map

    Recommended Reading:

    Sandro Angelini, “Lalibela – Phase I: Adventure in Restoration,” (New York: International Fund for Monuments, Inc., 1967)

    Merid Wolde Aregay, “Society and Technology in Ethiopia 1500-1800,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 17 (November 1984): 127-147

    LaVerle Berry, “Architecture and Kingship: The Significance of Gondar-Style Architecture,” Northeast African Studies 2 no. 3 (1995): 7-19

    Stanislaw Chojnacki, “New Aspects of India’s Influence on the Art and Culture of Ethiopia,” Rassegna di Studi Etiopici 2 (2003): 5-21

    Niall Finneran, “Built by Angels? Towards a Buildings Archaeology Context for the Rock-hewn Medieval Churches of Ethiopia,” World Archaeology 41 no. 3 (2009): 415-429

    Niall Finneran, “Lalibela in its Landscape: Archaeological Survey at Lalibela, Lasta, Ethiopia, April to May 2009,” Azania: Archaeological Research in Africa 47 no. 1 (2012): 81-98

    S. C. Munro-Hay, “Horse-Shoe Arches in Ancient Ethiopia,” Rassegna di Studi Etiopici 33 (1989): 157-161

    David W. Phillipson, “From Yeha to Lalibela: an Essay in Cultural Continuity,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 40 no. 1/2 (June-December 2007): 1-19

    Jacek Rewerski, “Life Below Ground,” UNESCO Courier 48 no. 12 (December 1995): 10-14

    David Rifkind, “Gondar,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 70 no. 4 (December 2011): 492-511

    Matteo Salvadore, “Muslim Partners, Catholic Foes: The Selective Isolation of Gondärine Ethiopia,” Northeast African Studies 12 no. 1 (2012): 51-72

    Tomohiro Shitara, “A Study of the Methods and Materials Used in the Construction of Italian Buildings in Gondar,” Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering 5 no. 2 (November 2006): 215-220

    Bahru Zewde, “Gondär In the Early Twentieth Century: A Preliminary Investigation of a 1930/31 Census,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 21 (November 1988): 57-81



     

    1. UNESCO has plans to address these types of issues at the Continental Conference on UNESCO Sites in Africa foreseen in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, in November 2015: http://whc.unesco.org/en/news/1136/

    2. The characterization of Italy’s presence in Ethiopia is also highly debated by the scholarly community, as was examined in my previous blog on Addis Ababa.

    3. Niall Finneran, “Built by Angels? Towards a Buildings Archaeology Context for the Rock-hewn Medieval Churches of Ethiopia,” World Archaeology 41 no. 3 (2009): 424

    4. UNESCO, “Fasil Ghebbi, Gondar Region” http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/19

    5. Sophie Boukhari, "Lalibela's Fragile Churches." UNESCO Courier (July /August 1998): 71

    6. Jacek Rewerski, “Life Below Ground,” UNESCO Courier 48 no. 12 (December 1995): 10-14. The churches at Lalibela fall under the purview of the mission of two separate but important specialist initiatives in conservation. The first is Histoire Architecture Découverte Etude Sauvegarde (H.A.D.E.S.) and the second is the World Heritage Programme on Earthen Architecture (WHEAP).

    7. The World Monuments Fund has expanded its operations in Northern Ethiopia. Work continues at Lalibela, funding for conservation at the Mentewab-Qwesqwam Palace, and Yemrehana Kristos is included on the 2014 Watch List.

    8. UNESCO, “Fasil Ghebbi, Gondar Region” http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/19

    9. I did not stay at the Seven Olives Hotel and cannot speak on their current situation. Colonel Gray’s letter was written in the early 1970s.

    10. The funding and the managerial workforce for these many of these projects come from China.

    11. This information was taken directly from the Wanderlust Facebook Event Page: https://www.facebook.com/events/1571301193100544/.
  • The New Flower: Addis Ababa and the Project of African Modernity

    by User Not Found | Dec 04, 2014

    He is a young man.
    He is a young man
    by a steel track.
    He wants the streets
    to be more than streets.
    The Italian boulevard
    the Italians built
    to be more
    than a boulevard.

    The city more
    than a city.
    He has high,
    admirable ideals.
    It is a dangerous world.
    The emperor
    is such a powerful
    man. The Derg
    and the military
    the most violent
    letdown.

    Excerpt from “The Track,” Lena Bezawork Grönlund Callaloo 33, no. 1 (Winter 2010): 295-296

    Addis Ababa, or “New Flower” in Amharic, was founded in 1886. During early imperial times the capital had been located in Axum, Lalibela, and Gondar, as well as several other smaller cities. In modern times, the capital was built anew. Empress Taytu Betul, wife of Emperor Menelik II, first settled in the Entoto hills. This settlement was “little more than a military encampment.”1 She later moved to a valley in the foothills, attracted by natural hot springs on land called Finfinne by the Oromo people who lived there. As historian Getahun Benti argues, “From its earliest days, Addis Ababa was the staging station for the economic exploitation and political control of the conquered provinces of which Oromia was the largest.2 It was at Finfinne that Empress Taytu Betul renamed the city “Addis Ababa,” a strong proclamation of the ambitions of both Taytu and Emperor Menelik II.

    Figure 1
    Figure 1. Major capitals of Ethiopia. Ronald J. Horvath, “The Wandering Capitals of Ethiopia,” Journal of African History 10 no. 2 (1969): 208

    Figure 2

    Figure 2. Partial view of Menelik II’s Palace in the area formerly known as “Gebi,” now grounds of Prime Minister’s residence. Source: Ethiopundit.

    Many recent texts on Addis Ababa explore the founding of the city as a project of modernity, one that Emperor Menelik II undertook after successfully conquering portions of what is today the southern region of Ethiopia. Menelik II’s reign, from 1889 to 1913 brought into existence the modern borders of the country, and he chose to rule from a central location, symbolically bringing together the northern and southern regions. The question of modernity as it applies to Addis Ababa, however, has yet to be answered. This is a direct result of the fact that modernity itself is subject to different definitions and interpretations. Menelik II, in his diplomatic relationships with various countries, believed he was creating the modern state of Ethiopia. His defeat of the Italians at the Battle of Adwa in 1896 proved that Ethiopia had the military prowess to fend off colonization in the “scramble for Africa.” Yet, by the time Emperor Haile I Selassie fled to England as the Italians invaded Ethiopia from Eritrea in 1935, Italian claims of Ethiopian primitivism served as fodder for their imperial conquests.

    Figure-3_Addis_Ababa
    Figure 3. What does it mean to be a modern African capital?  View up Churchill Avenue.

    Early Industrialization and Urbanization in the Imperial City

    The narrative arc of the Addis Ababa Museum, established in 1986 on the centennial of the city’s founding, explained how the city became the epitome of a modern, cosmopolitan entity within a few decades. Exhibition material in Finfinne Hall of the museum highlighted the beauty of the highly detailed wooden structures erected under the early part of Menelik II’s reign. The craftsmen for these structures came from various regions that had trade relationships with Ethiopia, including India. Menelik II's palaces at Finfinne and Addis Alem show clear Indian detailing and architectural motifs. The next room in the museum focused on Alfred Ilg, a Swiss engineer who brought a significant amount of industrial technology to the country (Ilg also extensively photographed Menelik II’s court). The rapid urbanization of the city of Addis Ababa after its founding, the cosmopolitan nature of the market spaces and trade relationships that brought foreign goods to Arada (later Piazza), the introduction of the rail line, electricity, bridges, and other feats of civil engineering are the hallmarks of Menelik II and Taytu’s reign. Mekonnen Worku, in his 2008 urban design master’s thesis proclaimed Menelik II “the great modernizer of Ethiopia.”3

    Figure-4_Addis_Ababa
    Figure 4. Building on the complex of the Central Statistical Agency. While I have not yet discovered the original use of the building, guards told me it was the location of the first Bank of Abyssinia.

    Figure-5_Addis_Ababa
    Figure 5. Residence in the Arada/Piazza area of Addis Ababa.

    Figure-6_Addis_Ababa

    Figure 6. La Gare, constructed in the 1920s. This station linked land-locked Ethiopia to the port of Djibouti.

    Even with the introduction of industrial technologies to the young capital, could one argue that the city was truly modern? Several scholars dispute the claim. Andreas Eshete, former president of Addis Ababa University, where he was also a professor of law and philosophy, argues “there is a crucial distinction between the advent of the idea of modernity on the one hand, and its psychological and institutional realization on the other.”4 He bases his argument on the fact that throughout the first 70 years of the city’s existence, the imperial powers, centrality of Orthodox Christianity, Italian Fascist presence, and communist rule disallowed “popular legitimate rule by free and equal citizens, the abolition of all privileges of birth or inherited position, equality of faiths and cultural communities, industrialization, and secularism.5” Indeed, Ethiopia was an imperial nation until the overthrow of Selassie in 1974, and operated under major themes of exceptionalism – Ethiopia of antiquity, with ruling parties claiming direct descent from the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon; Ethiopia, one of the earliest Christian nations; Ethiopia the modern nation that resisted European colonialism.

    For much of the short history of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia has been a country of centralized power, resting with the looming historical figures of Menelik II, Selassie, and Mengistu. This factor allowed for the exploitation of Addis Ababa’s topography for expressions of power. Planning historian Dandena Tufa suggests that Empress Taytu was most influential in the early layout of the town. She wanted military officials and their soldiers to settle around the palace for purposes of defense, so the earliest settlements were on the high grounds of the Finfinne region. Additionally, Tufa states, “This original settlement layout was based on a traditional land use system that was derived from the settlement structure of the northern part of Ethiopia.6

    Figure-7_Addis_Ababa

    Figure 7. Traditional territories in vertical space: garrison “säfär” and a church with village development from Dandena Tufa, “Historical Development of Addis Ababa: Plans and Realities,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 41 no. 1/2 (June-December 2008): 34

    Military and political officials associated with the imperial power were literally “lifted” above the common people, “reshaping of [the] topography to locate and display differences and hierarchies of power, wealth, and status:”

    The most elevated part of the city was reserved for the highest authority in the land—the king— subsequently becoming the nucleus of the city that was being organized concentrically. In a descending order, politically and geographically, land was allotted beginning from top officials to those at the bottom of the socioeconomic order.7

    Embassies were situated close to imperial compounds, also on the high ground. Eshete also discusses how political control was a major factor that “pervaded the organization of Addis Ababa in the 1880s, the restructuring of its space under Italian colonialism in the late 1930s, and its modernization after the 1940s.”8

    These physical realities were very clear to me (and my legs – what a workout!) as I visited significant architectural sites in Addis Ababa. The Addis Ababa Museum, former home of Ras Biru Wolde Gabriel (War Minister of Menelik II), the Beate Maryam Church (Menelik II Museum), the Holy Trinity (Selassie) Cathedral, the St. Giorgis Cathedral, and Ras Makonnen Hall (formerly Guenete Leul Palace, the residence of Haile I Selassie, and currently under the aegis of Addis Ababa University), were all on high ground. While I initially had not studied the planning of Addis Ababa before visiting these sites, the physical realities of their high positions were not lost on me. They certainly would not have been lost on a resident of Addis Ababa in the early stages of the city’s development.

    Figure-8_Addis_Ababa

    Figure 8. Beate Maryam was accessible only after a steep climb up the Gebi hill on the grounds of the Prime Ministers residence.

    Landscape designer and city planner Sara Zewde, who is currently pursuing her MLA at Harvard School of Design, has been a useful contact during my time in Addis Ababa. A U.S. born second-generation Ethiopian, she split her childhood between New Orleans and Houston. Her research and work has helped me think about urbanism in the Global South in new and exciting ways. Zewde put me in touch with Brook Teklehaimanot, a practicing architect and professor at the Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction, and City Development. Teklehaimanot supplied me with the basics of urban development in Ethiopia, and the challenges the city faces today as it undergoes rapid growth and construction.

    Brook Teklehaimanot Lecture “Addis and its Urbanism”

    Italian Colonialism or, The Occupation 1936-1941

    “They got hopes and plans a getting’ rid of me
    I hit ‘em like Ethiopia hit up Italy”

    Black Thought of The Roots
    “The Show (Must Go On)” feat. Common and Dice Raw
    Rising Down, 2008

    I was sitting in my bed reading about the history of Addis Ababa while listening to the unparalleled, multiple Grammy award winning, hip-hop band The Roots when that song lyric resounded in my ears. I was reinvigorated by the intersection of my love for hip-hop with my quest to understand Ethiopian history. One will find, within scholarly texts on Ethiopia that focus on the period between 1936 and 1941, various methods of referring to the Italian presence in the country. The decision to call the time period an occupation, as many pro-Ethiopian and nationalist publications suggest, or colonization, as many studies on Italian Fascism suggest, is a truly political statement. Ethiopian resistance to European colonization is a central part of its historical memory/mythology and exceptionalism. Most architectural publications on the subject, interestingly enough, choose to describe the period as one of colonization.

    Ethiopia, along with Libya, Eritrea, and Italian Somaliland were the countries that made up the entity of l'Africa Orientale Italiana. This region became a site of “engage[ment] in the mystical discovery of the former Roman presence, to feel the miracle of an ancient society coming to life, and to sense a vital spiritual connection with the past.”9 The Italian presence had tangible consequences for Ethiopians. Italy began a campaign of “modernizing” the region in the language of Italian Fascist architecture. Urban plans recreated pre-existing cities into the utopia of an Italian regime. Le Corbusier even submitted a plan for Addis Ababa to Mussolini based on his Radiant City scheme. Thankfully, many of these plans were not fully realized. Architectural developments came in the form of public and governmental buildings such as post offices, banks, and administrative centers. These were the objects of empire, in the same way (though on a much smaller scale) that the circus and theaters of the ancient Roman Empire were established in colonial cities.

    Ethiopians in Addis Ababa as well as other major cities in the “Italian Empire” were subject to “racial segregation at all levels:”

    In the Fascist version of apartheid, districts of all major towns were reserved exclusively for white settlers, conjugal relations between Italians and Africans were criminalized, collective activities were prohibited. The relationship between settlers and subjects was organized along hierarchical lines. In all accounts of empire, the indigenous population was represented as the other of the new imperial structure.10

    These ideals were adapted to the topographical realities of Addis Ababa. While Italian master plans for the city did not acknowledge the topographical layout of the site, the need of Italian imperial powers to be seen as domineering was easily adaptable to the layout of Ethiopian imperial hierarchy in the city. Cultural anthropologist Mia Fuller discusses the implications of Italian segregation practices in the forms of “exposure and visibility.” She argues “The guiding principle was to make blacks, except insofar as their 'quarters' needed to be supervised, as invisible as possible to whites, and to make whites as visible as possible to blacks, in a public, though not a private sense.”11 This discourse on visibility reminded me of several passages I had read many years before in “Duality and Invisibility: Race and Memory in the Urbanism of the American South,” in the volume Sites of Memory: Perspectives on Architecture and Race, written by Craig Barton, current Director of The Design School at Arizona State University. There were also similarities to Getahun Benti’s description of the subjugation of the Oromo peoples in the early founding of Addis Ababa in “A Nation Without a City [A Blind Person Without a Cane]: The Oromo Struggle for Addis Ababa.” One thing that was significant in this intersection of discourse, however, was that ethnic and racial dominance in an urban setting often depended on intricate social engineering of interactions within the public sphere.

    The Promise of Pan-African Modernity

    The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) was established in 1958, while the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was founded in 1963, both in Addis Ababa. Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah was a vocal advocate for the founding of the OAU (now known as the African Union, or AU). There was a particular kinship between Ghana and Ethiopia, Kwame Nkrumah and Haile I. Selassie. It is not a coincidence then, that the first Encyclopedia Africana that W. E. B. Du Bois published while in Ghana actually covered the two countries together. Here the claims for exceptionalism that put the two countries at the forefront of the Pan Africanist movement were strong. Ghana, the first sub-Saharan African nation to gain independence, and Ethiopia, the only nation in Africa to resist European colonization.

    Figure-9_Addis_Ababa

    Figure 9. UNECA building, constructed 1961 by Italian architect Arturo Mezzedimi. It was expanded in 1975.

    Similar to Accra, Addis Ababa looked to outside architects to define its post-war, Pan-Africanist modernity (foreign architects had significant influence in the construction and erection of the most important buildings in Addis Ababa since its founding). The Goethe-Institut in Addis Ababa hosted an exhibition in December 2013 entitled “Addis Modern: Rediscovering the 1960s Architecture of Africa’s Capital City,” that “focus[ed] on series of buildings with contextual, structural, monumental, formal, minimal and sculptural approaches to architecture.”12

    Examples were numerous. Along the monumental Churchill Avenue, laid out by French planner L. De Marien in the 1960s, I found the Ethiopian National Theatre (completed in 1955), the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, and the Ethiopian Television and Radio Building. They all possessed a very sculpture quality in their construction, and were “modern” landmarks along the Addis Ababa street that was inspired by the Champs-Elysees. To be clear, these singular moments along the street did not give the same type of coherence of urban fabric that one would find in Haussmannian Paris.

    Figure-10_Addis_Aababa
    Figure 10. Commercial building near Churchill Avenue.

    Figure-11_Addis_Ababa

    Figure 11. Undated postcard image of the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia on Churchill Avenue. Source: Postcard Exchange.

    Another major public work that was created during the 1960s is the John F. Kennedy Library on the campus of Addis Ababa University. The John F. Kennedy Library is situated slightly off the ceremonial path of the university campus that leads from its historic gates to Ras Makonnen Hall. And here is where things get exceedingly interesting. The Washington-based architecture firm McLeod, Ferrara, and Ensign, designed the John F. Kennedy Library. McLeod, Ferrara, and Ensign, at the same time, was working on the construction of Howard D. Woodson High School in Northeast Washington, D.C. They completed the design for Howard D. Woodson High School in 1972; the school was demolished in 2008. The building was featured prominently in my dissertation “Concrete Solutions: Architecture of Public High Schools During the Urban Crisis.” So when I trekked off the main path of Addis Ababa University to see the John F. Kennedy Library (as an American I felt it was my duty somehow, strange as that sounds) I was completely floored by the discovery of the architecture firm.

    Figure-12_Addis_Ababa

    Figure 12. John F. Kennedy Library on the campus of Addis Ababa University.

    Addis Ababa Today: Modernity and Heritage

    Addis Ababa is an exceedingly young capital in a country with an amazing historical legacy, however none of the UNESCO World Heritage sites listed for Ethiopia are located in the country’s capital. Neither are any of the tentative sites. This does not mean that Addis Ababa lacks architectural heritage worthy of preservation. The United States Embassy in Addis Ababa received the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation in 2007 for the restoration of the Mohammed Ali House. According to the World Monuments Fund website, which listed the building on its watch in 2008:

    Minas Kherbekian, a well-known Armenian architect from the region, constructed the house to be the headquarters of the powerful trading firm G.M. Mohammadali. The structure echoes the diversity of styles and materials of the buildings surrounding it, exhibiting traces of Indian, Arab, and Ethiopian influences.13

    U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation is a truly exciting initiative from the Department of State, granting direct funds to projects around the world. The work of preservation should not just rest with organizations dedicated to architecture, but those dedicated to the political diplomacy as well.

    The socio-cultural battle for Addis Ababa, the modern “capital city of Africa” is not yet over. The struggle is embedded within the urban fabric of the city through the erection of key political and cultural buildings. The Oromia Cultural Center, currently under construction, carries with it the hopes of the Oromo people to re-establish authority in the capital city. The Architectural Design and Research Institute of Shanghai’s Tongji University designed the new African Union building, the tallest building in the Addis Ababa skyline. The Chinese government funded construction. Scholar Lloyd G. Adu Amoah argues Chinese “soft imperium” is undermining African claims of sovereignty and modernity in Addis Ababa as well as in Accra. The topic of Chinese involvement in rapidly expanding African cities is also covered in design critic Justin Zhuang’s Metropolis article “How Chinese Urbanism Is Transforming African Cities.” Visible presence in the built environment of the city is important for entities seeking legitimization and a strengthened profile in the African capital city. Historian Shimelis Bonsa Gulema in “City as Nation: Imagining and Practicing Addis Ababa as a Modern and National Space,” contends:

    On the one hand, the multiplicity of narratives demands constructing the city as a city of modernity, but also as a modern city of tradition, a city that could negotiate between its past and the past of the nation on the one hand and the modernist aspirations of its leaders and occupants on the other. It also requires cultivating and displaying the city’s various origins and characters as Ethiopian, African, and cosmopolitan urban space but also as national, imperial, and revolutionary.14

    This has been the dilemma of the “New Flower” and the project of African modernity in the twentieth century. There is money to be spent in Addis Ababa, evident by the McMansions sprouting up in the stylish Bole area. Despite a conservative culture, Ethiopians are also avant-garde and trendy, as fashionistas strolling down major thoroughfares can confirm. There is a palpable energy in Addis Ababa (also felt in Accra) that the city is contributing to the trend of “Africa Rising” in the twenty-first century. The city has been banking on the notion since 1886.

    Figure-13_Addis_Ababa
    Figure 13. Lion of Judah statue. Junction of Churchill Avenue and plaza in front of La Gare. Construction of new elevated metro seen in lower region of photograph, as well as construction of skyscraper to the right.

    H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Google Map

    Recommended reading:

    Hussein Ahmed, “Faith and Trade: The Market Stalls around the Anwar Mosque in Addis Ababa during Ramadan,” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 19 no. 2 (1999): 261-268

    Getahun Benti, “A Nation Without a City [A Blind Person Without a Cane]: The Oromo Struggle for Addis Ababa” Northeast African Studies 9 no. 3 (2002): 115-131

    Charles Burdett, “Italian Fascism and Utopia,” History of the Human Sciences 16 no. 1 (2003): 93-108

    Maurice De Young, “An African Emporium, The Addis Märkato,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 5 no. 2 (July 1967): 103-122

    Mia Fuller, “Wherever You Go, There You Are: Fascist Plans for the Colonial City of Addis Ababa and the Colonizing Suburb of EUR '42,” Journal of Contemporary History 31 no. 2 (April 1996): 397-418

    Elizabeth Wolde Giorgis, ed. Special Issue: Engaging the Image of Art, Culture, and Philosophy: Particular Perspectives on Ethiopian Modernity and Modernism

    Northeast African Studies 13 no. 1 (2013)

    Fasil Giorghis & Denis Gérard, Addis Ababa 1886-1941: The City and Its Architectural Heritage (Addis Ababa: Shama Books, 2007)

    Shimelis Bonsa Gulema, “City as Nation: Imagining and Practicing Addis Ababa as a Modern and National Space,” Northeast African Studies 13 no. 1 (2013): 167-213

    Ronald J. Horvath, “The Wandering Capitals of Ethiopia,” Journal of African History 10 no. 2 (1969): 205-219

    Mark Jarzombek, “Fasil Giorghis, Ethiopia and the Borderland of the Architectural Avant-garde,” Construction Ahead (May-August 2008): 38-42

    Belle Asante Tarsitani, “Linking Centralised Politics to Custodianship of

    Cultural Heritage in Ethiopia: Examples of National-Level Museums in Addis Ababa,” African Studies 70 no. 2 (2011): 302-320

    Dandena Tufa, “Historical Development of Addis Ababa: Plans and Realities,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 41 no. 1/2 (June-December 2008): 27-59

    Dagmawi Woubshet, Salamishah Tillet, and Elizabeth Wolde Giorgis, eds. Special Issue: Ethiopia, Literature, Art and Culture Callaloo 33 no. 1 (Winter 2010)

    Mekonnen Worku, “Heritage Conservation Oriented Planning: Heritage Policy in Light of Sustainable Urban Planning, The Case of Piazza LDP, Addis Ababa,” (Master’s thesis, Addis Ababa University, 2008)

    Mulatu Wubneh, “Addis Ababa, Ethiopia – Africa’s Diplomatic Capital,” Cities 35 (2013): 255-269



    1. “The Finfinne Hall,” Exhibit. Addis Ababa Museum.
    2. Getahun Benti, “A Nation Without a City [A Blind Person Without a Cane]: The Oromo Struggle for Addis Ababa” Northeast African Studies 9 no. 3 (2002): 117.

    3. Mekonnen Worku, “Heritage Conservation Oriented Planning: Heritage Policy in Light of Sustainable Urban Planning, The Case of Piazza LDP, Addis Ababa,” (Master’s thesis, Addis Ababa University, 2008), 3.
    4. Andreas Eshete, “Modernity: Its Title to Uniqueness and its Advent in Ethiopia: From the Lecture What is ‘Zemenawinet? – Perspectives on Ethiopian Modernity,” Northeast African Studies 13 no. 1 (2013): 12.
    5. Ibid.

    6. Dandena Tufa, “Historical Development of Addis Ababa: Plans and Realities,” Journal of Ethiopian Studies 41 no. 1/2 (June-December 2008): 32.

    7. Shimelis Bonsa Gulema, “City as Nation: Imagining and Practicing Addis Ababa as a Modern and National Space,” Northeast African Studies 13 no. 1 (2013): 171.

    8. Gulema, 173.

    9. Charles Burdett, “Italian Fascism and Utopia,” History of the Human Sciences 16 no. 1 (2003): 99.

    10. Burdett, 102.

    11. Mia Fuller, “Wherever You Go, There You Are: Fascist Plans for the Colonial City of Addis Ababa and the Colonizing Suburb of EUR '42,” Journal of Contemporary History 31 no. 2 (April 1996): 405.

    12. The Goethe-Institut hosts a great variety of exhibits and talks on architecture and urbanism in Africa generally, and Addis Ababa more specifically.

    13. “Mohammad Ali House,” World Monuments Fund http://www.wmf.org/project/mohammad-ali-house.

    14. Gulema, City as Nation, 191.
  • Greater Accra and Cape Coast

    by User Not Found | Nov 07, 2014

    I was not ready to leave Ghana. I had not yet visited Kumasi, walked the campus of KNUST, or seen the Asante traditional buildings that survived British destruction in 1874. I truncated my trip due to the pressures of the health epidemic in West Africa (although no cases of Ebola were reported in Ghana), and left a month to the day that I arrived. My purpose was to research architectural heritage and urbanism in Accra, Cape Coast, Kumasi, and (optimistically, if I had enough time) the Northern Region. As I began to meet people around Accra and describe my plans to do first-hand study of architecture in Ghana, I was often countered with the question “Why Ghana?” I address this question in an essay in the forthcoming Ghana Institute of Architects Journal produced by ArchiAfrika. When I talked about the history of architecture in the country I was accused of romanticizing the vernacular tradition that many of my critics considered “backwards,” while highlighting the ugly history of slavery. My task was to paint a picture of more than “mud huts” and “slave castles” (I understand the derogatory nature of the former term, and the dark nature of the latter). I wanted to highlight and emphasize the many lessons to be learned both in the construction and the cultural histories embedded within the structures.

    Ghana_Figure-1
    Figure 1. Vernacular wattle-and-daub building near Kpong.

    Ghana_Figure-2
    Figure 2. Cape Coast Castle.

    Greater Accra

    I had the most wonderful fortune in making strong connections in Accra. I reached out to Yale Club of Ghana president Kofi Blankson Ocansey who took the time to meet with me and introduce me to his good friend, architect Joe Osae-Addo. I sat and talked with the two at a trendy gelato shop, Ci Gusta, in the Airport Residential neighborhood of Accra. The scene was indicative of the bustling and chic nature of Accra’s nightlife, with countless groups of people filing in and out of the shop.

    The Yale alumni connection to Ghana had been growing over the last few years.1 In 2012 and 2013 the Yale Alumni Service Corps hosted a trip to the village of Yamoransa in Central Ghana near Cape Coast. In 2013 the Yale Club of Ghana, in cooperation with the Association of Yale Alumni and the Yale Black Alumni Association, held the conference “From Success to Significance: Thought Leaders in the African Renaissance.” Finally, in 2014 the Ghana club launched the Yale Green Ghana Campaign. All of these exciting endeavors meant that I would have ready access to a network of leaders in the country who are interested in social responsibility and social entrepreneurship, environmental issues, economics, history, culture, and how all of these topics relate to Ghana’s future.

    Architect Joe Osae-Addo introduced me to contacts with whom to discuss architectural history and current trends in Ghana, including former mayor and architectural historian Nat Nuno-Amarteifio. I joined Amarteifio and representatives of the DOEN Foundation for a tour of Accra one bright Ghana morning. Amarteifio narrated a succinct history of the greater metropolitan area before we left his office. I understood why people refer to him as “Uncle Nat.” His narrative was spoken in the proverbial manner of a wise elder. His story started with the settlement of the Ga people in what is today Accra. The settlement location was ideally central in a trade route that stretched from Mauritania and Senegal in the west to Nigeria and Cameroon in the east then north passing through the Asante kingdom and all the way up to Morocco. This trade, along with fishing, is how Accra flourished and sustained itself in the seventeenth century. Amarteifio noted that although there were no gold deposits in Accra, gold was the primary trade commodity in the region – hence the name the “Gold Coast.”

    European traders were able to gain three pieces of land on which to build their forts in the vicinity of the city. As Amarteifio proclaimed “Now this was the beginning of Accra as well as the end of Accra.” The slave trade became central to the region, with Accra still maintaining its influence due to its ideal location along a well-established trade route. Amarteifio stated that the Ga people survived in this situation by being highly adaptable, becoming middlemen in a network of so much power and money. The power, however, did not rest with the Ga because their local hegemony got in the way. Despite the turmoil of European settlement and power struggles with the Asante to the north, Accra “remained the fulcrum of power” because it became the headquarters of the British Gold Coast colonial administration in 1877.2

    Ghana_Figure-3
    Figure 3. Former slaveholding site now a family compound, James Town, Accra.

    Ghana_Figure-4
    Figure 4. Wato Club, Ussher Town, Accra.

    Ghana_Figure-5
    Figure 5. Structure near Christiansborg (Osu) Castle, Osu, Accra.

    Amarteifio rode us through the distinct neighborhoods of the city. The remnants of the British (James Town), Dutch (Ussher Town) and Danish (Osu) settlements were fascinating. These neighborhoods have controversial histories and create an urban fabric that is entrenched in, and inseparable from, the fabric of contemporary Accra. One finds within the neighborhoods buildings of fine and unique architectural stock hidden within plain sight.

     These buildings are inextricably tied to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, as is much of the history of the former Gold Coast. Aaron Kofi Badu Yankholmes, a doctoral student of hotel and tourism management at Hong Kong Polytechnic University conducted a series of surveys after 2009 and found that most residents of Danish Osu knew about the history of the slave trade in their neighborhood, and supported large scale tourism efforts around that heritage.

    I toured James Town with Nii Teiko Tagoe, project director of the Ga Mashie Development Agency (GAMADA). Ga Mashie, the area originally inhabited by the Ga people, then successfully settled by British (James Town) and Dutch (Ussher Town), is the oldest portion of Accra. The labyrinthine residential fabric of James Town reminded me of the hutong complexes I saw over a decade ago in Beijing. The double-story compound house is the dominant structure type in the area. According to a report of the Millennium Cities Initiative (MCI):

    Very often these houses are arranged into clusters connected to each other via alleyways. From the aerial viewpoint, the buildings appear scattered and unplanned… the Gas’ style of cluster home design came about as a result of the frequent slave raids during the era of slave-trading. Since most of the structures were built over 80 years ago and have been passed on by, and to, generations of family members, the most common form of home ownership is a communal one, by the extended family.3

    James Town was once one of the richest portions of the city because its residents were allied with the British. Today, however, it is one of the poorest and most neglected neighborhoods. The move of port activity from James Town to Tema negatively affected the fishermen who had worked in the area for centuries.

    The Millennium Cities Initiative is a project by the Earth Institute of Columbia University to “help selected, under-resourced municipalities across sub-Saharan Africa eradicate searing urban poverty and attain the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).”4 The preliminary research conducted under this initiative in the Ga Mashie area of James Town focuses on:

    Identify[ing] and develop[ing] urban and economic development interventions that can help create a balanced plan that both preserves the unique Ga Mashie cultural heritage and character, while revitalizing the area’s local economy, in particular, tourism development and social entrepreneurship in the “informal sector.” 5

    The report includes the “identification of 150 buildings deemed to be of historical importance.”6 A formal plan is being developed to stabilize and preserve these structures.

    Ghana_Figure-6
    Figure 6. Millennium Development Goals.

    Tagoe discussed his work in the area, highlighting housing needs and tasks for urban revitalization. Some of the biggest challenges facing the area are lack of adequate sanitation and the related public health problems, lack of open green space, and the pressure of overpopulation coupled with a housing crisis. The housing crisis is due to the unaffordability of new construction, but also derives from the age-old tradition of generations and branches of families living within one single compound. This situation has been exacerbated by high poverty rates, and the need of families to supplement resources by taking in ever increasing numbers of family members. The GAMADA has worked to alleviate some of these issues by strategically paving roads, planting trees, and supplying plastic buckets for sanitation needs. Large scale projects such as the construction of more housing has been stalled due to a lack of monetary resources, but Tagoe – born and raised in James Town – is both optimistic and tireless in his efforts to improve living conditions in the neighborhood.

    One part of this puzzle is the promotion of cultural heritage and the arts in James Town. GAMADA has co-sponsored a number of festivals in the area such as the Chale Wote street art festival and Kpanlogo Musical Fiesta. The Chale Wote festival:

    Re-imagines African folktales through a variety of art forms - graffiti murals, large photography displays, interactive art installations, live street performances, extreme sports stunting, an African film festival, a fashion parade, a DJ jam block party, beach music concert, fashion and food marketplace.”7

    These efforts bring outside interest and investment to the area, while highlighting the cultural power of the past and the present in the neighborhood. Granted, many of the urban interventions are ephemeral, however, the renewed public and international interest in the neighborhood aids the efforts in local promotion and social entrepreneurship.

    Cape Coast

    The centuries-old legacy of slavery and its effects were ever-present in the urban fabric of Accra. Slavery is also the basis of heritage tourism along the Cape Coast, where Elmina Castle and Cape Coast Castle, designated UNESCO World Heritage sites, are the center of tourism interests in the region. Twenty years ago UNESCO developed the Slave Route Project with three main objectives:

    • Contribute to a better understanding of the causes, forms of operation, issues and consequences of slavery in the world (Africa, Europe, the Americas, the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, Middle East and Asia);
    • Highlight the global transformations and cultural interactions that have resulted from this history; and
    • Contribute to a culture of peace by promoting reflection on cultural pluralism, intercultural dialogue and the construction of new identities and citizenships.8

    In 2007 the Ghana Ministry of Tourism launched the Joseph Project, an initiative to coincide with the Golden Jubilee celebration of independence and the bicentennial of the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. These projects and their respective sites build on the idea of “roots tourism,” and the Joseph Project in particular meant to attract members of the African diaspora (and particularly African Americans with American dollars to spend) searching for cultural linkage backs to Ghana. These projects, however, are not without critique of their effectiveness and intended audience.

    Despite various motives and missions, these projects have a fundamental concept in common – that the Transatlantic Slave Trade was a major global phenomenon, linking the “old” and “new” worlds. As landscape architect and historian Kwesi J. Degraft-Hanson notes, “Atlantic slavery involved many people and places in Europe, Africa and the Americas.”9 He describes the concept of a “landscape of slavery” as:

    Places that were significantly impacted by Atlantic slavery. It includes European ports like Lisbon, Liverpool, Nantes and Copenhagen, where ships were outfitted for the trade, and the forts, castles and communities in the interior or along the African coast that were slaves’ point of origin or holding areas. It also describes destination coasts, warehouses, slave marts and plantations where slaves were taken in the Americas.10

    The immense breadth and depth of the landscape of slavery is evident in the number of current and tentative World Heritage Sites that UNESCO identifies as related to the slave trade through the Slave Route Project. Fourteen sites are inscribed to the World Heritage List for criteria directly related to slavery. These include the forts and castles of Ghana, as well as the Statue of Liberty. Twenty-eight sites are linked to slavery and slave routes but are not inscribed for that criterion. Independence Hall, Monticello, and the University of Virginia are included on that list. Finally, thirty-eight tentative sites for inclusion on the list are related to slavery and slave routes. These include places linked to sugar production in the Caribbean, as well as churches and forts in Africa.

    Tourism scholars Rasul A. Mowatt and H. Charles Chancellor argue in their article “Visiting Death and Life: Dark Tourism and Slave Castles,” that this method of tourism promotion relies on constructed memories, “real and imagined pasts.” This shared past develops a worldview that is “stretched across nationalities and has created a super transnational identity.”11 The conflation of identity as described in the article, however, it is a bit too idealistic and romanticized. Mowatt and Chancellor argue, “Subtle ethnic differences between Africans and individuals of African descent born in the Americas and the Caribbean are virtually washed away at Slave Castles.”12

    I beg to differ, as my personal experiences at Cape Coast and Elmina castles have proven otherwise. The educational systems of various countries treat the topic of slavery in exceedingly different ways. This was markedly clear on my tour of Elmina Castle. Led by a native Ghanaian, the tour included myself – an African-American descendant of slaves; my good friend of African-American and Ghanaian descent; her boyfriend, born in Ireland and raised in the United States; a Zimbabwean, and a Ghanaian. The types of questions asked by each tourist and the topics covered by the tour guide indicated that there was no universal understanding or structure of feeling regarding the site. Additionally, each person’s physical presence within the castle was particularly revealing. I observed how some people lingered in specific spaces longer than others, and whether they touched the building to feel the cold, harsh realities of the walls. Some people felt comfortable taking pictures of themselves in slave dungeons and by the Door of No Return. I did not, and neither did my American compatriots. I was more comfortable taking pictures of the structures and discreet documentary pictures of my friends touring the castles than taking pictures of myself in the structures. This was, for me, a very telling difference – I felt I would dishonor my ancestors with a selfie or a Facebook profile pic. This was not the case for all on the tour. In writing this expository I, in no means, aim to judge. I just want to illustrate the marked difference of experience and relationship to the structures themselves that I witnessed between members of various nationalities.

    Ghana_Figure-7
    Figure 7. Male dungeons with evidence of blood, urine, defecation, and vomit still caked onto the ground. Cape Coast Castle.

    This discussion leads to another topic – interpretations and uses of fort in contemporary times. The tours at the castles are aimed at creating both a cerebral and emotional response. Museum displays in Cape Coast Castle include slave shackles and branding equipment. Floors in the dungeon still contain stains from blood, urine, defecation, and vomit. Even with these in-your-face tactics, however, criticism has emerged about the decision to paint the castles white. Critics argue that by doing so, site curators have literally “white-washed” and sanitized an otherwise gruesome history. I would have to disagree with that sentiment, based on the fact that so many other interpretive modes in the spaces work in the opposite manner.

    Ghana_Figure-8
    Figure 8. The tour guide turned the lights off in a male dungeon of Cape Coast Castle to give a better sense of the environmental conditions of bondage.

    There are over 40 extant slave forts and castles throughout Ghana, and these buildings have been in use almost consistently since their construction. Some had been converted to prisons, some housed schools, and others have been the bases of governmental and municipal functions in post-colonial and post-independence times. The first slave fort I visited in Ghana was actually Fort Good Hope on the outskirts of Senya Beraku. I visited on a Sunday. The doors were wide open, music was blasting out the store on the first floor, and my friends and I purchased beers and explored the structure. There was a nice patio set up above the store, so we sat and talked a bit. The fort also served as a guesthouse, so we walked by various rooms that housed visitors, international and domestic alike. The whole time I was there, marveling at the structure, I had no idea I was in a former slave fort. I assumed it was simply a military structure meant for the protection of a settlement. My experience there was decidedly different from my later trips to Elmina and Cape Coast Castle. When I realized my mistake weeks later, I felt ashamed because I did not have the same “appropriate” emotive response to the structure.

    Ghana_Figure-9
    Figure 9. View of the fishing boats in the Gulf of Guinea from Fort Good Hope.

    How could I visit a fort that formerly held slaves and not know it? Fort Good Hope was light on interpretation and heavy on contemporary use. This is the case for many of the slave forts that have a primary function besides diasporic tourism. As historian Elizabeth Macgonagle explains:

    Whether dungeons in less well-known forts under the shadow of Elmina hold crates of beer and a television, as is the case at Senya Beraku, or two children’s bikes, such as at Axim, the shifting use of these spaces reflects a wider historical view beyond the slave trade. Ghanaians demonstrate their preoccupation with the present and their designs for the future through the changing use of the forts. They do not appear to dwell on histories of slavery, for more pressing contemporary needs are evident.13

    Fort Good Hope is a guesthouse, contains a store, and hosts parties and other special celebrations. It is one of the grandest edifices in the immediate region. As such, its function rests within its contemporary use, one that does not emphasize its torturous past.

    Modern and Contemporary Ghanaian Architecture

    One thing that pleasantly surprised me during my time in Ghana was the profusion of “contemporary vernaculars.” While walking through James Town I happened upon a number of tribal chief house and palaces. These spectacularly rich buildings are places of administrative, cultural, and social importance. Many are large and extremely colorful so they stand out amongst the other structures in the area. The Ngleshie Alata Mantse Palace of “Jamestown British Accra” as the façade indicates, is replete with images of traditional regal Ghanaian ceremonies and European military prowess. The low-relief sculpture is emotive and festive.

    Ghana_Figure-10
    Figure 10. Ngleshie Alata Mantse Palace, James Town, Accra.

    Ghana_Figure-11
    Figure 11. Asafo posuban shrine, Elmina.

    Another fascinating contemporary vernacular practice was the erection of the Posuban shrines by various Fante military companies (asafo). These military organizations have histories that pre-date colonial times, however, they changed their purpose to social and civic interests in the face of European military occupation. The Fante military companies have rich dance and flag-making traditions in addition to the manifestation of their power and influence in built form. The origin and evolution of the shrines are well-documented in splendid detail by curator and scholar of West African art Doran H. Ross in the article “‘Come and Try:’ Towards a History of Fante Military Shrines.” Ross describes the eclectic nature of the architectural design as influenced by “a mix of European fortifications, local funerary art, naval architecture, Christian church-building traditions, and indigenous religious practices.14 Today the shrines serve as meeting places where celebrations occur and business is conducted.

    Ghana_Figure-12
    Figure 12. Independence Arch with former Accra mayor and architectural historian Nat Nuno-Amarteifio and representatives of the DOEN Foundation.

    Significant architecture was constructed in Accra to monumentalize Ghana’s important position as the first independent Sub-Saharan nation of Africa. Art historian Janet Berry Hess argues that Kwame Nkrumah adopted a version of the International Style that would “construct community” in the newly independent nation as a “means of managing a heterogeneous cultural environment.15 During the mid-twentieth century the country experienced a boom in tropical regional modernist designs. Architects such as Maxwell Fry, Jane Drew, and Harry Weese were active in this wave of design. Numerous articles in DOCOMOMO Journal 28 Modern Heritage in Africa highlight this movement.

    As an African-American it was important for me to pay homage to the final resting place of W. E. B. Du Bois and understand Ghana’s appeal to black intelligentsia such as Du Bois, Richard Wright, and Maya Angelou in the mid-twentieth century. This call also pulled renowned African-American architect J. Max Bond, Jr. to work in Ghana, where he designed the Bolgatanga Library.

    Ghana_Figure-13
    Figure 13. W. E. B. Du Bois Mausoleum, Accra.

    Ghana_Figure-14
    Figure 14. W. E. B. Du Bois Memorial House, Accra.

    As Hess notes:

    The DuBois Center – which encompasses the former home and mausoleum of the Pan-Africanist and African American activist DuBois -expresses in its modern architectural form, its dedication text, and its installations lauding the achievements of both DuBois and Nkrumah a merging of idealism and architectural modernity.16

    Architectural modernism provided the tabula rasa from whence Ghana could exert its new independence and present itself to the world as a modern African nation. The establishment of the College of Architecture and Planning at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in 1957 helped to further those ideals.

    Cultural Capital

    One can begin to understand how the flow of capital affects architectural construction – whether it is a trade pilgrimage route of northwestern Ghana that gave rise to a networks of mosques in the region in pre-colonial times; British, Danish, and Dutch capital that formed distinct neighborhoods in Accra and a network of forts along the coast in colonial Ghana; or Chinese capital in post-colonial Ghana that supplies construction needs and financed the erection of the National Theatre. Scholar Lloyd G. Adu Amoah notes, “The very visible and undisguised presence of China’s architectural signature in Accra represents in style and concrete a contemporary fortress-like expression of China’s attempt at constructing a soft imperium in Africa.” He continues:

    This construction of China’s ‘soft power’ seems to be directed at two publics. The first public is the government and the people of Ghana for whom the message is growing Chinese fraternity, benevolence and influence. The other public is China’s geo-strategic political and economic competitors in Ghana and Africa: for them, the message is that China has become a force to reckon with.17

    One has to question historical paradigms framing Ghana’s past and present only in terms of its relationship to colonialism and foreign capitalist expansion. Ghanaian agency is often overlooked in these types of narrative. The discussion moves from architecture and economics to political realities and aspirations. How can we begin to talk about the position of the country in the twenty-first century in ways that take into account other historical, cultural, or social paradigms? How can architecture, design, and cultural heritage help shape the country’s narrative in contemporary times?

    Ghana_Figure-15
    Figure 15. National Theatre of Ghana financed by China and designed by Chinese architect Cheng Taining.

    One organization that is taking up this charge is ArchiAfrika. ArchiAfrika is a self-described “design-based ‘community’ based in- and inspired by- Africa! We are architects, artists, musicians, writers, film makers and creative people who through their work, chronicle the ‘African condition.’”18

    The organization works to “promote design strategies developed within the continent that address the challenges of our future and engage the next generation of professionals in this critical dialogue.”19 The organization is pan-Africanist and international, with board members in Ghana, Morocco, South Africa, Nigeria, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands. ArchiAfrika hosts speaker series and conferences, promotes an educational network across various African universities of design, and produces a magazine. ArchiAfrika is well-positioned to lead the charge of highlighting and safeguarding the diverse cultural heritage of Ghana and promoting current Ghanaian architects, but the vision is much bigger and encompasses an ideal of pan-African unity, showing there is strength in numbers.

    1 Full disclosure: I have worked in Yale alumni affairs for over six years in various capacities, so it is particularly exciting to see how the groundwork has been laid by Yale alumni in Ghana.

    2 Conversation with Amarteifio on October 7, 2014.

    3 Abibata Shanni Mahama, Ama Twumwaa Acheampong, Oti Boateng Peprah, and Yaw Agyeman Boafo, “Preliminary Report for Ga Mashie: Urban Design Lab. Millennium Cities Initiative (MCI) The Earth Institute at Columbia University Spring 2011, 7.

    4 Millennium Cities Initiative, “About,” http://mci.ei.columbia.edu/about/

    5 Mahama et al., vi.

    6 Ibid., 27.

    7 Accra Expat.com, “Chale Wote,” http://www.accraexpat.com/events/?story=581&type=event

    8 UNESCO, “The Slave Route,” http://www.unesco.org/new/en/culture/themes/dialogue/the-slave-route/

    9 Kwesi J. Degraft-Hanson, “The Cultural Landscape of Slavery at Kormantsin, Ghana,” Landscape Research 30 no. 4 (2005): 461.

    10 Ibid.

    11 Rasul A. Mowatt and H. Charles Chancellor, “Visiting Death and Life: Dark Tourism and Slave Castles,” Annals of Tourism Research 38 no. 4 (2011): 1414.

    12 Mowatt and Chancellor, 1415.

    13 Elizabeth Macgonagle, “From Dungeons to Dance Parties: Contested Histories of Ghana's Slave Forts,” Journal of Contemporary African Studies 24 no. 2, (2006): 251.

    14 Doran H. Ross, “‘Come and Try:’ Towards a History of Fante Military Shrines,” African Arts 40 no. 3 (Autumn 2007): 23.

    15 Janet Berry Hess, “Imagining Architecture: The Structure of Nationalism in Accra, Ghana,” Africa Today 47 no. 2 (Spring 2000): 42, 45.

    16 Hess, 54.

    17 Lloyd G. Adu Amoah, “China, Architecture and Ghana’s Spaces: Concrete Signs of a Soft Chinese Imperium?” Journal of Asian and African Studies (2014): 1, 2

    18 ArchiAfrika, “About Us,” http://www.archiafrika.org/about-us/

    19 Ibid.

  • Distance (and) Learning: Thoughts on Online Tools in the Teaching of Architectural History

    by User Not Found | Oct 31, 2014

    With the ever-rising tide of online education now seeping into the sacred precincts of the American university campus—if not having broken the levees altogether—many academics find themselves struggling to adjust to the newly fluid landscape of higher education. Indeed the parallel to the effects of global warming is intentional and instructive. Academics, with responses ranging from Chicken Little sky-is-falling hysteria to willful disbelief, now confront the certainty of change along with uncertainty about the degree to which online tools will affect the structure and aims of college and university systems. Coverage in the academic press as well as the mainstream media reinforce the notion that education has become a battle ground and that the continuing investment in online courses has prompted a crisis, even as it has created opportunities.

    As two assistant professors in the School of Architecture at Northeastern University in Boston, MA, we find ourselves in the midst of this transformation and have sought to address the changing expectations of our students and take advantage of new technologies as they become available. Already online content is expanding within our classrooms; in our large history survey courses we quiz students regularly through the Blackboard site, as a way to take attendance and measure comprehension; in large and small classes alike we ask students to post responses on class blogs and listservs; and we use an ever-expanding archive of images and videos available online—truly one of the most radical changes in the teaching of architectural history over the past generation. We have been asked to help consider which courses in our department might lend themselves to an online platform, and have attended seminars and workshops about the development of online courses. We have learned a new vocabulary—instructor neutral, MOOC, SPOCs, modules, and the “flipped” classroom—and shared this information with colleagues.

    But throughout this process we have had little time or opportunity to consider more global questions that move past a narrowly reactive set of responses to a more proactive position. How can these new online tools further and potentially even help clarify and enrich our goals as educators? Since many online course models favor content that is oriented toward learning a skill or mastering information, what are the online opportunities for areas of study traditionally based on a process of inquiry and critique in which human interactions (between students and between students and teachers) are at the center of the learning process? What does online teaching mean for disciplines, like architecture, that encourage students to appreciate and understand the world around them with the goal of responding innovatively to current challenges? How can we best participate in the growing number of conversations about how (as well as what) to teach in the context of a rapidly transforming educational landscape?

    stereopticon
    Slide Lecture on St. Peter's Basilica, 1897. From T. H. McAllister Company, Manufacturing Opticians, New York, catalogue, 1897. 

    In April 2014, we convened a group of architectural historians from area institutions to address some of these questions. The workshop, “The Practice of Teaching,” brought together faculty—some of whom have little to no experience with online education—and doctoral candidates, nearly all of whom are intimately involved in the construction of online courses. Each presenter was asked to respond to a distinct but related set of questions, which were given in advance. Our aim was to bring different perspectives to bear on some of the challenges as well as opportunities made possible by the online teaching of architectural history, as well as establish a basis for conversation among the larger group assembled. While the focus was on the concerns particular to our discipline, our hope was that the conversation would open up perspectives on online teaching more broadly.

    What emerged from the presentations and in the discussion that followed came as a surprise. Not because of any radical new findings about online teaching, but rather because the questions and issues raised are consistent with those that have always been at the center of our efforts to be more effective teachers. If anything, the conversation reinforced a shared commitment to teaching and a desire to employ any number of tools (online or otherwise) to foster an environment in which understanding is gained through an active and critical engagement with the material presented. In this context, an expanding array of visual material, which might include a flythrough of a digitally reconstructed Roman forum, a photograph of an original drawing held in an archival collection in Paris, or a live webcam from an archaeological dig underway in rural China, allows us to present a richer, more complex, and more immediate picture of the material remains of the past. Online discussion forums provide all students with a means to express their opinions, ask questions, and craft their responses, not just those that are the first to raise their hand. These tools, with their remarkable diversity, flexibility, and interactivity, evidence ways in which online approaches can overcome some of the limits of the traditional classroom

    Indeed, as Associate Professor Marc Neveu made clear in his presentation, changes in the kinds of tools available have historically altered the contours of the discipline. German art historian Heinrich Wölfflin’s now iconic pairings of projected images played a critical role in the development of formal analysis as a cornerstone of art and architectural history in the first decades of the twentieth century. In more recent history, the transition from lantern slides to 35mm slide projectors to digital presentations has enabled instructors to include multiple images as well as text and videos on a single ‘slide.’ The abundance of information reflects the quantity of material now available to instructors as well as the expectations of an information-rich (perhaps overloaded) generation. Although we tend to think of these changes as largely progressive, there are mishaps and miscalculations and certain things are lost. One of the most frequent laments of those who teach online classes is their relative lack of flexibility and the speed with which they become, in whole or in part, obsolete, despite the extraordinary effort dedicated to their making. In addition, while we have for the most part eagerly incorporated new visual material into our courses, there has been little reflection about how this material has shaped students’ engagement or comprehension. Does a multimedia slide bewilder students new to the material, or encourage memorization rather than critical thinking? Is there such a thing as too many images? How do we teach our students (or ourselves for that matter) to investigate where an image comes from, and how that affects our understanding of it? 

    One of the most consistent threads in the conversation had to do with shifting our focus from how we teach to how our students learn. How can we best use new technologies to reinforce “learning objectives”? A multimedia classroom experience may provide new opportunities, but those opportunities are only as valuable as the instructor’s ability to direct them toward meaningful goals. How might faculty engage with the growing literature about students’ retention and comprehension? How can we better measure students’ understanding of course material? What role should new technologies play in this process? The pairing of new technologies with educational platforms intended for large numbers of students challenges educators to think about increasingly heterogeneous student populations with a diverse range of skills, backgrounds, and ambitions. What role might these technologies play in smaller classes? In seminars and colloquia? Or even design studios?

    The concept of distance, which was introduced by Assistant Professor Paolo Scrivano, provided a powerful lens through which to consider many of the challenges facing instructors. The traditional lecture hall establishes and reinforces the physical and intellectual distance between the teacher and students. The instructor transmits information (sometimes equated with knowledge) to students, typically rendered anonymous by their sheer number, with varying degrees of success. Among the challenges of this model is overcoming the distance not only between the students and the teacher but also between the students and the course material. Smaller lecture classes or seminars present a different but related set of challenges. What is the value of learning about the settlement patterns that structured life in ancient Mesopotamia for first year students who have only just decided on their major? What is the connection between vernacular building traditions employed in some countries and the glass residential towers that define urban life in other regions of the world?

    In some respects, online teaching has the potential to decrease this distance. Although massive online open courses (or MOOCs), with their thousands of students, represent the loss of the human dynamic brought into play when students and teachers occupy the same physical space, they also, paradoxically, have the potential to bring the instructor and the material ‘closer’ in a number of ways. MIT Professor Mark Jarzombek’s Global History of Architecture—the first architectural history MOOC—provides novel means for students from around the world to share, through photos, videos, and text, with instructors as well as fellow students their response to the material being taught. As Ana Maria Leon Crespo and Jordan Kauffman, both doctoral candidates at MIT and active participants in the making and operating of the course, explained, the ability of students to share local knowledge through photographs and first hand accounts, often from remote locations not covered in scholarly literature, dramatically expanded the scope of the course. Distance was decreased between student and professor as well as between student and the material under study.

    The design and implementation of online courses demands the commitment of significant financial and human resources and the talents of a range of experts. These experts might include not only education specialists and professors but also instructional designers and technologists, project managers, and producers. As Marikka Trotter made clear in her presentation about the tremendous effort that went into the creation of “The Architectural Imaginary,” a small private online class (SPOC) for incoming students at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design, developed with HarvardX, the process, while rewarding, is costly and time consuming. As a result, rather than put the full course online, the Harvard team instead opted for a hybrid model in which a portion of the course material is presented online before students gather in the classroom.

    The hybrid model perhaps offers the most powerful opportunity to bring together the ‘closeness’ of traditional teaching models with online tools that engage students in novel ways. Indeed, the inherent variety, flexibility, and adaptability of the hybrid model makes it uniquely resilient in an educational and technological landscape defined by rapid change. Within this context the focus of inquiry should be less on whether or not to teach courses online (most of us already incorporate online tools and will do so increasingly) but rather on more clearly articulating our goals as educators. How can online tools help us to develop courses that respond to the many different ways in which students learn? How can we better draw on the particulars of our disciples to direct the learning process not only toward specific areas of knowledge but also toward the development of essential skills? In short, how can we best equip our students to address the challenges they will face in the coming decades? In this context, developing resilience in the face of the dramatic changes facing higher education requires intelligently deploying all of the tools at our disposal—online or otherwise—as a means to bring our students closer. 

    Amanda Reeser Lawrence
    Lucy M. Maulsby
    Northeastern University

    Amanda Reeser Lawrence holds a Ph.D. in architectural history and theory from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. She is an assistant professor at the School of Architecture at Northeastern University. Her book, James Stirling: Revisionary Modernist (Yale University Press, 2013), was funded by the Graham Foundation and the Paul Mellon Center for Studies in British Art. A licensed architect, Lawrence is founding co-editor of the award-winning journal, Praxis, which was selected as Deputy Commissioner of the 2013 Architectural Biennale in Venice.

    Lucy M. Maulsby was trained as an architectural historian at Columbia University.  She is an assistant professor at Northeastern University where she teaches courses on nineteenth- and twentieth-century architectural history. Her book, Fascism, Architecture and the Claiming of Modern Milan, 1922–43, was published by University of Toronto University Press 2014.

  • Guatemalan Western Highlands and Lake Atitlán

    by User Not Found | Oct 09, 2014

    Landscape of loss. German Guatemalans. Sensational cemetery. Underwater wonderland.

    When I laid my head down in my Quetzaltenango hostel I had to laugh. I was lying down in a location I did not know existed just a month prior. This city was not on my itinerary, not even on my radar. I ended up in Quetzaltenango, called “Xela,” by residents, thanks to Lonely Planet and some tourist shuttle agency fliers. My original plan was to visit the Petén Department —Flores and Tikal—during my second month in Guatemala. I opted for a location closer to Antigua after learning how long the bus ride would take. Riding the buses through the mountainous terrain of Guatemala was by far my least favorite part of my time there. This major struggle, full of twists and turns which made me nauseated, re-directed my path to discover places I had never heard of previously.

    Figure 1
    Google Maps snapshot of Guatemalan sites visited in August and September.

    I spent approximately two weeks in Xela, and two weeks in San Pedro La Laguna at Lake Atitlán. The Quetzaltenango and Sololá municipal departments, in which Xela and San Pedro are located, make up part of the Western Highlands region of Guatemala. While numerous and diverse Maya people live in this region, the three ethnic groups I came into contact with the most were the K’iche’, Tz’utujil, and Ladino populations. This ethnic information is important historically and geographically, as the culture and built environment of the Western Highlands is inscribed on the landscape, and very much related to the various ethnic communities that reside in the region.

    The stories the landscape tells – they are powerful and disconcerting. As geographers Michael K. Steinberg and Matthew J. Taylor note:

    Guatemala conjures up both exotic and disturbing images: past and present Maya cultures, Maya ruins, volcanoes and lakes, military dictatorships, and grave human rights violations. Researchers and travelers alike are drawn to Guatemala's beauty and diversity. Yet Guatemala confounds and often repels those who seek to delve deeper into what the landscape means and what it is telling us [emphasis added].[1]

    Steinberg and Taylor identified and recorded landmarks and memorials referencing the Guatemalan Civil War in the Western Highlands. They discovered that three main bodies sought to commemorate the war in the “postconfict landscape” – the Catholic Church, the military, and the government. The siting, location, and subject matter of the memorials illustrated that the wounds of the war were still very the fresh and open. Additionally, these memorials were often ephemeral and understated, easily overlooked. The majority of the massacres during the civil war took place in the ethnically diverse Mayan Western Highlands. As cultural anthropologist Benjamin Michael Willett noted in his dissertation “Ethnic Tourism and Indigenous Activism: Power and Social Change in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala,”

    The period of la violencia was tragic and the effects that it has had on the Indian communities are devastating – ranging from the total destruction of some four hundred villages and municipal centers to periodic sweeps, repression, and violent killings of tens of thousands of Mayas.[2]

    Evidence of these atrocities in the landscape, however, is not readily apparent. Steinberg led a collaborative GIS mapping effort to bring light to this invisible landscape, and the visuals are astounding.

    Figure 2
    Maps comparing the location of indigenous Maya populations with massacre sites during the Guatemalan Civil War. Source: M. K. Steinberg et al., “Mapping Massacres: GIS and State Terror in Guatemala,” Geoforum 37 (2006): 62-68.

    Quetzalteco Exceptionalism

    Lonely Planet’s description of Quetzaltenango is not the most flattering piece of prose I have ever read (especially in comparison to the overview of Antigua), but it was this sentence that captured my imagination and left me intrigued:

    The Guatemalan “layering” effect is at work in the city center – once the Spanish moved out, the Germans moved in and their architecture gives the zone a somber, even Gothic, feel.[3]

    Somber, Gothic, German architecture in Guatemala? I spent a month in extravagant Spanish Baroque Antigua, and I needed to see how this side of architectural expression came to life in the Xela.

    Quetzaltenango is the Nahuatl (Aztec) name for the town, meaning “place of the Quetzal bird.” The conquistador Pedro de Alvarado called the city Quetzaltenango after conquering the city for Spain. The Nahuatl were some of his allies in conquest. The town was previously known by indigenous Maya Mam and K’iche’ populations as Xelajú Noj, or “Under the Ten Mountains.” Today the city residents and most Guatemaltecos call it Xela – an act of resistance. The indigenous presence and political power in Xela is stronger than in Guatemala City or Antigua because there is a sizable and influential urban K’iche’ Maya population. As historian Greg Grandin notes:

    K’iche’ elites helped to bring the railroad to Quetzaltenango, built public buildings and monuments, established patriotic beauty contests, and gave nationalists speeches. By hitching national fulfillment to cultural renewal, K’iche’s justified their position of community authority to the local and national ladino state. Conversely, by linking ethnic improvement to the advancement of the nation, they legitimized to other Mayans their continued political power. [4]

    On my first Sunday in Xela I walked to the Parque Centro América and stumbled across public speeches given by young ladies running for Pequeña Flor de Xela. They averaged around 10 years old, and they were captivating! The content of their speeches and their stage presence was impeccable. They covered topics like the importance of Mayan history and the need to keep the indigenous culture alive. Historian Betsy Ogburn Konefal states in her article “Defending the Pueblo: Indigenous Identity and Struggles for Social Justice in Guatemala, 1970 to 1980” that this tradition of “consciousness-raising” started in the 1970s with young reina contestants, and that they used their time on stage with a public audience to “urge spectators to embrace indigenous identity and take pride in la raza.” [5]

    Figure 3
    La Municipalidad in Parque Centro América.

    The Xela and Guatemala flags were strewn all over the park before the week was out in anticipation of Guatemalan independence activities on September 15. Flags on the Municipalidad, on the Corinthian columns in the park, and on the Casa de la Cultura. The architectural eclecticism of the Xela Parque Centro is noteworthy. It felt nothing like the other cities I had visited in Latin America.

    Figure 4
    Catedral Metropolitana de Los Altos (Catedral del Espiritu Santo) in Xela. Original sixteenth century façade sits in front of newer, more muted and stark late nineteenth/early twentieth century edifice.

    Figure 5
    Catedral Metropolitana de Los Altos.

    The cultural layers of Xela are fascinating, but fly below the radar for most tourists seeking to learn about Guatemala’s architectural heritage. This might change if ground is gained with the “Route of the Agroindustry and the Architecture Victoriana” that is on the tentative UNESCO World Heritage List for Guatemala. The route, submitted to UNESCO by the Guatemalan Ministry of Culture and Sports, is “constituted by a series of rail stations, buildings of offices, hotels and built residences between the last three decades of the XIX century and the first half of the XX century, to support the development of the export agroindustry that was implemented during that time in Guatemala.”[6] Xela, in addition to its Maya and Spanish roots, had a strong late nineteenth and twentieth century German presence. The Germans came in the late nineteenth century to participate in the coffee industry and contributed significantly to the architectural heritage of Xela. If the idea of what represents “authentic” Guatemalan culture expands, then Xela would place higher on the tourist map. Xela has an urban K’iche’ population, Spanish and German eclecticism, agroindustry and trade, and even more, one of the most strikingly beautiful cemeteries I have ever seen.

    Cementerio General

    The general cemetery in Xela took my breath away. I lived in New Orleans for three years, and visited and documented some of our most spectacular cemeteries there. Xela had something that the New Orleans cemeteries did not have – vivacity in color. This fact alone brought liveliness to the city of the dead. I went to the cementerio general on a Sunday, and the necropolis was full of life. It was how I imagined Mount Auburn in Boston at the height of the Victorian era – complete with people who passed time in the cemetery for both recreational and commemorative purposes. Xela’s general cemetery was not only a place of quiet respite, but also a place of action. Families are the primary caretakers of the plots. Young and old, men and women wielded axes and machetes to chop the undergrowth, procured water from the countless fountains to wash the memorials, and planted fresh flowers in and around the plots.

    Figure 6
    A German plot in the general cemetery.

    There is not much written about the cementerio general in Xela, which is a shame because it is a wondrous place. It is also a testament to the deep social stratification of the city, from grand shrines of city elites to a mass grave, as well as the ethnic diversity – I came across two different German plots. There is every kind of revival shrine in the cemetery – Greek, Egyptian, Gothic – and some fiercely modern designs that speak to changing tastes over the past century.

    Figure 7
    View in the general cemetery.

    Troubled Water: Lake Atitlán

    My time at Lake Atitlán was focused on appreciating and attempting to understand the natural landscape. Lake Atitlán is a caldera lake that was formed 84 thousand years ago. I spent most of my time at the lake in the town of San Pedro La Laguna. There was not much public information regarding the history of the lake. I visited the tiny Museo Tzu’nun Ya’ which had rare historic images of San Pedro La Laguna before the invasion of concrete block structures. The museum also had beautiful interior murals, and a whole room dedicated to the geophysical properties of the lake. Since the majority of the display was in Spanish and the Tz’utujil language, it was difficult to grasp the history of geology displayed in the museum.

    Figure 8
    “Callejon de ranchos (Path with thatched houses),” Pedro Rafael Gonzalez Chavajay, 1999. This oil painting by Tz’utujil Maya artist depicts the traditional thatched houses with steeply pitched roof of the San Pedro La Laguna.

    Figure 9
    View of contemporary San Pedro La Laguna from main cathedral.

    One of the most recent and fascinating finds at Lake Atitlán is the submerged Mayan city Samabaj, the “Mayan Atlantis.” Samabaj was a sacred pilgrimage site located on an island in the lake, and was lost when the lake waters rose for reasons still unknown to archaeologists. This site, discovered in 1996 by local diver Roberto Samayoa, was submerged around 250 AD. Lead site archaeologist Sonia Medrano reported that her team found six ceremonial monuments and four altars as well as houses for about 150 people in the ruins of the underwater city.[7]

    “La Atlántida Maya,” National Geographic Channel

    This discovery is related to another phenomenon that is currently affecting the lake and the communities around it. The city of Samabaj is a reminder that Lake Atitlán is not a static entity – it grows and wanes, has cycles, and changes as the climate and the earth’s crust changes. The lake has risen dramatically in the last decade, submerging lakeside buildings constructed to take advantage of the beautiful views. Author Joyce Maynard writes about this problem in her New York Times article “Paradise Lost.” Maynard mentions the wisdom of a shaman candle seller, who imparted ancient knowledge to explain the changes in the lake: “To the Mayan people, everything is about cycles.” Maynard continues this thought by proclaiming, “Rain comes down. Plants grow up. The lake rises. The lake falls. The lake rises again.”[8] Lake Atitlán is also on the World Heritage Tentative list for UNESCO, and was submitted Ministry of Culture and Sports in 2002, the same year as the “Agroindustry Route.”[9]

    Figure 10
    Submerged structure in Lake Atitlán.

    I spent time at Lake Atitlán developing a collage series utilizing magazines collected in Guatemala. The series had a number of different themes, from self-reflection, to active visualization of goals, to organizing random thoughts on architecture and design, to highlighting the mystical powers of women. My final collage for Guatemala is central to my thoughts about the trip. In that collage I reconsidered the “dangerous and poor” Guatemalan narrative projected by various tourist and travel agencies, and contrasted that with the images of Guatemala that left a strong impression on me. The messages that the world circulates about the country do not do it justice. Es un país pequeño con un corazón grande, hermoso.

    Figure 11
    “Dear Guatemala, Thank you for everything.”

     

    H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Google Map

    Recommended Reading:

    Wallace W. Atwood, “Lake Atitlán,” Geological Society of America Bulletin 44 no. 3 (1933): 661-668

    Max Paul Friedman, “Private Memory, Public Records, and Contested Terrain: Weighing Oral Testimony in the Deportation of Germans from Latin America during World War II,” Oral History Review 27 no. 1 (Winter/Spring 2000): 1-15

    Greg Grandin, “Can the Subaltern Be Seen? Photography and the Affects of Nationalism,” Hispanic American Historical Review 84 no. 1 (February 2004): 83-111

    Greg Grandin, “Everyday Forms of State Decomposition: Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, 1954,” Bulletin of Latin American Research 19 no. 3 (July 2000): 303-320

    Leah Alexandra Huff, “Sacred Sustenance: Maize, Storytelling, and a Maya Sense of Place,” Journal of Latin American Geography 5 no. 1 (2006): 79-96

    Marga Jann and Stephen Platt, “Philanthropic Architecture: Nongovernmental Development Projects in Latin America,” Journal of Architectural Education 62 no. 4 (2009): 82-91

    Betsy Ogburn Konefal, “Defending the Pueblo: Indigenous Identity and Struggles for Social Justice in Guatemala, 1970 to 1980,” Social Justice 30 no. 3, The Intersection of Ideologies of Violence (2003): 32-47

    W. George Lovell, “The Archive That Never Was: State Terror and Historical Memory in Guatemala,” Geographical Review 103 no. 2 (April 2013): 199-209

    Sidney D. Markman, “The Plaza Mayor of Guatemala City,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 25 no. 3 (October 1966): 181-196

    Mario Roberto Morales, “Scenes of Lake Atitlán,” Literary Review 41 no.1 (Fall 1997): 5-19

    Sandra L. Orellana, The Tz’utujil Mayas: Continuity and Change 1250-1630 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1984)

    Elisabet Dueholm Rasch, “Representing Mayas: Indigenous Authorities and Citizenship Demands in Guatemala,” Social Analysis 55 no. 3 (Winter 2011): 54-73

    Blake D. Ratner and Alberto Rivera Gutierrez, “Reasserting Community: The Social Challenge of Wastewater Management in Panajachel, Guatemala,” Human Organization 63 no. 1 (Spring 2004): 47-56

    Catherine Rendón, “Temples of Tribute and Illusion,” Américas 54 no. 4 (July/August 2002): 16-23

    B. G. Smith and D. Ley, “Sustainable Tourism and Clean Water Project for Two Guatemalan Communities: A Case Study,” Desalination 248 (2009): 225-232

    Jeffrey S. Smith, “The Highlands of Contemporary Guatemala,” Focus On Geography 49 no. 1 (Summer 2006): 16-26

    Michael K. Steinberg, Carrie Height, Rosemary Mosher, and Mathew Bampton, “Mapping Massacres: GIS and State Terror in Guatemala,” Geoforum 37 (2006): 62-68

    Michael K. Steinberg and Matthew J. Taylor, “Public Memory and Political Power in Guatemala's Postconflict Landscape,” Geographical Review 93 no. 4 (October 2003): 449-468

    Matthew Tegelberg, “Framing Maya Culture: Tourism, Representation and the Case of Quetzaltenango,” Tourist Studies 13 no. 1 (2013): 81-98

    James W. Vallance, Lee Siebert, William I. Rose Jr., Jorge Raul Girón,

    and Norman G. Banks, “Edifice Collapse and Related Hazards in Guatemala,”

     Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research 66 (1995): 337-355

    Daniel Winterbottom, “Garbage to Garden: Developing a Safe, Nurturing and Therapeutic Environment for the Children of the Garbage Pickers Utilizing an Academic Design/Build Service Learning Model,” Children, Youth and

    Environments 18 no. 1 Children and Disasters (2008): 435-455

    _______________________________

    [1] Michael K. Steinberg and Matthew J. Taylor, “Public Memory and Political Power in Guatemala's Postconflict Landscape,” Geographical Review 93 no. 4 (October 2003): 450.

    [2] Benjamin Michael Willett, “Ethnic Tourism and Indigenous Activism: Power and Social Change in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala,” (PhD diss., University of Iowa, 2007), 13.

    [3] Lonely Planet, “Introducing Quetzaltenango” 

    [4] Greg Grandin, “Can the Subaltern Be Seen? Photography and the Affects of Nationalism,” Hispanic American Historical Review 84 no. 1 (February 2004): 91

    [5] Betsy Ogburn Konefal, “Defending the Pueblo: Indigenous Identity and Struggles for Social Justice in Guatemala, 1970 to 1980,” Social Justice 30 no. 3, The Intersection of Ideologies of Violence (2003): 36

    [6] UNESCO, “Route of the Agroindustry and the Architecture Victoriana”

    [7] Sarah Grainger, “Divers probe Mayan ruins submerged in Guatemala lake,” Reuters October 30, 2009 

    [8] Joyce Maynard, “Paradise Lost,” New York Times May 20, 2012

    [9] UNESCO, “Protected area of Lake Atitlán: multiple use,”

     

  • Croatia at the Crossroads of Time and Space Report

    by User Not Found | Oct 09, 2014

    Sarajevo  Tuesday, August 19

    Officially the start of the trip, participants arrived according to their own schedules, enjoying a few hours of leisure time before our welcome dinner at the Hotel Europe in the heart of the old town. Our arrival and stay in Sarajevo coincided with the Sarajevo film festival, giving the city a lively immediacy. I took the opportunity to explore the winding streets filled with shops in the Stari Grad, or old quarter, and familiarize myself with my new surroundings.

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    A lively side street in the old town of Sarajevo.

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    Carpets and lanterns in one of the many shops in the old quarter.

    In the evening we gathered together in the lobby before dinner, getting to know each other or greeting friends from past trips. At dinner, our trip leader and lecturer, Boris Srdar, and SAH 1st Vice President, Ken Oshima, gave us an introduction to complicated and intertwining histories of the regions we would visit on our tour. Over a buffet dinner, we had the chance to enjoy some first previews of local recipes we would later seek out with enthusiasm over the next few days.

    Sarajevo – Wednesday, August 20

    We began the first morning bright and early with energy and excitement. We boarded the bus and headed through the crowded streets of Sarajevo to our first stop, a scenic overlook of the city. In order to get our bearings and familiarize ourselves with the layout of the city, the group took turns peering over the edge, seeing our first few glimpses of some of the significant sites we would visit later that day. With our guide Zijo Jusufovic, we headed to our next brief stop, the Vraca Memorial Museum begun in 1980 as a site commemorating lives lost in the Second World War. Today the park no longer represents a central site of the city, but rather a modern ruin with lush green overgrowth wrapped in the melancholic atmosphere of all forgotten landscapes.

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    Our guide Zijo alerting us about the overlook’s edge and our view.

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    Exploring the Vraca Memorial site. 

    We boarded again and headed outside of the city to visit the site of the Sarajevo Tunnel, located near Sarajevo’s airport. We entered through its northern entrance, a house now converted into a museum with objects from the war period. The tunnel was first built between 1992 and 1995 as a way to bring supplies into the city of Sarajevo during its siege. Without question among the most somber moments of the trip, we watched a video with archival war footage and climbed down through a twenty-five meter portion of the tunnel that remains open to the public today.

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    The Sarajevo Tunnel Museum entrance and site.

    After a short refreshment break at the Hotel Casa Grande, the group returned to the city to visit the Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, formerly known as the Museum of Revolution and designed by Edo Šmidihen, Radovan Horvat and Boris Magaš between 1958-1963. Today the museum continues to hold exhibitions and has a library and archive.

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    Historical Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

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    The group visiting an exhibit with a view of the interior of the Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

    The group boarded the bus and headed towards the National and University Library, passing the Olympic Stadium and home of the 1984 Olympics. We enjoyed a photo opportunity at the Library, first built in 1894 by Karel Parik and Ciril Iveković. The library was destroyed during the siege of Sarajevo, resulting in immense losses to its collection and completely rebuilt and restored beginning in 1997 based on original architectural plans.

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    Details from the Library’s cupola, architectural plans, and the exquisite stained glass ceiling.

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    Everyone together in the Library.

    The day was packed with sites and we continued our first day with a walking tour of Sarajevo. Our first stop was the Old Serbian Orthodox Church (St. Michael and Gabriel) with foundations dating back to the Middle-Ages.  After a delicious and energizing lunch in the old quarter where we helped ourselves to more local cuisine, we continued along the busy streets on foot to the old quarter where we visited the courtyard of the Morica Han, once an inn for travelers beginning in the 16th century. We made our way to the Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque, built in the 16th century and financed by the Ottoman official of the same name who had then governed Bosnia. We visited the Kuršumli Madrasa, also known as the Gazi Hurev-beg Madrasa, also begun by the governor in 1537 as a school that remains in operation to this today.

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    The Gazi Husrev-Bey Mosque, 16th century, exterior view.

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    The Gazi- Husrev Madrasa, 16th century, exterior view. 

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    Interior view of the madrasa with ground plan.

    Next we visited the Jewish museum and synagogue, built in 1581. The synagogue is a beautiful building with a softly lit stone interior, and we took our time exploring its quiet galleries. An enormous bound book suspended overhead from a long chain contains the names of the 12,000 victims who died in the Holocaust and stands as a reminder of the site’s significance but as a testament of its past, present, and future community.

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    View from the gallery in the synagogue.

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    Book with the names of the lives lost in the Holocaust.

    We then made a few short stops to a variety of works from different historical periods, first a contemporary structure, the Bosnian Center, then a residential apartment building dating from the post-war period, and finally the Despić House, a merchant’s house built in the late 19th century important for its cross-cultural interior that features a ground floor in the Ottoman style and an upper floor in the Austro-Hungarian style. The last official stop of the day was the street corner opposite the Latin Bridge and the infamous site of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. As it happened, this year marked the one hundred year anniversary of the event.

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    Exterior view of the Despić House.

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    A view of the Museum, and our guide near the Latin Bridge, marking the site of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.

    While some returned to the hotels to refresh and prepare for dinner, a number of us powered through to see the immaculately restored Central Post Office designed by the architect Josip Vancas. We took in the space and Boris explained more about secession-style architecture.  The night was capped off with a traditional (and I should add very generously portioned) meal at the restaurant Mala Basta where we shared in wonderful conversation and delightful cuisine. We returned to our hotel ready to rest up for the next busy day ahead.

    Sarajevo/Mostar/Dubrovnik – Thursday, August 21 

    We began with an early morning wake-up and a day full of travel as we headed for one of the highlights of the tour, the UNESCO world-heritage site of Mostar, or Stari Most bridge and the surrounding area that had once served as an important node along trade routes. On the way we enjoyed the scenic views and made a quick stop at the restaurant Zdrava Voda, well-known for its cuisine. There, we marveled at the method of roasting lamb on spits powered by watermills.

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    The restaurant Zrava Voda and the stream that powers their lamb roasting spits.

    Our first stop for the day was an exquisite Turkish House in Mostar (Biščevića kuća) where we had the opportunity to learn more about the house’s design and history, the functions of its many rooms and the customs and traditions of its former owners.  Its main gates opened to a beautiful pebbled courtyard with a refreshing fountain. Inside the house, one room rested on pillars and overlooked the courtyard while the men’s receiving room gave even more impressive views above the Neretva River.

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    The entrance and inner courtyard of the Turkish House.

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    Details of the garden fountain and our guide explaining the customary coffee rituals of the house.

    Our next stop was the magnificent Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque dating to the 17th century, a beautifully decorated mosque situated near the Neretva River. We visited the mosque’s interior and its courtyard.

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    Entrance to the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque, 17th century and interior. 

    After some photo opportunities, our guide showed us the way to the most magnificent views of Mostar Bridge, first built in the 16th century and boasting a span of 28 meters and a height of 20 meters. The bridge was destroyed in 1993 and its reconstruction completed in 2004. Following our viewing of the bridge, we crossed it at our own pace, stopping along the way at the many shops and taking in the views from either side of the bridge.

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    The Mostar Bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    We were reminded just how powerful the forces of nature can be when we were caught in a strong downpour following lunch and ran for the cover of our coach bus. We headed for the Archeological Museum of Narona in Vid, enjoying the scenery and drying off. Arriving in Vid, we explored the museum at our own pace and considered the juxtaposition of ancient material with the contemporary designs of the museum structure proper, built in 2007 by the architect Goran Rako. We continued a lively discussion on the bus, where we shared our personal impressions with respect to the design of the building and how well it integrated and related to the ancient material it housed. We headed for Dubrovnik and were rewarded for our fortitude in the face of inclement weather with views of several spectacular rainbows.

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    Exterior façade of the Archaeological Museum of Narona, Goran Rako, 2007.

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    Interior, remains are the in situ Roman temple, the so-called Augusteum.

    We arrived in Dubrovnik and snapped pictures of the impressive fortress walls as our coach made its way through the narrow road to our hotels for check-in. Once settled, some ventured out in to the town for dinner or rested from the long day. I took the opportunity to explore the town and lose myself amid the winding streets of the old town, taking in the spectacular sunset and running into a group of musicians singing traditional music in a café. I chose dinner at the wonderfully busy Pupo, where, in a serendipitous moment, I was seated just behind friends from our tour. We enjoyed a wonderful seafood dinner and the experience of dining on a narrow street so characteristic of Dubrovnik.  

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    Dubrovnik’s harbor at sunset.

    Dubrovnik – Friday, August 22

    With a full day planned in Dubrovnik, our day began bright and early as we headed towards the old town, through its winding streets and towards Stradun Street, the main artery of old Dubrovnik and the preferred thoroughfare for strolling by locals in the cool evenings.


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    View down Stradun in the early morning before the crowds of visitors gather.

     We made a quick stop at the church of the patron saint of the Dubrovnik, St. Blaise, whose church is constructed in the baroque style dating from the early 18th century. We found our way down to the famous Pile Bay, (and now immortalized in HBO’s Game of Thrones) for views of Fort Bokar and Fort Lovrijenac. The pace picked up began a walk of the old defense walls of Dubrovnik and enjoyed spectacular views of the sea, impressive fortifications, and the coastline.

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    The 18th century church of St. Blaise, patron of Dubrovnik.


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    The group making its way down to Pile Bay for views towards the sea.

    We returned for a discussion of the rebuilding of the harbor structure, known today as the Arsenal Tavern and City Café, envisioned by the architects Mladen Kauzlaric and Stjepan Gombos in 1932. We navigated through the crowds and made our way to the so-called Rector’s Palace, built with Gothic and Renaissance elements in its last incarnation following a fire in the 15th century. Now a museum, we explored the Palace at our own pace and then continued on the14th century Franciscan monastery that boasts one of the oldest (if not the oldest) pharmacy still in operation today.

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    View towards the interior courtyard of the Franciscan monastery.

    We broke for lunch at the charming terrace restaurant Kapon, tucked away in a quiet area away from the crowds. We rested and refreshed ourselves in the shade and I learned the hard way that if I accidentally order too much seafood (if that’s possible) it’s not actually a problem at all because I can always find friends happy to lift my burden! We wrapped up the afternoon with a visit to Dubrovnik’s cathedral of the Assumption, whose foundations have been traced to the 6th century and the Dominican monastery established in the 13th century.

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    Interior courtyard views of the Dominican monastery, 13th century.

    After another event filled day we headed for Gruz harbor to begin the embarkation process where we learned all about safety procedures aboard the Corinthian, our home for the next seven nights. In the evening before dinner we were treated to a lovely performance by the Klapa Poklisari. Klapa is a form of traditional music from Dalmatia that may include both instrumental and a cappella singing, and which, in 2012 came under the protection of UNESCO as an example of intangible cultural heritage. 

    Dubrovnik/Cavtat, Croatia and Kotor, Montenegro – Saturday, August 23

    The morning began with a drive to the small town of Cavtat, a town once founded by Greek colonists in the 6th century BCE, about ten miles from Dubrovnik. Enjoying the quiet seaside promenade along the harbor we climbed up to visit the Račić Family Mausoleum by way of a sloping path through a shady grove of trees. Surrounded by a small cemetery overlooking the bay, the Račić Mausoleum is the work of 20th century Croatian artist Ivan Mestrović and includes representations of allegories and decorative elements on both the exterior and interior.

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    The Račić Mausoleum, exterior and interior views.

    After taking some time for pictures inside the domed space, we returned to the harbor for a look at the Church of St. Nicholas, a small Baroque church whose charming stairs offered the opportunity for a discussion of alternative non-axial spaces in designs for public use.

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    The small church of St. Nicholas, with its “waterfall” staircase.

    We returned to our coach for the scenic overlook of Sivi Soko, where we appreciated the breathtaking views of Konavle valley. We then headed back to Gruz Harbor and prepared ourselves for our first adventure sailing with the Corinthian to Kotor, Montenegro. Aboard we attended our first lecture by our tour leader Boris Srdar, entitled “History of Dubrovnik, Pearl of the Adriatic.” Following lunch, I took in the beautiful views from the top deck of our ship as we sailed to Kotor’s Bay, or Boka Kotorska.

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    Enjoying the view at Sivi Soko.

    We arrived in Kotor, a UNESCO world heritage site and began the second half of our day with our guide Miro. We entered through the so-called Sea Gate and walked into the old town, stopping at the Arms Square and the main square of the town.

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    The Sea Gate of Kotor.

    From Armory Square, we made a stop at the Beskuca Palace to see its façade, a building featuring a sculpted Gothic portal that once likely belonged to another family, the Bizanti.

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    The Gothic portal at the Beskuca Palace.

    With Miro leading the way, we continued through Flour Square, so-called because of the many flour storage areas that were once found there to get a view of the Pima Palace, featuring an impressive arcaded façade and loggia.

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    The façade of the Pima Palace.

    We made a brief stop at the town’s lapidarium, where the oldest artifacts from the area are held, including a portrait of the Roman Emperor Domitian, and then headed to see the Church of Sveti Luka (St. Luke), dating from the 12th century with Romanesque and Byzantine elements, and the Catholic Church of St. Mary, dating from the 13th century.  We concluded the tour with a look at the Drago Palace, an aristocratic home from the 14th and 15th centuries built over an earlier 12th century structure and a visit to the stunning St. Tryphon Cathedral, rising up against the impressive mountains.

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    The Cathedral of St. Tryphon.

    We returned to our ship for a bit of free time and had the fortunate opportunity to watch the annual festival of Boka Bay celebrating the end of summer known as the Bokelijska Noc from the deck of the ship. The celebration carried on with music, floats in the bay and fireworks. We said good-bye to lovely Kotor and set off for our next stop, the island of Korcula.

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    Festivities along the bay of Kotor.

    Korcula – Sunday, August 24

    We arrived in Korcula in the morning and met our guide, Stanka. We headed to the old town, which is laid in a herringbone pattern and preserves a distinct Venetian presence in the architecture. Our first stop was the Cathedral of St. Mark (Sveti Marko), built with both Gothic and Renaissance elements in the 15th century. St. Mark serves as an interesting case study because it is built with non-parallel walls, causing the ceiling to appear to slant. We spent some time in the cathedral’s accompanying square, from which we viewed the house that is believed to have once belonged to the family of Marco Polo and planned to open in the near future as a museum.

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    The façade of the Cathedral of St. Mark.

    In St. Mark’s Square we also visited the Town Museum, housing much of the town’s historical material dating back as far as antiquity when both Illyrians and later, Greek colonists established themselves on the island. The museum was originally built as a palace in the 15th century and preserved a traditional kitchen. According to custom these were typically located on the top floor of houses to minimize damage caused by kitchen fires. Next we took a look at the historic Bishop’s Palace and treasury, the site of the bishop’s palace since beginning in the 14th century featuring a long and distinct balcony on its main façade.

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    The Bishop’s palace, façade.

    Our final stop with our guide was a look at the Church of All Saints, and an introduction to the history of the All Saints Brotherhood, the oldest brotherhood on the island and the Icon Museum, featuring a number of exquisite Byzantine icons as well as other icons brought back by sailors from the Mediterranean in the 17th and 18th centuries.

    Following our visit to the old town, we embarked our coach for a visit to the Milina-Bire Winery where our host, Frano, welcomed us into his beautiful home and vineyard. We eagerly sampled the house wines, the dry white and the aromatic and flavorful red Plavac Mali, and enjoyed some snacks and great conversation. We said good-bye to the household goats and headed back for lunch aboard the Corinthian.

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    At Milina-Bire winery, saying hello to the goats.

    The afternoon was left open for free time, with Boris leading a tour to see some of the other sites in town. Others had the option of either a kayak tour, a bike tour, or independent exploration of the town.

    Ploce – Monday, August 25

    The day began with adventure. We left early in the morning from Korcula and arrived in Ploce to embark for a drive to Mali Ston, (Little Ston) renown for its oyster farms. We boarded a small boat to reach a floating oyster farm, where our hosts gathered up fresh oysters and prepared them for us to try with wine and bread.

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    Arriving at the floating oyster farm, Ken Oshima and the group aboard the boat.

    The morning boat ride and fresh oyster tasting was just the beginning of our culinary experience for the day. We boarded the coach and headed for our next stop, the Vukas Winery, to sample their household production. The hosts were welcoming and generous, serving rounds of cheese, homemade liqueurs and cured meats. From the Winery we made our way to the town of Ston, and continuing our adventure, climbed the high city defense walls began in the 14th century and affectionately called the “European Wall of China,” to take in the panoramic views of the salt pans and surrounding bay.

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    Trekking the walls of Ston.

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    Enjoying the panoramic view and the salt pans in the distance.

    We returned to the town of Ston for lunch at Stagnum a restaurant named for ancient name of Ston. Here we observed the chef use the unusual tool for keeping the coals of his grill hot – a hairdryer! We returned to Ploce that afternoon, boarded our ship and headed for the island of Hvar. En route to Hvar, we attended Boris Srdar’s second lecture entitled “Layers of Civilization – From Rome to the Present” focusing on the imprints of past cultures and the continuation of these traces into later periods. In the evening climbed to the top deck for some guided stargazing.

    Hvar – Tuesday, August 26

    We arrived in Stari Grad, Hvar, once settled by Greek colonists from the island of Paros. We explored the main town and enjoyed the highlight of the visit, the house of Petar Hektorović, the 16th century poet and humanist. Although unassuming from its exterior, the palace boasted a quiet garden and a spectacular fishpond.

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    Exterior view of the Hektorović home.

    Mitrovici_48
    Interior view with fishpond.

    We boarded our coach and drove past the Starigrad Plain, declared a UNESCO site and important for its preservation of the ancient Greek system of land parceling using stone walls as boundary markers. Our next stop was the impressive and rare architecture of St. Mary’s Church Fortress in the quaint fishing town of Vrboska, founded in the 15th century. The church of St. Mary is significant for its reconstruction in the 16th century following an Ottoman attack when it was fortified with heavy walls. We then climbed to the roof for a better appreciation of the vantage points it offered over the surrounding area.

    Mitrovici_49
    The Church Fortress of St. Mary.

    After lunch we headed to the so-called Spanjola Fortress. Walking along its massive walls, we appreciated the views of Hvar and the neighboring Pakleni Islands and then headed back down to Hvar for a walking tour of the town and a stop in the St. Stephen Cathedral Square. At the Benedictine convent and church of St. Anthony the Abbot, dating from the 17th-18th century, we had the chance to appreciate the intricate and delicate designs produced by the Benedictine nuns who are well known for their lace work made from the agave plant.

    Mitrovici_50
    The ramparts of the Spanjola Fortress.

    We returned to the main square for a visit of Hvar’s arsenal and an exquisitely restored theater dating from the 17th century, located on the second floor above the arsenal. We enjoyed a bit of free time at some of the harbor shops picking up lavender, one of Hvar’s most known local products. 

    Mitrovici_51
    The restored theater dating from the 17th century.

    Following our meet up we returned to Stari Grad, and headed for Split where we docked overnight.

    Trogir and Split – Wednesday, August 27

    The morning began with a visit to the town of Trogir, a small town with narrow winding streets so characteristic of the Dalmatian coast old towns. We visited the main square, known as the Square of St. Lawrence Cathedral where we happened upon another performance of klapa music. In St. Lawrence proper, first built in the 12th century and featuring both Romanesque and Gothic elements, we visited the cathedral’s baptistery, and a side chapel dedicated to St. John the Blessed. A local artist and architect, known as the Master Radovan, is credited with the construction of the west portal, which also serves as the main entrance to the cathedral.

    Mitrovici_52
    The decorated doorway to St. Lawrence Cathedral

    Continuing with our walking tour, we visited the somewhat hidden church of St. Barbara built in the 9th century, a recently renovated pre-Romanesque small nave and double aisled church.

    Mitrovici_53
    The nave and side-aisles inside the church of St. Barbara.

    We headed for the bus and continued to one of the most charming places on the tour, the Mestrovic gallery and former home of the artist Ivan Mestrović. The museum features many examples of his work in different media including cast bronze and wood. Here, some chose to continue to explore the grounds independently or walk down to a chapel (the Mestrović chapel) famous for the artist’s carved wood panels. The visit continued with a stop at the Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments, an example of 20th century design by the architect Mladen Kauzlarić and which is primarily dedicated to the material culture of Croatia from the Middle Ages.

    Mitrovici_54
    The view from the Mestrović museum and former home of the artist.

    Following our lunch, we headed to Diocletian’s Palace in Split built in the 4th century CE. Although a UNESCO heritage site, Diocletian’s Palace is famous for being a “living” archaeological site, meaning that it continues to serve as a site of residence for inhabitants to this day.  

    Mitrovici_55
    Inside the walls of Diocletian’s Palace, with a view of the 15th century Marina tower.

    We were introduced to the site’s specialist, Katja Marasović from the University of Zagreb, who gave us the introductory lecture on the excavations of the site. Afterwards, we proceeded with a walking tour of the site along the North Wall, and a visit to the tiny church of St. Martin, to illustrate the adaptation of the site to later purposes. We made a stop to the city museum and viewed what is believed to have served as Diocletian’s dining table.

    Mitrovici_56
    Along the North wall of the Palace.

    Katja continued with the tour of the ancient historical complex of the site. We visited the domed Mausoleum of Diocletian, later converted into the Cathedral of St. Domnius, and the Temple of Jupiter. We passed through the main peristyle court, where it is believed Diocletian appeared to his audiences. We continued with a visit down to the substructure of the palace. This subterranean level features vaulted ceilings and is well preserved due to large amounts of refuse built up over past centuries, and that had helped preserve its foundations.  This underground floor plan has also been used to determine the plan of the palace complex above ground.

    Mitrovici_57
    View from the peristyle court, towards the main arch.

    We left for Split that evening and headed for the island of Rab and attended our last lecture by Boris Srdar, “Creating an Authentic Sense of Place.”

    Rab Island – Thursday, August 28

    We began our journey through the Kornati islands and arrived on Rab to begin our walking tour after lunch. We met our guide and began in the city park, continuing on to the Main Square and the Ducal Palace. We passed through the major sites of the town, including the Cathedral and the Benedictine Monastery. Since it was one of our last opportunities to photograph as a group, we assembled among the ruins of the church of St. John the Evangelist, whose original church was built in the 5th century, with later additions in the 11th century.

    Mitrovici_58
    Group photo among the ruins of the church of St. John.

    Our final stop on Rab was a short drive to the Franciscan monastery of St. Euphemia, dating to the 15th century. We returned to the old town of Rab, while a small group decided to climb a portion of the city walls and see the beautiful view above the rooftops. The rest of the day was spent with free time, and some opted for one last swim in the clear blue waters.

    Mitrovici_59
    Beautiful views of Rab’s old town.

    Our last night aboard the Corinthian, we attended the farewell captain’s dinner.

    Venice – Friday, August 29

    We sailed towards San Basilio Maritime Station, and the early risers came above deck to watch a spectacular sunrise over Venice.

    Mitrovici_60
    The view of Piazza San Marco from the deck of the Corinthian at sunrise.

    At disembarkation, we said some final good-byes to friends made along the way and to those participants not joining along on the extension trip. We each made our way into the city to our various hotels and enjoyed the sites of the city independently.

    Venice – Saturday, August 30 

    Our study tour day began in the Giardini with an overview of this year’s Biennale by tour leader Ken Oshima. This year’s Biennale, entitled “Fundamentals,” represents an exploration of the basic building blocks of architectural design, that is to say, the windows, doors, walls, etc. that  are essential to any structure. After an overview of the exhibition and national pavilions, we began exploring the pavilions at our own pace and then transferred over to the Arsenale venue. At the Arsenale, we bee-lined for the Croatian pavilion, where we were able to revisit a few of the structures we had visited or discussed on our tour, but in model form.

    Mitrovici_61
    The Croatian Pavilion at the 2014 Venice Biennale.

    As our tour came to an end under the arches of the Arsenale, we said our final goodbyes and expressed warm wishes to our friends.

    Mitrovici_62
    Boris and Franica Srdar catching the great view at the Venice Arsenale.

    Thank you to the SAH, the Scott Opler Endowment for New Scholars, our tour leaders Boris Srdar and Ken Oshima and all the participants who helped make this time together enriching. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to grow as a person and a scholar by sharing in this experience with you.

    Ana MitroviciAna M. Mitrovici, Ph.D. Candidate, University of California, Santa Barbara
    Ana Mitrovici is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of History of Art and Architecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She received her B.A. in Classical Studies and French from Concordia College, MN, and a master’s degree from UCSB. Her dissertation examines cultural exchange, healing, and the interaction of the natural and built environment in the Roman province of Dacia. She is currently the recipient of the University of California Humanities Research Institute Andrew Vincent White and Florence Wales White Fellowship for 2014-2015, funding that supports research in the humanities and medicine. 

  • Reflections on the Croatia Tour

    by User Not Found | Oct 09, 2014

    I became interested in the 2014 SAH study tour, “Croatia: At the Crossroads of Time and Space” because it offered the opportunity to learn more about the particular geographical, political, and cultural events that have the power to shape a region in an immediate and direct way. These elements were particularly interesting to me as I work to complete a dissertation on cultural exchanges and society in Roman Dacia (present day Romania), an area that was connected to the western world in antiquity by a combination of land and water routes. By studying these long term cross-cultural and cross-temporal interactions at work in the Adriatic I wanted to better understand how particular nodes, especially those located along strategic points such as trade routes and waterways developed into dynamic zones of interaction while also retaining their own character and personality. During our tour, I developed a better sense of the many layers that have been established over time and whose presences can still be detected in both the urban and rural fabric, beginning in antiquity and continuing to the present day.

    I came to appreciate and understand how diverse landscapes are constantly changing, seemingly shaped by an infinite number of hands. Through analysis of a variety of built environments, I had the chance to understand the potential for architecture to interact with nature, either by resisting it or by integrating with it. During the tour, I considered the ways in which spaces and structures appear to be built with a special kind of knowledge – as if the architects sense that that their works will face innumerous impediments to their continuity (such as earthquakes, fires, and war to name the most common). However, it is in light of these constant and many threats that architecture also triumphs because it manages to retain those faint traces of past lives and a potential for reinvention and reuse that can last over the course of centuries.

    For me this experience will remain an inspiration to visit Croatia again, and hopefully revisit old friends and sites but also experience new ones. Among these one might mention for example the sensory-oriented creation by Nikola Bašić, known as “Sea Organ” (2005) in Zadar, a design that brings together a built structure with the natural environment, harnessing the power of both in order to create musical notes using the wind and sea waves.

    I would like to thank first the Society of Architectural Historians who prepared this tour, the Scott Opler Endowment for New Scholars for funding this experience, to my department at UCSB who further supported this endeavor, and to our tireless tour leaders Boris Srdar and Ken Oshima for leading us through these many rich landscapes. To Franica Srdar and all the tour participants who in ten short days were no longer simply travel companions but friends, and who enriched the tour in so many ways with their perspectives and by adding that certain special touch of humor and lightheartedness that is fundamental to any travel excursion. I am also grateful to the crew of the Corinthian and the many pilots who guaranteed or safe arrival to the many ports along the way. Finally, to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Croatia and the city of Venice who kindly welcomed us and shared their neighborhoods, their homes and their stories and who extended their hospitality to us so that we might grow in our knowledge and experience, a heartfelt thank you to all.

    Ana MitroviciAna M. Mitrovici, Ph.D. Candidate, University of California, Santa Barbara
    Ana Mitrovici is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of History of Art and Architecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She received her B.A. in Classical Studies and French from Concordia College, MN, and a master’s degree from UCSB. Her dissertation examines cultural exchange, healing, and the interaction of the natural and built environment in the Roman province of Dacia. She is currently the recipient of the University of California Humanities Research Institute Andrew Vincent White and Florence Wales White Fellowship for 2014-2015, funding that supports research in the humanities and medicine. 

  • Antigua: La vida de las ruinas

    by User Not Found | Sep 02, 2014
    “The most weirdly beautiful ruins in the world are found amid the jungles of Guatemala.”    
    - Edgar Lee Hewett, Head of the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, University of Southern California, qtd. in Ransome Sutton, “What’s New in Science: Weirdly Beautiful Ruins,” Los Angeles Times November 26, 1933: G19

     “Do not smile at the degraded vestiges of a past civilization that we meet in Central America.  They are living tombs of a wrecked national intelligence which has succumbed to the rapacity and worse proclivities of relentless and unmerciful conquerors.”
    - Ferd C. Valentine, U.S. Surgeon – Urologist, “People and Places in Guatemala,” Manhattan 1 no. 6 (June 1883): 424

     

    There is life among ruins. Antigua is the perfect place for a case study on preservation – the methods of conservation, local governance, and international partnerships. There is much to be learned from this small Central American city, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979.

    As the above quotes indicate, there is also an abundance of mystery in the crumbling edifices for those who delight in “ruin porn” à la Detroit post-industrial decline or post-Katrina New Orleans.  Art critics often point to the long history of deriving aesthetic pleasure from gazing upon remnants of a bygone era. There is an irony or depravity, however, in appreciating the vestiges of a colonial past (this is true of the post-industrial and post-disaster pasts as well, for different yet occasionally parallel reasons). The colonial past is marked with oppression, forced assimilation, and denial of indigenous rights, belief systems, and customs. 


    [Figure 1.  View of the church of El Carmen after 1874 earthquake, Antigua 
    1875.  Eadweard Muybridge.  Canadian Centre for Architecture.]


    [Figure 2.  El Carmen Market and Ruins 2014.]

    Antigua has been a destination for wanderlusts and adventurers since the late 19th century. Even photographers Eadweard Muybridge and Arnold Genthe documented the collapsed structures of the former capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala in 1875 and sometime between 1899 and 1926, respectively. The overall tone of the earliest North American accounts of Antigua that I found in the pages of publications such as the Manhattan and Outing, an Illustrated Monthly Magazine of Recreation is one of wonder and intoxication with the ruins, and condescension to the large Mayan population that even today resides in pueblos on the periphery of the city.[1]


    [Figure 3.  Cloister of La Merced monastery,
    between 1899 and 1926.  Arnold Genthe.  Library of Congress.]


    [Figure 4.  Cloister of La Merced before a wedding 2014.]

    Hernán Cortés assigned Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado the task of “conquering and settling” the Kingdom of Guatemala in 1523. This kingdom included parts of modern-day Belize, Chiapas (southern Mexico), Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. The first capital of the Kingdom of Guatemala was founded in 1524 at the indigenous Cakchiquel Maya city of Iximché, however, the Cakchiquel resisted Spanish domination, and the Spaniards relocated their capital in 1527 to the vicinity of present-day Ciudad Vieja on the side of Volcán de Agua. The second capital site suffered losses due to a major landslide in 1541, and in 1543 the Spaniards moved further down into the Panchoy Valley and established the third site for the Muy Leal y Muy Noble Ciudad de Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala, or the "Very Loyal and Very Noble City of Saint James of the Knights of Guatemala," now known as Antigua. Here the capital remained and flourished through countless earthquakes until 1773, when the Santa Marta earthquake leveled the city. The earthquake of 1773 led to the relocation the capital once again in 1776, this time to its current location 45 km northeast, now known as Guatemala City.  Residents of Antigua were reluctant to abandon their city, and some remained despite efforts by the Spanish colonial government to force them to the new location.

    Antigua Today

    “Mention Antigua, Guatemala, to those who have been there and you'll probably end up mesmerized as they rave about its churches, volcanoes, restaurants, and cobblestone streets. Mention Antigua to those who return to its splendor year after year and you'll no doubt be brought into their world of enchantment as they describe learning a new language, coming to appreciate a different culture, and expanding from one's comfort zone in the perfect place to volunteer.”[2]

    Modern Antigua and its environs survive through a mixed economy of coffee production, tourism attributed to the proliferation of Spanish schools and its ruins, and its popularity as a destination-wedding site. I often heard employees at museums, cultural sites, stores, and even the police respond to my queries and thanks with “Estamos aquí para servirle,” which may be a common response in the country, but was one that I thought might be tied to the tourism/service industry.  There is also a sizable expat population, a topic that then-anthropology doctoral candidate Joshua Levy covered in his dissertation at the University of California, Berkeley. “Expats are walking contradictions,” Levy stated, “stumbling down the cobblestone streets of a hometown that has always been for foreigners.”[3]

    There is a seemingly understood wealth disparity between the urban and rural (mainly indigenous) populations. Many of the indigenous people come to Antigua to sell their wares then travel back home. There are countless non-profits attached to Antiguan business that have created a relationship with the indigenous population in the vicinity – anything from a restaurant to a yoga studio to a Spanish school in Antigua will probably have a volunteer program located in a nearby pueblo.

    While in Antigua I visited Niños de Guatemala, a well-run NGO in Ciudad Vieja, Guatemala. They offer primary education to the poorest segments of children in Ciudad Vieja.  These are children who live in close proximity to livestock – roosters, mules, etc.  They probably don’t have running water or electricity. Most of their homes – constructed of discarded materials – have dirt floors.  I was on the tour entitled “Experience Guatemala.” I met people who were volunteering for weeks at a time to support the mission of the organization. I learned so much – so much in fact, that my heart was broken.


    [Figure 5. Worst section of housing in Ciudad Vieja.  Some Niños de Guatemala students come from this neighborhood.]

    In Antigua it seems that volunteering as a tourist is the norm.  In fact, it is a stark contrast to my time in Mexico where tourism was all about relaxation and pampering the guest (at least in the Yucatán). Another North American visiting Antigua asked me in a rather relaxed conversation, “So are you here to volunteer?” It was an innocent enough question. “No, I’m here to study architecture.” My answer didn’t feel sufficient in this context. It felt like vanity. For the first time this trip I felt that in order to legitimize my presence I should physically contribute to the larger community in some way. All the English language magazines like Qué Pasa and Revue include a significant amount of information about non-profits and NGOs operating in the country. Even what one would consider a more traditional cultural tour, like the outstanding ones offered by Elizabeth Bell at Antigua Tours includes information about how your money helps sustain the culture and heritage of the town in very beneficial ways.  

    Preservation and the Realities of the Everyday

    By the time of the 1773 disaster numerous religious orders such as Franciscans, Dominicans, and Mercedarians had already created their respective convent and church complexes, and a number of educational institutions were established in the city as well. The remnants of those religious institutions are the backbone of the architectural tourism industry in Antigua. If you tire of visiting churches and convents on an architectural tour, then Antigua is probably not the place for you. What is particularly gratifying about this collection of sites, however, is the fact that they represent a very unique version of Spanish baroque known as “earthquake squat.” Additionally, each site is treated in a manner specific to its condition and current use. You might ask, “What use does the site of an architectural ruin have today?” The main cathedral of Antigua, San Jose Cathedral, is still very much a working religious institution, as are the churches of San Francisco and La Merced. Iglesia Beatas de Belen on the southeast edge of the city operates both as a church and as a school. The convent of Santo Domingo has been converted to a boutique hotel, and includes in its expansive grounds two art galleries, several museums, and archaeological sites such as the crypts. These architectural sites juggle being both functioning structures and ruined playgrounds for locals and tourists alike.


    [Figure 6. Nave of Santo Domingo set for a wedding.]

    Alternatively, the church and convent of Santa Clara is no longer a functioning religious institution, but is a much visited tourist destination. Sites like Santa Clara, Las Capuchinas, and San Francisco offer some interpretation for the visitor, while others such as San Jerónimo and La Recolección offer little to none. What the latter locations offer instead is the space for magic and imagination. The allure of the unknown and place to create your own story. These sites act as public parks for locals, places for lovers to cuddle under trees, and for family explorations. 


    [Figure 7. Is it architectural vanity? Selfie with immense La Recolección ruins in the background.]

    For instance, my time at La Recolección was spent dancing my gaze along the jagged edges of the ruins, not necessarily trying to make sense of what I was seeing. My artist heart rejoiced in the chaos. I wanted very much to sit, draw, and paint, but the heat told me to keep moving. I did have the opportunity to sit and indulge in the ruins of Las Capuchinas. I spent most of my time trying to depict the materiality, the mixture, and the mess of the tower for the novices (a fascinating complex). My dreamy watercolor impression seems most accurate to me. I feel that I should have left my depiction one of an impression rather than trying so hard to put in the details with Prismacolors. As an academic, it is difficult to interpret and validate my impressions. As an artist, it felt “right.”


    [Figure 8. Las Capuchinas Pt. 1: Water color.]


    [Figure 9. Las Capuchinas Pt. 2:  Water color plus Prismacolor.]

    So how does one begin to understand the interworking of these preservation decisions that highlight certain structures and leave others to serve only as romantic backdrops to the action of their visitors? I searched to find contemporary research that addressed these issues. I found one master’s thesis on La Recolección written in the last ten years.[4] Elizabeth Bell regularly publishes short yet concise articles about the heritage preservation of Antigua in local publications.[5] Websites that cover contemporary architecture trends lacked any information on Antigua (part of this is due, of course, to strict regulations against new building in the city). The bulk of detailed original architectural research on the city was conducted in the 1950s and 1960s.

    A Few Unanswered Questions

    Why is Antigua an overlooked subject in preservation case studies? There seems to be a great wealth to discuss regarding seismic activity and building for earthquakes and volcanoes/mountains with the threat of edifice collapse?

    The city was inscribed in the World Heritage List in 1979 – at a high point of international attention to the Guatemalan Civil War. Was the inscription of the city somehow related to this humanitarian crisis and the understood danger to the culture and built environment of Guatemala? 

    Who studies Guatemalan culture, both the built environment and intangible heritage? While in Yucatán, Mexico, I found archaeologists took up the charge of studying Mayan life and ruins in the region. Guatemala seems to fall under the purview of geographers and anthropologists – why the dearth of architectural historians/preservationists and related literature?

    Is the lack of study a result of the civil war?

    What happens when we privilege the narrative of the colonial past over the indigenous past and present? Are the Cakchiquel natives benefiting from the preservation of these romantic ruins?

    Finally, do architecture and preservation as professional fields have a social responsibility?

    We often find our most endangered sites and cultural landscapes in regions that have suffered from disinvestment, natural disaster, and war. We, as architectural historians, preservationists, architects, conservationists, historians, anthropologists, geographers, professionals in our respective and often overlapping fields, begin to list sites as important and worthy of preservation.  We cite their universal qualities, their authenticity, and their contribution to knowledge about the world at large as evidence of their significance. We often create revenue streams and training/conversation opportunities through such campaigns. But do we build social equity through the stories that are told, the jobs that are created, and the revenue from marketed tourism? What of Antigua as a UNESCO World Heritage Site? Does it mean the same thing for the Ladino and Cakchiquel populations? There is emerging research and literature that takes up some of these concerns, but none I have found address Antigua specifically.[6] There is life in the ruins, but there is a cultural and economic disparity between the former Spanish colonial capital and contemporary Guatemalan context that surrounds it. 


    [Figure 10. This image, taken between 1899 and 1926, could easily be captured in Antigua today. An indigenous woman selling wares in Parque Central.  Arnold Genthe.  Library of Congress.]

    Recommended reading:

    Elizabeth Bell, Antigua Guatemala: The City and Its Heritage (La Antigua Guatemala: Antigua Tours, 1999)

    George F. Guillemin, “The Ancient Cakchiquel of Iximché,” Expedition 9 no. 2 (Winter 1967): 22-35

    José María Magaña Juárez, “La Arquitectura Monumental de La Antigua Guatemala,” Apuntes 24 no. 1 (2011): 92-105

    W. George Lovell, “‘Not a City But a World’: Seville and the Indies,” Geographical Review 90 no. 1/2 (January/April 2001): 239-251

    W. George Lovell, “Surviving Conquest: The Maya of Guatemala in Historical Perspective,” Latin American Research Review 23 no. 2 (January 1, 1988): 25-57

    Sidney D. Markman, “The Architecture of Colonial Antigua, Guatemala, 1543-1773,” Archaeology 4 no. 4 (December 1951): 204-212

    Sidney D. Markman, “Las Capuchinas: An Eighteenth-Century Convent in Antigua, Guatemala,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 20 no. 1 (March 1961): 27-33

    Sidney D. Markman, “Santa Cruz, Antigua, Guatemala, and the Spanish Colonial Architecture of Central America,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 15 no. 1, Spanish Empire Issue (March 1956): 12-19

    Alfred Neumeyer, “The Indian Contribution to Architectural Decoration in Spanish Colonial America,” Art Bulletin 30 no. 2 (June 1, 1948): 104-121

    Ruben E. Reina, Annette B. Weiner, and Edward O’Flaherty, “Ethnohistory and Archaeology in Colonial Antigua, Guatemala,” Expedition 12 no. 2 (Winter 1970): 18-30

    Robert C. Smith, “Colonial Towns of Spanish and Portuguese America,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 14 no. 4, Town Planning Issue (December 1955): 3-12

    Susan Migden Socolow and Lyman L. Johnson, “Urbanization in Colonial Latin

    America,” Journal of Urban History 8 no. 1 (November 1, 1981): 27-59

    John J. Swetnam, “Interaction Between Urban and Rural Residents in a Guatemalan Marketplace,” Urban Anthropology 7 no. 2 (Summer 1978): 137-153

    Stephen Webre, “Water and Society in a Spanish American City: Santiago de Guatemala, 1555-1773,” Hispanic American Historical Review 70 no. 1 (February 1990): 57-84



    [1] See Ferd C. Valentine, “People and Places in Guatemala,” Manhattan 1 no. 6 (June 1883): 424.  The Manhattan was a short-lived illustrated literary magazine; Arthur M. Beaupre, “Antigua, Guatemala, and Its Ruins,” Outing, an Illustrated Monthly Magazine of Recreation 35 no. 1 (October 1899): 50; “Antigua Colonial Ruins Perennial Travel Lure,” Daily Boston Globe April 13, 1952: A18.

    [2] Bonnie Lynn, “Antigua, Guatemala: Break Out of Your Comfort Zone,” World & I 26 no. 9 (September 2011): 5.

    [3] Joshua Wolfe Levy, “The Making of the Gringo World: Expatriates in La Antigua Guatemala,” (PhD diss., University of California Berkeley, 2007), 7.

    [4] Ana Beatriz del Rosario Linares Muñoz,“Ruin Revival in Antigua Guatemala The Interpretation, Integration and Adaptive Reuse of a Fallen Eighteenth Century Masterpiece,” (Master’s thesis, Columbia University 2007).

    [5] See Elizabeth Bell, “Antigua Guatemala celebrates its 34th anniversary UNESCO World Heritage Site” Revue October 1, 2013 http://www.revuemag.com/2013/10/antigua-guatemala-celebrates-its-34th-anniversary-unesco-world-heritage-site/ and “Antigua Over the Years,” Revue March 1, 2014 http://www.revuemag.com/2014/03/antigua-over-the-years/

    [6] See Michelle Fawcett, “The Market for Ethics: Culture and the Neoliberal Turn at UNESCO,” (PhD diss., New York University, 2009); Ian Hodder, “Cultural Heritage Rights: From Ownership and Descent to Justice and Well-being,” Anthropological Quarterly 83 no. 4 (Fall 2010): 861-882; and Jason Ryan and Sari Silvanto “World Heritage Sites: The Purposes and Politics of Destination Branding,” Journal of Travel & Tourism Marketing 27 (2010): 533–545.

  • In the Yucatán, Land of Kukulkan

    by User Not Found | Aug 11, 2014
    THOSE WHO BUILD HOUSES AND TEMPLES

    Essential
    to count the haab years or katun’oob
    that have passed since
    the great powerful men
    raised the walls of the ancient cities
    that we see now
    here in the province of the plains,
    all these cities scattered
    on the earth
    here and there, on high hills.
    Here in the cities, we try to give
    meaning to what we see today in the skies
    and what we know;
    for day to day
    at midday
    we see in the skies
    the signs told to us by
    the ancient people of this land,
    the ancient people of these villages
    here on our earth.
    Let us purify our hearts
    so at nightfall,
    and at midnight,
    from horizon to zenith
    we may read the face of the sky.
      HUA PAAGH’OOB YETEL PPUZ(OOB)

    Tz’u lam kaa[bet]
    u ppizil u xociil ua hayppel haab ua katum
    kin maan[aac]
    le u kinil uay te cahobaa leil
    h nucuuch chaac uincoob
    laitiob liiz u pa[ak] leil
    u uchben cahob
    helah c’ilic
    uay Peten H’Chakan,
    tu lacal lail cahoob ttittanoob
    yook lum
    uay helah
    taan c’ilic ttuuch
    men ttuuch yokol canal uitzoob.
    Lail eu talziic
    tu uay t cahoob c tz’iic
    u thanilbaal [baal] lail c’iliic hela
    baax c ohelma;
    tumen zazammal
    ci ilic t c chumuuc caan
    u chiculil bax alan ton
    tumen h uuchben uincoob
    uay t cabale,
    uay t lume.
    Ti c tz’iic u hahil c ool
    u tial caa paactac
    xocic u ba[al] yan t yiich
    lai caan yo[co]l akab bay tu c chum
    tu chumu[c] beyua tun chimil
    tan canza.

    Ancient Mayan poem from “The Songs of Dzitbalche.”  English translation and Mayan text from John Curl in Bilingual Review 26.2/3 (May 2001-Dec 2002).

    Mayan heritage in the Yucatán Peninsula is a living heritage. Mayan languages are living languages. It is because of this that I have titled this month’s blog post, “In the Yucatán, Land of Kukulkan.” Kukulkan is the Mayan feathered-serpent god, an equivalent to the Aztecs’ Quetzalcoatl. It is Kukulkan who is said to descend the stairs at Chichén Itzá on the spring and autumn equinoxes. In many ways, ancient and living Mayan cultures are omnipresent in the everyday aspects of life on the peninsula. The murals by Fernando Castro Pacheco in the Palacio de Gobierno in Mérida, as well as the exhibits in Palacio Cantón, which houses the Museo Regional de Antropología Yucatán, and in the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya all reinforce this impression. I took guided tours of Tulum, Coba, and Chichén Itzá and in both instances (I toured Tulum and Coba on one day) my tour guides referred to the ancient Mayans as their ancestors. This strengthened the idea that the inhabitants of the Yucatán today are of the same lineage of the ancient peoples of yesteryear, and that through storytelling, preservation, and contemporary custom, these bonds remain strong. One tour guide described how the Mayan calendar was cyclical, rotating and progressing along a trajectory, but always returning to its point of origin. An exhibit at Palacio Cantón entitled “To’on: Maayáa’onil Le K’iino’oba’” which is translated to “Mayas Contemporáneos” in Spanish and “The Maya of Today” in English opens with this idea:

    Maya life has always been – and continues to be – cyclical. This is a constant we could also say is part of human history, but in the case of Maya culture, it forms part of thinking that is anchored to a past, and connected to a future, that creates a present, living cycle of myth.[1]

    The “To’on” exhibit, while aesthetically and spatially disappointing, was a conceptual and thematic feat. Each section of the installation mixed traditional proverbs with images of contemporary Mayan culture, illuminating how and why the wisdom of ancestors transcends time.


    To’on exhibit board that discusses the tradition of building a house


    Image from To’on exhibit showing house building method


    Thatched roof house seen in stone carvings at Uxmal

    Climate and Geography

    One of the best advantages of traveling to various architectural sites is getting first-hand knowledge of differences in climate, geography, and natural resources available to the people who live and build in various regions. The tropical climate of the Yucatán was a stark contrast to mountainous Mexico City. The verdant Mayan jungle provided copious (and much needed) shade at sites like Coba and Uxmal. Tulum sits on the periphery of a dense forest of trees, high and mighty on a rocky cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. 


    Temple of the Wind at Tulum

    Cenotes, sinkholes that are abundant on the peninsula, offer fresh water to adventurous tourists and locals alike. These cenotes, naturally filtered through the earth, were sources of fresh water even for the ancient Maya. In some cases, cenotes were also used as places of sacrifice, like at Chichén Itzá.


    Tourists swimming in Cenote Ik Kil

    Ancient Mayans had access to both fresh water and salt water, and the latter was a source of sustenance for various sites since farming was not an option.  Sea salt was a staple trading commodity for the Mayans. Farming was difficult for Mayans because the ground consisted of limestone that rendered the land infertile. The solubility of the limestone partially accounted for the landscape of cenotes. The limestone was also a major construction material for important Mayan buildings and temples.

    Ancient Maya

    While on the peninsula I was able to visit Tulum, Coba, Chichén Itzá, and Uxmal. Uxmal is the only site I did not visit with a guide. I visited Tulum and Coba on the same day and enjoyed the opportunity to visit both sites, although Coba captured my imagination the most. It is a lesser-visited site than Tulum, but its situation in the midst of a dense jungle gives a feeling of greater integration into the landscape. There were moments when I didn’t see another human being in the complex, thanks to the thick curtain of trees. Additionally, the combination of partially restored and unrestored sites in Coba illustrated the amount of work and research involved in the reconstruction process. Traces of the reconstruction process were also evident at Chichén Itzá, where the Castillo was only partially reconstructed on certain sides.


    El Castillo at Chichén Itzá

    Central to my understanding of these sites and their evolution are the numerous, detailed Frederick Catherwood lithographs and the large scale, deeply intoxicating photography of Armando Salas Portugal. While most architectural historians may be familiar with Portugal’s images of Luis Barragán’s work, his documentation of Mayan sites is both so very poetic and scientific at the same time, evoking the inextricable relationship that the Mayan sites had with their surrounding landscapes.

    Querida Mérida

    I was immediately enamored of Mérida upon arrival. There is a vitality of life there that is truly exceptional. This city of about a million people shuts down major thoroughfares on a weekly basis for free street festivals, concerts, dancing, interactive shows, vendors, pedestrianism, and biking. I walked into something exciting provided by the city, without even trying several days in a row. 


    Songs in front of Catedral Mérida

    I walked and walked and walked in el centro in Mérida upon arrival. The architectural mix – Spanish colonial, Italianate, Art Deco – was colorful and vibrant. The focal point of the centro, Catedral Mérida (San Ildefonso), took my breath away. I decided then and there that I preferred this austere design to the excess of the baroque cathedral in Mexico City. The interior space of Catedral Mérida embodied the type of gravitas that the ancient Romans would have appreciated. This cathedral, like its counterpart in Mexico City, was built on the site of one of the most important pre-Hispanic edifices in the city, using the stones of former Mayan temples to build the foundation and walls.


    Interior of Catedral Mérida

    The legacy of Spaniards in the Yucatán is a bit more celebrated than it is in Mexico City. This is evident in the detailed attention paid to the restoration and maintenance of Museo Casa Montejo. Additionally, a major corridor in Mérida is named after the Spanish conquistador family Montejo, a surprising development since most of the Spanish colonial history I saw in Mexico City was restrained in comparison to the celebration of figures of Mexican revolution and independence. The Paseo de Montejo, mainly developed during the Porfirian era, is advertised in guidebooks as Mérida’s Champs-Élysées, portraying the grand aspirations of this peninsular city. Along Paseo de Montejo one can find testaments to the richness of Mérida’s past. The Palacio Cantón, already mentioned herein, was the house of Francisco Cantón Rosado, governor of the state of Yucatán from 1898 to 1902.


    Palacio Cantón

    So much about Mérida reminded me of New Orleans. The color palette of the buildings, the colonial past, the tight, grid-like layout of the historic center. Even the tropical climate and the insects that came with it. I arrived in Mérida during the rainy season, and one day I saw the streets of Mérida flood in a manner all too familiar to me after living three years in New Orleans. I was completely astounded. As it turned out, the kinship that I felt existed between the two cities was not a figment of my imagination, and in fact was felt amongst officials of the two cities as well. Mérida and New Orleans have been sister cities since 1990. The New Orleans airport offered direct flights to Mérida via Pan American World Airways as early as the mid-1940s, and in 2009 New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin and Mérida Cesar Bojorquez Zapata renewed their sister cities agreement. Anna Hartnell, scholar of contemporary literature, who organized a 2013 conference entitled “After Katrina: Transnational Perspectives on the Futures of the Gulf South” in which I participated, described the relationship between Mérida and New Orleans as such:

    Mérida, like Port au Prince, is architecturally reminiscent of New Orleans and, in turn, Havana. It boasts a high percentage of indigenous peoples – some say about 60% – who are proud of their distinctive culture and cuisine, eager to preserve their practices against a seemingly encroaching dominant Mexican culture. The culture here contrasts with that of New Orleans in marked ways, but the city’s embattled status, and the sense of abandonment that stalks some of the beautiful Spanish and French colonial buildings at the city’s core – despite the fact that Mérida, unlike New Orleans, is often promoted as a social and economic success story – is a reminder of the fact that so much of what seems to be unique to New Orleans are cultural traditions shared not just with the rest of the US but with its Latin and Caribbean neighbours.[2]

    The vibrant palette of architecture, the vivacity of life in the street, and the quirkiness of the city of Mérida truly is a testament to a “culture of feeling” that transcends national borders and is created between age-old trade routes and regional connections. 


    #pajaroscallejeros

    I found Mérida to be a surprisingly small town, given its metropolitan population of about one million people. On my last day in the city a friend of mine, who spent a month in Mérida this summer, asked me if I knew the secret behind the bird stencil graffiti all over the historic center. I told her I did not. I went on to ask my bed and breakfast hostess, who immediately pointed me to the artist Guillermo S. Quintana. As I prepared to catch a bus to Cancun, the city from whence my flight to Guatemala would depart, Guillermo walked into my bed and breakfast to introduce himself. My hostess had called and invited him over for some coffee and to speak to me briefly about his work, “#pajaroscallejeros.” Quintana considers his pieces to be urban interventions (a term that is a staple of current architecture school lexicon), adding another dimension to the everyday experience of the street. He has moved into a different phase of work, #pajaroscableados, stuffed cloth bird silhouettes hanging from electrical wires (much like sneakers in an urban neighborhood in the United States). While I did not have the opportunity to talk about his work in an in-depth manner, I do look forward to seeing how he progresses in leaving a unique imprint on the city. The ease with which I was introduced to Quintana, his willingness to stop by for coffee on a busy day, and the open dialogue about his work is the type of situation I could easily imagine happening in New Orleans as well.

    Logistics + Tackling Technology

    My time in the peninsula was partially spent doing the tangible work of this fellowship – organizing and editing my photographs from Mexico City to upload to SAHARA and brainstorming on how to organize my first SAH Blog post – would it be extremely academic, theoretical, logistical, reflective or all of the above? There’s really no blueprint to this thing, which is both freeing and decidedly challenging. So I went with option e.) All of the above

    As you are aware, I included in my previous blog a list of recommended readings that I was able to access online – academic journal articles that would supplement and illuminate the things I was learning on the road. Toting books would be too cumbersome for the many miles I was traveling. I have decided to continue including recommended readings that have helped me understand the many things I have seen and experienced.

    I have been introduced to a variety of gadgets over the last few months with which to document and navigate this journey. The first two that I learned in preparation for the trip were Google Maps and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. I admit I was late for the bus on both of those tools. Adobe has useful tutorials on getting started with the Lightroom software, so I spent an evening getting the basics down. Lightroom is a fantastic way to batch edit the many photographs I take, and even allows me to edit the metadata attached to each image as well. Google Maps allows me to list all the sites I visited over the course of the year. The H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship map is updated to include sites visited in and around Mexico City and the Yucatán Peninsula.


    H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Google Maps

    While on the road in Mexico a designer/curator and fellow former New Orleanian, Sergio H. Padilla, introduced me to the Galileo app for my iPhone. Galileo is an offline vector map that gathers information from various sources including Open Street Map, a community-driven wiki map. The map includes places of interest such as historic buildings, museums, coffee shops, restaurants, markets, etc. Padilla kept my Mexico City itinerary current in the twenty-first century with recent architectural projects, so we were able to find our way to various sites in Mexico City, including the Jumex and Soumaya museums. I have used Galileo consistently throughout my journey; the Mexico map I downloaded was invaluable for both Mexico City and the Yucatán Peninsula. 

    I am writing this from Guatemala, the second country I visit on this trip – I look forward to sharing more about this country – its architecture, urbanism, and culture – next month!

    H. Allen Brooks Travelling Fellowship Google Map

    Recommended reading:

    Wendy Ashmore and Jeremy A. Sabloff, “Spatial Orders in Maya Civic Plans,” Latin American Antiquity 13 no. 2 (June 2002): 201-215

    O. Hugo Benavides, “Working/Touring the Past: Latin American Identity and the Political Frustration of Heritage,” International Journal of Historical Archaeology 17 (2013): 245-260

    Kelli Carmean, Patricia A. McAnany, and Jeremy A. Sabloff, “People Who Lived in Stone Houses: Local Knowledge and Social Difference in the Classic Maya Puuc Region of Yucatán, Mexico,” Latin American Antiquity 22 no. 2 (June 2011): 143-158

    Ileana Cerón-Palma, Esther Sanyé-Mengual, Jordi Oliver-Solà, Juan-Ignacio Montero, Carmen Ponce-Caballero, and Joan Rieradevall, “Towards a Green Sustainable Strategy for Social Neighbourhoods in Latin America: Case from Social Housing in Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico,” Habitat International 38 (2013): 47-56

    Marvin Cohodas, “Radial Pyramids and Radial-Associated Assemblages of the Central Maya Area,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 39 no. 3 (October 1980): 208-223

    Lawrence G. Desmond and Paul G. Bryan, “Recording Architecture at the Archeological Site of Uxmal, Mexico: A Historical and Contemporary View,” Photogrammetric Record 18 no. 102 (June 2003): 105-130

    William L. Fash, “Changing Perspectives on Maya Civilization,” Annual Review of Anthropology 23 (1994): 181-208

    Lindsay Jones, “Conquests of the Imagination: Maya-Mexican Polarity and the Story of Chichén Itzá,” American Anthropologist New Series 99 no. 2 (June 1997): 275-290

    George Kubler, “Serpent and Atlantean Columns: Symbols of Maya-Toltec Polity,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 40 no. 2 (May 1982): 93-115

    Stephanie Litka, “All the Maya of Coba: Managing Tourism in a Local Ejido,” Annals of Tourism Research 43 (2013): 50-369

    Grant Murray, “Constructing Paradise: The Impacts of Big Tourism in the Mexican Coastal Zone,” Coastal Management, 35 (2007): 339–355

    William M. Ringle, “On the Political Organization of Chichén Itzá,” Ancient Mesoamerica 15 no. 02 (July 2004): 167-218

    Rebecca Maria Torres and Janet D. Momsen, “Gringolandia: The Construction of a New Tourist Space in Mexico,” Annals of the Association of American Geographers 95 no. 2 (2005): 314–335

    Dimitri Tselos, “Frank Lloyd Wright and World Architecture,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 28 no. 1 (March 1969): 58-72


    1 “Cyclical Time and the Bipartite World,” To’on: Maayáa’onil Le K’iino’oba’ Exhibit, Palacio Cantón.

    2 Anna Hartnell, “After Katrina: Transnational Perspectives on the Futures of the Gulf South,” http://blogs.bbk.ac.uk/afterkatrina/2013/12/

  • “Nothing is Transmissible but Thought”: Le Corbusier’s Radiant Farm Made Real

    by User Not Found | Jul 31, 2014

    As a participant in the Graduate Student Lightening Talks at the 2014 SAH Annual Conference, I used my five-minute slot to sketch, per the title of my paper, the transmission of Le Corbusier’s “thoughts”—specifically, on his Radiant City as it was appropriated by young Californian architects between 1936-41. To my delight, Dr. Esra Akcan was the panel respondent. Her recent book, Architecture in Translation, was a touchstone as I prepared my dissertation proposal last fall. What follows is an abbreviated version of my talk and, I hope, the initial investigations that will form the second chapter of my dissertation.

    Shortly before his death in August 1965, Le Corbusier began to collate two decades of his writings, which resulted in Mise au point (1966). The architect outlines what Charles Jencks later characterized as the “tragic view” of his career, lamenting a life devoted to the study of housing that was, in Le Corbusier’s eyes, underappreciated by the French government and the wider public.[1] Shunned in the postwar rebuilding of Paris, Le Corbusier only ever partially achieved his Radiant City in the form of the controversial Unité d’Habitation housing block at Marseilles (1947-52). Reflecting on the fact that this was his first and only French governmental commission, granted at the age of sixty, the architect begins and ends Mise au point by noting that in the end “nothing is transmissible but thought, the fruit of our labors.”[2] This is a prescient epitaph given that Le Corbusier’s thoughts concerning standardized high-density housing and urban planning were often more influential than were any of his built projects.

    My dissertation focuses on the legacy of Le Corbusier’s unbuilt Radiant City plans (first pub. in 1935 as Ville Radieuse) through their piecemeal translation and realization by other architects and local administrations in California, Great Britain, and Poland.[3] Rejecting polarizing accounts repeated over the last five decades that fashion the architect as either a twentieth century visionary, or as a scapegoat for the perceived failures of the Modern Movement, I propose an alternative method of analyzing Le Corbusier’s legacy—through the work of others who chose to adapt, translate, and realize certain parts of this key urban planning project. I argue this approach offers a newly multifaceted reading of the project’s—and, to some degree, its author’s—contested place in the history of twentieth century architecture and urban planning. Prof. Akcan went further, offering provocations for my continuing research. In her response to my paper, she asked questions I will need to fully investigate in my dissertation chapter: “Where do these translations stand in the spectrum that may range from excessive domestication to abrupt intervention, from appropriating to foreignizing translations? How do the multiple agents that set them into motion differ from each other in their opinions about the translatability or untranslatability of architecture, in their ethical and political positions about how or whether to open themselves to what were hitherto foreign ideas? What were the tensions during these processes?”


    The Radiant City published as Ville Radieuse (1935) & included in Des Canons, Des Munitions? Merci! Les Logis … S.V.P. (1938)

    At SAH, I focused on the translation of one element of the larger Radiant City plan, the Radiant Farm, to the west coast of the United States between 1936-41. Le Corbusier’s unrealized rural plans were developed alongside “peasant-activist” Norbert Bézard during the architect’s association with French regional syndicalist groups in the 1930s, presented at CIAM 5 in Paris in 1937 and, along with the wider results of this international conference, were showcased in Corbusier’s Pavilion Des Temps Nouveaux that opened in July 1937 at the Paris International Exhibition. The Radiant Farm (and City) reflected the architect’s broader philosophical shift in urban planning proposals, from the radical, sky-high utopianism of the Ville Contemporaine (1922) and the Plan Voisin (1925) to a more humanist approach, a “second machine age.”[4]


    Le Corbusier. Des Canons, Des Munitions? Merci! Les Logis … S.V.P (1938)



    Leaf from Des Canons, Des Munitions? Merci! Les Logis … S.V.P (1938)

    Young Californian architects Vernon DeMars, and colleagues Garrett Eckbo and T.J. Kent, took up Le Corbusier’s exhortation in Des Canons, Des Munitions? Merci! Des Logis ... S.V.P. (1938) to turn from bombs to homes. Vernon DeMars identified the Radiant Farm as offering, if not an already-tested solution, a modern and avant-garde philosophy that he adapted in over forty projects for rural communities during his tenure as San Francisco district architect for the FSA, including Yuba City and Woodville (both in California, 1939-41), and the earlier Chandler, Arizona (1936-37). On farmland bought by the government, usually well outside existing town limits, FSA architects built tent platforms, single cabins, and ancillary community spaces. Weedpatch (1936), made famous by its inclusion in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939), was the first such camp, built south of Bakersfield, California, initially using tents, then wood frame houses to shelter the workers, with wood frame buildings for the communal facilities such as the post office and the local hall.[5]

    Where Le Corbusier was often politically and historically hamstrung, the locally governed Farm Securities Administration satellite offices were conducive to practical experimentation. In FSA Camp Chandler, a project that preceded DeMars’ formative travel to Europe, and in Yuba City, directly after his return, DeMars referenced the Radiant Farm as the inspiration for the internal logic of the farmhouses he built for Dust Bowl migrants. Indeed, DeMars later saw Yuba City as “our opportunity to do something that he [Corbusier] wasn’t able to build … [the Farm house and the Cooperative Farm] were things we were doing. I knew Corbu’s hadn’t been built … Supposing he were given this job, what would he do? He might have done this thing we did at Yuba City, I thought.”[6]


    FSA Chandler, illustrated in Elizabeth Mock’s/MoMA’s Built in USA: a survey of Contemporary American Architecture (1945)


    FSA Chandler, illustrated in Elizabeth Mock’s/MoMA’s Built in USA: a survey of Contemporary American Architecture (1945)

    Further—and to be explored in much greater depth in my dissertation chapter—the inaugural 1940 exhibition of the San Francisco-based planning group, Telesis, founded by, among others, FSA architects Vernon DeMars, T.J. Kent, Garrett Eckbo and Fran Violich after the FSA was disbanded was closely based on Le Corbusier’s Temps Nouveau Pavilion.[7]  DeMars returned from six months travel to Europe in the fall of 1938 with a copy of Des canons, des munitions, the catalogue for the 1937 pavilion, and explicitly based the Telesis exhibition—the foundation for the later San Francisco Department of Planning—on Le Corbusier’s conceptual framework for the 1937 pavilion.[8]


    Entry to the "A Space for Living" Telesis exhibition. Fran Violich Collection, Visual Resources Center, College of Environmental Design, UC Berkeley


    Day-care center at Woodville, Ca., by Vernon DeMars, from the Museum of Modern Art catalogue, Wartime Housing

    The Telesis exhibition demonstrated perhaps even more so than the FSA work that it wasn’t merely, or perhaps even primarily, form, I think, that DeMars was interested in in his one-sided dialogue with Le Corbusier—he could find those forms anywhere he looked. Instead, DeMars honed in on Le Corbusier’s validation of agrarian planning as a purposeful and CIAM-endorsed activity. He used Le Corbusier’s site-less utopian dream—the Radiant farm—to legitimize his own very real work as a young architect at the FSA. The FSA localized and radically adapted the utopian Radiant Farm, sensitizing Le Corbsuier’s untested cipher for CIAM-endorsed modern architecture to the needs of America’s displaced during a time of local and national crisis—and to the needs of a small group of young architects looking for meaning in their Depression-era work.

    In the recent MoMA exhibition on Le Corbusier (Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes, 2013), curators Jean Louis Cohen and Barry Bergdoll argued that Le Corbusier’s engagement with landscapes and geographies was, in contrast to the often-unforgiving stereotypes, subtle and precise. They connected their reconsideration of the architect to “the major realignment currently underway in the study of masters of modern architecture [as] one in which place, cultural specificity, and attention to landscape have displaced the idea of modern universals.”[9] Their impulse is not so new. In 1948, Lewis Mumford suggested that mid-century architecture in California was “universal” precisely because it allowed “regional adaptation and modifications.” MoMA's curatorial thesis was perhaps most compelling realized in the exhibition catalogue rather than the galleries. Its methodological provocation is relevant: how does displacing the idea of universals—not least the entrenched narratives that often suffocate analyses of Le Corbusier’s work—allow for a richer reading of landscapes and the built environment? I suggest that tracing the history of the reception of Le Corbusier’s ideas, and the way they were used by (often very anonymous) others is a process that recovers points of contact between Le Corbusier and architects working in a geographic location not usually foregrounded in Corbusian scholarship, and interrogates modern architecture’s “conviction about its own translatability.” In this way, we may reconsider the claims for universal applicability that have been made for Le Corbusier’s grand plans, in this case from the perspective of the “Radiant Farm made real.”[10]

    Michelle Millar Fisher is a doctoral candidate in Art History at the CUNY Graduate Center and a Curatorial Assistant in the Architecture + Design department at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Her research centers on social histories of architecture, contemporary art, museums, and pedagogy. She is currently at work co-editing a book on collaboration in the visual arts and architecture, to be published by Courtauld Books Online in early 2015.


    [1] See Charles Jencks, Le Corbusier and the Tragic View of Architecture (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1973).

    [2] Le Corbusier. Mise au point. (Paris: Éditions Forces-vives, 1966).

    [3] Although never built, the Radiant City stemmed from Le Corbusier’s broader communications with and travel to Russia, beginning in 1928 and his “Reply to Moscow” of June 1930. However, the rural farm component was developed once he was fully immersed in French regional syndicalist journals Plans, Prelude and L’Homme Reel from 1931 to 1936, with issues devoted to Agrarian Reorganization plans and their implementation. Le Corbusier’s writings from all three of these syndicalist journals would become the foundation of the Radiant City, Village, and Farm published as Ville Radieuse in 1933, and Des Canons in 1938. Mary Caroline McLeod. Urbanism and Utopia: Le Corbusier from Regional Syndicalism to Vichy. (Princeton, NJ: Unpublished Dissertation, 1985). 213.

    [4] See McLeod, 111-115. Le Corbusier’s stance in the 1930s was not so much a rejection of technocracy and function as a humanizing of them and a rejection of the capitalist systems that underpinned them. Planning simply extended technocracy. As McLeod states, “the Plans members endorsed Taylorism and Fordism, but like their peers, they condemned the system that had engendered such methods.”

    [5] For a review of FSA origins see Suzanne B Reiss., comp. A Life In Architecture: Indian Dancing, Migrant Housing, Telesis, Design for Urban Living, Theater, Teaching. Oral History Transcript. (University of California, Berkeley: Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library, 1989), 124 – 127. See also Greg Hise. "From Roadside Camps to Garden Homes: Housing and Community Planning for California's Migrant Workforce, 1935- 1941." Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture, Gender, Class, and Shelter, no. 5 (1995): 243-58. Hise states that the FSA “planned and managed thirteen labor camps for California’s seasonal agricultural workers between 1936 and 1941.” 243. California was unique in the relief housing it provided because it not only built permanent farmsteads but addressed the needs of a laboring population that fluctuated in number depending on the season.

    [6] Reiss, 140. Chandler appeared as one of only two American examples in Alfred Roth’s 1940 Die Neu Architektur under the names of DeMars and Burton Cairns, and Chandler and Woodville in Elizabeth Mock’s 1945 Built in USA. In less than a decade Catherine Bauer Wurster, now a friend of DeMars’, had her call for modern American social housing answered.

    [7] Le Corbusier’s work became widely disseminated in the US through his 1935 lecture tour (concentrated on the East Coast, although he had intended to come to San Francisco), the discussion and publication of these travels and lectures in the architectural press, and an exhibition of his work at MoMA in the same year which later traveled to, among other places, the de Young Museum in San Francisco in October 1937. See Mardges Bacon. Le Corbusier in America: Travels in the Land of the Timid. (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2001). 29. See also Bacon appendix B for full lecture and exhibition tour details. Interestingly, the exhibition that preceded Le Corbusier’s at MoMA was Contemporary Architecture in California [MoMA Exh. #42c, September 30-October 24, 1935]. Recent Work of Le Corbusier, held between October 1 and 22, 1937 at SFMoMA originated at MoMA in New York in 1935 and traveled to a total of fourteen venues between 1935 and 38, including Yale and Wesleyan universities.

    [8] The Telesis exhibition, A Space for Living, was held at the San Francisco Museum of (Modern) Art, opening on June 29, 1940. It was the museum’s first architecture exhibition and projected a brighter future for the city under the slogan “progress intelligently planned” – the West Coast version of the syndicalist slogan action directe.

    [9] Jean Louis Cohen, Barry Bergdoll et al. Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 2013), 20. “Le Corbusier was engaged not with the ways in which things are similar around the world but rather with the ways in which they are distinct, with layers of culture that resonate even in worlds in mutation from the forces of modernization.” Sarah Williams Goldhagen re-evaluated the work of Louis I. Kahn as “culturally contingent” and a “situated modernism.” Caroline Constant argues that Le Corbusier “carefully calibrated his building designs to their specific locales” despite his often militant tone. Cohen, Bergdoll, 21.

    [10] Influenced by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s The Politics of Translation (1998), scholar Esra Ackan has recently suggested translation in architecture as “a contested zone where geopolitical tensions and psychological anxieties are exposed,” arguing persuasively for translation as a productive methodology for “an architectural culture better equipped for a global future.” Ezra Akcan. Architecture in Translation: Germany, Turkey, & the Modern House. (Durham: Duke University Press, 2012). 4. 

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