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  • Designing Pan-America: US Architectural Visions for the Western Hemisphere by Robert Alexander González
  • Amanda Ellis
Designing Pan-America: US Architectural Visions for the Western Hemisphere. By Robert Alexander González. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2011. 258 pages, $65.00.

Robert Alexander González’s Designing Pan-America: U.S. Architectural Visions for the Western Hemisphere grapples with the ideal of Pan-Americanism by examining architecture’s ability to shape and reflect dominant ideological formations. This interdisciplinary project sits at the “intersection of American and Latin American Studies” and explores the way architects, designers, and engineers visually manifest a sense of hemispheric cooperation, exchange, and unity via the ordering of space (6).

According to González, the Bolivarian ideal of Pan-Americanism remains a protean concept that was skillfully appropriated and redeployed by the United States in the late nineteenth century. As a malleable concept, Pan-Americanism provided an imaginary means of tapping into commercially profitable terrains throughout the Americas. González’s text illustrates how physical constructs served as constitutive building blocks shaping the cultural landscape by fomenting commerce and building pathways of exchange throughout the hemisphere. This encyclopedic compilation of Pan-American architectural history references a variety of bridges, pavilions, expositions, and physical sites but does not lose sight of how the fictional Pan-American subject figures within this complex hemispheric imaginary.

The prefatory material includes a map of proposed and realized projects in the United States which signal a Pan-American ideal along with a delineation of Pan-American designs, including structures, exhibits, installations, world fairs, festivals, landmarks, monuments, parks, plazas, streets, institutions, organizations, and colleges. In addition, González includes a chronology of Pan-American design ranging from 1815 to 2011. Interestingly, he notes that various US cities began asserting themselves as hemispheric gateways or central entry points into the Americas from the nineteenth century to the present. By surveying an array of physical forms, González shows how bridging Central, South, and North America through a hemispheric ideal was executed through the development of infrastructure. Moreover, he teases out the ways “U.S. architects and their clients inadvertently, and intentionally, presented the United States as a powerful, dominant, modern leader and the Latin American nations as picturesque, exotic, and requiring guidance” (1).

Chapter 1 discusses the role of the Cotton, the Columbian, and the Pan-three hemispheric fairs which staged Pan-Americanism in New Orleans, Chicago, and Buffalo. Each exposition transmitted a hemispheric message through appropriation of the world fair model. González notes [End Page 442] that the fairgrounds medium would later evolve into the construction of physical forms. Through an array of architectural strategies, “hemisphericism was denoted in three ways: through the selective participation of nations; through the careful selection of the contents displayed at each fair; and with the invocation of hemispheric themes of a common Pan-American heritage” (64). Here González shows how visual spectacles, multipurpose expositions, calculated displays, and the overall experience of late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century fair-grounds enabled the expression of a Pan-American sentiment through the large-scale world fair form.

In chapter 2, González explores the history of the Pan-American Union building designed by A. Kelsey and P. Cret. He notes that a tropical aesthetic that used Native cultural iconography and exotic plants as symbols of hemispheric unity was incorporated into a Pan-American structure to spatially express the union between twenty-one republics.

In tracing the ideological development of Pan-Americanism, chapter 3 examines more of its recent representations. In this section, González discusses the building of the Columbus Memorial in Santo Domingo. He details the Columbus Memorial competition, includes an examination of various entries, offers a look at the different phases leading up to the monument’s construction, and grants a glimpse of the various worldwide architects who explore the theme of Pan-Americanism. This chapter foregrounds the planning and preparatory stages during the monument’s building phases, and explores its unveiling during the Columbus quincentenary in 1992 with ambivalent responses.

The final chapter focuses on Miami’s proposed Interama exposition and San Antonio’s 1968 HemisFair—two infrastructural projects of the twentieth...


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pp. 442-443
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