Both my dissertation and my thesis grew out of unanswered design questions from studio projects. Understanding the aesthetic, programmatic, and construction challenges of a building type brings a richness to thinking more abstractly and analytically about our built environment.
Front Lawns and Back Doors
What are the hidden meanings behind that grassy lawn? The Estates of Nature: On the Theological Origins of Anglo-American Suburbia looks at the ways in which the western religious imagination is “encoded” in the suburban detached dwelling, through analyzing the interlocking histories of two theological symbols—the heavenly city and the paradise garden. Both images developed from their Middle Eastern cultural and scriptural roots, interacted in the late antique and medieval Christian religious imaginations, and finally reached a tacit and embodied balance in the Anglo-American utopian ideal of suburbia. Their key transformation from symbolic to physical reality occurred in England of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a place and time of extraordinarily rapid religious, economic, and political change.
Drawing on modern interpretive work as well as classical perspectives, my PhD dissertation brings together strands of theology, geography, art history, and sociology to argue that the spiritual and psychological roots of suburbia lie in longstanding theological conflicts over the perfectibility of humanity as individuals and in community. Mediating their differences through their deployment of images of the heavenly Jerusalem and of the paradise garden of Eden, Europeans and Americans have symbolically and inextricably interwoven the theological language of salvation and the political language of land use.
My M.A. thesis looked at Jeremy’s Bentham’s proposal for the panopticon, a radially organized building type me ants for use as a prison, factory, or school. Best known in philosophy as a favorite topic of Foucault’s, the panopticon has had a bit of a resurgence in recent years due to its seeming foreshadowing of our “surveillance society.” I used the theories of Mikhail Bakhtin to explore the truth of Foucault’s claims about a building that has (almost) never actually been built and think about what just a building might mean for the formation of its inhabitants.
More recently, I have been working on topics closer to home in support of a course on Bay Area architecture. I have tried to weave in political and economic history into an overall understanding of why the buildings (and people!) here are so distinctive, paying particular attention to those stories that aren’t always part of the canon. It’s actually a lot of fun taking a fresh look at such a familiar landscape.
Some of the other things I’ve been thinking about include games, especially those with hybrid online and onsite components, and the formation of communities.