2018 Buell Center Fellowship

2018 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: Maur Dessauvage, Jonah Rowen, Paula Vilaplana de Miguel


Maur DessauvageMS.CCCP 2019


The Native Towns of the Union Minière du Haut Katanga, 1906-1929


In 1906, Leopold II formed the Union Minière du Haut Katanga (UMHK) in what was then the Congo Free State. Over its sixty-year career, the Belgian mining company grew into one of the world’s leading producers of copper, cobalt, zinc, cadmium, tin, radium and uranium. The vast infrastructural network of the UMHK was constituted of mines, factories, railroads and hydroelectric dams, as well as native towns [cités indigènes] adjacent to the sites of production. The consistent process of recruiting, training and sustaining African workers was an industrial enterprise in itself without which the mining company could not have functioned. Besides their specialization as underground or surface workers, the regimentation of workers in general was closely tied to the management of their living spaces. Native towns were fitted out with schools, shops, clinics and other basic amenities necessary for the maintenance of the labor force, but not more than that. Social discipline, racial segregation and cost-effectiveness reigned supreme as the sole determining factors of their organization. While architects and planners experimented with garden city principles in the European towns, the native towns remained subject to a minimum of life. With this fellowship, I intend to trace the development of the native towns in Katanga. This research will be conducted through company archives and interviews with historians. My aim is to situate the UMHK native towns within the global processes of primitive accumulation, industrialization and modernization in order to understand the work performed by these towns and the people who inhabit them.


1.                                       2.



1. René Schoentjes, Scheme of a Congolese City, 1932

2. UMHK camp for the preparation of recruits in Elizabethville from R. Mouchet and A. Pearson, L'hygiène pratique des camps de travailleurs noirs en afrique tropicale, 1922.



Jonah Rowen, PhD Candidate Architecture


The Construction of Wealth: Insurance, Surveying, Sugar, and Values


British fire insurers had been operating in the Americas for some years when, in 1808, a fire destroyed “all the most valuable part of Port of Spain, Trinidad." The Phoenix Assurance agency approved its first policies in the West Indies in 1785 but included caveats: fires caused by earthquakes, hurricanes, or “military force.” Distinguishing colonies “where Civil Liberty is enjoyed and where public credit and Commercial Honour mutually support each other,” Phoenix withheld fire insurance as a privilege. Hedging was integral to the insurance business, but refusal to assume risk implied a judgment that Caribbean buildings, proprietors, and builders did not deserve indemnification. During rebuilding the colonial government ran out of money, prompting the governor to complain about remote English designers' choices of construction materials, planning, and style. This episode demonstrates tensions between architecture's exchange-value—materials' costs and insurance policies—and its use-value, as administrative facilities and aesthetic objects.


Through fire insurance, space's intangibility became as much an object of capital investment as any other material, with buildings rated according to their volume. Fire insurance thus made architecture fungible.

Insurers gained large profits from sugar mills’ and refineries’ inflammability, and proliferating steam technology created new dangers. Several insurance companies were entangled in the transatlantic trade of labor and capital in the forms of construction, building materials, sugar, and insurance. Comparing alignments or discrepancies in alternative modes of conceiving of buildings, this project analyzes the capacities of architecture to create and manifest value, predicated on that architecture's hypothetical destruction.



1.                                       2.



1. “Continuing Hazard: A Gutted Refinery” (1820), from Clive Trebilcock, Phoenix Assurance and the Development of British Insurance, Vol. I (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1985), 20.

2. “[Jenkin] Jones sketches rebuilding on St Thomas,” (1808) from Trebilcock, Phoenix Assurance, 217.


Paula Vilaplana de MiguelMS.CCCP 2019


Haunted Real Estate: Gender, Occultism, and the Mediatization of Domestic Space


“Fall into the Mystery. Tours daily.” This enigmatic invitation is the first encounter one may have when approaching the Winchester House in San Jose, California. The historical value of the house is entangled with a narrative of the occult thoroughly exploited through the media: novels, films, postcards and a wide range of memorabilia emphasize the ghostly associations of the house over its specific features as a Victorian rarity. A similar strategy seems to surround the functioning of uncounted XIXth Century houses across the country: open to the public as sites of both history and mystery, these buildings serve as museum-houses where the visitor is offered the possibility to choose between conventional tours or fabricated paranormal “experiences”. Because a wide range of haunted attractions construct their narratives around female figures, what systems of power do they facilitate and disseminate? Following Silvia Federici’s re-reading of witch hunting as an orchestrated socio-economical tactic giving rise to capitalism through public condemnation of marginal practices, architectural scholarship needs to query the role of haunted architectures as by-products of a larger structure of dominance. Are haunted houses disciplinary spectacular machines playing an eternal reprobation of unruly behaviors? This project aims to analyze these and other related issues through inspection of different case-studies across the United States and will explore the possibilities to offer counter-narratives to the widespread associations haunting Victorian architecture.  


HAUNTED REAL ESTATE’s case-studies include, amongst others, the Winchester House in San Jose, the Whaley House Museum in San Diego, the Molly Brown House in Denver, the Lizzie Borden House in Fall River or the Merchant’s House Museum in New York.



1.                                       2.



1. Winchester Mystery House 1959

2. 1910 Garden Party at the Molly Brown House Museum (The Denver Post via Getty Images)