When looking at a building, the design, the materials, and the technology that went into its construction are generally apparent. But what about the physical labor that brought it into being? Though it remains indexed within the architectural artifact, once workers leave a construction site, they often also vanish from the historical record. These absences have a deep impact on the way architectural modernity is understood and on the ways we explain and teach its history.
"If we want to engage with a decolonial approach to architectural history, labor is a concept crucial to understanding power structures," notes Assistant Professor María González Pendás, a historian pursuing these ideas in her work and who brings them before the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning with "Labor Un:Imagined," this semester's Preston H. Thomas Memorial Symposium on March 7 and 8. Why don't architectural historians write more about building labor? Through conversation around current research presented by scholars working at the forefront of this question, the symposium will explore the methods, archives, and narratives that historians have at their disposal to better address this void and encourage a deeper understanding of the importance of this work.
The Construction Site as a Site of Knowledge Production
The construction site has long served as a site of exploitation based on race and gender, but it has also been a unique site of knowledge production that has encouraged social change and political possibility.
"As a historian, I want to better understand this dual condition," says González Pendás. "Looking closely at these scenarios helps us understand how the conditions of architectural production have changed and can change social relations."