Architecture, Engineering, and Political Ecology

Reinhold Martin

This course will study the political ecology of engineering design and architecture in the twentieth century and into the present, in a comparative fashion using the methods of media history and theory. The public works paradigm central to the American New Deal (1933-1939)—with its sources in labor activism, economic planning, environmental management, and a biopolitics of race—will be our baseline case. We will follow that paradigm’s fate across the Second World War, into the postwar decades, and through the end of the Cold War, tracking the rise and fall of the US public sector as a planner and a patron by comparison with similar cases around the world. We will also consider the consolidation during these years of an overwhelmingly white “professional managerial class” of which architecture and engineering were representative as a beneficiary of what has since been called the “wages of whiteness,” and a manager of economic growth and environmental risk. Beginning with the large infrastructure projects of the Tennessee Valley Authority during the 1930s, continuing through the construction of a federal highway system during the 1950s and 1960s, and following postwar urban renewal into the neoliberal turn of the 1970s, we will study buildings from gas stations to banks to suburban housing, models of urbanization from regionalism to Megalopolis, technological systems from dams to satellites, and anthropogenic environmental change at all scales. We will ask: How does technology impact society, and vice versa? How do architecture and engineering mediate the politics of nature? How do architecture and engineering mediate the political economy of racial capitalism?

Note: If interested in enrolling, please contact the instructor.