Collaboration with Joss Kiely, University of Cincinnati
The Masterplan at Midcentury: Soft Power and the Politics of Architectural Expertise, 1945–75
Research Project, Begun 2019


In the postwar period, masterplan proposals designed by architects committed to the ideals of CIAM reimagined cities as orderly and aesthetically pleasing agglomerations. These masterplans were used as a means to channel growth and development, and were often associated with fundraising and capital campaigns for corporate, institutional, and governmental agencies who asserted American soft power at home and abroad. This research will consider masterplans prepared by architecture firms before urban design became a distinct practice with its own expertise and techniques. In some cases, a close connection between industry and architecture may be of particular note. Alcoa, for example, funded masterplans from Pittsburgh to San Francisco, as a way to encourage developers and architects to demonstrate the use of aluminium in their buildings. And although many architects engaging in master planning were based in the US, their firms designed masterplans for cities across the globe as a central part of the post-war, global architectural project. With economic, social, and cultural issues in mind, we contend that today—when master plans remain an integral part of planning for growth at multiple scales—is the ideal time to reconsider these mid-century proposals by architecture firms. Why was it assumed that those trained to design buildings were also capable of effectively designing in the aggregate? How did they market their expertise in this area of practice? And how was work on such prestigious projects delegated or distributed within large offices?

Perspective drawing of master plan proposal for Cedar-Riverside “New Town-In Town” in East Minneapolis by Ralph Rapson.