Cities 377, Fall 2003
Topics in Modern Architecture: Building the American Downtown

ASSIGNMENTS (draft 1 Sept. 03; more to come).

Q2Bib: Questions to Bibliography
We will start our exploration with the questions we want to pose, looking for what’s out there in the literature on our topic, and the kinds of answers that these interpretive writings offer. These could be scholarly articles in journals or compiled collections, chapters or sections of books, or period writings on the subject. Students will use different approaches to build and submit lists of readings that would seem most promising, browsing a few.

The details: For this assignment, …
1. Pose a few questions, and use all tools you can come up with to see if someone may have posed and responded to this question in print. You may use Google and other general search engines, as long as you don’t stop there. Go to the shelves, and open up the volumes you've identified and topical neighbors to check for their citations and bibliography for promising sources.
2. Give citations for at least a half-dozen of what seem your most promising leads. We’ll all use the format of the leading journal in this realm, the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, i.e.,
-- Paul Avrich, The Russian Anarchists (Princeton, 1967), 17.
-- Bruno Taut, “Eine Notwendingkeit,” Der Sturm 4 (Feb. 1914): 357.
-- Kirk Varnedoe, “Overview: The Flight of the Mind,” in A Fine Disregard: What Makes Modern Art Modern (New York, 1989), 228-33.
-- S. F. Starr, “The Revival and Schism of Urban Planning in 20th Century Russia,” in The City in Russian History, ed. Michael F. Hamm (Lexington, Ky., 1976), 225-31.

Note in one sentence in each case what insights it might offer to questions that you’ve posed.
3. Take a closer look at three of these, browsing them (don’t read in full yet)
4. Submit this as a MS Word “.doc” (or a “.rtf” if using another program), and title this q2b followed by your initials .doc or .rtf, i.e. qtbjac.rtf, and send it to me as an attachment by noon next Tuesday, 9 Sept.
I’ll collect these in one document as the initial seed of our annotated bibliography.

RR1, RR3: Reading responses.
There will be no texts or required-reading packet for this course. We’re venturing into relatively uncharted territory, it seems, and we’ll have to find our own resources. A key part of our exploration will be our work in combing the historical literature of architecture, urbanism, perhaps economics, geography, literature, and other fields, along with the particular historiography of several cities, for the light they can shed on the independent questions that we pose about the 19th-century downtown

Following up on the Q2Bib assignment, above, students will each read some of the best writings they can find, respond to them individually on paper, discuss them in class, and contribute these responses to a collective annotated bibliography that we’ll build on the web through the course.
There will be three iterations of this assignment, with one week to complete each. In each reading week, pose new questions, identify at least six promising new sources, browse if you can, and then choose three to read closely. Some may be from the collective list already posted, or from Longstreth’s bibliography, but at least two should be new ones.
Be adventurous in posing pertinent questions and in devising strategies for pursuing them through your reading. Be resourceful in putting your hands on the most topical writings you can, using other area libraries when what seems the most promising source is not on the nearest shelf.
Cite all the sources, including the likely ones, in full as in the previous exercise, and for the ones read closely, concisely explain the argument or the topical frame of the each. Then direct a separate paragraph or two of discussion to how this addresses your question or some other pertinent one, or where it seems to fall short of your hopes. These should be sent in as attachments before 3pm on Tuesdays, 16 Sept., 28 Oct., and 4 Nov.

Rev RR2: Re-work Type3 with comments and readings
A change in plan for this next assignment, which was to have been a reading response focused more on the architecture than the urbanism of 19th-century commercial buildings. We want to reframe and extend this, focusing the reading on the subject of your last project, five different commercial building types, and to bring these to a more informed, analytical, and presentable state. Each website should be reworked in response to comments and to a new set of readings on buildings of that type, along with more analysis of the type and its subtypes, and more attention to the evidence you’ve already broached, especially in plan. We'll take about 10 days on this; post your revised websites (and tell me where they are) by Friday, the 31st.

(a) Search for and read some pointedly pertinent writings that help one understand examples of your building type in large U.S. cities (not just Philadelphia) during our mid to late 19th-century period. Be very resourceful in finding on-target publications, large or small. (It is difficult to define quantity here, but they should roughly add up to the substance of three academic articles or book chapters.) Look for articles in scholarly journals on buildings of the type, shorter pieces on well-known specific buildings of that type in major cities, period accounts of then-new buildings, or discussions in books or journals on slightly later buildings of the type that look back analytically at earlier responses to that program. Use the Avery Index, check for “Streetscapes” articles listings in the NY Times, look for short or long write-ups in books on New York, Chicago, or other cities that seem to penetrate to issues of architectural type or specific building designs. In each team, complement one another's readings and discuss these with your partner.

(b) This week, look at the websites of your peers, providing some constructive comments by email to at least two projects of your classmates (cc’ing me), offering them a sense of what improvements you would have found helpful. If you'd prefer to offer an over-the-shoulder crit that you can arrange in real-time with the project's authors, the "critt-er" should send me a short account of the suggestions proffered.

(c) For your own website revisions, consider student peer comments as well as mine that I’ll return to you today (if you're having trouble reading the scrawls, stop by). Then re-examine and rework your websites, integrating ideas drawn from your new reading (fully cited with each reader's individual initials at the end) to inform your analysis. Make sure you use images or quoted material well to make your points, always being careful to identify them and their source fully. Find and use plans effectively to make your case to your reader, starting with atlas footprints (crop where that will help reader identify what is of interest); if you haven’t already been successful at getting what you regard as typical plans, look more energetically for period plans among fire insurance surveys for buildings of your type at HSP or PHC, among HABS drawings, period architectural publications, and other sources.
Key here is to focus on building form, subdividing your whole category according to major differences in spatial desiderata (not feeling too wedded to the instances of the type employed in previous assignments). Don’t be seduced into retelling tales of the general pattern of evolution in architectural style of the age, or by the tale of technological advance for its own sake. Find and think analytically about plans, and about spatial fit with different species of enterprise.

Post your websites by October 31st, tell me where they are, and get the sheets with comments back to me; I'll grade the revised versions only.

Type1, Type2, Type3: Building Types Downtown
One very useful way to look at the complex phenomenon of the commercial city is through typology. This three-part series of assignments will focus on functional and built types, (a) analyzing the variety of buildings that made up the 19th-century downtown, (b) looking at each type’s distribution and migration, and (c) looking at each type in terms of its typical forms in use of spaces and in plan, as well as extraordinary examples conceived in tension with the type, often by professional architects of the time.

Type1. Downtown Uses
What uses claimed the blockfronts of the principal downtown streets in its mid-late 19th century heydey?
Identify as many uses as you can for the blocks of the specific panoramas given to each of you, using these and coeval city directories (on ref at HC, Magill) to fill out or briefly peruse to find new ones on your blocks. Try to analyze and group the specific uses into a functional hierarchy as a brief outline for each blockfront, and send that in as a word doc called type1[your initials].doc by Tues, 9 Sept.

Type2. Locations of Uses
Our goal in this one-week exercise is to try to map the locations of the most predominant uses in the mid-to-late 19th century downtown.

From your scrutiny of the panorama sheets and our discussion of them in last week's class, one can propose ten major groupings, given below. Working from an 1867-68 business directory, I've identified a few business types as listed there that seem to fall somewhat centrally within each grouping.


brokers, stock & exchange
brokers, bill and note

Upper-class services and recreations

seamstresses, tailors


corporate: insurance
corporate: mining companies
corporate: railroad companies

Retail of household items

furniture dealers, new
sewing machines
chair manufacturers

Retail of personal items

dry goods, retail
hats and caps
shoes & boots
hosiery manufacturers
gentlemen's furnishings


Retail consumables

wine & liquor retailers
tea dealers
cigar dealers & makers

Manufactured goods and agents

umbrella makers
broom makers
woolen cloth
brass founders
carpet manufacturers
morocco manufacturers


newspapers, daily
printing, book & job

Wholesale and Imported Goods

lace & embroideries, retailers and jobbers
silks & notions, importers
druggist, wholesale
hardware/cutlery, wholesale and importers
fancy goods, importers & jobbers

Professional services



You'll each be given one of these categories to characterize spatially on a base map, either sampling or mapping in full. (You may choose other business types from the directories that you feel better depict this category in terms of adequate numbers, concentration downtown, or the logic of what they do; some things may logically belong in multiple categories, but don't take one already being dealt with by someone else except where they won't be mapping that.)

So, your task: Map and discuss these categories of use in the downtown of the mid-19th century city.

The details: Use the business directories to find locations of either a strictly constructed sampling (i.e., not just the ones with recognizible locations) or the whole batch if the number is not too large. I'll provide a base map, taken from a colorful 1848 atlas (but the street patterns haven't changed much there over our period). Give color-coded dots for each of your representative business types (you may want to diminish the map color in Photoshop if it interferes). Haverford has business directories for several years of this period, including 1869, 1872, and 1873. I have 1867 in my office, and Penn has a number on the shelf in Van Pelt Library. (We'll skip the chronological aspect of comparing different points in time as being a bit too much to do, unless a quick check with another period's business directory allows you to offer an impresson of that.)

In a 1-2 page report accompanying your map(s), indicate[a] what proportion of each sample you couldn't locate (but try using the street index in each directory), and [b] of the remaining ones, what percentages were unmapped because they seem to be beyond Center City (river to river, South to Vine). Also, give [c] the approximate whole number of each of these specific businesses in Center City (to give a sense of its dominance in Center City), and [d] what percentage of that specific business, as a proportion of the business directory listings, is downtown.

For example: say there were 53 cravate sellers given under that heading in the 1867 biz directory: you decide that about 20 will illustarte the trend nicely, so you target every other one, and try to locate them with a purple dot on your base map. Four, or about xx% (4/26) were unlocatable [a], and 3/22 as % were outside Center City [b], meaning of the locatable ones, 19/22 as a % were in Center City [d], or roughly (19/22 x 53) [c].

The brief report should also give the particulars of what you did, and delve into issues encountered in the framing of this inquiry, including whether there are subdivisions within these categories that are critical to understanding them or that are reflected in the distributions that you come up with. It should offer a brief explanation of the general conclusions you would draw or key questions this poses in your mind.

Please send your maps and report as email attachments to me next week, specifically before noon on the 24th, so that I can make them available before class. For those who can, you may also post the map and report as a website, but let me know its precise address by that day.

You'll each get one of the ten categories, but you may work in self-selected pairs if you like, helping one another with your separate tasks, and hopefully complementing one another if some are feel a bit challenged by any of the digital aspects of this.

Type3. Building Form
The final part of our exploration of type concerns building form for certain ones, both the "face and the space." You will be part of a team of two and have two weeks to find period examples within broad types, look at them analytically, and try to define the range of the typical for these, using that as a foil against which to weigh period examples of the extraordinary, usually architect-designed works within that type.

For examples, you may start with those buildings of your assigned type depicted in the panoramas, but should look more broadly to period survivors here or in other large cities, to published images, and to archival ones. For a more spatial understanding, important resources will be plans, not terribly common survivals from this period. Key resources include footprints from real estate atlases, plans of period buildings from historical surveys like HABS, or examples from period architectural publications (which will lean toward the extraordinary), discovery via the Avery Index. A very helpful local resource, with very broad coverage, is a collection of tens of thousands of local fire insurance surveys with plans (at HSP) idenitifiable via an on-line database at the Places in Time website. Once identified from the db, the original surveys must be requested at HSP to get a look at them. Reports on individual buildings my also be found in monographs on particular cities, on particular Victorian architects, or particular industries. (For NYC, Christopher Gray's NYT "Streetscapes" articles, searchable via, or Robert Stern's 1880 or 1900 books may provide useful particulars.

Collectively, we'll target a total of five types, with folks working in pairs on each, but with different partners and on a different building type than last time. The result should be a report in a the form of a simple website, with images, for presentation in class on 8 October; those who feel less certain of their tech skills should seek a partner who can help them to reach a basic operating level. Again be as resourceful as you can in identifying materials of service to your goal, and look at the website as the design of an experience conveying your findings to someone curious about the topic you are presenting (not just the instructor). Be analytical about distinctions within the type or over time, and the reasons for those distinctions, using evidence of varied sorts.

Our most conceptually probing assignment will be a short thematic paper of 4 to 6 pages that will reach out to address more far-ranging, overarching questions, the latter to be provided by the instructor. Rather than a full-fledged research paper, this exercise will focus on a consideration of research strategies and resources, hypotheses, and preliminary expectations born of two weeks of focused work, rather than definitive conclusions.

In each case, the student will adopt a challenging question or a promising body of material, will probe its meaning and import, and will propose a strategy or strategies for pursuing the most intriguing parts of the question. Students should follow through on some of the initial steps, familiarizing themselves with the resources if not reading them fully. No definitive conclusion is expected, but these papers should frame and explore the questions, arrive at some method, get a good sense of some of the resources, and offer some likely hypotheses.

This should include endnotes citing works used.

Some subjects under consideration at this point include:
• Did things happen differently in US than in cities elsewhere at this time?
• What of other commercial zones: edges of downtown; neighborhood business; main streets in small towns, or early roadside commerce.
• The perspective of a particular good / services, i.e., clothing, dining, etc. and the evolution, logic of their reaching consumers.
• Are we being too glib about 18th c.?
• The spread of the skyscraper and its effect on downtown land values.
• Downtown as portrayed in period novels
• Downtown as discussed in period journals.
• Learning from pictures: patterns and motives in downtown depictions.
• Prospects for the commercial downtown in the 21st century.
• Land value as metric and conditioner of change.
• Urban business accommodations and the motives of planners, developers, and the independent businessmen.
Students may propose others to the instructor.

During the last part of the semester we’ll work on a collaborative project, looking closely at the documentation and evolution of a particular business district: the core of Philadelphia’s earliest downtown in the part of Center City nearest the Delaware River. Much of this is now Independence National Historic Park, mostly swept clear of evidence of the intensive 19th-century commercial transformation of this part of the city.

We will try to bring it back, creating materials for an exhibition, real or perhaps only virtual. It will be based on the buildings shown in the commercial panoramas of these blocks, documenting each building and looking at change before and after that date. We will integrate documents and images on large panels and electronically on a website that will allow the curious viewer to know this place as it was and follow its evolution.

Students will work in teams on specific blocks, compiling documentation and images and collectively conceiving coordinated presentations of a half-dozen to a dozen block fronts in that area. This project may be expanded upon by other classes in subsequent semesters.

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