Theses Master's

Modern Technology and James Marston Fitch’s Turn to Preservation

Alvarez-Davila, Andres

Underlying much of James Martson Fitch’s body of work as a critic, historian, preservation activist and teacher is the assumption that the vastly expanded productive capacities of an industrialized economy were also accompanied by the structural tendency to degrade material culture by removing the social, economic, and environmental constraints operating in earlier modes of production. This thesis sought to trace how Fitch’s anxieties about modern technology led him from within the discourse of modernist architecture–from calls for the reform of industrialism and functionalist readings of the vernacular–to preservation and how these anxieties were channeled in the shifting cultural aims he envisioned preservation to serve.

For Fitch preservation offered a set of practicable solutions to disparate cultural ills whose ultimate cause he, perhaps symptomatically, attributed to the unintended consequences of modern technologies: preservation was, for Fitch, variously, the precondition for a the reform of modernist design, an artificial means of reviving pre industrial craft traditions, a corrective to the effects of mechanized mass production on public taste, an incremental, participatory approach to urban development, and, lastly, part of shifting cultural attitudes towards what technology is–and what its role should be–in shaping the built environment.

In the end, the curatorial approach to the built environment concretized in Historic Preservation is a symptom of both the anxieties about modern, industrial technology that form the genesis of Fitch’s shifting and polyvalent preservation project and of the discourse and practice of preservation when it was codified in the first decade of the Historic Preservation Act of 1966.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Historic Preservation
Thesis Advisors
Otero-Pailos, Jorge
M.S., Columbia University
Published Here
July 27, 2022