Intersecting Disciplines: Unsettling Architectural History

The Department of Fine Arts at Brandeis University and the Aggregate Architectural History Collaborative present “Intersecting Disciplines,” an architectural history symposium, for the 2024 Richard Saivetz ‘69 Memorial Architectural Lecture program.

Intersecting Disciplines: Unsettling Architectural History

Friday, March 1, 2024
9:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.

Rapaporte Treasure Hall, Goldfarb Library
Brandeis University
415 South St.
Waltham, MA 02453

The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required.

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9:15 to 9:30 a.m.

Muna Güvenç

Panel #1: Countryside and Critique

Moderator: Manuel Shvartzberg Carrió
Respondent: Diana Martinez

9:30 to 10:45 a.m.

Fallow Fields and Garden City Vernacular: Unearthing Apartheid’s Durational Landscape
Hollyamber Kennedy

Following the shifting alluvial sands of the Namib Desert, this paper will explore the durational landscapes of Namibia’s historical extraction zones, from the Northern Fields south of Walvis Bay to the Sperrgebeit, a partitioned region known since 1908 as the “forbidden zone.” Across these mobile and increasingly arid coastal landscapes, long-concealed material remnants of violent colonial and Apartheid pasts resurface to visibility alongside the slow granular burial of derelict mining towns, unregimented temporalities that daily reveal architecture’s modernity in the ecological concerns of our moment.

Community Development and the Political Economy of Self-Help: USAID in Nigeria, 1960s
Ayala Levin

How to create value with minimal capital investment, this is the question administrators working for the US Agency for International Development faced in their operation in Nigeria throughout the 1960s. This paper considers USAID’s vision for rural transformation through the triangulation of education, agriculture, and community development, and asks what role architectural expertise assumed in relation to these fields.

Possible Olmsted Papers
Edward Eigen

An extended moment around the Olmsted Sesquicentennial produced numerous accounts of FLO, as he was dubbed in the title of Laura Wood Roper’s meticulously researched biography. Other versions of this singular figure in the landscape have since appeared, the author of one suggesting that Olmsted attracts biographers because, like Twain, Melville, and Whitman, he was that “quintessential nineteenth-century American character: the self-invented man.” In this, Olmsted’s bicentennial, it is as timely as ever to ask: of what stuff did Olmsted invent himself, which might not be the same stuff out of which Olmsted continues to be re-invented. Working between, around, against—indeed so many prepositions fit—that vast editorial monument, The Papers of Frederick Law Olmsted (12 vols., hereinafter FLOP), and its quarry, the Frederick Law Olmsted Papers at the Library of Congress, the Possible Olmsted Papers takes a page from one of Olmsted’s favorite books, Thomas Carlyle’s Sartor Resartus (The Tailor Retailored, 1831). The editor-narrator of Carlyle’s proto-postmodern “didactic novel” seeks meaning and order within paper bags filled with “miscellaneous masses of sheets, and oftener shreds and snips, written in [his subject] Professor Teufelsdröckh’s scarce legible cursiv-schrift.” The lesson for us: the Olmsted we know is past perfect; it is time to retailor him, to take meaningful measure of the miscellaneous papers, rebalance the books, reevaluate what is trash and what is treasure.

Panel #2: Extraction and Depletion

Moderator: Michael Osman
Respondent: Alice Friedman

11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

Famine Epistemologies
Ateya Khorakiwala

The famine camp and the relief work are two architectural embodiments of famine epistemology. Both typologies claimed to be humanitarian interventions toward famine relief but were instead methods of extracting knowledge from the bodies of rural laborers. How little grain did a person need to survive? What minimum quantity of food enabled a person to still labor? How bad did starvation conditions need to be before a landowner worked alongside a peasant? In this way, the Revenue Department of India used architectural technologies to produce a racialized, gendered, and caste-based epistemology of famine. Focusing on the two famines that took place in quick succession in colonial Punjab in 1896 and 1899, this paper looks at two types of documents: the Punjab Famine Code and the Famine Commission Reports. Reading these two documents this paper attempts to think through how famine epistemologies shaped racialized foundations of modern architecture.

Damage, Repair, and the Histories of Everyday Building Materials
Meredith TenHoor

Harmful materials have been commonly used in everyday building products in increasing quantities since the Great Acceleration. Drawing from my own research, as well as work presented in Aggregate’s Toxics project, I will discuss methods for narrating the histories of these materials, as well as ways that they might be used by activists and historians working on the bodily and environmental impacts of modern building.

Lunch Break

12:30 to 1:45 p.m.

Panel #3: Site and Society

Moderator: Zeynep Çelik Alexander
Respondent: Michael Kubo

1:45 to 3:00 p.m.

Designing Citizens
Daniel M. Abramson

Surveys ensembles of American government buildings and open spaces from 1900 to the present, as embodiments of the state, capitalist political economy, and as activating people’s identities, with focus on themes of federalism, administrative state, urban redevelopment, citizenship, and trust.

Repurposing House and Church: Making Muslim Space
Muna Güvenç

This paper examines how Muslim migrants infuse urban spaces with sacred significance in their everyday lives. It focuses on the conversion of buildings (churches and domestic space) into mosques, shedding light on the creation of Muslim spaces shaped by negotiations among worshippers, institutions, ritual practices, and urban dynamics in Boston.

Seeing the Construction Site
Timothy Hyde

Beginning with the Rockefeller Center Sidewalk Superintendents’ Club, this paper traces out a history of public observations of construction sites in North American cities in the 20th century, focusing specifically on the mediation of that observation through structures (such as the clubhouse at Rockefeller Center) but also construction hoardings (legally regulated by ordinances in the United States) and finally by media such as closed-circuit television (first used at a building site in Chicago in 1961). This history of the mediation of the construction site for public encounter and observation will be used to open questions about how architectural histories “observe” the construction site.

Panel #4: Region and Planet

Moderator: Muna Güvenç
Respondent: Arindam Dutta

3:15 to 4:15 p.m.

Constructing Narratives of Place: Regional Modernism of the Pacific Northwest and Its Historiography
Laila Seewang

This presentation investigates how the story of regional modernism in the Pacific Northwest of the USA was constructed from the perspective of its main material protagonist. It therefore combines histories of industrial forestry with architectural historiography to understand the region as a cultural and geographical project.

Indigenous Robots and Planetary Geographies
Ijlal Muzaffar

In January, I will be following a large scale robot, imagined by Argentinian artist, Paula Gaetano-Adi, across the Andes from Argentina to Chile. The robot, resembling something between a lawnmower and a llama, will be following the path of the revolutionary army of General José de San Martín, who crossed the Andes on horseback from Argentina to Chile in 1821 to first liberate Chile from Spanish control and then returned to liberate Argentina. Gaetano-Adi’s imagined robot will be sent off in a ritualistic ceremony from the Church of St Mary, where the indigenous community has long merged catholicism with shaministic practices, and will be followed by an expedition of filmmakers, artists, and scholars, also on horseback up the Andes. The expedition is an extended performance undoing the binary of indigeneity and organized religion and the association of technology with the West, opening the space of imagining technological futures, and pasts, the meaning of which doesn’t have to refer back to the history of European Enlightenment. But this project also opens up a spatial and temporal dimension. The weight of the robot—which I imagine at some point will have to be carried on mules—the friction of rubber tires against stone and ice, the whirl of servo motors carried out by mountain winds, the sparkle of metal parts under the ancient light of the Milky Way, allows us to move from the finite space of the globe to the infinite dimension of the planet. In this talk, I’ll explore, how this project, and others like it, do not cross the Andes, the named mountain-range segmented between definite national borders, but enters another planetary geography, which shoots off at tangent to the space of nation states, and their histories, if we can develop epistemological frameworks to trace it.


Muna Güvenç is an Assistant Professor of Architectural and Urban History in the Department of Fine Arts at Brandeis University. Her research interests encompass urban movements, minority politics, and architecture in the Middle East and beyond. Her work resides at the crossroads of contemporary social theory and the politics of urban space. She is the author of The City is Ours: Spaces of Political Mobilization and Imaginaries of Nationhood in Turkey (Cornell University Press, 2024).

Manuel Shvartzberg Carrió is an assistant professor in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the University of California, San Diego, where he is also co-director of the Just Transitions Initiative, member of the Indigenous Futures Institute, and faculty in the Design Lab. His work addresses the architectural and urban history of modernism across the Americas with a critical focus on technology, geopolitics, labor, and racial capitalism. He is a 2023 Graham Foundation grant recipient for his forthcoming book, Inland Empire: Settler Colonialism, Modern Architecture, and the Rise of American Hegemony (Duke University Press), and is currently a 2023-24 Fellow at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles.

Diana Martinez is an assistant professor in the History of Art and Architecture Department at Tufts University. Her research, on the early 20th century architecture of US Empire focuses on the US colonial project in the Philippines. Her book, Concrete Colonialism: Architecture, Infrastructure, Racial Capitalism and the US Colonial Project in the Philippines is forthcoming from Duke University Press. Her work is published in the Architectural Theory Review, in the Aggregate volume Architecture in Development and in a forthcoming issue Grey Room.

Hollyamber Kennedy is Assistant Professor in the Department of Art History at Northwestern University. Her current book project, (Un)settling Territory, examines the visual and technical building cultures of two ministry-supported “settler-state” projects in the non-aligned jurisdictions of German South-West Africa, present-day Namibia, and the German states of Posen and West Prussia, in present-day Poland. Kennedy is co-editor (with Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi) of the forthcoming volume Settlement (gta Verlag, 2025) and the forthcoming volume Insurgent Domesticities.

Ayala Levin is an Associate Professor in the Department of Architecture and Urban Design at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is the author of Architecture and Development: Israeli Construction in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Settler Colonial Imagination (Duke University Press, 2022), and co-editor of the Aggregate volume Architecture in Development: Systems and the Emergence of the Global South (Routledge, 2022). She is currently a fellow at the Käte Hamburger Research Center global dis:connect in Munich, where she is working on her next book project on American planning in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Edward A. Eigen is Senior Lecturer in the History of Landscape and Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. His book, On Accident: Episodes in Architecture and Landscape, seeks to reclaim and provide forms of interpretability for unfamiliar incidents and artifacts that fall outside the canon. His current monograph project, Beyond the Rose Garden, examines real and emblematic landscapes and architectures associated with the administrations of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford.

Zeynep Çelik Alexander is Associate Professor in the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University. Alexander is the author of Kinaesthetic Knowing: Aesthetics, Epistemology, Modern Design, the recipient of the 2019 Charles Rufus Morey Book Award. She is currently completing a book titled Imperial Data: An Architectural History, an account of storehouses of information in the British Empire in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Michael Kubo is an associate professor in the department of architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design. His work spans the fields of architectural history and theory, advocacy and historic preservation, and curatorial and publishing practices. His co-authored books on twentieth-century architecture, urbanism, and disciplinary discourse include Futures of the Architectural Exhibition (2022), Imagining the Modern: Architecture and Urbanism of the Pittsburgh Renaissance (2019), Heroic: Concrete Architecture and the New Boston (2015), and OfficeUS Atlas (2015). His current co-authored book project, Late Modernism and Other Latenesses: Architecture, Materials, and Media After Time, is slated to be published in 2025.

Daniel M. Abramson is professor of architectural history at Boston University, and this term a member of the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study. He is the author of three books including Obsolescence: An Architectural History. Current work investigates American government centers.

Michael Osman is Associate Professor at UCLA Architecture and Urban Design. He seeks connections between the infrastructure that undergirds the processes of modernization and the historiography of modernist architecture. He is the author of Modernism’s Visible Hand: Architecture and Regulation in America, and a co-editor of Writing Architectural History: Evidence and Narrative in the Twenty-First Century.

Alice Friedman is Grace Slack McNeil Professor Emerita of American Art at Wellesley College. Friedman is the author of numerous books and articles on domestic architecture, women’s history and patronage, including House and Household in Elizabethan England: Wollaton Hall and the Willoughby Family; Women and the Making of the Modern House: A Social and Architectural History; and American Glamour and the Evolution of Modern Architecture. Current work investigates privacy, surveillance, and queer identities.

Ateya Khorakiwala is an architectural historian and is Assistant Professor of Architecture at Columbia University. Her current book project, Famine Landscapes, is an infrastructural and architectural history set in India’s postcolonial countryside. She coedited Architecture in Development: Systems and the Emergence of the Global South and her articles have appeared in e-flux Architecture, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Grey Room, and the Journal of Architectural Education.

Meredith TenHoor is Professor in the School of Architecture at Pratt. Her research examines how architecture, urbanism, and landscape design participate in the distribution of resources, and how these design practices have produced understandings of the limits and capacities of bodies. Her major publications include Toxics (2022), Black Lives Matter (2015), Street Value: Shopping, Planning and Politics at Fulton Mall (2010), and articles and book chapters on food, architecture, race, media, and biopolitics

Arindam Dutta is Professor of Architectural Theory and History in the History Theory Criticism Program in Architectural and Art History at MIT. As a “modern” architectural historian and theorist, Dutta’s work seeks to interrogate and query the nature of arguments underlying the production of architecture and the making of territories and cities. Dutta is the author of The Bureaucracy of Beauty: Design in the Age of its Global Reproducibility, and an editor of A Second Modernism: Architecture, MIT and the “Techno-Social” Moment and Architecture in Development: Systems and the Emergence of the Global South.

Laila Seewang is an architectural historian who studies the impact of industrial material flows on the built environment. She is Assistant Professor of Architecture at Portland State University and is currently Visiting Professor at the EPFL in Switzerland.

Ijlal Muzaffar is Professor in the Theory and History of Art and Design at the Rhode Island School of Design. He is the author of Modernism’s Magic Hat: Architecture and the Illusion of Development without Capital. Muzaffar’s current book project, called Settling Dreams, charts the formation of a “cotton belt” in the Sindh desert in southwest India (now in Pakistan) by the British colonial government.

✓ Not peer-reviewed