Theses Doctoral

Ordering Modernity: the American architectural profession between fact and law, 1786-1884

Carver, Erik

The nineteenth-century American building world assembled an unprecedented armature of professional knowledge. This dissertation reconstructs that armature by sampling from the profusion of technical and institutional documents that helped architects, engineers, and builders reckon with the enigmatic abstractions of liberal and industrial capitalism— along with the regimes of labor, infrastructure, and resource management they introduced. Typically ignored by architectural historians, these documents form a valuable archive of cultural texts and evidential indices.

As a system of knowledge, they tether design to a series of political-economic conflicts. Revolutionary Philadelphia carpenters and reactionary Anglican specifiers alike found in printed numbers sources of authority and claims on temporal power. Postbellum architect-engineers like John C. Trautwine and Frank Kidder used pocketbooks to transfuse the logics of locomotives and lumber mills into the core of architectural practice. Through a professional sleight of hand, institution-builders like Richard Upjohn and Richard Morris Hunt distanced themselves from the appearance of calculation while depending upon it ever more, encrypting it in drawings, institutional scripts, and legal precedent.

In their work with architect H.H. Richardson, general contractors James and Orlando W. Norcross most fully realized the potentials of this system, synthesizing technical literature, industrial capital, and a proprietary mythos of materials to achieve the apotheosis of American architecture. I plumb this obscure world of literate builders and architect-engineers to map such architecture as an expanded field of infrastructural practice, arguing that industrial modernity was perhaps best glimpsed not in an iron frame but in a carefully-sourced palette of quarry-faced sandstone.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Martin, Reinhold I.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
November 30, 2022