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Mellon Reports

Fellow Final Reports

Spring 2017

The Topography of Wellness: Health and the American Urban Landscape

Sara Jensen Carr, University of Hawaii

Sara Carr Midday Dialogue Image
Top: David Johnson, “White Mountains from Conway, NH,” 1851 (MFA Boston); Bottom: Housing development outside Los Angeles, 1996 (from Treatises: Taking Measures across the American Landscape by James Corner. Photo by Alex Maclean)

My time here allowed me to research and develop a significant portion of my book manuscript, The Topography of Wellness: Health and the American Urban Landscape. I am tracing how planners and designers have shaped the public realm in response to different urban epidemics since the Industrial Revolution, in order to better understand the links between health and design today. The Mellon Fellowship represented a unique experience to tie historical landscape precedents to contemporary practice, and the wealth of resources and contemplative space provided at Dumbarton Oaks gave me the opportunity to research and draft the introduction and opening four chapters.

The access to primary sources, from original sanitary surveys of New York and Boston, to medical topographies and accounts of “health resorts” in locations such as the Adirondacks and White Mountains of New Hampshire, to the papers of Frederick Law Olmsted, gave insight to how city officials and public intellectuals at the turn of the 20th century considered the landscape’s role in contagion and miasma. I was also given the opportunity to present my work in the Mellon Midday Dialogue Series, where the feedback from the directors, coordinators, and my peer fellows was crucial to shaping the book’s theses. Beyond the focus on my own work, the daily conversations with and exposure to the other research being done by this group of scholars will surely indirectly influence the manuscript in ways yet to be seen.

Suburbs of Last Resort: Landscape, Life, and Ruin on the Edges of San Francisco Bay

Peter Ekman, University of California, Berkeley

Peter Ekman Final Report Image
Pittsburg, Calif., views and other photographs from the C. A. Hooper & Co. records, BANC PIC 2010.040, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

This spring saw me undertake the first stages of adapting my dissertation in geography, for which I had just been awarded the Ph.D. in December 2016, for publication as a book. Principally, I took on the problem of how best to disentangle two conceptual threads that had together animated a long and somewhat eclectic work. One had called forth a visually rich history of suburbanization in Northern California between 1880 and 1940 — a kind of sidelong prehistory of the postwar suburb — with special attention to the morphology of industrial landscapes composed along the brackish Carquinez Strait, which extends east from San Francisco Bay. These chapters had found their counterpoint in a wider-ranging intellectual history of American urbanism across the long twentieth century detailing how planners and others speculated on, and then attempted to give form to, the underlying animacy of landscape as an accomplice in everyday life and work, a strain of vitalist environmental thinking that intensified in California in the early twentieth century and motivated both the design and the eventual postwar critique (as “formless”) of these very suburbs. Along the way, I adapted one chapter for publication as a freestanding journal article — on abortive federally led experiments in town planning at Clyde and Mare Island, California, during the First World War — and read widely pursuant to my next major project, the first deposit of which materialized mid-spring as a conference paper on landscape, temporality, and the writing of urban history at the Harvard–MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies, 1959 to 1975. Conversations with an exceptional group of fellows, the resources of the library, and the ineffable qualities of the gardens gave point to my thinking on these arguments and their audiences.

Fall 2016

The Unsettled City: Migration, Race, and the Making of Seattle's Urban Landscape

Megan Asaka, University of California, Riverside

Megan Asaka Midday Dialogue Image, November 22, 2016
Lumber workers in Selleck, Washington, ca. 1920. Personal collection.

My project examined the early period of Seattle’s urban formation from the mid-nineteenth century to World War II. During this time, Seattle’s urban workforce consisted of migratory and transient populations who labored in the seasonal, extractive economy of the Pacific Northwest. Though these Native American, African American, and Asian migrant workers figured centrally in the rise of Seattle as a modern metropolis, their role in building the city has largely been forgotten. The Unsettled City demonstrates that this was not an accident but rather the result of specific laws, policies, and practices that allowed for their inclusion as laborers but not as full citizens or participants in urban society. The project thus returns to the origins of Seattle’s urbanization with an attention to the racialized, transient workforce that made the city possible. 

The Academy and the State: Situating Land Economics and Development Planning in the Cold War Middle East

Burak Erdim, North Carolina State University 

Burak Erdim Midday Dialogue Image, October 26, 2016
Commencement ceremony, METU, ca. 1963. Architectural Archives, METU

My research traces the operations of transnational planning cultures during the postwar period with a focus on the establishment of the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, Turkey, in 1956. METU stands out among its postwar contemporaries as the product of a full range agents and agencies working during this period. Utilizing the material collected during a field research supported by the Mellon Grant, I developed a fuller picture of the make up of these networks for my forthcoming book. Charles Abrams, a New York labor lawyer and a houser, and later a United Nation’s housing policy expert; Jacob L. Crane, Head of the National Housing Agency, and later, Constantin Doxiadis’s close collaborator; and, G. Holmes Perkins, Dean of the School of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania and a central player in state and city planning offices in Philadelphia, can be counted among the numerous actors who contributed most directly to the School’s conceptualization. While the multiple positions that these professionals held between public, private, and educational institutions reveals the complex institutional structure of these networks, my manuscript addresses the question of what it was that these professionals were trying to do with the planning of METU. My work examines the conceptualization of METU as an educational institution as well as the planning, construction, and forestation of its campus, providing new insights into the role of the Academy in these contested territories of the Cold War in the Middle East.


Spring 2016

Adaptive Land-Water Edges in Indian Cities

Alpa Nawre, Kansas State University

Alpa Nawre Final Report Image
Assi Ghat at Varanasi, India. Alpa Nawre, 2015.

The Mellon Fellowship in Urban Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks has been a remarkable experience that has allowed me to advance my research on developing a better understanding of the flexibility and socio-cultural performance of urban land-water edges in India. Very few opportunities exist for landscape architects that simultaneously provide time and space for reflection and inspiration to pursue research that can inform better designs and hence, this fellowship is all the more special. During my stay at Dumbarton Oaks, I studied data that I had collected during my field studies and developed three papers. The first compares the ponds (talaab) and river edges (ghat) in India to synthesize aspects that enable them to act as vibrant social spaces; the second essay analyzes the role of religious architecture at the talaab water edges; and the third explores the dual role of ghat infrastructure as a hybrid object and subject in the landscape. The Mellon Midday Dialogues and my conversations with other fellows were especially very helpful to me by introducing several new perspectives on my work. Through one of the Midday Dialogues, I was also able to connect with a practitioner with whom I am collaborating on a joint presentation on water landscapes for livable cities at the American Society of Landscape Architect’s 2016 Annual conference. The fellowship has not only helped me further the design understanding of urban water infrastructure as social landscapes but also helped develop a broader perspective on better water management strategies in urban development.  

The Nature of Urban Coastal Resiliency: Twentieth-Century Governance, Environmental Management, and Design

Kara Schlichting, Queens College, CUNY

Kara Schlichting Final Report Image
United States. Army. Corps of Engineers. New England Division, Hurricane Survey, Interim Report, Narragansett Bay Area : Rhode Island, Massachusetts (Boston : The Division, 1957).

While the coastal zone can be defined by landscape and its dynamic system of morphology and hydrography, it is also a construct, an idea imposed on a landscape to delineate governance powers. As a Mellon Fellow in Urban Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks, I investigated how the concept of the coastal zone was first developed in federal legislation in the 1970s, framing the littoral as a public utility in need of management and the location of substantial economic investment in need of protection. Through my research I realized that to understand how governance intersected with the material nature of the littoral, it is necessary to reframe the chronology of the coastal zone. The 1930s-1950s underscores work in environmental studies and coastal engineering that 1970s governance initiatives overshadows: hurricanes and the Corps efforts to protect coasts from them. This history is defined not by legislation by but the environment. In studying hurricanes the Corps first conceptualized the particular vulnerabilities of southern New England’s coastal zone. As a result in 1957 the Corps embarked on an ambitious hurricane unique comprehensive survey of Narragansett Bay, R.I. My research led me to two realizations that will frame future work.  First, the Corps 1930s-1950s work was frequently based a conceptual binary that problematically disconnected the littoral’s land water environments. Second, the different frameworks that developed around two definitions of coastal hazards: short-term, violent hazards (such as hurricanes) and long-term incremental hazards (such as sea level rise or beach erosion). Due to these differing evaluations government agencies saw different things as being at risk and inspired different modes of protection.

Fall 2015

Anticipatory Urbanization Strategies for In-Situ Oil Sands Extraction in Nigeria

Christina Milos, University of Hannover

Christina Milos Midday Dialogue Image, November 10, 2015
Participatory mapping in Nigeria, 2015. Photo by Christina Milos.

Nigeria's future will be shaped in part by the twin forces of urbanization and resource development. A key emerging resource expected to accelerate urbanization in southern Nigeria is the 140 kilometer oil sands belt that stretches across Edo, Ondo, Ogun, and Lagos states. Estimated by Nigeria's Ministry of Mines and Steel Development to contain 32-47 billion barrels of oil, Nigeria’s reserves of oil sands are the largest in all of Africa, and sixth largest in the world. Anticipating how resource development might spur urbanization and restructure landscapes in developing countries such as Nigeria poses a critical global challenge. Seeking to improve policy and planning mechanisms to respond to this challenge, my research asks two key questions: How might Nigeria’s future oil sands industry transform regional urban landscapes? What are potential transformative actions and decision points that may structure this future landscape?

With the support of the Mellon Fellowship Supplemental Travel Grant, I traveled to Canada to document the spatial impacts of oil sands in Alberta. During my stay at Dumbarton Oaks, with the support of Harvard’s extensive library collections, I studied the territorial, environmental, urban, and social impacts of Nigeria’s oil industry. This work is part of my doctoral research at Hannover University in Germany and a larger research initiative established in partnership with Nigerian stakeholders. The research conducted at Dumbarton Oaks will play a critical role in shaping knowledge products intended to raise awareness among Nigerian policy makers regarding the critical challenges that oil sands extraction poses to Nigeria’s urban landscapes.

Washington's Sewer History: Ideological, Technical, and Environmental Evolution

David Wooden, Department of Energy and Environment 

David Wooden Final Report Image
Washington City Canal

As a Mellon Fellow in Urban Landscape Studies at Dumbarton Oaks, I researched the origins of the District of Columbia’s sewer system and how it shaped Washington's urban landscape. Most modern cities share some common histories regarding their development of sewer management techniques. The District’s history, however, has some unique characteristics due to its comparatively recent founding as a city by the District of Columbia Organic Act of 1801, its location on a tidal river, and its governmental structure as the United States capital lacking self-government for most of its existence. I examined these and other elements of Washington's sewer history during my time at Dumbarton Oaks.

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