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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Building the Home Front: The Lanham Act and the Modernization of American Housing, 1940-1945
by Peterson, Lindsay, Ph.D., New York University, 2017, 370; 10245797
Abstract (Summary)

The dissertation examines the domestic architecture of the World War II home front, specifically that which was built under the Lanham Act, a bill passed in October 1940 to provide emergency housing for America’s defense production workers. The study aims to situate wartime housing projects within the history of twentieth-century architecture and show that the nation’s brief focus on emergency housing had a profound impact on the modernization of the home and the urban landscape, in large part because of the unique objective: to attract low- and middle-income workers and their families to live in the homes, so that they could contribute to the war effort.

The endeavor to provide housing to approximately eight million war workers occurred against a backdrop of demands for economy and speed, as well as strategic concerns about national migration, raw materials, transportation, and the threat of air raid attack. Despite these challenges, many independent architects—including prominent American and European modernists—creatively adapted their work to new modes of living, building techniques, construction methods, and planning norms. In a reflection of the war’s uncertainty (and post-war possibilities), many embraced the concept of flexibility as a primary objective in working out designs for structural systems, house plans, furniture, schools, community and shopping centers, and even in the larger project and town plans, which were expected to be able to adjust to future needs.

The goals of this study are to offer an analysis of American housing that focuses on specific problems of aesthetics, technology, politics, and social history. It traces the federal government’s role in financing, planning, standardizing, and building defense and war housing, and the concomitant transformation of a piecemeal, craft-centered home building industry into a technologically progressive arm of the American production machine. It also focuses on the work of specific architects—particularly Clarence Stein and William Wurster—whose projects challenged traditional notions of neighborhood planning, technology and materiality. The issues of prefabrication and demountability, in particular, forced architects and manufacturers to reassess their respective roles in the building profession, and the design implications of using standardized, modular, and often moveable building components. What this analysis, and additional discussions of landscape and community building design, demonstrates is that the objectives of modern architecture, particularly its ethos of rational efficiency, was shown to be consistent with the objectives of America’s war on the home front, that is, to mobilize workers and stimulate industry, thus harnessing American production for victory.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Cohen, Jean-Louis
Commitee: Minturn, Kent, Rappaport, Nina, Slifkin, Robert
School: New York University
Department: Institute of Fine Arts
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 78/08(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American history, Art history, Architecture
Keywords: Carquinez Heights, Home front, Planning, Prefabrication, Stein, Clarence, World War II
Publication Number: 10245797
ISBN: 978-1-369-63019-0
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