The American economist Thorstein Veblen’s The Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) has been used to support and define concepts of architectural modernity for more than one hundred years. Best known for introducing the concept of “conspicuous consumption,” this influential book has been especially valuable for historians of the architecture of consumer culture. Yet curiously, Veblen’s own architectural examples have escaped scholarly attention. This article explores the link Veblen drew between Gothic Revival architecture and cultural barbarism. Inverting the concepts and terminology of race science, Veblen used the image of the Gothic Revival university to criticize the rhetoric of American exceptionalism. Seen through the lens of Veblen’s writing, Henry Ives Cobb’s design for the University of Chicago (1891–97), where Veblen taught for fourteen years, represents the transformation of leisure-class aesthetics under the logic of capitalism.

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