2015 Buell Center Fellowship

2015 Buell Center Fellowship

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.




Aaron White, PhD Architecture


“We have had the most extraordinary year of drought and cold ever known in the history of America…The Summer…has been as cold as a moderate winter.”1


In 1816 the eruption of Indonesia’s Mt. Tambora led to what climatologists refer to as “the year without a summer.” Frequent frost and even summer snows decimated agriculture from Maine to Virginia leading to what the historian John D. Post has called “the last great subsistence crisis in the Western world.” One surprising result of this crisis was a work of architecture long recognized as a seminal achievement of the early nineteenth century, Charles Bulfinch’s 1816 Lancaster Meetinghouse.


Bulfinch’s meetinghouse was a perhaps counterintuitive, but nevertheless direct, response to the environmental crisis. Small farms like those in and around Lancaster depended on this year’s crops to both finance and seed next year’s planting. The wholesale devastation of agricultural production brought about by unprecedented temperatures put this cycle in jeopardy. Agricultural labor that could not be expended on the land was redirected to the building—employing what we today recognize as a Keynesian economic tactic avant la lettre. In a world lacking formalized credit instruments, communal and fiscal value were embodied-in and expended-upon the meetinghouse, forcing us to rethink architectural “value” in this more immediate relation to its fiscal counterpart.


1. Thomas Jefferson to Albert Gallatin, September 8, 1816.