Interstitial EP014

Building Character
by Charles Davis

In the nineteenth century, under the influence of scientific-rationalism, the concept of the body was transformed into a political tool for representing national identity. Architectural historian Charles Davis reveals the parallels between race and style in modern architecture.


Building Character: The Racial Politics of Modern Architectural Style

'Building Character: The Racial Politics of Modern Architectural Style' book cover

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Charles L. Davis II
University of Pittsburgh Press
December 2019

Charles L. Davis II is an assistant professor of architectural history and criticism at the University at Buffalo, SUNY. His research examines the integration of race and style theory in paradigms of “architectural organicism,” or design movements that emulated natural principles of development to produce a "living architecture." This research has been published in academic journals and magazines such as arq, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Harvard Design Magazine, Log, Aggregate, ASAP/J, and Append-x. His book, Building Character: The Racial Politics of Modern Architectural Style (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019) was supported by grants from the Graham Foundation and the Canadian Center for Architecture. Charles is also coeditor of the cultural reader Diversity and Design: Understanding Hidden Consequences (Routledge, 2015) and Race and Modern Architecture (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020), which collects 18 case studies on the racial discourses of modern architecture from the Enlightenment to the present.


Negro Building: Black Americans in the World of Fairs and Museums

Mabel O. Wilson

This book builds upon familiar research in the field of African American studies to present a legible chronology of the social and aesthetic strategies black communities have used to represent themselves to the American public. Focusing on black Americans’ participation in world’s fairs, Emancipation exhibitions, and early grassroots museums, Negro Building traces the evolution of black public history from the Civil War through the civil rights movement of the 1960s. For me, it is a physical journey through the countercultural interpretations of blackness that have been manifest in architecture culture from the late nineteenth century to the postwar period.

Architecture in Black: Theory, Space and Appearance

Darell Wayne Fields

It is best to think of this text as an allegorical demonstration of its central thesis: using the critical tools of semiotics, Darell Fields uncovers the black subjectivities hidden with the architectonic structures of Continental Philosophy. Working as the fabled 'trickster' of old, Fields cleverly uses his prose to revise the critical aims of philosophy by constructing a new world from its multiple fragments. While both serious and critical in tone, Architecture in Black is delightfully irreverent in its transformation of the very system it relies upon for existence. The results are both haunting and revelatory. The disembodied voice of its 'Black Subject' is freed of its nineteenth-century prison in time to exert its will upon the projective logic of contemporary architecture.

Little White Houses: How the Postwar House Constructed Race in America

Dianne Harris

Dianne Harris’s Little White Houses examines territory that many of us will likely feel we already know: the postwar American suburbs. Its scholarly contribution provides us with a more detailed look at the material codes embedded in suburban landscapes and houses, as well as the social codes that performed the function of defining the prevailing features of whiteness in postwar America. Her treatment of the physical form and placement of buildings, including the technologies for interior storage and the placement of interior furniture, is a refreshing change from the detached quality of previous studies of the structural and institutional causes of racial discrimination. The accessibility of this material archive results in a far more extensive and relatable portrait of the mutually constitutive roles of race, place, and visual culture than seen before.

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