The Operative Scales of Urban Design and Research

Eve Blau, Adjunct Professor of the History of Urban Form at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.

Global Architecture in a not-so Global World

Mark Jarzombek, Associate Dean and Professor of the History and Theory of Architecture, MIT School of Architecture and Planning.

One of the most important architectural treatises of the 20th century was not written by architects, but by the office of the UNESCO. Entitled “Outstanding Universal Value” it was part of the preamble of the World Heritage Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (1972) and has since been updated and refined. Huge swaths of landscape, not to mention hundreds of buildings and now even cultures – consisting of hundreds of thousands of people – are being defined, both legally and philosophically, though this instrument. Needless to say, the document has been discussed mainly as a question of preservation and tourism. The document should be discussed, however, in philosophy departments since it reinstates layers of metaphysical reasoning on our world. The failure of philosophy to treat this problem will eventually wind up as being on its greatest oversights in the modern era. My talk will not tackle this problem as such, but point to the scale of the problem, since the document has impacted not just the physical world, but scholarship and institutionality the world over. The initial failure is the failure of architecture schools to adequately position themselves around this problem.

Contested Ground

Vittoria Di Palma, Assistant Professor at University of Southern California School of Architecture.

This paper interrogates the notion of contested ground by focusing on the concept of wasteland.  Although definitions of wasteland, with respect to ecological or landscape features, have varied widely across different cultures and historical periods, the kinds of reactions and actions wasteland provokes display a remarkable consistency.  The mere act of defining a given tract of territory as “waste” is highly ideological, predicated on deploying subjective and often highly charged categorizations, differentiating between the opinions and needs of insiders and outsiders, imposing value judgments, and establishing hierarchies.  The division of land into the useful and the useless, and subsequent attempts to transform the useless into the productive, were first formulated as part of a far-reaching campaign of land reform associated with the beginnings of modern science, the agricultural revolution, and the age of enclosure.  What did these efforts to transform the land, to change its very nature, do to ideas about land, landscape, and territory?  Can we discern the legacy of these historical attitudes in contemporary approaches to wasteland reclamation?  This paper will trace connections between historical typologies and contemporary actions in order to evaluate the notion of wasteland as contested ground.


Extra Dividends:  Corporate Strategy and Urban Policy at the Prudential Center

Elihu Rubin, Assistant Professor at Yale School of Architecture.

Between 1948 and 1965, the Prudential Insurance Company of America, at that time one of the largest corporations in the world, launched an expansive program of administrative decentralization. Wary of over-concentrating their operations in Newark, New Jersey, Prudential’s corporate planners opened semi-autonomous regional home offices in seven cities across North America. What began as an internal policy to reinvigorate Prudential’s bureaucratic makeup evolved into a prominent building program and urban-planning phenomenon. In the spirit of its famous “Rock of Gibraltar” logo, Prudential built massive promontories that dominated their urban landscapes and broadcast the company’s name. The public relations value of the regional home offices — as a symbol of the large company’s local commitments and as a literal signboard advertisement — were all part of what one Prudential executive called the “Extra Dividends” of his company’s decentralization plan. Prudential’s RHOs were also expressions of the insurance company’s self-image as a benevolent force in American cities and social life. Considered together, they illustrate the formative role of corporate strategy in twentieth-century urban development and invite a discussion of current policies and practices.

Emergency! The Institutionalization of Crisis in Modern Hospital Architecture

David Theodore, Assistant Professor at McGill University School of Architecture.

This paper traces the history of how hospital architecture came to be in permanent crisis. Focusing on prescriptive literature about ambulatory care and the emergency department, I will show that hospital architects invented ways to make buildings capable of responding to medical and managerial change as if it was a permanent condition of hospital life. Medical historians argue that the Modern hospital was invented between about 1875 and 1925. If we think of crisis as the medical term that describes the point in an illness after which the patient either recovers or dies, then by the end of the Second World War, that new institution was already feverishly ill. On the one hand, entrenched Christian charity and philanthropic benevolence struggled against aggressive programs of state funding; on the other, traditions of care struggled against technological patterns of medical practice. The paper thus seeks to address two issues: first, how did architecture structure the relations between patients, nurses, doctors, and administrators? And second, how should we understand the challenge posed by “permanent crisis” to architectural historians, namely: How can historical thinking come to terms with the institutionalization of crisis in institutions?

Spaces of Justice at the Spanish Habsburg Court

Jesus Escobar, Professor of Art History at Northwestern University.

Seventeenth-century Madrid was home to one of the most powerful institutions in the early modern Atlantic world, the court of the Spanish Habsburg monarchy. For residents and visitors alike, the court existed as a mental idea as much as a physical place. Thus, the promotion of the institution took manifold forms, including architectural. This paper explores the example of the Cárcel de Corte, a courthouse and prison built from 1629 to 1643 before a prominent Madrid plaza. The building pertained to the Royal Council of Castile, arguably the chief legislative body in early modern Spain. In its plan, interior disposition, and exterior adornment, the building affirmed Spanish Habsburg ideals about justice and also reshaped judicial practice. The paper explores the impact of this building in the lived experience of Madrid and also considers its possible effect on government buildings in places such as Mexico City and Lima.

Urban Homesteading and the Promise and Perils of Institutional Crisis

Brian Goldstein, Assistant Professor at the University of New Mexico School of Architecture and Planning.

What happens when bureaucratic institutions have lost control of physical structures? In the 1970s, housing abandonment became an epidemic in New York City, as landlords fled from rental property that, due to a range of global and local factors, had lost its profitability. When absentee owners stopped paying taxes, New York City became the owner of thousands of buildings, many still occupied. This paper looks at the grassroots response this crisis sparked, as low-income tenants took this opportunity to redevelop housing through their own sweat equity – a practice called urban homesteading – and, in the process, sought to claim and create much needed affordable, decent housing. Yet while homesteading was predicated on self-determination, from the outset it depended on sympathetic officials who were searching for a strategy to respond to widespread abandonment. They gave homesteaders property, financial assistance, and bureaucratic sanction. As self-help housing increased in scale, it only became more intricately tied to the city government that it had once sought to escape, as officials changed policies to bring these strategies into the fold. Following the theme of this panel, “spaces of institutions,” this paper will explore a case where space not only bore the mark of bureaucratic arrangements but bureaucracy also came to bear the mark of a novel, and quite radical approach to space. But, as the homesteaders found, interacting with and relying upon institutions created vulnerabilities for a strategy that had emerged promising self-reliance. In the end, increasing dependence on an opportunistic, often fickle bureaucracy came to undermine the promise that homesteading held of a radical movement of the poor.


Infrastructure, Media, and Power-Knowledge: The Research University

Reinhold Martin, Associate Professor of Architecture in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at Columbia University

Beginning but not ending with Michel Foucault’s elusive, omnipresent “power-knowledge” couplet, this talk will examine the aesthetic and technical properties of certain infrastructures through which this couplet is manifest. These infrastructures, which could be called architectural, will mainly be found in research universities in the United States during the late nineteenth century, with genealogical ties to the business corporation. I will try, however, also to show the limits of transferring the Foucauldian analytic directly onto architecture as commonly construed. Likewise for the “new materialism” that has more recently shed significant light on the multifarious life of “things.” Instead, a “gay science” of corporate power, centered on the university, can only arise during those brief intervals when architecture appears, repeatedly, as one among many media.


Negotiating the Power to Plan: Spatial Planning and Property Rights in Peri-urban China

Nick Smith, PhD Candidate, Architecture, Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning, Harvard University

Politics is often blamed for the irrationality and failure of China’s spatial planning. In particular, planners decry the political intervention of state and party leaders, who often prioritize development objectives over regulatory efficacy. But relatively little work has been done to understand how these politics work. Complaints about political interference usually remain at a superficial level, and there is little substantive discussion of the mechanisms by which such power operates. The “real” decision-making process is bracketed off from studies of plan-making, and the backroom dealing and political calculus that drive planning outcomes are left offstage.

In this paper, I expose the inner workings of Chinese planning politics through an investigation of Hailong Village in the municipality of Chongqing. In Hailong, I found a group of village leaders with strong property claims, high-level political clout, and past experience in managing land use. These resources enabled them to successfully negotiate with the municipal planning bureau and a nearby development zone, securing the power to plan a portion of the village. Negotiations were conducted behind closed doors, so I traced the process of bargaining and compromise by interviewing planners, public officials, and political leaders; participating in planning meetings; and reviewing draft plans, comments, and government reports.

While this process saved Hailong from outright expropriation and eradication, it also fragmented village land, exacerbating the tendency toward fractured mono-functional zones in Chinese development. The division of planning powers resulted in not one but two statutory plans for Hailong, with one-third of the village developed according to urban norms and regulations, while the remainder was planned according to rural standards. This separation thus spatially inscribed the institutional division between urban and rural in China.

In analyzing Hailong’s planning process, I apply Kenneth Lieberthal and Michel Oksenberg’s theory of “fragmented authoritarianism,” a model of Chinese bureaucracy in which policy results from pragmatic bargaining between the diverse interests of the internally heterogeneous party-state. My analysis reveals spatial planning as an extension of this system, in which planning processes coordinate the property rights and political powers of local state and party actors through negotiation and compromise. Over time, planning has become co-constituted with state property rights, as locally dominant state actors—particularly municipal governments—consolidate coordination within their territorial domains in order to monopolize local development. As predicted by the fragmented authoritarianism model, this has led to the transformation of planning powers into de facto property rights held by local governments. These planning rights can then be traded in exchange for resources and powers held by other state and party actors.

Notes on Design and Authority in the Antebellum U.S. Army

John Davis, PhD Candidate, Architecture, Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning, Harvard University

This paper considers the United States Army as an institution that designs.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was and is the design and construction arm of the U.S. Government, and this paper examines a number of case studies of construction projects overseen by officers of the army in the mid-nineteenth century.  The U.S. Army engineers oversaw vast numbers of infrastructural and architectural projects in the United States from army’s own beginnings in the early Republic, and increasing in frequency and complexity as the army accumulated logistical expertise and public confidence after the Civil War.  This paper will examine lines of authority and decision-making in construction projects in its military context, considering the role of representation of technical expertise, public esteem of the military institution, and the remarkable function of personal authority in individual officers to affect changes in the built environment.

Park-n-Ride Spaces: Critical Infrastructure for Rendering Home Rule in ‘The City of Homes’ 1950-1980

Fallon Samuels Aidoo, PhD Candidate, Architecture, Landscape Architecture & Urban Planning, Harvard University

Philadelphia’s voting public authorized a Home Rule Charter in 1951 to critical acclaim, for it finally authorized the historic city to preserve as well as produce critical infrastructure for back-to-the-city movements. Casting doubt on the right to the city under ‘home rule.’ Philadelphia subsequently realized its most iconic preservation projects—Society Hill and Washington Square—through expropriation of private property, followed by privatization of that ‘public property.’ Critical urban studies of these autocratic conservation practices rightfully charge the city with misappropriating its authority to regulate, abrogate, redevelop and dispose of so-called “blighted” property to for-profit and nonprofit developers of its “new urban frontier,” e.g. the Old Philadelphia Development Corporation (OFDC, est. 1956). Less attention has been paid to how the city redressed early criticism of its public-private partnerships: joint ventures in the renovation of deteriorated properties and redevelopment of degraded parcels with their proprietors. Focusing on public-private partnerships with the city’s largest landowners—railroad companies, my research on Philadelphia’s preservation praxis between 1960 and 1980 demonstrates the city not only took up underwriting renovation and reuse of buildings it acquired through tax liens, eminent domain and other means of expropriation, as Guian McKee has shown occurred under the direction of Philadelphia’s Industrial Development Corporation. It also chartered and charged a nonprofit Passenger Service Improvement Corporation (PSIC, est. 1960) to redress disinvestment in landscapes surroundings these buildings. Through case studies of PSIC’s most contentious interventions in railroad property—its conversion of unmaintained open spaces into parking spaces, I aim to illuminate fault lines between a municipality’s preservation institutions and constituents of the legal instruments on which their critical conservation practices and critical infrastructure protection plans depend.

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