9 April 2024
DocTalks x MoMA
Session 1

Environmental Design
and the Civilian Conservation Corps,

University of St. Andrews

Respondent: Maryia Rusak, ETH Zürich

As a flagship program of the New Deal, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was one of several federal agencies that turned to the natural and built environment to promote sociocultural homogenization between the First and Second World War. This talk investigates the CCC’s role as an agent of national transformation and considers the links between the New Deal’s treatment of the American landscape and its promotion of a new, more pluralistic national identity.
While historians of the interwar United States are quick to note the social and environmental significance of the CCC, the cultural role of this program remains largely overlooked. Specifically, relevant scholarship has neglected to address the architectural output of this program and the way it related to the New Deal’s broader sociocultural initiatives. With camps in every state and overseas territory, the CCC reconfigured much of the American landscape and deployed a regionally diverse blend of vernacular architecture, all while fostering a mythologized sense of cultural heritage from coast to coast. In order to better understand both the role and rationale behind the design of these CCC buildings, this talk will turn to several extant structures across California, Connecticut, Florida, Oregon, and West Virginia. In evaluating these case studies, it will become clear that these buildings acted as key vehicles of the unifying message that drove the New Deal and its many so-called ‘alphabet agencies’ from the depths of economic depression to a state of preparedness as the country headed toward global war. Accordingly, this talk considers the Corps’role in the New Deal’s construction of popular historical consciousness and draws attention to the frequent interactions between a diverse range of urban-born enrollees and rural populations before concluding with a timely discussion of the legacy and ultimate fate of these structures. How, if at all, should they be preserved? Whose responsibility is it to decide? What value might they hold in the twenty-first century United States?


The transformation of a natural
to a built environment for the working class
between the 19th and 20th centuries in Madrid:
«Esto no es fantasear.
Esa Ciudad Lineal, [..]
no es, no, una utopía»

Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America
(Columbia University)

Respondent: Marcela Aragüez, IE University, Madrid

Madrid (Spain), 1894: Arturo Soria y Mata (1844-1920) founded a joint stock company to build from scratch a prototype city for the future, the linear city. Soria y Mata, while not a technician, was interested in the city's problems. Observing Madrid, he identified the dystopia prevalent in nineteenth-century metropolises: housing hyperdensity, sanitation issues, and lack of access to public services and vegetation. The design of the new linear city was primarily aimed at the working class, which suffered the most from the consequences of nineteenth-century urbanization. Soria proposed to solve the issues of the complex urban system by founding a new city that would break away from the urbe inherited from the past, both formally and physically. Soria was an entrepreneur and managed to build a city surrounded by a "green setting" mirroring his ideals. To accomplish this, Soria defined the proportion between the built environment and nature: only one-fifth of the blocks could be built on, while the surrounding areas were reserved for gardens.
The linear city, in contrast to the crowded, dirty and unhealthy Madrid of the late 19th century, was rich in trees and bushes, which were the guarantors of physical and moral hygiene. The linearists blamed the long-established cities for detaching from the natural sphere in a vision typically of the nineteenth century. This vision idealized the hygienic countryside as a perfect place where people could live healthily and happily, free from the challenges of urban living. To realize his project and incorporate the landscape into the city, Soria used an opposite and complementary communication strategy: a house organ was founded, and a promotional event was organized, both in 1897. It was during the event that thousands of trees were planted by the participants, which transformed a barren and unpopulated area into a green and thriving environment.

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