Architecture and War

an undergraduate history seminar/studio hybrid taught at the University of New Mexico

It has long been argued that global politics shape the practice of architecture: conventions, styles, techniques, typologies, and discourse. Beneath the veil of aesthetic and artistic identity, however, architects have also been understood as complicit actors and agents in war—working to help bolster imperial powers, reinforce colonialist violence, and demonstrate brute capitalist strength. This course examines the ways in which architects were and continue to be complicit, instrumental, and active in the developing of weapons, infrastructures, and various architectures that support violence during after following World War II--from Hitler’s architects in Berlin tasked with designing concentration camps, to government architects in the US tasked with designing detention centers, to the architects designing defensive bunkers that now pepper the globe.

As a hybrid history seminar and design studio, students will explore sites, histories, and various wartime contexts and theories, and the class will travel to project sites in the Southwest US, as well as to Berlin, Germany. Students will learn comparative historical methods of analysis in order to study, compare, and contrast architectural precedents in New Mexico and Germany, and they will critically examine the role that architects held in both locations during WWII. The seminar component will allow students to study these contexts in-depth, and the studio component will allow students the opportunity to design an intervention; the interventions will seek to liberate, counter-act, and challenge the histories of particular architectural typologies (eg: a wall material that naturally erodes and decays; a distributable zine with escape plans/routes from within a detention center, etc.) in order to re-imagine them within a less violent future. This course is particularly timely: 2019-2020 marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall, as well as the 75th anniversary of the dropping of the World’s first atomic bomb in New Mexico.