2011 Buell Oral History Prize

2011 Buell Oral History Prize


The Buell Center Fellowship, an annual award for historical research on the built environment within or between the fields of architecture, urban history, and landscape, was developed by The Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture in coordination with Columbia University’s Center for Oral History and the Avery Architectural and Fine Arts Library.  


Up to three awards, between $3,000 and $5,000, are given annually for the purposes of carrying out primary research in conjunction with a scholarly research project at the advanced graduate level. Interdisciplinary or comparative work on the Americas is especially encouraged, and special consideration is given for projects that include an oral history component. Applicants must be full-time Columbia University students at the time of the award's distribution.


Recipients: Ayala Levin, Albert José-Antonio Lopez, Daniel Talesnik


Ayala Levin, PhD Candidate in Architecture History and Theory 2015, Columbia University GSAPP
Exporting Zionism: Architectural Modernism in Israeli-African Technical Cooperation, 1958-1973

This dissertation explores Israeli architectural and construction aid in the 1960s – “the African decade” – when the majority of sub-Saharan African states gained independence from colonial rule. In the Cold War competition over development, Israel distinguished its aid by alleging a postcolonial status, similar geography, and a shared history of racial oppression to alleviate fears of neocolonial infiltration. I critically examine how Israel presented itself as a model for rapid development more applicable to African states than the West, and how the architects negotiated their professional practice in relation to the Israeli Foreign Ministry agendas, the African commissioners' expectations, and the international disciplinary discourse on modern architecture. I argue that while architectural modernism was promoted in the West as the International Style, Israeli architects translated it to the African context by imbuing it with nation-building qualities such as national cohesion, labor mobilization, skill acquisition and population dispersal. Based on their labor-Zionism settler-colonial experience, as well as criticisms of the mass construction undertaken in Israel in its first decade, the architects diverged from technocratic "high modernism" to accommodate the needs of African weak governments.

Focusing on prestigious governmental and educational buildings such as the Sierra Leone parliament, Ife University in Nigeria, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Ethiopia, as well as urban and national planning schemes, this study brings to the fore the performative capacities of these projects in relation to the national and international audiences they addressed as vehicles of governance and markers of a desired modernity. In other words, this study examines the role these projects played in the mobilization of workers, funds, lands, infrastructure and policy making. Cutting across North-South and East-West dichotomies, the study of this modality of transnational exchange sheds new light on processes of modernization and globalization and exposes their diverse cultural and political underpinnings.

Albert José-Antonio López, MSCCCP 2012
Within the last two decades many of the contributors to the Cuban Modern Project have passed away.  In those cases where their thoughts and remembrances were not recorded, lacunae in the history of Cuban Modern Architecture now exist.  Fortunately an important contemporary, Ricardo Porro, designer of the famed Art Schools in Havana, was still alive at the time that this project was undertaken.   Porro is perhaps best know for his involvement in National Schools of Art in Havana, a project that both flourished and foundered due to the tempestuous politics of the Cuban Revolution.   This projected focused instead on questions of architectural pedagogy in the late years of the Cuban Republic, Porro's involvement with other notable Cuban modern architects such as Nicolás Quintana and Frank Martínez, and questions of planning and development prior to the Revolution.   As the story continued to unfold, however, a more nuanced insight into Porro as an individual, and the 20th Century Cuban architect as a possible archetype emerged.   Thought provoking questions of National Identity, Cosmopolitanism, and the trauma of Exile emerged that now allow me to read into the affect that may accompany the architect or creative agent that emerges from a Nation marked by the conflict inherent in the process of defining its own cultural identity.
The accumulation of insight from this important figure in Modern architecture led me toward the second part of my historical research.  In the winter of 2011-2012, I travelled to Havana, Cuba to engage in a series of field studies and archival research with the Office of the Historiador de la Habana, therefore permitting me the breadth in empirical knowledge needed to enrich the narrative that had been recounted to me by Porro in the Fall of that Year.  Analysis of Colonial urban forms, Republican development plans, Revolutionary architectural experiments, and contemporary use of these spaces enabled the continuation and completion of my research at Columbia University with a thesis focusing on planning in Cuba during the mid 20th century.

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1  Architectural Advertisement from Arquitectura Cuba, 1950s
2  Ricardo Porro, La Papaya, 1963.  From Ricardo Porro: Architekt, pg. 56



Daniel Talesnik, PhD Candidate in Architecture History and Theory 2015 (ABD), Columbia University GSAPP
My dissertation studies the Red Bauhaus Brigade, a group of seven Bauhauslers that worked in the Soviet Union with Hannes Meyer. This Brigade, politically driven and short-lived, is understood by my research as an itinerant extension of Meyer’s interrupted Bauhaus tenure. Using the Brigade as a pivotal point, the overall research extends from the Bauhaus to the post-Soviet undertakings of some Brigade members: multi-continental activities that included designing buildings, planning cities, teaching, writing and activism.
In 1936, after six years in the Soviet Union, Meyer moved to Switzerland. Despite having procured work back home, his overall architectural and political project had no space of action in Europe, and therefore in 1939 he immigrated to Mexico. Tibor Weiner, one of the original Brigade members, had a similar story. In 1937, after seven years in the Soviet Union he returned to Europe, and in 1939 immigrated to Chile. By 1949, both Meyer and Weiner were back in Europe.
I used the Buell Center Fellowship for Oral History Research to scrutinize some aspects of Weiner’s academic activities in Chile, which can also be interpreted as a nomadic continuity of Meyer’s Bauhaus and Soviet stint. In 1946, Weiner helped to reform the University of Chile’s school of architecture. He participated in the creation of a new study plan and taught a class. With the aim of understanding the objectives of the reform, I examined the content of lectures and exercises for traces of Bauhaus discourses. This project dealt with two interviewees: Miguel Lawner (Weiner’s student) and Abraham Schapira (Weiner’s teaching assistant). These interviews are crucial for the third chapter of my dissertation, which investigates Tibor Weiner’s work in France, Chile and Hungary. Besides uncovering aspects of Weiner’s Chilean years, these interviews tackle a central topic in my dissertation: the reception of Meyer’s Bauhaus in Latin America.


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1. Miguel Lawner exercise for Tibor Weiner's class, School of Architecture of the University of Chile, 1946

2. Miguel Lawner exercise for Tibor Weiner's class, School of Architecture of the University of Chile, 1946