Tag Archives: Architecture

Introducing PLATFORM, a new digital forum for urbanists

[Editor’s note: The Metropole would like to introduce a new digital forum for urbanists. Below, Hunter College Professor Matthew Lasner offers a brief introduction into the project, PLATFORM, followed by a more detailed explanation regarding exactly what the site and its editors hope to publish. Take a look!]

Dear friends,

I have some exciting news to share. Swati Chattopadhyay, Marta Gutman, Zeynep Kezer, and I are preparing to launch an open digital forum for conversation on buildings, spaces, landscapes, called PLATFORM. The goal is to publish short-form critical essays that engage with contemporary culture, politics, and space.

The idea was prompted by discussion at a conference organized in honor of Dell Upton at CCNY last year. Those of you who were there will remember talk of the possibility of continuing the vibrant dialog in some new form/venue. PLATFORM is meant to be that venue.

We are soliciting short timely essays on any aspect of the built environment from the scale of the global and planetary to that of the building interior and detail. The idea is to publish 6 different categories of essays–Finding; House Histories; Opinion; Reading/Listening/Watching; Specifying; Teaching & Working. Most essays are 500-1000 words. Please see the attached description of PLATFORM and submission guidelines.

We don’t expect tightly argued prose studded with endnotes; we want this to be a forum for engaging with ideas that are critical to the present. It’s not a journal, it’s not a book, there is no print version. It’s not peer reviewed. It is a lightly moderated forum for speaking to diverse audiences, for thinking critically, and for taking a stand.

Attached is a screenshot of the site. We hope you will write for PLATFORM, support it, encourage your colleagues and students to write for PLATFORM, and help us make it a success!

Help us build Platform, Read, write and comment at platformspace.net. Share our news and our posts. Follow us on Twitter (@PLATFORM_space).

With thanks and warm regards,
Matthew Lasner

Matthew Gordon Lasner studies the history and theory of the U.S. built environment, with particular focus on housing, and the relationship between housing patterns and urban and suburban form. Lasner’s first book, High Life: Condo Living in the Suburban Century, published by Yale University Press in 2012, examines the emergence and growth of co-owned multifamily housing – the co-op and condominium apartment, as well as the townhouse complex — as an alternative to single-family suburbia in the twentieth century. Lasner is also co-editor of Affordable Housing in New York: The People, Places, and Policies That Transformed a City, published by Princeton University Press in 2015. 

 

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WHAT DO WE PUBLISH?

The content of PLATFORM falls into seven types of essays that highlight and address a range of issues about buildings, spaces, and landscapes:

FINDING

Finding is where you share new thoughts on research and research findings. You know the feeling: you have made this amazing discovery in the field that might change the way we think about African diasporic architectural history; or looking through reams of dusty correspondence you have unexpectedly found a drawing enclosed with one of the letters. Now you want to share your thoughts on these finds with someone, hoping it will open up a new prospect in seeing a landscape, or it will open up a new research project for you or someone else. Or perhaps after years of thinking about how to tackle a set of disparate archival documents or find a sweet space between digital and analogue drawings you have figured out a method to address the problem.

This is the place to write about how we encounter evidence and how we weave evidence into narrative. Or how we foster conversations about the craft of writing about space, material culture and the built environment. A submission may focus on a specific document, image, film, recording, interview, or story, or it may be speculative.

 Length: 500-1,000 words

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Home in Hampton Heights, the oldest neighborhood in Spartanburg, South Carolina, roughly midway between Atlanta, GA and Charlotte, NC, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, May 9, 2017, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

 

HOUSE HISTORIES

House Histories explore where we live, how we live, and with whom we live. We want to learn what you know about apartment buildings, dorm rooms, homeless shelters, single-family houses, hotels, public housing, and the many other places where people lived historically and in the present day. We welcome essays that investigate what it means to dwell, considering emotions, memories, power, loss, and embodied experiences (sight, touch, smell, sound). What makes a house, an everyday building, into a place that someone calls home? We also invite essays that address the contemporary crisis in affordable housing and speculate on political, economic, and design solutions.

 Length: 500-1,000 words

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Aerial view of CIA headquarters, Langley, Virginia, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

 

OPINION

Opinion is the place to take a stand on a range of urgent problems and ideas, from the surveillance state to the institutionalization of children and ethnic minorities, and tie these discussions to buildings, spaces, and landscapes.Is something making headlines that your research — new or old, on subjects contemporary or historical — can shed light on? Do you want to take a position on an issue in the news through the lens of a specific building or place, past or present? Submit a one-off, timely piece. Interested in publishing regular commentary reflecting on architecture, society, and politics? Become a featured columnist.

 Length: 1,000-3,000 words

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New York, New York. Radio room of the New York Times newspaper. The Times listening post, between 10 and 12 PM, between first and second editions, Marjory Collins, September 1942, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

 

READING/LISTENING/WATCHING

We want to learn about that exciting article, book, or edited volume that you are reading now. Maybe it’s a podcast you think more people should know about. Maybe it’s a movie. Maybe it’s a startling use of data visualization. Share short descriptions of the work with notes about why you find it useful or interesting and how it would help platform’s readers think through questions of space, architecture, and the built environment, even if it addresses none of them in particular. We would like to hear about recent works, but revisiting classics with a new interpretive lens is welcome as well.

These entries in Reading/Listening/Watching are not traditional reviews of books, media, or exhibitions; they offer more information than an annotated bibliography or an publisher’s description. Tell us why you find this material interesting or engaging. Your remarks or contribution may contain a discussion of the main argument or one particular aspect of the work, or how it helps you think through a course, your research or design in terms of methods and theory. Would it make a good seminar reading? Is it a good intro-level book? Could it be watched in class? Does it make ingenious or creative use of evidence? Does it introduce a new way of seeing a problem in research or design? Is it an underexplored subject?

 Length: 500-1,000 words

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Aerial view of the construction of Penn Quarter building, Washington, D.C., photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

 

SPECIFYING

Specifying is the place for you to write about what we build, how we build, and who builds the places that we inhabit every day. Are you an architect or a builder who wants to bridge the schism between research, design, and construction? Or are you a historian who is eager to share your knowledge about labor and technology, and learn more about digital fabrication in the present day? Do you want to take a hard look at the causes of structural failure and fires in buildings and the attendant loss of life? Do you love combing through the drawers in hardware stores, looking for the perfect fastener? Specifying is the place to discuss the multi-faceted practices that adhere to building and builders—specifying, constructing, regulating, spec-writing, construction managing—and to assess the relationship of these aspects of the material world to past practices, labor, technology and other social/political issues.

 Length: 500-1,000 words.

TEACHING AND WORKING

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This is an adult world, its problems are up to you! Free : Enroll – Federal adult schools : Many courses – many places – informal teaching, Fred Rentschler, 1938, Prints and Photographs Division Library of Congress

Academic labor has changed fundamentally in the last two decades. Teaching/Working is dedicated to teaching and current realities of working in academia. We welcome articles about issues related to tenure, adjunct and graduate student union organizations, enrollment issues, changes in visa and travel regulations, research funding, and changing job opportunities. We are also interested in discussing innovative methods of pedagogy in architecture schools, departments of geography, art and architecture history, urban studies, and related fields. Teaching also reports on conditions in colleges and universities. This section exposes PLATFORM’s readers to new methods that they can use in their own teaching and lets readers know that they are not alone. Often working in isolation or in small cohorts, we all struggle to give our students the best education possible, despite the lack of funding, classroom technology, and appropriate classroom space. Posts on teaching methods used in studio and in traditional classroom settings are welcome.
Length: 500-1,000 words

CFP: 2020 Latrobe Chapter Symposium of the Society of Architectural Historians

Call for Papers: 2020 Latrobe Chapter Symposium

Race, Ethnicity, and Architecture in the Nation’s Capital

In 2019, the Washington Post reported that the nation’s capital had the highest intensity of gentrification of any American city, with more than 20,000 African Americans displaced from low-income neighborhoods from 2000 to 2013. For architectural and urban historians, the implications were clear — this demographic transformation would inevitably reconfigure the physical appearance, experience, and structure of the city.

Yet this mutual shaping of Washington’s social and architectural make-up was by no means new. Since the city’s establishment in the late eighteenth century, scores of enslaved people and voluntary migrants structured the social and material composition of the broader Washington, DC region. The 13th SAH Latrobe Chapter Biennial Symposium — Race, Ethnicity, and Architecture in the Nation’s Capital — therefore calls for scholars to think through this history. It challenges participants to not only uncover the material contributions of diverse racial and ethnic groups, but also expose government and private attempts to control, segregate, and appropriate design traditions. Interested scholars are encouraged to submit work that delves into topics like the importance of slavery to the construction of local buildings; the development of Chinatown, Eden Center, Langley Park, Little Ethiopia, and other regional hot spots; urban renewal and public housing; racially integrated mid-century suburbs; and the design of embassies, museums, and public spaces, among other topics. In addition to the panels, symposium attendees will have the opportunity to join walking tours of sites that expose the mutual construction of race, ethnicity, and architecture in the nation’s capital.

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Historic Victorian architecture at LeDroit Park, a neighborhood in NW, Washington, D.C., photograph by Carol M. Highsmith, 2010, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Formal CFP below (you can also access the CFP via this link): 

RACE, ETHNICITY, and ARCHITECTURE in the NATION’S CAPITAL

Governments and private developers have employed built environments to control and regulate racialized bodies. Through the systemic planning of residential and commercial districts, public spaces, and transit, they ensured the growth of isolated enclaves whose economic health varied based on inhabitants’ race. Historically-specific understandings of race have likewise shaped the design and construction of the capital’s architecture, for example influencing the development of various building typologies, ranging from embassies and museums to shopping centers. The 13th Latrobe Chapter Biennial Symposium therefore calls for a timely investigation of the symbiotic relationship between race, ethnicity, and architecture in the greater Washington, DC region. It conceptualizes race broadly, not as an issue of binaries, but rather of corporeal hierarchies that meaningfully structure the design and experience of architectural and urban spaces.

Presentations might explore:

  • Architectural education and practice;
  • The importance of slavery and its legacies to the construction of government and university buildings;
  • Development of Chinatown, the Eden Center, Langley Park, Little Ethiopia, and other ethnic regional hot spots;
  • Urban renewal and the construction of low- income public housing;

Growth of racially integrated middle-class suburbs and their modernist aesthetic aspirations;
Design of embassies, museums, and public spaces that appropriate different cultural design and construction practices; Architectural transformation of neighborhoods as a result of broader demographic changes.

The purpose of the symposium is to feature recent research
discussion. Presentations must be analytical rather than descriptive in nature and should place the subject in a comparative context that emphasizes the relationship between race and architecture.

All sessions will take place on Saturday, April 18, 2020, at The Catholic University of America School of Architecture and Planning. Tours will commence the following day on Sunday, April 19, 2020.

Please send a one-page, 350-word abstract of a 20-minute paper and 1-2 page curriculum vitae by August 1, 2019 to vyta.baselice@gmail.com. All applicants will be notified of the selection by August 23, 2019. April 1, 2020 is the deadline for final text to be sent to session moderators, who will work with presenters to develop themes for discussion. For further information, contact Vyta Baselice at vyta.baselice@gmail.com.

Member of the Week: Peter Laurence

Peter LaurencePeter L. Laurence
Associate Professor of Architecture
Clemson University School of Architecture
twitter.com/peterlaurence
facebook.com/becomingjanejacobs

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?

Much of my research has been concerned with the presence (and absence) of urbanism in architectural theory and in architects’ thinking in general. This led me, more than twenty years ago, to studying Jane Jacobs, and that in turn led me to urban history, urban studies, and the history of urban design. Publishing Becoming Jane Jacobs in early 2016, the US election later that year, and the dramatic changes to the political and cultural landscape that followed caused me to turn to other aspects of Jacobs’s work, resulting in some new essays and chapters focused on her writing on US imperialism, racism and the “plantation mentality,” public space in the face of privatization and gentrification, and her eventual self-exile to Canada. Since then I’ve returned to projects in architectural theory; I’m currently editing a book on the history of architectural education, and just started co-editing a book on contemporary architectural theory. In the meantime, for a number of years I’ve been working on theurbanismproject.org, a research/activist project that has the goal of incorporating fundamental lessons in urbanism and urban design into architectural education, which currently doesn’t, and hasn’t, required professional architecture students (in accredited degree programs in the US) to have any coursework in these areas. After these projects, I plan to return to another book on Jacobs, although I’ve also been thinking about a book on architecture and urbanism.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

Apart from the occasional undergraduate honors seminar on Jacobs’s Death and Life of Great American Cities and co-teaching a course on theories and methods for first-year students in our interdisciplinary PhD program in Planning, Design, and the Built Environment, in any given semester I’ll teach one of our four required graduate courses in architectural history and theory. This curriculum, which I helped to establish as Director of Graduate Studies some years ago, can be taught however the instructor sees fit, although we want to make sure that various essential historical periods are covered. Most recently I taught our course focused on the mid- to late-twentieth century (and post-modernism), and I naturally teach this with an emphasis on urban history and urban design (e.g., architecture and urban theory in the urban renewal era). Next spring I’ll teach our course focused on the Modern Movement in architecture, and this will similarly include the professionalization of city planning, functionalist urbanism, city histories, and so on. While my recent course on late twentieth-century architectural theory was certainly on my mind while planning a symposium on Architectural Theory Now at University of Pennsylvania in April, since I’m primarily teaching foundational courses for Masters-level students, I generally keep my research separate from my teaching and focus on what the students need to know. What I learn myself in the teaching process, as always happens, informs my thinking and writing.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

Like everyone working on book projects, I’m most looking forward to completing and seeing the two books mentioned earlier! I’m also looking forward to a book on Jane Jacobs’s early life by Glenna Lang and an English-language version of a Swedish book on Jacobs that I contributed to. I recently had an opportunity to preview Suffragette City: Gender, Politics, and the Built Environment, forthcoming from Routledge, and recommend it. I’m looking forward to Spatial Practices: Modes of Action and Engagement with the City and The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of the City also coming from Routledge. Meanwhile, I have The Municipalists by Seth Fried and New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson cued up for a first and second listen in my audiobooks library.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies?

My advice is to proceed with caution. I’m very concerned about trends in higher education. I haven’t yet read Herb Childress’s The Adjunct Underclass: How America’s Colleges Betrayed Their Faculty, Their Students, and Their Mission, but, apart from his recent editorial (which doesn’t mention the critical issue of declining state funding for state universities), I’ve been reading similar things as a longtime faculty senator and member of the AAUP, which reported non-tenure-track instructional appointments at 73% as of 2016. Apart from the increasingly frequent political attacks on academia, new scholars need to beware that universities, and faculty, are under pressure to produce more PhDs, along with more research, and that job training and placement are not always their highest priorities.

You sit on the board of The Center for the Living City. For UHA members who have never sat on a board of large nonprofit organization, can you share what it means to serve in that role? How do you use your academic expertise and leadership skills to support the Center’s mission?

The Center for the Living City isn’t a large or very old organization. It was established in 2005 to carry forward (with her collaboration and blessing) Jane Jacobs’s interests in the ecologies of cities, and more specifically various social, environmental, and economic justice activities in urban contexts. As a small organization, it has to be strategic about what it can take on. One notable project is the Observe! program, an international program to engage girls and young women, including Girl Scouts (who would earn an “Observe!” merit-badge patch), in learning about and developing agency and positive change in their communities. This program has had pilots in US, India, and Bangladesh; in India and Bangladesh, empowering girls has been a special goal of this project. Another project is creating workshops for city journalism and journalists writing about cities; this project naturally echoes Jane’s work as a journalist and writer. Reflective of Jacobs’s diverse interests, CFLC has a diverse group of board members. I’m one of the academics and, knowing Jacobs’s suspicions of Ivory-Tower dwellers, don’t take that for granted! I contribute something as a Jacobs scholar and urban historian of sorts, but I feel I’m more directly contributing to the mission with activities like theurbanismproject and, in a small, local, day-to-day way, teaching architecture students something about urbanism, urban design, and cities.

Member of the Week: Willa Granger

2709E908-D200-47D5-AE2F-8EA6573020CDWilla Granger

PhD Candidate

The University of Texas at Austin, School of Architecture

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest?

I am currently working on a dissertation that examines the material history of the American “old age home” during the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Few architectural historians have studied the history of senior housing, and fewer still have examined congregate facilities for elder Americans (nursing homes, old age homes, assisted living facilities, etc.). What drew me to this subject was its contemporary relevance – as Baby Boomers start to enter retirement, the country will soon face its own senior housing crisis. I am curious how we reached this point, and how our ambiguous cultural, social, and regulatory attitude towards the elderly has manifested materially over time. More and more I realize the urban nature of the subject – not only the spatialization of these homes, but how they fit into the social “mosaic” of the American downtown.

Describe the ideal course you would create based on your research.

I’ve done a fair amount of writing about the incidental built environments of the US military. This includes studies of defense housing projects, and the most recent work I presented at UHA on the how the arrival of Korean-American “War Brides” and their extended families impacted the built environment around Fort Hood, Texas. I’ve conceptualized a class that uses an institutional history of the US military to understand larger built environment narratives. The military provides an architectural historian with a vehicle to study both “high and low” design, both local and transnational spaces, both rural and urban scales. It would be an exploratory “generator” to use with students towards understanding some of the fundamental considerations of the field.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

I am excited (for my own dissertation work!) to read Carla Yanni’s forthcoming Living on Campus: An Architectural History of the American Dormitory. If you’ve read The Architecture of Madness: Insane Asylums in the United States, you know that Yanni is particularly adept at filtering social history through the lens of a specific typology – not dissimilar from what I hope to do with my dissertation. Dormitories – like insane asylums, like old age homes – fit into the landscape of the Victorian city, and I am eager to see what she has uncovered.

What advice do you have for graduate students preparing a dissertation project related to urban history or urban studies? 

To simply look around! That’s one of the joys of this field (especially for built environment scholars examining cities) – our evidence is everywhere. Some of the best topics I’ve happened upon in my own work have come from simply moving through city-space. The material world (and even its absence) tells us things that other forms of evidence cannot.

You contributed a fascinating think piece about the film A Ghost Story to Interiors, a publication about “how architecture functions in film and media.” What was it like to write an architectural critique of a film? Would you do it again?

I am constantly thinking about the way the built environment is represented in film. In many movies the architecture is just a backdrop, a support – in conjuring a scene, oftentimes the whole goal of architecture is to not be idiosyncratic. I think this resonates with my interest in the everyday built environment, the vernacular. But the vernacular is so loaded with meaning; in its ordinariness it contains cues and clues about the actual lived experience of people. What I learned in writing the piece on A Ghost Story was the role that “vernacular looking” played on the film set. The director, the set designer, and many others shared a thoughtful attunement to the nuance of creating an “everyday,” home-like setting which played a critical role in the narrative.

Member of the Week: Rainer Schützeichel

Schuetzeichel_UHA-MotW_PortraitDr. Rainer Schützeichel

ETH Zurich, Institute for the History and Theory of Architecture (gta)

 

 

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

Intellectual history alongside (and intertwined with) urban and architectural history has always caught my interest. At the moment, I am following this research interest firstly in a project that is looking at a larger, regional scale: At ETH Zurich, we are conducting a research project on the Swiss civil engineer Heinz Isler (1926–2009), who played a major role in the development of prestressed thin concrete shells and was influential in shaping the Swiss infrastructural landscape by implementing a network of industrial buildings. These structures can shed light on developments in engineering, on changing conditions inside the construction industry, as well as on the phenomenon of land-consuming sprawl in industrial zones. Secondly, I am following the traces of several disciples of the architect and urban planner Theodor Fischer (1862–1938), who was one of the doyens of modern, yet traditionally rooted architecture in Germany. My goal is to carve out the effect that Fischer’s teaching had on the younger generations of architects who then, in turn, set the tone during the interwar years and in the reconstruction of cities during the early postwar period.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

During the current semester, I am taking a pause from teaching to concentrate on my research. In the upcoming semester, though, I will be teaching History of Urban Design as a guest lecturer at Hochschule München. It is the relationship between theory, cultural history, and practice that intrigues me and that I want to reveal to the students. In past years, I concentrated on the discourse of space in German architectural theory – a discourse which also evolved in urban planning around the turn of the century. This opens up new perspectives on industrialized cities as both estranged environments that could be reclaimed and on larger spatial relationships that went beyond the historical boundaries of cities on the other. This investigation into theory and its actual effects on planning practice informs my teaching of urban history.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

I am very much looking forward to the publication of my PhD thesis on the architect and theoretician Herman Sörgel (1885–1952), which will appear in the fall this year. It is not only that this research – as is the nature of a dissertation – accompanied me for many years. It is also my aim to contribute with this book, which for the first time shifts the focus from both Sörgel’s unfinished “Theorie der Baukunst” and his architectural and urban designs to a broader understanding of modernism in general by introducing a figure that until now has not been in the center of the historiography of modern architecture.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for a career related to urban history or urban studies?

One that sounds rather self-explanatory: be curious, and be aware that when you answer one research question you raise at least two new ones. Although this can sometimes be sobering or even annoying, it is the best driver for research. And certainty about the fact that history never follows an easy logic of smooth progress, but that it contains a bundle of fascinating sub-plots, is one of its best outcomes.

You have written about the application of the philosophical concept of “Einfühlung” (empathy) in architecture. What is an example of a structure or architectural work that you particularly empathize with, and why?

It is rather an urban project than an architectural work that I am empathizing with, if I have to choose one. I am thinking of Joze Plecnik’s (1872–1957) renewal (or better, refurbishment) of Ljubljana’s city center. He was able to implement this by a series of punctual interventions: When strolling through the city along the river bank of the Ljubljanica, one is confronted with several bridges that were carefully implanted into the urban fabric, flights of stairs, monuments, and public buildings such as the Market or the National Library. In Ljubljana, one can experience a vivid urban center and at the same time some kind of open-air exhibition making visible the architectural search for an identity which the newly constituted capital city undertook in the crucial years after the fall of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Slovenia’s independence from the Viennese reign.

Member of the Week: Caitlin Moriarty

0Caitlin Moriarty, Ph.D.

Place Present & Moriarty Meats

Instagram @moriartymeats

Describe your research interests. How have they evolved throughout your career? 

I have always been interested in how retail spaces and commercial streets relate to neighborhood identity, and more broadly, the social and cultural functions of place. Places are more than just the setting of “history” but offer an important lens into the dynamics of change over time. More recently, through my work in historic preservation, I have become interested in the implications of place narratives like the contemporary “comeback” story of cities like Buffalo and how it reinforces the rise and decline framework of American cities that other scholars have shown to be partial and tired.

You spent several years working as a lead historian for an architectural preservation firm. How did that work differ from what you were doing as a grad student? And what did you get out of that experience?

It was satisfying to see history “uncovered” in projects and make the case for why buildings – most of which were vacant or in some state of disrepair – are still important to local history. My graduate program centered on using the built environment as a primary source of information, and we frequently grappled with the relationship between local history and “bigger” history. Buildings are inherently local yet they tell larger stories as well. As real estate developers in Western New York see new opportunities in historic buildings, architectural histories are valuable additions not only to their projects but as broader resources for the public, especially when narratives go beyond architectural style and create richer histories of how and why places were created and changed over time.

On a practical level, being part of larger projects with many moving parts forced me to let go of perfectionism for the sake of completing projects on time. Editing and working with others gave me new perspectives on writing process and effective communication. I hope that I am a better writer for it now!

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

I have to admit that I haven’t listened to a recent interview about the Buildings-Landscapes-Cultures field school in Milwaukee, but I am looking forward to it!

Personally, I am starting to conceptualize a project about the historic landscapes of butchery in Buffalo. In January 2018, my husband and I started a whole animal butchery, meaning we source animals from local farmers and Tom breaks them down by hand. Historically, all butchery was done this way but industrial scaling has changed every aspect of the chain. As I learn more about the networks between farmers, our shop, and our customers, I want to better understand how these relationships used and shaped the city in the past. I am particularly interested in the hundreds of small shops and carts that served Buffalo’s neighborhoods and the families who ran them. I’m still working to gather preliminary information and focus the inquiry but am excited to ultimately display the study in our shop.

What advice do you have for young scholars preparing themselves for careers both inside and outside of academia? 

Be open to opportunities and don’t underestimate how “academic” you can be beyond academia. There are tradeoffs in every scenario so ask yourself what matters most.

You now work for your new family business, Moriarty Meats. What parallels do you see between your academic and preservation careers and your new endeavor as an entrepreneur?

The more you learn, the more you know you don’t know!! I am really enjoying learning new things but, just like grad school, being self-directed comes with its freedom and challenges. The confused look you get when you tell people about your doctoral studies is not unsimilar to the one you get when you say you have a butcher shop, ha!

Our shop is actually located on the commercial street that I studied in my dissertation, which is a cool coincidence. I am seeing the history of the retail street, the legacy of mom and pop shops and the relationship between retailers and communities completely differently after a year of operating my own business here. I definitely have a new respect for the business owners I studied!

Member of the Week: Hector Berdecia-Hernandez

s200_hector.berdeciaHéctor J. Berdecía-Hernández

Graduate Student, Program in Historic Preservation

University of Pennsylvania

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

My current research focuses on vernacular architecture and construction policies in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean from the late 19th century until the early 20th century. I am interested in its impact at the urban scale in the Spanish Antilles. After the U.S. took possession of Puerto Rico and Cuba in the early decades of the 20th century, after the Spanish American War of 1898, new construction technologies, materials and forms were brought to the islands. These changes had a profound impact on the urban space that has not been studied yet. How did the colonial relationship with the U.S. develop a new architecture that merged with previous Spanish urban traditions? How did these influence newly emerging urban forms on the island? These are some of the questions I seek to address in my current and future research.

What urban history-related courses are you currently taking? How are they supporting your current or future research?

I am not currently taking any urban history-related courses this semester, but next year I will be taking an urban preservation seminar that focuses on urban history. As an undergrad at the University of Puerto Rico, I had the opportunity to take diverse urban history courses and seminars. In one seminar I studied the history of historic preservation between the 1940s and 1970s in Puerto Rico and its influence on the urban landscape, specifically on the early preservation policies for the historic city of Old San Juan.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

I am currently working with some colleagues on a publication in collaboration with the Puerto Rican Institute of Culture (ICP) and the Puerto Rico State Historic Preservation Office (PRSHPO) titled A Citizen’s Guide for the Conservation of the Built Heritage in Puerto Rico. This guide aims to educate and help residents around the island to protect and develop research on historic buildings. After the devastation of Hurricane Maria, there was an increased need to help historic property owners, especially in municipalities with a rich urban heritage such as Ponce, Arroyo, Coamo, San German and Aguadilla. The citizen’s guide will be translated into English and will be published this year.

What advice do you have for new or incoming Masters students in urban-related fields?

My advice would be to take one or two courses related to urban studies, urban planning, urbanism or a related field. Sometimes you can find urban history courses in other academic departments such as history, anthropology, archaeology, architecture, geography and even in the law school. Ask for the syllabus and talk to professors. Also, choose any topic related to your interest in urban history if you have the chance to work on research in a class. Lastly, find academic and professional mentors that can help and guide you.

You are a recent transplant to Philadelphia! What has been the highlight of exploring your new city? And how are you feeling about winter?

Philadelphia is a beautiful and great city. I recently worked on an urban history project in Germantown and I learned so much about the city’s history, its development and the urban renewal policies of the mid-20th century. Philadelphia is a city with many layers of history, so it will probably take me many years to learn everything from its rich past. I already explored West Philadelphia, Center City, Germantown and South Philly. Still, there are many more neighborhoods I am wanting to visit such as the great Latino and Puerto Rican community living in the north side of Philadelphia. It’s my first winter after moving from Puerto Rico, so I am learning to deal with the cold and the snowstorms. Still, I am very happy in Philly.

 

 

Previewing Our February Metro of the Month: Northern Virginia

If you find yourself in Northern Virginia and you feel a burgeoning hunger in your belly, you won’t find many better spots for Korean and Vietnamese food. Swing down to Annandale for the former (maybe check out Honey Pig) and over to Falls Church for the latter, where Eden Center has numerous sumptuous options.

The shadow of the Pentagon (Arlington), C.I.A. Headquarters (Langley), and D.C.’s bureaucratic architecture often obscures the fact that while government and defense industry employment have made NOVA one of the nation’s largest suburban economies, the area also draws critical entrepreneurs, laborers, and restaurateurs from around the world, and in particular from Korea, Vietnam, El Salvador, and Iran.

The point, I suppose, is that NOVA has more local color than the bland tones of federal bureaucracy suggest (and that observers often accord it). With the 2019 SACRPH conference taking place in Crystal City this fall (from October 31-November 3; see the CFP here and submit proposals by March 15), NOVA will be our first Metro of the Month (MotM) for 2019, in part to encourage our fellow urbanists to consider attending the conference.

To its credit, The Metropole has waded into NOVA territory before and in an effort to whet your appetite for our forthcoming MotM, we’ve summarized two previous articles on the region below–replete with links to the full piece. Check them out and then come back Monday when we kick off our February Metropolis of the Month: Northern Virginia!

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Eden Center, Northern Virginia, 2014

“Capital within a Capital: Covert Action, the Vietnam War, and Creating a “Little Saigon” in the Heart of Northern Virginia

Published as part of our MotM on Ho Chi Minh City, The Metropole explored how the Vietnam War created transnational connections between South Vietnamese officials and soldiers and American policy makers in NOVA. Drawing from work by Andrew Friedman, Lisa Lowe, and others, the article examined how Vietnamese resettlement challenged binary ideas of race while also enabling South Vietnamese refugees to establish a foothold in NOVA and create a space for cultural expression.

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Home in Hollin Hills, April 2017

Mid-Century Modernism on the Fringes of D.C.: Charles Goodman and NOVA’s Hollin Hills

Though today images of suburban Northern Virginia litter movies like 1987’s No Way Out and are recreated by television series such as The Americans (the show wasn’t actually filmed in NOVA), it’s worth remembering that much of this development took place after World War II in relation to the growth of government–particularly the defense and intelligence industries. The white-collar bureaucrats that staffed these new positions needed homes, and some demanded more than large-scale subdivisions that ignored environmental factors. Enter architect Charles Goodman and his modernist enclave of Hollin Hills, a neighborhood evocative of the modernist architecture made famous by California. Though largely understudied, the community has influenced modern day media; the aesthetics of the television show Mad Men is just one example. In addition to the historical context it provides, the photo-rich article also doubles as a home tour so that you can get up close without leaving your seat.

Featured image (at top): Aerial view of Northern Virginia, across Memorial Bridge from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Mid-Century Modernism on the Fringes of D.C.: Charles Goodman and NOVA’s Hollin Hills

When one thinks of Northern Virginia, Old Town Alexandria might be the first place that comes to mind. Historic, compact, and on the water, Old Town remains a popular brunch and tourist destination and a way station for intrepid souls proceeding on to nearby Mount Vernon. Yet, since the 1960s, Alexandria’s industrial areas such as Old Town North have embraced modern mixed-use development; throughout Old Town, the occasional cobble street meets with plenty of twenty-first century realities. Historic Old Town serves as an anchor for a rapidly urbanizing and expanding Alexandria, where modern townhomes and apartment complexes in the new developments of Potomac Yard and Braddock are shaping the built environment around Alexandria’s iconic downtown.

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Hollin Hills, photograph by John Bluedorne, April 2018

The more modern design of NOVA’s other notable town, Arlington—which can be seen from Georgetown across the Key Bridge—has as recently as 2015 been described by the Washington Post in less than glowing terms: “Welcome to Arlington County’s high-rise downtown, a concrete canyon where nightlife goes to die — and where, in recent years, the commercial vacancy rate has climbed to 30 percent.” Still, not everyone agrees. “Semi-traditional cities” such as Arlington, Robert Steuteville argued recently, are among the most dynamic places for urbanism today. “[H]alf urban grid and half suburban street patterns” minus the sprawl, places like Arlington attempt to imbue a certain urbanity in their suburban landscape. In both cases, the balance between suburban comfort and historical heritage abuts with both the desires and challenges of urbanism.

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Hollin Hills home interior, photograph by John Bluedorne, April 2018

Still, NOVA’s twenty-first century growth does not rival the development that unfolded after 1945, a period in which mid-century modernism made inroads into the region’s built environment. Smaller homes, ultimately American interpretations of the burgeoning International and Bauhaus movements popular in Europe, emerged in a handful of communities around NOVA and southern Maryland. The juxtaposition between traditional Virginia housing and the then developing modernist movement was no less jarring than the divide currently developing between Arlington’s “new urbanism” and Old Towne’s colonial vibe.

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Hollin Hills interior, photograph by John Bluedorne, April 2018

With an expanding federal government in the post-World War II period, NOVA needed more housing stock. For young architects hoping to make a statement, the Virginia suburbs offered the chance to try something different, while maintaining an equilibrium between dynamic urbanism and idyllic rural existence–urban homes, embedded in an environment meant to highlight the natural virtues of country living. Hidden within a landscape of federal architecture (the CIA, the Pentagon, NRA headquarters) and numerous suburban subdivisions are pockets of mid-century modernism more often associated with California than the mid-Atlantic. For a singular example, one can visit the innovative Pope Leighy House in Alexandria, built by Frank Lloyd Wright as part of his Usonian movement.

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A very California looking ranch home in Hollin Hills, photograph by John Bludorne, April 2018
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Another California-style Hollin Hills home with a touch of spring color, photograph by John Bluedorne, April 2018

If you want more of a community feel, visit Bethesda, Maryland’s Carderock Springs for its “situated modernism” or, if in Northern Virginia, Alexandria’s Hollin Hills—a community its architectural founder described as “ideal country living for urban people.”

For the immersive Hollin Hills experience, one cannot beat the eponymously-titled house tour, held every two years in the Alexandria neighborhood. The community became the first in the D.C. metro region to consist entirely of contemporary housing. With the Vernacular Architecture Forum’s conference having just finished on May 5 and the SACRPH 2019 conference in Northern Virginia on the horizon, The Metropole decided to head down to Alexandria to take in the 2018 Hollin Hills House and Garden Tour. What follows is a brief thumbnail history of Hollin Hills accompanied by photos from the most recent house tour held on April 28. (All photos courtesy of John Bluedorn and Ryan Reft).

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More ranch, more Hollin Hills, photograph by John Bluedorne, April 2018

Sitting about 14 miles outside of Washington D.C. and consisting of 326 acres and over 450 homes, Hollin Hills remains, as Meghan Drueding wrote in 2014, “a well-preserved paradise for midcentury aficionados.” Following World War II, architect Charles Goodman, developer Robert Davenport, and landscape architects Lou Bernard Voight, Dan Kiley, and Eric Paepke created a community of small homes meant to be modern, affordable and “stylistically aligned with the ideas of such architects as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Rudolf Schindler and Richard Neutra,” while simultaneously blending into the neighborhood’s rolling hills and wooded areas—“a community of homes nestled into the landscape,” reflected John A. Burns, architect and long-time resident.

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Both photos (above and below) demonstrate how Goodman and his landscape architects attempted to build into the environment, photographs by Ryan Reft, April 2018

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While Goodman undoubtedly cast an influence over mid-century vernacular architecture, so too did the landscape architects and designers that worked alongside him. Dan Kiley, for example, went on to commissions with IBM headquarters, Dulles International Airport, and the U.S. Air Force Academy.[1] Kiley, Goodman, Voight, and Paepke ultimately created what some have called “a landscape of democracy” as they sought to blur the boundary between public and private, enabling the flora to “envelope the houses in their embrace.”[2]

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Garden part of Hollin Hills Home and Garden Tour, photograph by Ryan Reft, April 2018

“It was the sort of land every builder would turn down,” Goodman told an interviewer in 1983, “but I felt it would make for ideal country living for urban people, and Bob Davenport did, too.” Built between 1949 and 1971, many of the homes would be considered small; they remain so even though most have expanded on their initially slight footprint. Though modest in size, “[h]igh ceilings, open floor plans, and an efficient use of space make them feel larger than they really are,” Drueding noted. At the time, Hollin Hills contrasted starkly with a local tradition “dominated by red brick, gable roofs, white trim, sash windows and paneled doors,” writes Burns.[3]

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Charles Goodman Park, Hollin Hills, VA, photograph by Ryan Reft, April 2018

The homes became available in 1949, with the first selling for $12,500. “The whole method was to break everything down to a system that would simplify construction and still give you great freedom of design,” Goodman told architectural critic Benjamin Fogey in 1983. “The results were relatively inexpensive starter homes … families flocked to them.” The community earned a citation for having the best houses under $15,000 from Life magazine. In 2005, WAPO estimated their value to be “easily 50 times that amount.” Even with the 2008 housing debacle, a safe guess would suggest that number has increased, significantly; an ironic turn for housing built specifically for affordability.

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The ghost of Hollins Hills House and Garden Tour past, photograph by Ryan Reft, April 2018

Admittedly, some of its first residents viewed their homes with a dollop of trepidation. “I first thought the houses looked like chicken coops,” Rebecca Christofferson reflected decades later. “I decided subsequently that many of them still look like chicken coops, but I have grown to love chicken coops.” Of course, one person’s chicken coop is another’s modernist masterpiece. Christofferson’s husband, Leif, described their home differently. “There is something uplifting about the design, the light coming in,” he noted. “I like the design, I like the windows, I like the fireplace. I like the outdoors and the fact it flows into the house.”[4] Many of the community’s first residents worked for the government, employed in white collar, but not necessarily lucrative positions. The homes were meant to reflect those inhabiting them: unpretentious and simple, yet sophisticated and affordable.

Influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright, Goodman got his start with the federal government serving as a public architect for the Public Buildings Administration and the Treasury Department. From this position, he promoted modernism in government architecture domestically and abroad, notes the Fairfax County website devoted to another community designed by Goodman, the Commons of McLean.

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One only need a Mai Tai to complete the Tiki circle, photograph by Ryan Reft, April 2018

During World War II, Goodman worked as the principal architect for the Army Air Forces Transport Command. After the war, he founded Charles M. Goodman Associates and turned his attentions to residential housing. From 1946-1956, 32,000 Goodman-designed homes were constructed. In 1957, writing for the American Institute of Architect’s centennial, Fredrick Gutheim heralded Hollin Hills as a promising sign of the future. Yet by 2012, a Washington Post article described Goodman as merely “one of the modernist movement’s better-known architects.” Architectural historian Richard Longstreth noted ten years earlier that “as celebrated as it was in its own day,” the neighborhood had fallen into “semi-obscurity” over ensuing decades.[5]

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Hollin Hills garden, photograph by Ryan Reft, April 2018

The popularity of the show “Mad Men” and its overall aesthetic have helped bring some renewed attention to Hollin Hills. In fact, the production designer for the show, Dan Bishop, grew up in the community—as did Jeremy Conway, production designer for the “Sex and the City” TV series and films. “The architecture there did influence my sensibilities about modern homes,” Bishop told interviewers in 2010. “I live in one now, with glass walls surrounded by trees in South Pasadena [Calif.]. Truthfully, I would rather live in a Hollin Hills house.”

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More Hollin Hills landscape, photograph by Ryan Reft, April 2018

Landscaping plays a large role in the Hollin Hills aesthetic. “It’s a unique experiment in the fusion of architecture and landscape architecture,” former president of the American Society of Landscape Architects Dennis Carmichael noted in a 2005 lecture, because “landscape was very much a form-giver, an iconic part of the whole place.” The developers left vegetation much as it was, houses sat upon generously apportioned properties, and the layout of streets “was responsive to topography,” notes Longstreth.[6] “The fact that the houses were built up from the natural setting rather than, like most American suburban settings, cutting down all the trees and flattening the land,” acknowledged one resident, “I think that’s exciting.”[7]

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Two satisfied Washingtonians, photograph by Ryan Reft, April 2018

Houses don’t front the road unless above or below street level; no homes look directly at one another. Sitting above and below curving rolling hills, houses sit at angles that provide maximum exposure to sunlight and privacy. “[O]ne doesn’t see a Levittown-style lineup of little houses,” Nancy McKeon wrote 2010, “but a winding, climbing treescape that happens to shelter an entire living, breathing, modernism-obsessed community.” Designers deployed cul-de-sacs and T streets to reduce traffic.[8] “The houses of Hollin Hills are in the landscape, not on the landscape,” notes landscape architect Dennis Carmichael.[9] As Goodman used to say, homes in Hollin Hills “slide through the trees.”[10]

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The foot fist at the end of the Hollin Hills House and Garden Tour, photograph by Ryan Reft, April 2018

If you find yourself in Alexandria or NOVA more generally, and yes we are talking to you intrepid SACRPH members, wander about the streets of Hollin Hills for a journey into modernist residential housing or Charles Goodman put it, “ideal rural living for urban people.”

 


[1] Dennis Carmichael, “A Landscape of Democracy”, in Hollin Hills: Community of Vision, A Semicentennial History 1949-1999 (Civic Association of Hollin Hills, Alexandria, VA: 2000), 76.

[2] Carmichael, “A Landscape of Democracy”, 70.

[3] John Burns, “The Postwar Housing Phenomenon” in Hollin Hills: Community of Vision, A Semicentennial History 1949-1999 (Civic Association of Hollin Hills, Alexandria, VA: 2000), 44.

[4] Scott Wilson, “First Settlers”, in Hollin Hills: Community of Vision, A Semicentennial History 1949-1999 (Civic Association of Hollin Hills, Alexandria, VA: 2000), 89.

[5] Richard Longstreth, “Review: Hollin Hills, Community of Vision: A Semicentennial History, 1949 – 1999”, Washington History 13.2 (Fall/Winter, 2001/2002): 87-88.

[6] Longstreth, “Review: Hollin Hills, Community of Vision: A Semicentennial History, 1949 – 1999”, 87.

[7] Wilson, “First Settlers”, 89.

[8] Burns, “The Postwar Housing Phenomenon”, 46.

[9] Dennis Carmichael, “A Landscape of Democracy”, 70.

[10] Burns, “The Postwar Housing Phenomenon”, 52.

 

Member of the Week: Vyta Baselice

Vyta BaseliceVyta Baselice

PhD Student in American Studies

George Washington University

Describe your current research. What about it drew your interest? 

My dissertation explores the cultural history of concrete. I examine why concrete became the second most consumed material on the planet and how it came to define architectural and social modernity in the United States. The dissertation therefore attempts to move beyond aesthetic concerns typically addressed in literature on concrete and, in addition to built environments, looks at cement plants, concrete distribution businesses, contractors, and construction workers, among other important players. My interest in concrete is a result of both my personal and educational backgrounds. I grew up in a post-Soviet country, where the material was quite literally everywhere. My experience of studying architectural design and history, first at Wesleyan and then at University College London, got me interested in materials and environments people take for granted.

Describe what you are currently teaching. How does your teaching relate to your scholarship?

I currently work as a teaching assistant for various courses in the history of art, architecture, and science and technology. My teaching experience with undergraduate students allows me to clarify my own ideas about design and culture. This is important because although I come from a specialized background, I write for a non-expert audience. And it was only when I started teaching that I realized that students with no experience in architecture have a difficult time not only reading plans, drawings and other documentation, but also finding the language with which to describe space. So, I am now particularly sensitive about selecting helpful case studies that we can collectively break down and analyze, paying attention to how architecture can perform as functional buildings, artistic projects, capitalist ventures, and political statements.

What recent or forthcoming publications are you excited about, either of your own or from other scholars?

I have been working on an article that examines the way concrete was transformed as a result of research and engineering efforts during World War I. This project has allowed me to engage with secondary and archival materials in the history of engineering, which is a fascinating though new field to me. In terms of other scholars’ work, I am excited to read Megan Black’s The Global Interior (Harvard, 2018), which examines the transnational aspirations of the Department of the Interior. Black’s approach to her topic is particularly inspiring to me as I am tackling some similar issues related to politics, culture, and the environment.

What advice do you have for graduate students preparing a dissertation project related to urban history or urban studies? 

I would advise students to select a topic that allows them to visit diverse archival repositories and field sites. While I have found secondary and digitized materials to be helpful and convenient, it has been critical to actually get to the archives and flip through the different materials, which often reveal unexpected relationships and thoughts. This has been particularly true for a documentation report I wrote for the Historic American Buildings Survey on Paul Rudolph’s Burroughs Wellcome Headquarters. The different project-related boxes I examined at the Library of Congress often included information on other buildings the architect was working on simultaneously. It was fascinating to consider how those projects might have informed the design of Burroughs Wellcome. Visiting the building was likewise critical for understanding the scale of the project and the extent to which representational tools attempted to mediate some of the less successful aspects of the design.

You live in Washington, D.C., which has no shortage of interesting structures. What concrete building should be included in any architectural tour of Washington, D.C.?

Oh, that’s a tough question. Some of the most obviously stunning buildings are large in scale and built by and for various government departments, like Marcel Breuer’s Department of Housing and Urban Development headquarters or Stanislaw Z. Gladych and Carter H. Manny Jr.’s J. Edgar Hoover Building (otherwise known as the imposing FBI structure). The DC metro likewise showcases a pretty impressive application of exposed concrete for transportation. I would, however, like to highlight some other lesser known works of concrete that represent earlier experimental uses of this material, like John Earley’s Meridian Hill Park, which is truly a spectacular urban park project, or the mini golf park in East Potomac Park.