2017 Buell Center Fellowship

2017 Buell Center Fellowship


The Buell Center Fellowship is an annual award for historical research on the built environment within or between the fields of architecture, urban history, and landscape.


Awards 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. Applicants must be full-time Columbia University students at the time of the award's distribution.


Recipients: Jana Beránková, Yujia Bian, Gabriel Ruiz-Larrea, Amy Zhang



Jana Beránková, PhD Candidate Architecture


Revolution through Architecture: Educational Institutions in Cuba


The project explores architecture of post-revolutionary educational institutions in Cuba and social implications of related experiments with prefabrication and design typologies.


After the 1961 literacy campaign, Cuban state has built an extensive body of education institutions. Education played a key role after the revolution as the new government strived to legitimize itself by transforming Cuba into the “most educated nation in the word.” These efforts were embodied in projects such as ESBEC (Escuela secundaria básica en el campo). The ESBEC was a prototype to be repeated and deployed in numerous rural locations around the whole territory. It was based on a Girón system of prefabricated concrete elements; only through an industrialized construction process could knowledge be delivered quickly to everyone. Vivid colors and porosity between interior and exterior were supposed to contrast with the former “prison-like” typology of bourgeois schools with enclosed courtyards. A school was seen not as a single building but as a testing environment of future community; the socialism itself was interpreted as a constant school. The school was to be transformed into a totally designed environment where every design element would foster learning. The architectural structure of these buildings was supposed to enable its future expansion or modification of its function.


This project aims to study and document Cuban post-revolutionary educational institutions and related archival sources; it questions the relationship between a political event and transformation of architectural education and of architectural knowledge.


1.                                       2.



1. A double page in the review Arquitectura Cuba 339/1972. The page contains: Rural hexagonal school (first row, third from left); School City Camilo Cienfuegos (second row, first from left); Kindergarten at the Square of the Revolution (third row, first and second from left); Pre-university Institute Ciudad Libertad (fourth row, first and second from right). 

2. ESBEC published in Arquitectura Cuba 339/1972.



Yujia BianMS.CCCP 2018


Naturalists Redefined: Nature Expeditions in the 19th and the 20th century in Indochinese Peninsula and the Greater Mekong Subregion


With a Chinese handbook The Customs of Cambodia (真臘風土記) in hand, French naturalist Henri Mouhot traveled through Siam, Laos and the former territory of Khmer civilization in Cambodia between 1858 and 1860. Drawn to the architecture, plants and people of the region, Mouhot recounted them with a sense of the monumental and sublime. Seventy years later,  another group of naturalists, the Kelley-Roosevelts Asiatic Expeditions, traveled this same route before heading north into Southwest China. The expedition filled the Field Museum’s collections with thousands of specimens of plants and animals, including the banteng and giant panda. My research takes these two expeditions, tracing the connections and transformations between them. As the documented and the imagined, climatic and biological geographies of the region had shifted, so did the political ones: The French soon obtained control over Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, incorporating the three countries into the colony of French Indochina. The latecomer Americans were different. In distinguishing themselves from the European colonizers, they nevertheless deployed strategies of resource plundering and cultural domination. In retrospect, though being a naturalist, Mouhot was mostly remembered by the French of his photographs of architecture, while Coolidge was among the founding members of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Ted. is remembered, together with his father Theodore Roosevelt Jr., as a nature conservationist to this day. In the narratives of the two naturalists, we see changing attitudes of explorers toward architecture, plants and mammals ... from the colonial French to the neocolonial Americans. 


1.                                       2.



1. Facade of the Temple of Ongcor Wat (Angkor Wat). Retrieved from Henri Mouhot: Travels in the central parts of Indo-China (Siam), Cambodia and Laos, during the years 1858, 1859, and 1860. London: John Murray, Albermarie Street. 1864.

2. Completing the construction of the United States National Museum building (now the National Museum of Natural History) on May 11, 1909. The Smithsonian Institution Building is visible across the Mall. Courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives. 



Gabriel Ruiz-Larrea, MS.CCCP 2018


The Articulation of Nature: The cultural, political and aesthetic reinvention of nature in America through the second half of the 20th century


This research aims to explore the post-romantic constructions of ‘nature’ through the second half of the 20thcentury in the United States. The history of North American art and architecture has been filled with examples where nature was put at the center of stage, generating a cultural discussion, both aesthetic and political, which has contributed to a shift towards a new concept of nature: a place in permanent conflict, a political subject that works as a platform for debate from where we can nowadays discuss ideas around political ecologies, environmental aesthetics, otherness, and the non human.


The word ‘nature’ comes from natura, Latin for birth - as do the words nation, native and innate. In the United States, the relationship between nation and nature has been central to its colonial and post-colonial history, from the idea of the noble savage to the myth of the frontier, but also for the creation of a line of thought that understands the natural as such place for discussion and negotiation.


The conflict around the dominion of the human over the natural has motivated a huge catalog of productions: political (boundaries), aesthetic (landart works) and economic (resources and urbanization) throughout the second half of the 20th century. This relationship, often conflictive and antagonistic, has been strongly discussed from many perspectives, and has become today a fundamental and controversial space from where we can try to understand the transformations of contemporary culture.


The necessary construction of a discussion around topics such us political ecology, postcolonial theory, critical archeology, the loss of centrality of the human, the dissolution of the nature-culture binomial, the consequences of anthropic action, the reproductions and displacements of natural phenomena, etc. may find some of its predecessors in the artistic and architectural practices of the second half of the twentieth century. The research for the Buell Fellowship, the CCCP thesis project the research supports, will try to destabilize notions of the aesthetic, political or economic boundaries that these practices were redrawing through field trips, interviews and research, assembling a constellation of archival documents, projects and contemporary voices.


1.                                       2.



1. Still image from CLUI video Zones T16, T13-3, Owens Lake, California, 2017.

2. Satellite view of Roden Crater, Flagstaff, Arizona. 



Amy Zhang, PhD Candidate Architecture


Media Theory and Design Pedagogy in Brazil, 1962-1970


In 1962, as the new building plans for the University of São Paulo’s School of Architecture (FAU-USP) were being drawn, architect and professor Vilanova Artigas simultaneously coordinated a set of dramatic reforms to the curriculum. The principle directive from Artigas was to integrate Industrial Design into a class on visual communication—a synthesis strikingly similar to moves underway at MIT since 1944 under the aegis of visual artist and art theorist György Kepes.


The pedagogical change suggests the coeval presence of new media discourses alongside older, ongoing preoccupations with industrial development in Brazilian architecture, starting in the 1960s. The contemporaneous presence and activities of key figures in the history of media theory further support this hypothesis: most notably, Czech theorist Vilém Flusser, having escaped the concentration camps of Europe in WWII, taught a communications course at the USP’s School of Engineering throughout the decade. While Artigas and his students began to debate architecture’s relationship to industrialization in terms of the mediating acts of drawing, Flusser was developing his ideas on the communication structures of art and the technical image.


The main objective of my project will be to delineate—from the content and institutional materializations of Artigas and Flusser’s pedagogical overlaps—the historically specific environment for which their interventions served as distillations, informing changing approaches to design. Moreover, through the lens of new media, my work hopes to break from the strict attachment of architecture’s political horizon to the developmentalism of the 1940s and 50s—a trope which has produced an impasse in architectural assessments of Brazil’s military dictatorship (1964-1985), the larger project of my dissertation.


1.                                2.



1. 1968 student protest in the Central Hall of the FAU-USP building (1961-1969), desgned by Vilanova Artigas. Photograph by José Moscardi/FAU USP.

2. Vilém Flusser (1920-1991), television interview, n.d.