• Building Character: The Racial Politics of Modern Architectural Style, 1860–1945
    Charles L. Davis II
    University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019
    Charles L. Davis II

Adler and Sullivan, Easter Sunday outside of Pilgrim Baptist Church, April 1941, Chicago. Photo: Russell Lee. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

In the historical transition from organic to functionalist paradigms of architectural style, the notion that architecture inherently possesses character provided a unique lens for relating buildings to the populations they served. Proponents of architectural organicism interpreted “race” and “style” as two empirical manifestations of natural laws that regulated the appearance of national and regional characters. By the twentieth century, the whitewashed facades of international style architectures visualized a pan-European conception of the West that transcended nation-state boundaries. Each tradition, however, maintained the belief that racial and architectural characters mirror one another in human history. This monograph argues that the racial content of modern architectural style exceeded the iconographical associations of surface ornamentation to include the historical associations of the spatial and structural typologies that regulated the final placement of ornament. It demonstrates the seminal role of race theory in the work of Viollet-le-Duc, Gottfried Semper, Louis Sullivan, and William Lescaze.

Charles L. Davis II is assistant professor of architectural history at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He received his PhD in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009. In 2008, he received a library research grant from the Canadian Center for Architecture and served as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill from 2009 to 2011. He is coeditor, with Beth Tauke and Korydon Smith, of Diversity and Design (Routlege, 2015), an anthology that examines the socially imbricated nature of design practices around the world. Building Character is his first single-authored monograph.