- Exporting American Architecture, 1870-2000
When the International Banking Corporation remodeled its Shanghai branch in 1920, it revealed, according to Jeffrey Cody, "how American architecture was exported both as a set of technological systems and as cultural icons of power" (p. 63). Facing stiff competition, the IBC wanted a showcase modeled on its neoclassic Wall Street headquarters. Yet, the Chinese client either "missed the aesthetic connection" or "remained mute" about the symbolism, but he surely noticed the building's social space, in which Westerner and Chinese were essentially segregated. Meanwhile, communists called the building [End Page 386] an "icon of foreign domination" (pp. 70, 72). Not to be limited to its traditional focus of aesthetics, the study of architecture evidently includes many dimensions: culture, society, economy, politics, and technology.
In Exporting American Architecture, Cody ambitiously moves beyond the limited scope of his published work on Western influence on early twentieth-century architecture in China. Whetting his reader's appetite, he introduces his narrative with the terrorism of 9/11. Citing a terrorist who claimed that Western-style buildings had desecrated his Egyptian homeland, Cody suggests that they had attacked the symbols of global modernization. Yet, he notes, no scholar so far "has scrutinized the precise, transnational details associated with American architectural exportation" (p. xv). Finding the architectural footings of this globalism in the 1870s, he argues wisely that the complex process of architectural exporting yielded "a hybrid transformation, with a spectrum of results from nearly direct imitation to barely discernible architectural genes" (p. xvii).
Beginning with the Centennial Exhibition (1876) and Columbian Exposition (1893), the United States spotlighted its technological advances, and some European architects regarded them "as exemplars of modernity" (p. 8). When Americans won a contract to erect the Atbara Bridge in Egypt in 1899, which London's Evening News declared "Scandalous!" (p. 12) or when high-rises were being built "from East Asia to South Africa to Central America" with U.S. components by 1910 (p. 15), it not only revealed American mastery of building structures with mass-produced steel frames and reinforced concrete, but included selling "all of the 1001 ingenious American devices" characteristic of the U.S. economy and culture (p. 19). As Americans exported complete mills with standardized parts to process flour, sugar, and textiles, they also promoted the standardizing labor principles of Frederick W. Taylor.
With the establishment of both formal and informal empires, the United States exercised even greater control over the Philippines, the Caribbean, and Central America, building infrastructure, redesigning cities, and shaping markets. Yet, U.S. diplomat Paul Reinsch called in 1914 for more efforts by exporters and bureaucrats. Although Americans surpassed the Europeans in steel exporting with World War I, Cody noted, "exporting architecture from the U.S. . . . was only the first step in trying to graft either novel methods of construction or new building forms onto dynamic, indigenous building practices" (p. 51). The success of Americans depended, in good part, on their ability and willingness to adapt, like their European competitors. In the ill-fated [End Page 387] case of Fuller Construction Company of the Orient, for example, "Americans all too rarely paid attention to existing Japanese building practices. Construction arrogance, contracting ignorance and/or cultural naïveté, thwarted their efforts to penetrate the Japanese construction market effectively until relatively recently" (p. 82).
From 1918 to 1945, American architects, engineers, and contractors were increasingly active overseas in planning and building everything from power stations to housing projects. This work, Cody noted, not only altered "the socio-dynamics of production and consumption" in foreign lands, but also offered "a new urban paradigm, a modernizing matrix of construction and city planning, that disparate politicians and other kinds of clients abroad bought into as a ticket to the future" (p. 86). Some construction involved the creation of company towns, and other projects improved transportation facilities, all of which were typically geared to facilitating production and trade. After World War II, and through such auspices as the Export-Import Bank, the World Bank, and the Marshall Plan...