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Eugenics in the Garden: Transatlantic Architecture and the Crafting of Modernity, by Fabiola López-Durán, LASP Seminar Series

Monday, April 23, 2018 at 12:15pm to 1:10pm

Uris Hall, 153 109 Tower Road, Ithaca, NY 14853

As Latin American elites strove to modernize their cities at the turn of the twentieth century, they eagerly adopted the eugenic theory that improvements to the physical environment would lead to improvements in the human race. Based on Jean-Baptiste Lamarck’s theory of the “inheritance of acquired characteristics,” this strain of eugenics empowered a utopian project that made race, gender, class, and the built environment the critical instruments of modernity and progress.

Through a transnational and interdisciplinary lens, Eugenics in the Garden reveals how eugenics, fueled by a fear of social degeneration in France, spread from the realms of medical science to architecture and urban planning, becoming a critical instrument in the crafting of modernity in the new Latin world. Journeying back and forth between France, Brazil, and Argentina, Fabiola López-Durán uncovers the complicity of physicians and architects on both sides of the Atlantic, who participated in a global strategy of social engineering, legitimized by the authority of science. In doing so, she reveals the ideological trajectory of one of the most celebrated architects of the twentieth century, Le Corbusier, who deployed architecture in what he saw as the perfecting and whitening of man. The first in-depth interrogation of eugenics’ influence on the construction of the modern built environment, Eugenics in the Garden convincingly demonstrates that race was the main tool in the geopolitics of space, and that racism was, and remains, an ideology of progress.

Fabiola López-Durán earned her Ph.D in the History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Prior to joining the Rice University faculty, she was the 2009-2011 Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities at the Department of History of Art at the University of California-Berkeley. Adopting an original transnational and interdisciplinary perspective, López-Durán's works uncovers and interrogates the cross-pollination of ideas and mediums-science, politics and aesthetics-that ignited the process of modernization on both sides of the Atlantic, with an emphasis on Latin America.  Her awards include fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson National Foundation, Dedalus Foundation, CLIR, Harvard Center for European Studies, Camargo Foundation, Samuel H. Kress Foundation and the Fulbright Program. More recently she has been recognized by the Sophia Meyer Farb Prize for Outstanding Teaching/Phi Beta Kappa National Honor Society at Rice University, and the Society of Architectural Historians/Mellon Author Award for her 2018 book, Eugenics in the Garden: Transatlantic Architecture and the Crafting of Modernity. Her work has been published in Europe, Asia, South America and the United States. 

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