Building Character published with University of Pittsburgh Press

Building Character


Charles Davis. Building Character: The Racial Politics of Modern Architectural Style (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019)

Table of Contents

  • Introduction – The Racialization of Architectural Character in the Long Nineteenth Century

Part I: The Aryan Character of Alpine Architecture

  • 1. Campfires in the Salon: Viollet-le-Duc and the Modernization of the Aryan Hut
  • 2. Beyond the Primitive Hut: Gottfried Semper and the Material Embodiment of Germanic Character

Part II: The Whiteness of American Architecture

  • 3. The Search for an American Architecture: Louis Sullivan and the Physiognomic Translation of American Character
  • 4. When Public Housing Was White: William Lescaze and the Americanization of the International Style
  • Conclusion – Race, Nature, and Nation in Postwar American Architecture

I am happy to announce the publication of a book that examines the racial discourses of modern architecture. This effort began almost ten years ago with the completion of my dissertation in architectural history at the University of Pennsylvania. That research was directed by Dr. Detlef Mertins, a specialist on biological metaphors in architecture; with readers Dr. William Braham, a specialist on color in modern architecture; and Dr. Darell Fields, a specialist on the racial discourses of Hegelian-inspired architectural style theory. Unfortunately, my dissertation advisor (Mertins) passed away shortly after I finished my dissertation. Since that time, I have met new mentors in the field, many of whom helped to steward my research in innovative ways.

This book uses the concept of “character” to limn the racial discourses of modern architectural theory and construction, especially in the national architectural styles of France, Germany and the United States. It focuses on the ways that designers metaphorically personified their buildings by creating architectural styles that represented the populations they served. A conceptual notion of personhood was especially strong in the paradigm of architectural organicism, or the philosophy of design that treated buildings like figurative living entities. I examine the writings and buildings of five influential modern architectural theorists–Eugene Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc in France, Gottfried Semper in Germany, and Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright and William Lescaze in the United States.

You can find a brief description of this text here and you can purchase it on amazon.

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About cldavisii