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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Civic Center and Cultural Center: The Grouping of Public Buildings in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit and the Emergence of the City Monumental in the Modern Metropolis
by Simpson, Donald E., Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, 2013, 460; 3573264
Abstract (Summary)

The grouping of public buildings into civic centers and cultural centers became an obsession of American city planners at the turn of the twentieth century. Following European and ancient models, and inspired by the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and the McMillan Commission plan for the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 1901, architects sought to create impressive horizontal ensembles of monumental buildings in urban open spaces such as downtown plazas and quasi-suburban parks in direct opposition to the vertical thrust of commercial skyscrapers. Hitherto viewed largely through the narrow stylistic prism of the City Beautiful vs. the city practical movements, the monumental center (as Jane Jacobs termed it) continued to persist beyond the passing of neoclassicism and the rise of high modernism, thriving as an indispensable motif of futurist aspiration in the era of comprehensive and regional planning, as municipalities sought to counteract the decentralizing pull of the automobile, freeway, air travel and suburban sprawl in postwar America. The administrative civic center and arts and educational cultural center (bolstered by that icon of late urban modernity, the medical center) in turn spawned a new hybrid, the center for the performing arts, exemplified by Lincoln Center and the National Cultural Center (the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts), as cities sought to integrate convention, sports, and live performance venues into inner-city urban renewal projects. Through the key case studies of Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit, one-time juggernauts of heavy industry and twenty-first century regions of rust-belt collapse, this study examines the emergence of the ideology of grouping public buildings in urban planning as well as the nineteenth century philology of the keywords civic center and cultural center, terms once actively employed in discourses as diverse as Swiss geography, American anthropology, Social Christianity, the schoolhouse social center movement, and cultural Zionism. It also positions these developments in relation to modern anxieties about the center and its loss, charted by such thinkers as Hans Sedlmayr, Jacques Derrida, and Henri Lefevbre, and considers the contested utopian aspirations of the monumental center as New Jerusalem, Celestial City, and Shining City on a Hill.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Savage, Kirk, Armstrong, Christopher Drew
School: University of Pittsburgh
School Location: United States -- Pennsylvania
Source: DAI-A 74/12(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Area Planning and Development, Art history, Architecture, Urban planning
Keywords: City Beautiful, Cleveland, Detroit, Jacobs, Jane, Michigan, Museum history, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Public monuments, Urban renewal, Utopia
Publication Number: 3573264
ISBN: 978-1-303-43045-9
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