Cities Professor Carola Hein Wins Guggenheim Fellowship
to Study the Global Architecture of Oil
Carola Hein, associate professor and acting director of the Growth and Structure of Cities Program, has won a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship, a laurel awarded by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation on the basis of "distinguished achievement in the past and exceptional promise for future accomplishment." The fellowship is intended to give advanced professionals blocks of time in which they can work with as much creative freedom as possible in natural sciences, social sciences, humanities or creative arts. Hein will use the foundation's grant to pursue a research project titled "The Global Architecture of Oil."
Hein, a native of Germany who has taught and done extensive research in both Europe and Japan, is a prolific scholar of architectural and urban history. Her research has focused on the ways in which culture, economics, politics and social movements have been reflected in the buildings and art of the world's capital cities. She has also worked on the destruction and rebuilding of cities as a result of war. Her long list of publications includes three edited volumes published within the last year: Brussels: Perspectives on a European Capital, with Pierre Laconte; Cities, Autonomy and Decentralization in Japan, with Philippe Pelletier; and Bruxelles l'Européene: Capitale de qui? Ville de qui? (European Brussels: Whose Capital? Whose City?) Her monograph The Capital of Europe: Architecture and Urban Planning for the European Union was published in 2004.
Her Guggenheim project will take Hein in a new research direction, one that has long fascinated her. "The issue of oil's influence on global urban form and the spread of design concepts has come up repeatedly in my research and teaching," she says. "This new book project will raise it as a central focus.
"Examining the influence of the international oil industry on architecture and urban form will give me a way to look at architectural history in the context of globalization," she states, noting that architectural history has been slower to address the issue of globalization than have many other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences.
Her new study "moves beyond the largely European and American orientation of most research within the field, revealing the connections among the architectures of Africa, China, India, the Middle East, South America and elsewhere.
"The oil business has long been an international industry," she explains. "Oil is extracted in one place and processed in another place by a company that has its headquarters in a third place and sells its product all over the world. Oil companies establish international networks that transfer materials and money, and those same networks convey ideas about architecture and urban planning. This is not to say that there is a single architectural style associated with the oil industry, but that certain styles and attitudes have followed the paths oil money has developed."
Hein cites the profound influence of the Rockefeller family and the architects and planners it hired as an example of the oil industry's power to shape built environments around the world. Standard Oil, the company John D. Rockefeller founded with partners in 1870, "rapidly expanded its drilling and sales activities to foreign countries from Venezuela to Japan, erecting settlements, office buildings, gas stations and even housing for its employees in each locale."
In Venezuela, the Rockefellers came into contact with the French planner Maurice Rotival, whose work had previously been all but unknown in the United States. His relationship with the Rockefellers helped spread his urban design concepts and principles around the world, Hein says.
The influence of the oil industry and the architects and planners connected to it is highly visible in the Middle East and other oil-producing regions, Hein points out, but it is no less important in oil-consuming nations.
"Urban development in the 20th century has been heavily dependent on petroleum-based transportation and technologies. It is woven into the fabric of every major city in the world."
The influence of oil companies as powerful business entities continues, as well, says Hein. "Under the name ExxonMobil, the corporation founded by the Rockefellers has played a critical role in the establishment of new business districts in Paris, Milan and Hamburg. Exxon was one of the first companies to make the move from the central city to the new district planned by the city. The cities' plans could not have succeeded without the cooperation of a major player like Exxon — so here we see the oil industry determining urban form."
Hein says that she has carried out some of her preliminary research on her new topic in her preparation for courses she has taught at Bryn Mawr. She hopes to produce, in about five years, an interdisciplinary study that will be of interest both to a general audience and to scholars, and suited to both undergraduate and graduate teaching. The topic is critical to understanding the challenges facing urban planners and architects as the built environment adapts to decline or replacement of fossil fuels, and in response to the pollution and global warming caused by burning fuel.
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