2012 Buell Oral History Prize
The Buell Center Fellowship, an annual award for historical research on the built environment within or between the fields of architecture, urban history, and landscape, was developed by The Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture in coordination with Columbia University’s Center for Oral History and the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library.
Up to three awards, between $3,000 and $5,000, are given annually for the purposes of carrying out primary research in conjunction with a scholarly research project at the advanced graduate level. Interdisciplinary or comparative work on the Americas is especially encouraged, and special consideration is given for projects that include an oral history component. Applicants must be full-time Columbia University students at the time of the award's distribution.
Recipients: Meredith Gaglio, Sarah Rafson
Meredith Gaglio, PhD Candidate in Architecture History and Theory, Columbia University GSAPP
The Whole Earth Catalog, first issued in 1968, provided visual “links” to products, manuals, and texts relevant to members of the American counterculture, who sought alternatives to the lifestyle choices and social mores of their parents’ generation. In their evaluation of American society, countercultural pioneers turned a critical eye toward a built environment cluttered with “ticky-tacky” suburban houses, cold skyscrapers, and pollutive factories, and, in response, adopted a number of unconventional building techniques – including traditional construction, material repurposing, and passive energy strategies, among others – in hopes of minimizing ecological impact, building new, healthy communities, or simply expressing their own individuality. Many of these builders relied, in part, upon The Whole Earth Catalog to realize their projects; the chapters “Shelter” and “Nomadics,” especially informed their practice, providing reviews of the do-it-yourself pamphlets, pre-fabricated products, and other materials and information best suited to this new sort of architecture.
In my original project, I proposed to interview the editors of The Whole Earth Catalog, including Stewart Brand, Lloyd Kahn, and Jay Baldwin, for example, in order to cultivate an understanding of this era of American history and to better grasp the ambitions of countercultural builders. As I continued my research, however, I widened the pool of potential interview candidates to include not only editors and contributors to The Catalog but also significant members of the countercultural building community – architects like John Ringel of Jersey Devil and inventors such as Steve Baer, a pioneer in solar energy solutions. This expansion has and will provide a more complete portrait of alternative architecture in the late-1960s and 1970s, an understudied moment within the history of the American built environment.
Sarah Rafson, Critical, Curatorial, and Conceptual Practices, Columbia University GSAPP
Chicks in Architecture Refuse to Yield to Atavistic Thinking in Design and Society
In the summer of 1993—and in direct response to the AIA’s election of its first female president—a collective of over seventy architects mounted a provocative exhibition to protest the specific challenges experienced by profession’s female workers. Calling themselves the CARYATIDS (Chicks in Architecture Refuse to Yield to Atavistic Thinking in Design and Society, or CARY for short), this collective produced More Than the Sum of Our Body Parts, an extraordinary example of protest and dissent in the face of AIA’s largest summit of architects to that point. A video from the exhibition’s opening night documents a stylish event full of cocktails served around a gynecological gurney and mannequin limbs strewn across the floor, as a rotating cast of guests smile and pose through the cut-out face of a caryatid. Unconventional for an architecture exhibition, CARY’s work evades easy categorization by skirting disciplinary norms, but its call for workplace equity was sharp, witty and significant in narrating the experience of architecture’s rank-and-file female employees.
More Than the Sum of Our Body Parts remains one of the most idiosyncratic and confrontational protests among professional women architects, and one of the most under-studied exhibitions in the history of architecture. Based on oral histories I conducted with both CARY’s founders and Susan Maxman, the first woman president of the AIA, I perform a close reading of CARY’s medium and message, drawing on a long history of feminist dissent that informed their action. I show how our forgetting of CARY’s irreverent exhibition resonates with feminist historian Sheila Rowbotham’s charge that women’s forms of opposition often fall “outside of a strictly political definition” of resistance. Remembering it, however, expands our notion of women’s participation in advocating for change and equity in the American architectural workplace, and suggests new strategies for moving forward.
Image 1. Still from video of opening night, More Than the Sum of Our Body Parts (1993) “More Than the Sum of Our Body Parts: An Exhibit by CARY, 1992-1993,” Ms1994-023, Special Collections, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA.
Image 2. Catalogue, More Than the Sum of Our Body Parts, Randolph Street Gallery, Chicago (1993) “More Than the Sum of Our Body Parts: An Exhibit by CARY, 1992-1993,” Ms1994-023, Special Collections, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA.