Session for the Society of American City Planning Historians (SACRPH),
Cleveland, Ohio, October 26-29, 2017
Already by the first third of the 20th century, the social sciences had penetrated deeply into the fields of architecture and urban planning, whether in form urban sociology or in the ergonomic experiments of the Bauhaus. By the 1960s, however, new and burgeoning sub-fields of experimental psychology, sociology and anthropology had begun to shape the new discipline of environmental design. In these expanded fields of social science, social scientists and environmental designers, their previously distinct roles increasingly blurred, were drawn into the often-turbulent politics of participatory design and advocacy planning. As social scientist steadily uncovered new kinds of subjectivity and the cultural diversity of perception, the subjects of social science also began to raise their own independent voices in the design processes. In recent years the rise of social practice in architecture and planning – as exemplified by such organizations as Architecture for Humanity, Public Architecture, and the Social Economic Environmental Design Network (SEED), together with such exhibitions as “Small Scale, Big Change” and “Design with the Other 90%” – has demonstrated the persistent use of social scientific claims within architecture. At the same time, a certain historical amnesia often surrounds such practices, allowing their proponents to evade the thornier political and aesthetic questions that plagued previous iterations of social-scientifically based design.
Despite the deeply intertwined histories of social science and environmental design in the twentieth century, scholars have only just begun to make sense of this often-fraught and contradictory relationship. This panel will seek to historicize the ways architects, planners and environmental designers have engaged social scientific research in their work, whether through positivist claims for a so-called public good; activist engagement on behalf of specific users; philanthropic campaigns for social improvement; or political-utopian images of a future ideal. Papers should demonstrate the continuities, shifts and breaks of social science approaches within architecture over time. For example, papers might trace larger discursive and interdisciplinary interactions within the architectural academy, or examine case studies of how particular architects, movements, or projects employed social science as a design tool. Questions may include: How did environmental designers translate social scientific data into built form? How did architects and social scientists communicate across increasingly wide disciplinary gaps? How did architects or urban planners employ tropes of social science in order to further their formal or aesthetic preferences? How did social scientific design shift between technocratic management and political activism? How might social science have served as an ideological screen for the political shapers of architectural and urban form?
Please send abstracts to Susanne Cowan and Anthony Raynsford by Feb 7, 2017.