Theses Doctoral

The Aesthetics of Precision: Environmental Management and Technique in the Architecture of Enclosure, 1946-1986

Quantrill, Alexandra Louise

This dissertation explores the paradox of precision in postwar architecture, when dissonant aesthetic desires and concerns regarding environmental regulation forced a reconciliation of material techniques with theoretical accuracy. The modern ideal of exactitude was frequently at odds with the divergent processes of building research, engineering, manufacturing, and environmental management. Suspended within the strata of newly developed curtain walls was a suddenly critical technical and architectural problem: how to achieve the kind of modulated environment implied by the highly regulated lines and taut materiality of the glazed envelope. Unlike outwardly legible structural systems, typically celebrated as modernism’s heroic force, techniques of enclosure defined modern interior atmospheres. Precision was key to demarcating the interior environment, and architects relied upon the burgeoning building products industry for research on the most advanced techniques in glazing, component assembly, solar control, sealants, air-conditioning systems, and weathering protection. The dissertation is structured as four case studies of enclosure details from buildings accommodating diplomacy, industrial production, risk management, and global financial operations: the United Nations Secretariat building (1952), two factory buildings for the Cummins Engine Company (1966 and 1975), the headquarters of insurance broker Willis, Faber & Dumas (1975), and the headquarters of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (1986). While the research centers on fragments of much larger building projects, the analysis of particular enclosures unfolds to address the spatial reverberations of progressive societal shifts over the period, from internationalized conceptions of architecture and statecraft following the Second World War, through western corporate growth and global expansion during the 1960s and 1970s, to the emergence of a neoliberal economic regime inflecting the formation of corporate space during the 1970s and 1980s. The details scrutinized here delineate interiors that operate as microcosms mirroring global social and economic circumstances.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Martin, Reinhold I.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 20, 2017