Introduction, Part 1
This summer marks the 80th anniversary of JSAH. As former editor Keith Eggener noted last summer when commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Society (JSAH 79:2), the Journal has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a few mimeographed pages sent to a handful of readers. Today JSAH and JSAH Online, published quarterly by the University of California Press, stand among the most important and widely cited journals of the history of the built environment—available not only in libraries but also on digital screens around the world. How should we commemorate these years of change, development, and growth? This was the question we confronted as the two most recent editors of JSAH.
We decided that to celebrate JSAH’s legacy we would invite scholars to review the Journal’s full catalog, going back to its debut in 1941 (https://online.ucpress.edu/jsah/issue/browse-by-year) to select those articles that they deemed to be of special value in their various areas of expertise. These scholars would then compose short introductions to their selections, explaining why they considered these essays significant, how they opened up new avenues for investigation, or how they shifted the broader discourse in new directions. The goal would be for these introductions to serve as prompts to encourage readers to visit or revisit our back pages, and to consider their relevance for today. At the same time, this project would also serve as a virtual introduction to new readers by inviting them to explore the Journal’s prodigious scholarly output.
This first virtual anniversary issue contains eight full-length essays—seven previously published in the Journal, one an unpublished manuscript that was intended for publication in the Journal—each accompanied by a new introduction. We have published an additional eight essays in a second virtual anniversary issue, which you can read here. We would like to thank the members of the JSAH Editorial Advisory Committee, who helped to select subject areas and identify potential contributors, and to our colleague Nancy Levinson, Editor and Executive Director of Places Journal, whose ongoing Future Archive project inspired the format of these anniversary issues (https://placesjournal.org/series/future-archive/).
It has been exciting to read the materials prepared by our contributors, and to consider the articles they have chosen in light of their introductory essays. Several of our contributors noted that the selection of just one work was exceedingly difficult and many more articles deserved to be called out. We agree wholeheartedly: such an observation underscores the remarkable richness and depth of our catalog. We hope that the selections included here will whet readers’ appetites to consult our unique repository, a treasure trove composed over 80 years by some of the most innovative and engaged thinkers in our discipline, and we urge you to reflect on how these writings might still inform views of the diverse built environments that we study and inhabit today.
Editor, JSAH and JSAH Online
College of the Holy Cross
University of Oregon
Table of Contents
Asia, Oceania, 1000-1900
Asia, Oceania, 20th-21s c.
North America, 1500-1900
Latin America, 1500-1900
Introduction to Manuel Toussaint, “Angahua,” JSAH 5 (1945-46): 24-26
Gauvin Alexander Bailey
Latin America, 20th-21st c.
New Essay Introductions
Introduction to Swati Chattopadhyay, “Blurring Boundaries: The Limits of ‘White Town’in Colonial Calcutta,” JSAH 59:2 (June 2000): 154-179.
In an early issue of JSAH, John Coolidge said: “There is a new architectural history to be written, and there is old architectural history to be rewritten.” It was 1943 and JSAH was only eight issues old. Coolidge’s call to arms is as exigent today as it was eight decades ago.
To select one article from the JSAH archives focused on Asia and Oceania (including Australia) and the period between 1000-1900 is a challenging task. The methods architectural historians use often defy geographical specificity and periodization. Should an essay on the Islamic dome, a form widely employed in South Asia, be included in this categorization? Should Hawai’i, before its annexation as a US territory in 1898, be considered as part of Oceania rather than the Americas? Histories of vernacular architecture and the preservation of premodern sites likewise resist tidy temporalities of past and present. Taking a generous approach in terms of periodization and geography, I identified approximately forty research articles within this categorization, with the earliest on concrete block architecture in nineteenth-century Hawai’i published in 1952, and the most recent on monasteries in medieval China published in 2020.
Swati Chattopadhyay’s “Blurring Boundaries: The Limits of ‘White Town’ in Colonial Calcutta,” represented a key turning point in the history of the discipline and the journal. Bridging subaltern studies and histories of the “everyday and ordinary”, Chattopadhyay’s essay offered a compelling counterpoint to formalistic studies of Asia & Oceania’s built environments. “Blurring Boundaries” challenged the scholarly understanding of nineteenth-century Calcutta as a town divided into black / Indian / colonized and white / European / colonizer. As Chattopadhyay asserts, that conception largely mirrored a colonial fantasy, reinforced by the imagery of city maps and the neoclassical facades of British government buildings and residences. The spatial, indeed lived, reality of colonial Calcutta was messier, generated by daily intimate encounters between the colonizer and the colonized.
Chattopadhyay’s essay drew upon critical interventions in sociology (the work of Michel de Certeau on the practice of everyday life), philosophy (power of the margins as articulated by Foucault), and subaltern studies (especially Homi Bhabha and Gayatri Spivak’s work exploring speech acts and performativity of the colonized as resistance to colonial control). Her reading of architecture as a form of dominance that also enabled resistance had been previously championed by architectural historians such as Dell Upton and Zeynep Çelik. One year before “Blurring Boundaries,” Çelik called for new approaches to understanding the “non-western” city—approaches that subverted the hegemony of European epistemologies that perpetually cast the built environments of the global south as the “other” of Western architecture.
To recover the agency of subaltern actors, Chattopadhyay read textual, architectural, and cartographic archives against the grain. Shadowy figures of Indians who appeared as nameless servants in the margins of English paintings were recast as stubborn threats to the colonizer’s dream of racial and spatial segregation. The fact that the colonizers repeatedly found themselves at the mercy of the Indian gaze thwarted the colonial desire for omniscient surveillance. In sum, this essay opened up a new understanding of colonial Calcutta as much as it proposed new ways of doing architectural history.
Eighty years after its inauguration JSAH finds itself at another crossroads. Today, there is the urgency to center BIPOC communities in architectural discourse and there is the equally pressing task of dismantling specious and persistent Eurocentricisms in the discipline. Coolidge’s rallying cry, to write new histories and to revise old histories, along with Chattopadhyay’s method of a critical and creative rethinking of spatial practices, offer us a compelling roadmap for the important work ahead.
University of Pittsburgh
Introduction to Myra Dickman Orth, “The Influence of the ‘American Romanesque’ in Australia,” JSAH 34:1 (March 1975): 2-18.
In the mid-1970s, nationalism and identity were key concerns being researched and discussed by Australian architectural historians. Of specific interest was the period 1890-1915, which included the signal year of 1901—Federation—when Australia shifted from being a collection of British colonies to a unified, federated nation. Earlier historians and critics, mostly with a modernist bias, had downplayed aspects of that period’s architecture, even scorned it as “Mary-Anne Queen Anne.” So, a healthy revisionism was in the air, matched by an ebullient cultural progressivism then being experienced in Federal politics under Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam (1972-75).
The appearance in 1975 of Myra Dickman Orth’s article on what Australians then and still refer to as “American Romanesque” was thus opportune, helpful and catalytic. It also coincided with the rise of heritage activism and the demolition of important urban examples of the “American Romanesque,” especially in Melbourne and Sydney. But the article was important for other reasons. First, it was an international contribution that linked the early and defining scholarship of local historians like David Saunders on the American Shingle Style and English Queen Anne (1969) and Bernard Smith, who coined the term “Federation Style” in 1973, to later ground-breaking work by Conrad Hamann on nationalism and reform (1979) and George Tibbits on the so-called Melbourne domestic Queen Anne (1982), all of which culminated in Trevor Howells’ edited volume, Towards the Dawn: Federation Architecture in Australia, 1890-1915 (1989).
Second, Orth’s article delivered a building survey (limited to Sydney and Melbourne) complemented by perceptive readings of Australia’s nineteenth century professional and industry journals--when Australian architects and critics alternately extolled and bickered over the virtues of Henry Hobson Richardson and his architecture--and made links to the search for an Australian style. For Australian scholars in the 1980s and later, this attention to discourse lifted local engagement with the period beyond identification and taxonomy.
Third, Orth’s article was a catalyst for correction and expansion. By 1999, for example, Anne Neale disproved Orth’s attribution of E.W. Dobbs for the South Yarra Post Office (1892), highlighting instead the enigmatic career of A.J. MacDonald. More recently, Paul Hogben (2016) has expanded scholarship on German-born émigré architect Edward Raht’s New York-based career with the Equitable Life Assurance Society and its global architectural mission. Significantly though, scholars like Conrad Hamann, Harriet Edquist, Julie Willis, and this author have moved beyond Orth’s focus on the spread of the Richardsonian Romanesque, which extended her mentor, Henry-Russell Hitchcock’s project of illustrating “American Influence Abroad.” Instead, they highlight the phenomenon as part of a much broader, pervasive influence of the Arts and Crafts in Australia, where translations of theoretical, visual, and material ideas were complex, involving hybridity and the development of an innovative, distinctive architecture culture. Orth also does not make the critical observation: that Australia’s urban condition at the end of the nineteenth century was hardly British. In this sense, it was no surprise that Australian architects were looking closely, critically and contemporaneously at American practices of style, construction, and servicing.
Orth’s claim that Australian exploration of Richardson’s language was early in global terms was welcome in 1975. Reading Orth’s article today, there are annoying suppositions (for an Australian reader at least) and assumed biases of “isolation,” a favorite trope of external commentators, which date the article. However, this is probably not entirely Orth’s fault. She was likely reflecting myopic opinions of those to whom she spoke in Australia (where she lived for two years in Melbourne in the early 1970s). At its heart, Orth’s article remains foundational for any scholar looking at this period because, as she correctly highlights, “for the Australians, the Richardsonian was an ideology as much as it was an architecture.” This proposition still holds true.
University of Melbourne
Introduction to Yvonne Elet, "Seats of Power: The Outdoor Benches of Early Modern Florence,” JSAH 61:4 (December 2002): 444-469.
Historians of the deep past tend to study mostly the walls and columns, arches and vaults that sustain architectural space. Sometimes we are attentive to the floor, especially when paved with luxurious materials in intricate patterns ornamenting the surfaces that allow us to comfortably stand and move about. Yet in our visual regime the architectural eye barely notices provisions for sitting in place, almost as if to avoid acknowledging that part of the body which does the sitting. Sometimes arrays of benches and chairs are scrubbed from illustrations of church interiors, as if the human practice (and need) of sitting were unworthy of our attention. But such photoshopping is not always necessary. The eye has become habituated to overlook seating even when it is permanently built in place as part of a building’s design. Such was the case of the stone benches built into the facades of numerous Florentine buildings beginning the fourteenth century. So little known to us were these structures, in fact, that when I first gave my Institute of Fine Arts on-site course on Florence in 1995, I could only point in passing to the benches of the Medici and Rucellai palace facades as examples –the only ones of which I was aware– of a marginal practice, and I moved on quickly to other subjects.
Much in the way that discoveries are often driven by the fresh eyes and open minds of the young, Yvonne Elet, a member of the Florence class (but not my advisee), found the benches intriguing and proposed to write her term paper on them. The result was beyond surprising: it was stunning- -publishable, I thought, with a “little more” work. As the reader will discover, the magisterial outcome (and eventual winner of JSAH’s 2004 Founders’ Award) reveals not only the wide proliferation of the Florentine facade bench but its vital role in political discourse as well as in the multifold practices of sociability in the early Renaissance city. The apotheosis of this phenomenon was the Piazza della Signoria, shown by Elet to have been literally surrounded by sets of triple-tier stone benches on three sides, resulting in a vast virtual amphitheater of social and political engagement. At a broader level of cultural studies, the article adds notably to the lithic dimensions of the embodiment/somatic turn of recent decades.
New York University
Introduction to Joseph Connors, “S. Ivo alla Sapienza: The First Three Minutes,” JSAH 55:1 (March 1996): 38-57.
Neither the first nor the last article devoted to Francesco Borromini’s renowned Roman church to appear in JSAH, this study stands between John Beldon Scott’s iconographic study and Julia Smyth-Pinney’s geometric analysis, epitomising a methodological turn gaining new traction in 1996.1 Such an approach, emblematically, received praised in the Italian journal Casabella in 1997, a few years after Tafuri’s death marked the end of his “ideologically loaded history,” defined by Marvin Trachtenberg as “impossible to categorize (though often Marxist in orientation) but enlightening to read.”2 Key figures such as Rudolf Wittkower now became themselves the objects of historicized studies (see Alina Payne’s 1994 article in JSAH), and the pursuit of knowledge grounded in ‘scientific’ scrutiny drove a wedge separating the study of history from theory.
It was at this time that Connors, studying S. Ivo, turned away from “exciting iconography”—borrowing his own words—to “dry autopsy.” It may sound dull, until one discovers how fascinating a forensic investigation can be. Even more so if it addresses the million dollar question: what are the origins of architecture, its inventions, and its universe? Incidentally, Connor’s article appeared just a few years after the second edition of The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe by the physicist Steven Weinberg. Whether or not Connors’ catchy title consciously referred to Weinberg’s book, once we begin to follow his analysis of Borromini’s church, we soon realize that we are dealing with the genesis of architectural design, and with those intriguing, ungraspable first three minutes of its conception, which will perhaps remain forever elusive.
I first read this article 20 years ago as an Italian undergraduate student at the IUAV of Venice, with the aid of an English dictionary—it was one of very few of our assigned English texts. And while that constraint may have prevented me from fully appreciating Connors’ charming prose, it nonetheless allowed me to witness in slow motion the memorable unpacking of a fragment of a building’s history. From the study of just one drawing, I entered a holistic architectural universe where I was no longer reading about iconography or Baroque style, but rather about compasses, holes in paper, drawings with their materiality and making, and prints with their history. I witnessed rigorous philology mixed with inventive investigative paths that examined false assumptions, deceptions, questions of multiple authorship, courtly geometry, and historiography, among others. Today, I also find in its object-based approach the potential to provoke a subtle shift away from the study of “extraordinary men” and their genius—to quote Wittkower on Borromini—to the biography of an object.
Do we really need to read, once more today, about Borromini? That is not my question, nor my point. Rather, I wish only to highlight those tools and skills applied in undertaking architectural autopsy, and to suggest that future generations should be taught to master such skills, filtered from tradition, as we continue to expand our geographical span, build inclusive new narratives, and address changing theoretical frameworks.
1John Beldon Scott, “S. Ivo alla Sapienza and Borromini's Symbolic Language,” in JSAH 41 (Dec. 1982): 294-317; Julia M. Smyth-Pinney, “Borromini's Plans for Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza,” in JSAH 59 (Sep. 2000): 312-337.
2 See Giovanna Curcio’s review of Joseph Connors, St. Ivo alla Sapienza. The First Three Minutes, in Casabella 648 (Sep. 1997): 81-82; Marvin Trachtenberg, “Some Observations on Recent Architectural History,” Art Bulletin 70 (June 1988): 240-41.
Introduction to Walter A. Lunden, “The Rotary Jail, or Human Squirrel Cage” JSAH 18:4 (December 1959): 149-157.
In the 1950s, Walter Lunden, an Iowa State University sociologist, intrigued by an antiquated element of the penal system in the nearby city of Council Bluffs, produced a work of interdisciplinary architectural history driven by an activist impulse that continues to pose a profound question for the discipline: How do we evaluate buildings erected to inflict cruelty and endanger human life?
The article is part detective story, part case for the prosecution. The first item of evidence was the Pottawattamie County Jail, with which Lunden, a specialist in penal systems, became acquainted during an prison inspection tour (p. 149).1 Lunden's photograph of the exterior of the 1885 building shows a high, centrally-planned brick-built structure. When a trawl of the archives yielded no drawings, Lunden, presumably using his contacts, gained access to the interior. Assisted by a student with drafting skills, he carried out a detailed survey to to present the workings of 'this ingenious bit of penal architectural engineering' (149) to the JSAH reader.
The article describes how the brick structure functions as a cavernous shell that contains the "squirrel-cage" of the title, a fixed gridded iron drum, which itself contained a "lazy-susan" mechanism consisting of three circular tiers of ten wedge-shaped cells. With two incarcerated men in each cell, this inner unit rotated via a hand-operated crank. An opening in each cell, when aligned with the single exit on each level, allowed the inmates to enter or exit. At all other times, the bars of the cylindrical cage sealed off the opening. The warder inspected the cells from one spot on each floor, as they rotated before him. In 1959, the jail continued to be in operation, largely unaltered over the seventy-five years of its existence.
Lunden went on to identify five more jails built with the same system, all in the Midwest, and all but two still in use in 1959. He discovered that the rotary jail was an invention patented in 1881, and dug out a promotional text boasting that this was a prison "as convenient to the keeper, as though it consisted of but a single prisoner" (153).
Lunden presented the operation of the jails in real time not just as an afterthought but as the culmination of his investigation. Here his implicit disgust became overt: "month after month prisoners received broken arms, legs, a foot or hand caught between the bars during the revolving of the cylinder " (154). One inmate, Charles Fry, was killed when his head was crushed between the moving bars (p. 155). One of the sources described the jail as "a human firetrap". According to a labour activist who visited one of the jails in 1917, "all sense of human dignity was murdered in that place" (156). Lunden himself took the opportunity of getting the views of occupants: "Men…have stated to the writer that they would rather serve a three- or five-year sentence in any other jail than to spend one year in the squirrel cage" (p. 157).
Lunden concludes by challenging the readers of JSAH to expand their understanding of architecture to encompass buildings that might be better off destroyed than preserved. "Was the human squirrel cage good architecture? Was it a superior tool in human engineering?" "In reality" he answers, "the rotary jail was a penological tool to contain the damned as the guillotine was a tool to execute the condemned men" (157).
The Pottawattamie County Jail was finally closed in 1969.2?sup>
Birkbeck, University of London
1 Lunden (1899-1990) taught in the sociology department at Iowa State University from 1947 to 1974 (thanks to Leana Bouffard, Chair of the Department of Sociology at Iowa State University, for this information.) He published widely in criminology, with an emphasis on prisoners' education and rehabilitation.
2It is not known whether Lunden's JSAH article or any other interventions he may have made contributed to the decision to close the prison. But we can see in the records of the National Register of Historic Places that his article was the main source cited in the successful application to put the building on the Register in 1972 as a reminder of "man's inhumanity to man". National Park Service, "National Register of Historic Places Digital Archive: Pottawattamie County Jail", https://npgallery.nps.gov/NRHP/AssetDetail?assetID=ece9ae10-6cd3-433e-a240-0532a4ffd1c8 (consulted 12 May 2021). The building remains intact and is operated as a museum. Historical Society of Pottawattamie County, "Squirrel Cage Jail Museum", https://www.thehistoricalsociety.org/museums/squirrel-cage-jail.html (consulted 12 May 2021).
Introduction to Dell Upton, “Lancasterian Schools, Republican Citizenship, and the Spatial Imagination in Early Nineteenth-Century America,” JSAH 55:3 (September 1996): 238-53.
Since in the 1970s, architectural histories of North America, especially those of eighteenth and nineteenth-century architecture, have taken a turn away from scholarship focusing on the intellectual, aesthetic, and professional contexts of architects and designers. The subfield has published a rich body of literature that tends to examine buildings and their constituent landscapes as manifestations of social, cultural, political, and economic systems. To that end, this work privileges the experiences and uses of buildings rather than their making and understands buildings as thickly entangled non-textual evidence of information and people. Dell Upton’s 1996 article on “Lancasterian Schools” is an exemplar of that turn.
Introduced from London by American Quakers in the early nineteenth century, Lancasterian Schools were intended to catalyze a revolution in childhood education, in part to clear child beggars from the streets and public squares of emerging Republican cities. Inspired by military discipline and a strict educational hierarchy, the system introduced into a single large classroom space, “enormous numbers of students…subdivided into smaller groups, or classes,” each in a semi-circle, “according to their level of advancement.” (p. 238). Each class was overseen by an older student monitor. Although the system was widely popular and quickly adopted by many cities, and there are several examples of surviving Lancasterian schools, the system largely failed and was abandoned only decades after introduction.
Why write an article about a failed educational system? Because, Upton rightly argues, this system powerfully exposes some of the major chords of Republican life in early urban America. The essay walks through four critical interpretive frameworks—economy, discipline, Republican citizenship, and Republican education—to demonstrate the central concerns for efficiency and virtue that animated elites in Philadelphia, New York, Baltimore and so many other cities. To do this, Upton frames for us his central concern: interpreting architecture as evidence of a spatial imagination, which he defines as “a habit of thinking about social relationships physically.” (p. 239) Importantly, he reminds us that these habits of the (elite) mind were aspirational, not real. A critical interpretive distinction, these Lancasterian Schools show us how elites wished their cities to be; they are not evidence of the ways cities actually were. Examining a failed educational system allowed Upton to demonstrate how these buildings participated, or were intended to participate, in the formation of disciplined and orderly Republican citizens. In that same spatial imagination, these Lancasterian schools were also the first stop in a series of spaces and institutions in that shared project of social reform, from schools to almshouses to penitentiaries. His examination is an important reminder that buildings can be important evidence of the social, economic, and political systems that shape everyday life. But more importantly—especially in this moment when the architectures and systems of policing are under intensive scrutiny—that these systems impact citizens and non-citizens unevenly, encouraging and advancing some while hindering others.
It is important to note that this article was an early and concise expression of the ideas that would win Upton the 2011 Spiro Kostof Award for Another City: Urban Life and Urban Spaces in the New American Republic (Yale, 2008)
University of Virginia
Introduction to Manuel Toussaint, “Angahua,” JSAH 5 (1945-46): 24-26
The special Latin American volume of the JSAH published at the end of World War II marked a critical moment in the history of the field. The first collection of essays in English about the architecture of colonial Latin America (also included was an essay on Maya archaeology), it introduced the major scholarly players to an international audience at a time when, in editor George Kubler’s words, “the initial catalogue of monuments has barely been begun.”1 North American scholars had turned to Latin America when the war prevented them from researching in Europe—an event which did more than anything to bring Latin American colonial architecture to universal attention—and the books that the contributors soon wrote established a canon which still lies at the foundation of the field. Here, Erwin Walter Palm introduced the Gothic-Renaissance architecture of Santo Domingo; Mario Buschiazzo showed the impact of Asian and Germanic arts on Latin American architecture; Diego Angulo Iñíguez presented the diaphanous estípite Baroque of Mexico City; Enrique Marco Dorta revealed the indigenous “Andean Baroque” of the southern Altiplano; and Harold Wethey brought us the architecture of mid-seventeenth-century Cuzco, its colonial golden age.2
However, no single person or building are as representative of this foundational moment as Mexican scholar Manuel Toussaint (1890–1955) and the Mexican church of Santiago (1570) in Angahuan (as it is typically spelled), which captured widespread attention when a 1943 newspaper photograph showed refugees from a nearby volcanic eruption attending mass in front of its portal. Toussaint founded the field of New Spanish art and architecture, and his soon-to-be published Arte colonial en México (1948), in which the Angahuan portal appeared as “an example of prime importance in this genre,” became the classic text.3
The portal is a carved profusion of bas-relief crosses, scrolls, angels, and flowers, all arranged like a mosaic; it is architecturally simple, formed of a round arch on two pilasters framed by a mudéjar alfiz surmounted by a rectangular panel crowned by a scallop-arched window in its own alfiz. Toussaint’s wonder is palpable when he recounts how he “stood amazed at the photographs of the admirable doorway” (p. 24) with Francisco José Rohde, who photographed the little church after the news story broke. The Angahuan portal has become a staple in surveys of Latin American colonial architecture ever since, a prototypical example not just of mudéjar but of the resilience of pre-Hispanic carving traditions post-Conquest. Toussaint believed that its carving represented “pure indigenous taste,” and later scholars linked its mosaic-like arrangement to that of Aztec glyphs, which survived into the 1590s in decorative carving in rural churches.4 The little church may now be familiar to any student in the field, but the wonder is still there, as it was for the present writer, who first pored over Judith Hancock Sandoval’s pictures of its portal as an undergraduate over 35 years ago.5
GAUVIN ALEXANDER BAILEY
1 George Kubler, “Introduction,” JSAH 5 (1945-6): iv.
2 Erwin Walter Palm, “Plateresque and Renaissance Monuments of the Island of Hispaniola,” JSAH 5 (1945-6): 1-14; Mario J. Buschiazzo, “Exotic Influences in American Colonial Art,” JSAH 5 (1945-6): 21-23; Diego Angulo Iñíguez, “Eighteenth-Century Church Fronts in Mexico City,” JSAH 5 (1945-6): 27-32; Enrique Marco Dorta, “Andean Baroque Decoration,” JSAH 5 (1945-6): 33-34; Harold Wethey, “La Merced in Cuzco, Peru,” JSAH 5 (1945-6): 35-39.
3 Manuel Toussaint, Arte colonial en México (Mexico City: Imprenta universitaria, 1948): 49.
4 Toussaint, Arte colonial, 49.
5 I first encountered the church in Elizabeth Wilder Weisman’s classic essay on colonial architecture Art and Time in Mexico (New York: Harper and Row, 1985): 16-17, 42. The illustrations are by Judith Hancock Sandoval. I later gave it pride of place in my own Art of Colonial Latin America (London: Phaidon Press, 2005): 83, 86-87.
Introduction to Juan O’Gorman, “The Degeneration of Architecture in Mexico Today,” unpublished manuscript intended for JSAH (1954-55) https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/esther-mccoy-papers-5502/series-6/box-27-folder-19
If I could propose one fictional city to serve as a metaphor for the majority of writing on Latin American modern architecture it would be Gabriel García Márquez’s Macondo, as described in his novel One Hundred Years of Solitude (1967): disconnected from its surroundings, its denizens repeating the same myths of foundation, the whole edifice eventually wiped out by the hurricane-force winds of decolonizing theory. Indeed, my search for the term “Latin America” on the JSAH portal yielded 45 results—the majority of these articles about colonial times or abstracts for papers presented at SAH annual meetings. Only twelve research articles about twentieth-century Latin American architecture were published in the first 80 years of the journal, an average of one every seven years. The number is so small that I can address them all in this short piece, relieving a bit of their solitude.
It took 50 years for JSAH to publish the first full article about modern architecture in Latin America, and the credit goes to David Underwood (1991), writing about the French urbanist Alfred Agache. The second article, by Christiane Craseman Collins (1995), also centered on European architects but introduced the idea of counterinfluence, arguing that Buenos Aires influenced Le Corbusier’s work. The turn of the millennium brought attention to nativeborn architects with Keith Eggener writing about Mexico’s Luis Barragán (1999) and Valerie Fraser about Roberto Burle Marx and the MES building in Rio de Janeiro (2000). The year 2002 saw the first article by a Latin American author, with Argentine architect and critic Susana Torre discussing the different ways in which architectural history is taught south of the U.S. border.
Another decade would pass before Katheryn O’Rourke wrote about Mexican architect José Villagrán García’s sanatoriums (2012), George Flaherty discussed graphic design for the Mexico City Olympics of 1968 (2014), and Karen Elizabeth Bishop considered the tragic relationship in the southern cone between the history of the built environment and the brutal dictatorships of the 1960s and ‘70s (2014). In 2019, two articles illuminated Cuban experiences of modernity, with Joseph Hartman introducing the framework of coloniality to discuss JeanClaude Forestier’s unfinished plans for Havana, and Erica Morawsky analyzing the history of McKim, Mead & White’s Hotel Nacional de Cuba in that same city. Brazilian modernism, which had opened the series with Underwood in 1991, also closes it with Décio de Almeida explaining João Batista Villanova Artigas’s architecture (FAU) building at the Universidade de São Paulo earlier this year.
Those long and lonely 80 years allow me to propose that the most important JSAH-related essay on Latin American modernism was actually an unpublished manuscript. In 2009 Keith Eggener wrote in the JSAH about an article that Juan O’Gorman penned for the journal in 1954. In fact, we don’t know if O’Gorman’s manuscript was even submitted to the journal. Nevertheless, his piece had the potential to transform the way people told the story of Latin America modern architecture. As explained by Eggener, O’Gorman’s manuscript criticized European modernism, which he associated with fascism (Le Corbusier’s variant, at least), while praising Frank Lloyd Wright for understanding North America and allowing his architecture to evolve in response to its geographical and cultural contexts, whether those were in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, California, or Arizona. If published, O’Gorman’s manuscript would have been among the first to explain how Wright influenced European modernism after 1910, and among the first to call attention to vernacular architecture as a component of modernism.
O’Gorman was decades ahead of his peers when he denounced modern architecture for its embrace of elitism and its move away from the masses, despite its discourse to the contrary. O’Gorman’s critique would have impacted the history of Latin American built environments much like the arrival of ice impacted Macondo’s Aureliano Buendía in the opening pages of One Hundred Years of Solitude: a revelation that makes us nostalgic for a future that never was.
FERNANDO LUIZ LARA
University of Texas at Austin