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Commodification and Spectacle in Architecture Cover

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Commodification and Spectacle in Architecture

A Harvard Design Magazine Reader

William Saunders

More than ever, architectural design is seen as a means to promote commercial goals rather than as an end in itself. Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, for example, simply cannot be considered apart from its intended role as a catalyst for the economic revitalization of Bilbao and its ability to attract tourist dollars, regardless of its architectural merits. A built environment intended to seduce consumers is more likely to offer instant gratification than to invite independent thought and reflection. But how harmful, if at all, is this unprecedented commercialization of architecture? 

Framed with a provocative introduction by Kenneth Frampton, the contributions to Commodification and Spectacle in Architecture stake out a variety of positions in the debate over the extent to which it is possible—or desirable—to escape from, resist, or suggest plausible alternatives to the dominant culture of consumer capitalism. Rejecting any dreamy nostalgia for an idealized present or past in which design is completely divorced from commerce—and, in some cases, celebrating the pleasures of spectacle—the individual essays range from indictments of particular architects and critiques of the profession to broader concerns about what the phenomenon of commodification means for the practice of democracy and the health of society. 

Bringing together an impressive and varied group of critics and practitioners, Commodification and Spectacle in Architecture will help to sharpen the discussion of how design can respond to our hypercommodified culture. 

Contributors: Michael Benedikt, Luis Fernández-Galiano, Thomas Frank, Kevin Ervin Kelley, Daniel Naegele, Rick Poynor, Michael Sorkin, Wouter Vanstiphout. 

William S. Saunders is editor of Harvard Design Magazine and assistant dean for external relations at the Harvard Design School. He is the author of Modern Architecture: Photographs by Ezra Stoller

Kenneth Frampton is Ware Professor of Architecture at Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation and author of many books, including Labour, Work, and Architecture.

Community by Design Cover

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Community by Design

The Olmsted Firm and the Development of Brookline, Massachusetts

Keith N. Morgan, Elizabeth Hope Cushing, and Roger G. Reed

In 1883, Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. moved from New York City to Brookline, Massachusetts, a Boston suburb that annointed itself the “richest town in the world.” For the next half century, until his son Frederick Law Olmsted Jr. relocated to California in 1936, the Olmsted firm received over 150 local commissions, serving as the dominant force in the planned development of this community. From Fairsted, the Olmsteds’ Brookline home and office, the firm collaborated with an impressive galaxy of suburban neighbors who were among the regional and national leaders in the fields of architecture and horticulture, among them Henry Hobson Richardson and Charles Sprague Sargent. Through plans for boulevards and parkways, residential subdivisions, institutional commissions, and private gardens, the Olmsted firm carefully guided the development of the town, as they designed cities and suburbs across America. While Olmsted Sr. used landscape architecture as his vehicle for development, his son and namesake saw Brookline as grounds for experiment in the new profession of city and regional planning, a field that he was helping to define and lead. Little has been published on the importance of Brookline as a laboratory and model for the Olmsted firm’s work. This beautifully illustrated book provides important new perspective on the history of planning in the United States and illuminates an aspect of the Olmsted office that has not been well understood.

Conjuring the Real Cover

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Conjuring the Real

The Role of Architecture in Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Fiction

Edited by Rumiko Handa and James Potter , Foreword by Iain Borden

In the Western world the period from the mid-eighteenth through the nineteenth century was a time of expanding historical consciousness, a period that saw the birth of modern historiography, a profusion of historical novels and paintings, and the widespread production of historical plays. Historical buildings, in themselves already of intense interest to people of the day, also found their way into the multiplying cultural forms as concrete presences anchoring a novelist’s, poet’s, painter’s, or, eventually, filmmaker’s vision of the past. In recent years a number of blockbuster films have used historically significant buildings as filming locations because buildings can concretely bring a former era or fictional world closer to contemporary viewers. Conjuring the Real traces the genealogy of this representational role of architecture, going back through the history of film and then further in literature, art, and theater. The contributors examine the ways in which authors, artists, and stage managers used complex depictions of buildings to feed and shape the audience’s historical imagination. How can we understand the significance of architecture, not through its original design and construction but through the ways in which the public experiences, perceives, and understands it? The contributors pursue this question through the ideas of secondary portrayers of historical buildings, such as writers and artists, and then through the responses of those who read and view these creations.

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Constitutional Modernism

Architecture and Civil Society in Cuba, 1933-1959

Timothy Hyde

How does architecture make its appearance in civil society? Constitutional Modernism pursues this challenging question by exploring architecture, planning, and law as cultural forces. Analyzing the complex entanglements between these disciplines in the Cuban Republic, Timothy Hyde reveals how architects joined with other professionals and intellectuals in efforts to establish a stable civil society, from the promulgation of a new Cuban Constitution in 1940 up until the Cuban Revolution.

By arguing that constitutionalism was elaborated through architectural principles and practices as well as legal ones, Hyde offers a new view of architectural modernism as a political and social instrument. He contends that constitutionalism produced a decisive confluence of law and architecture, a means for planning the future of Cuba. The importance of architecture in this process is laid bare by Hyde’s thorough scrutiny of a variety of textual, graphical, and physical artifacts. He examines constitutional articles, exhibitions, interviews, master plans, monuments, and other primary materials as acts of design.

Read from the perspective of architectural history, Constitutional Modernism demonstrates how the modernist concepts that developed as an international discourse before the Second World War evolved through interactions with other disciplines into a civil urbanism in Cuba. And read from the perspective of Cuban history, the book explains how not only material products such as buildings and monuments but also the immaterial methods of architecture as a cultural practice produced ideas that had consequential effects on the political circumstances of the nation.

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Corn Palaces and Butter Queens

A History of Crop Art and Dairy Sculpture

Pamela H. Simpson

Teddy Roosevelt’s head sculpted from butter. The Liberty Bell replicated in oranges. The Sioux City Corn Palace of 1891 encased with corn, grains, and grasses and stretching for two city blocks—with a trolley line running down its center. Between 1870 and 1930, from county and state fairs to the world’s fairs, large exhibition buildings were covered with grains, fruits, and vegetables to declare in no uncertain terms the rich agricultural abundance of the United States. At the same fairs—but on a more intimate level—ice-cooled cases enticed fairgoers to marvel at an array of butter sculpture models including cows, buildings, flowers, and politicians, all proclaiming the rich bounty and unending promise held by the region.

Often viewed as mere humorous novelties—fun and folksy, but not worthy of serious consideration—these lively forms of American art are described by Pamela H. Simpson in a fascinating and comprehensive history. From the pioneering cereal architecture of Henry Worrall at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition to the vast corn palaces displayed in Sioux City, Iowa, and elsewhere between 1877 and 1891, Simpson brings to life these dazzling large-scale displays in turn-of-the-century American fairs and festivals. She guides readers through the fascinating forms of crop art and butter sculpture, as they grew from state and regional fairs to a significant place at the major international exhibitions. The Minnesota State Fair’s Princess Kay of the Milky Way contest, Lillian Colton’s famed pictorial seed art, and the work of Iowa’s “butter cow lady,” Norma “Duffy” Lyon, are modern versions of this tradition.

Beautifully illustrated with a bounty of never-before-seen archival images, Corn Palaces and Butter Queens is an accessible history of one of America’s most unique and beguiling Midwestern art forms—an amusing and peculiar phenomenon that profoundly affected the way Americans saw themselves and their country’s potential during times of drought and great depression.

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Cornelia Hahn Oberlander

Making the Modern Landscape

Susan Herrington. Foreword by Marc Treib

Cornelia Hahn Oberlander is one of the most important landscape architects of the twentieth century, yet despite her lasting influence, few outside the field know her name. Her work has been instrumental in the development of the late-twentieth-century design ethic, and her early years working with architectural luminaries such as Louis Kahn and Dan Kiley prepared her to bring a truly modern—and audaciously abstract—sensibility to the landscape design tradition.

In Cornelia Hahn Oberlander: Making the Modern Landscape, Susan Herrington draws upon archival research, site analyses, and numerous interviews with Oberlander and her collaborators to offer the first biography of this adventurous and influential landscape architect. Born in 1921, Oberlander fled Nazi Germany at the age of eighteen with her family, going on to become one of the few women to graduate from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design in the late 1940s. For six decades she has practiced socially responsible and ecologically sensitive planning for public landscapes, including the 1970s design of the Robson Square landscape and its adjoining Provincial Law Courts—one of Vancouver’s most famous spaces.

Herrington places Oberlander within a larger social and aesthetic context, chronicling both her personal and professional trajectory and her work in New York, Philadelphia, Vancouver, Seattle, Berlin, Toronto, and Montreal.

Oberlander is a progenitor of some of the most significant currents informing landscape architecture today, particularly in the area of ecological focus. In her thorough biography, Herrington draws much-deserved attention to one of the truly important figures in landscape architecture.

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Corridor

Media Architectures in American Fiction

Kate Marshall


Corridor offers a series of conceptually provocative readings that illuminate a hidden and surprising relationship between architectural space and modern American fiction. By paying close attention to fictional descriptions of some of modernity’s least remarkable structures, such as plumbing, ductwork, and airshafts, Kate Marshall discovers a rich network of connections between corridors and novels, one that also sheds new light on the nature of modern media.


The corridor is the dominant organizational structure in modern architecture, yet its various functions are taken for granted, and it tends to disappear from view. But, as Marshall shows, even the most banal structures become strangely visible in the noisy communication systems of American fiction. By examining the link between modernist novels and corridors, Marshall demonstrates the ways architectural elements act as media. In a fresh look at the late naturalist fiction of the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s, she leads the reader through the fetus-clogged sewers of Manhattan Transfer to the corpse-choked furnaces of Native Son and reveals how these invisible spaces have a fascinating history in organizing the structure of modern persons.


Portraying media as not only objects but processes, Marshall develops a new idiom for Americanist literary criticism, one that explains how media studies can inform our understanding of modernist literature.


Creating Old World Wisconsin Cover

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Creating Old World Wisconsin

The Struggle to Build an Outdoor History Museum of Ethnic Architecture

With its charming heirloom gardens, historic livestock breeds, and faithfully recreated farmsteads and villages that span nearly 600 acres, Old World Wisconsin is the largest outdoor museum of rural life in the United States. But this seemingly time-frozen landscape of rustic outbuildings and rolling wooded hills did not effortlessly spring into existence, as John D. Krugler maintains in Creating Old World Wisconsin. As dozens of historic buildings were transported in the 1970s from various locations throughout the state to the Kettle Moraine State Forest, researchers, curators, and volunteers launched a massive preservation initiative to salvage fast-disappearing immigrant and migrant architecture. Researchers, curators, and volunteers created a backdrop against which twenty-first century interpreters demonstrate nineteenth- and early twentieth-century agricultural techniques and artisanal craftsmanship. The site, created and maintained by the Wisconsin Historical Society, offers visitors a unique opportunity to learn about the state's rich and ethnically diverse past through depictions of the everyday lives of its Norwegian, Danish, Finnish, German, Polish, African American, and Yankee inhabitants. Creating Old World Wisconsin chronicles the fascinating and complex origins of this outdoor museum, highlighting the struggles that faced its creators as they worked to achieve their vision. Even as Milwaukee architect and preservationist Richard W. E. Perrin, the Society's staff, and enthusiastic volunteers opened the museum in time for the national bicentennial in 1976, the site was plagued by limited funds, bureaucratic tangles, and problems associated with gaining public support. By documenting the engaging story of the challenges, roadblocks, false starts, and achievements of the site's founders, Krugler brings to life the history of the dedicated corps who collected and preserved Wisconsin's diverse social history and heritage.

The Crosby Arboretum Cover

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The Crosby Arboretum

A Sustainable Regional Landscape

Robert F. Brzuszek. foreword by Neil G. Odenwald

Since its genesis in 1980, Crosby Arboretum in southern Mississippi has attracted international recognition for its contributions to architecture, biology, and landscape design. Now owned and operated by Mississippi State University, Crosby is the first fully realized ecologically designed arboretum in the United States and the premier native plant conservatory in the Southeast.

Former site director and curator Robert F. Brzuszek provides a detailed survey of the arboretum's origins, planning, construction, and ongoing management. More than just a botanical center, Crosby emerged as one of the first American landscape projects to successfully balance natural habitat and planned design. The book's generous selection of photographs and drawings illustrate the beauty and purpose of the site's components: the award-winning Pinecote Pavilion, designed by architect Fay Jones; a 104-acre focus area that includes the Piney Woods Lake, which displays native water plants in their natural setting; and seven hundred additional acres of savanna, woodland, and aquatic environments that nurture more than 300 species of indigenous trees, shrubs, wildflowers, and grasses.

Utilizing the interactions between two opposing natural forces -- fire and water -- Crosby Arboretum protects the biological diversity indigenous to the Pearl River Drainage Basin, in southern Mississippi and southeastern Louisiana. Brzuszek's inspiring and informative account will help further Crosby's role as a model of sustainable landscape design and management across the country.

Cultural Landscapes Cover

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Cultural Landscapes

Balancing Nature and Heritage in Preservation Practice

Richard Longstreth

Preservation has traditionally focused on saving prominent buildings of historical or architectural significance. Preserving cultural landscapes-the combined fabric of the natural and man-made environments-is a relatively new and often misunderstood idea among preservationists, but it is of increasing importance. The essays collected in this volume-case studies that include the Little Tokyo neighborhood in Los Angeles, the Cross Bronx Expressway, and a rural island in Puget Sound-underscore how this approach can be fruitfully applied. Together, they make clear that a cultural landscape perspective can be an essential underpinning for all historic preservation projects.

 

Contributors: Susan Calafate Boyle, National Park Service; Susan Buggey, U of Montreal; Michael Caratzas, Landmarks Preservation Commission (NYC); Courtney P. Fint, West Virginia Historic Preservation Office; Heidi Hohmann, Iowa State U; Hillary Jenks, USC; Randall Mason, U Penn; Robert Z. Melnick, U of Oregon; Nora Mitchell, National Park Service; Julie Riesenweber, U of Kentucky; Nancy Rottle, U of Washington; Bonnie Stepenoff, Southeast Missouri State U.

 

Richard Longstreth is professor of American civilization and director of the graduate program in historic preservation at George Washington University.

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