Race, Style and Ideologies of National Character in the Long Nineteenth Century

20 November, 6pm
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In the nineteenth-century paradigm of architectural organicism, the notion that buildings possessed character provided architects with a lens for relating the buildings they designed to the populations they served. Advances in scientific race theory enabled designers to think of “race” and “style” as empirical manifestations of natural law. 

Parallels between racial and architectural characters provided a rationalist model of design that fashioned some of the most influential national building styles of the past, from the pioneering concepts of French structural rationalism and German tectonic theory to the nationalist associations of the Chicago Style, the Prairie Style, and the International Style. 

In this final talk in our Autumn 2020 programme, Charles L. Davis II will trace the racial discourses inherent in the architectural writings and buildings of five modern theorists—Eugene Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc, Gottfried Semper, Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, and William Lescaze. The talk will highlight the social, political, and historical significance of spatial, structural, and ornamental elements within modern architectural styles.


Charles L. Davis II is assistant professor of architectural history and criticism at SUNY Buffalo. He is the author of Building Character: the Racial Politics of Architectural Design and the co-editor of Race and Modern Architecture: A Critical History from the Enlightenment to the Present. His current book project, tentatively entitled “Black By Design: An Interdisciplinary History of Making in Modern America” recovers the overlooked contributions of black artists and architects in shaping the built environment from the Harlem Renaissance to Black Lives Matter.


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