Lecture: Cannon Fodder: Debating the Racial Politics of Canonicity in Modern Architectural History


Tuesday, October 6, 2020, 7:30pm to 9:00pm


Harvard Graduate School of Design—Online

This talk introduces audiences to the antiracist framework for architectural history that guided the formulation of the recent monograph Building Character: The Racial Politics of Modern Architectural Style (2020). This revisionist intellectual history recovers the ways that architectural organicism provided a rationalist model of design to consciously relate the perceived racial and architectural “characters” of a nation to the people they served.

From the ethnographic histories of style penned by Eugene Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc and Gottfried Semper, to Louis Sullivan's Chicago Style, Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie Style, and William Lescaze's organic interpretation of international style public housing, modern architects were heavily invested in biological and ethnographic interpretations of individual and national identity. Using textual and physical case studies, this research demonstrates one way of revising our understanding of the western canon to account for the role of racial ideas.

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