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HS3: Urban Humanities


This Working Group explores the historical ways that architecture and the urban built environment have operated in modern political life.

Open to New People

Active since: 2018

  • Syracuse University
  • Cornell University
  • University of Rochester
  • Hamilton College

Collaborative Goals

After years of restricted in-person activities on our campuses, our working group focused on public-facing events this academic year. In the fall, we held a lecture and workshop at Cornell University with Ola Uduku, Roscoe Chair and Head of the School of Architecture at the University of Liverpool. In the spring, we held a lecture at Hamilton College with Despina Stratigakos, Professor of Architecture at the University at Buffalo. Our goals were to encourage attendance at public events, student participation, and interdisciplinary dialogues on key concerns in architecture and the history of architecture today.

On November 9, 2022, Dr. Uduku presented the lecture “Aid by Design?” at Cornell University focusing on the colonial history of West African architecture that is under-represented in the United States. The following day, she held a workshop that explored in a discursive tutorial format some key themes and topics that the lecture raised. Participants examined case studies, participatory experiences and viewpoints of aid. Case studies included Haiti, Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, Sri Lanka, Daadab, Uganda and Kenya, and Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh. Participants also discussed theories of aid from a development studies and economics perspective to contextualize where “shelter” sits, as well as the pragmatics of aid responses ranging from instantaneous-response events to strategic policies. Additional discussions included Shigeru Ban’s Humanitarian Architecture, White Architecture’s “Make Sense,” Architecture Ethics and Globalisation, Rural Studio at Twenty, Architecture Depends and UNDP Special Report on Human Security (2022). Due to unforeseen security issues, we had to move the lecture and workshop to Zoom at the last minute.

On April 10, 2023, Dr. Stratigakos presented the lecture “Hitler’s Building Plans for A World Under the Swastika: Comparing Occupied Norway and Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle” at Hamilton College. The lecture was planned in connection with two of Ruth Lo’s Spring 2023 courses: “Modern Architecture” and “Architecture and Politics.” In the latter course, this lecture was the culmination of a three-week extended case study on the architecture, landscape and urbanism of Nazi Germany. Students responded enthusiastically to the lecture as Dr. Stratigakos touched on many of the themes and topics from class, including the manifestation of power in the built environment, infrastructural violence (eg. building of highways), the intersections of architecture and race, and representations of architecture in popular media.

We met our goals because we planned our events in conjunction with courses and publicized the talks across our campuses. We also chose speakers whose research addressed themes that are particularly relevant today and are relatable to our students. The two events were thus well attended by people across disciplines in our respective communities.

Group Organizers

Lawrence Chua

Associate Professor, Architecture, Syracuse University

Lisa Trivedi

Chair and Professor of History, Hamilton College

Ruth Lo

Assistant Professor of Art History, Hamilton College

Samia Henni

Assistant Professor of Architecture, Cornell University

Group Outcomes

Dr. Uduku’s lecture fostered a productive discussion and inspired several architecture students to reconsider their thesis projects. The workshop helped PhD students work on and expand their research methodologies.

The event with Dr. Stratigakos first and foremost engaged students at Hamilton College. Students across disciplines attended the talk and asked questions of the speaker during and after the Q&A. Dr. Stratigakos gave copies of her book, Hitler’s Northern Utopia: Building the New Order in Occupied Norway, to several interested students to learn more about her research. In Ruth Lo’s “Modern Architecture” and “Architecture and Politics” courses, students had follow-up discussions to analyze the talk in connection with course materials.

Stratigakos’ lecture also connected Ruth Lo with Franziska Schweiger, a colleague in German Studies at Hamilton College. They realized they had a mutual research interest and applied for funding from Hamilton’s Humanities Center to do an interdisciplinary collaborative project titled “Everyday Modernisms.” Stratigakos’ research focuses on the often-overlooked aspects of the built environment, and it inspired Lo and Schweiger to explore non-traditional modernisms rooted in the quotidian instead of the monumental. Lo will analyze how the reshaping of earth and the cultivation of soil, though seemingly mundane and ‘backwards,’ were in fact central to fascist Italian modernism. Schweiger will investigate how the production of textiles can be viewed as cultural practices and means of grasping reality. They have received funding and will conduct a year-long project consisting of bi-weekly faculty seminars culminating in a workshop with an invited keynote speaker in late spring of 2024.