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Beatriz Colomina

Beatriz Colomina is Professor of Architecture and Founding Director of the Program in Media and Modernity at Princeton University. She is the editor of Sexuality and Space, which was awarded the International Book Award by the American Institute of Architects. She is the coeditor of Cold War Hot Houses: Inventing Postwar Culture from Cockpit to Playboy. Her most recent book is Doble exposición: Arquitectura a través del arte.

Titles by This Author

In the years immediately following World War II, America embraced modern architecture—not as something imported from Europe, but as an entirely new mode of operation, with original and captivating designs made in the USA. In Domesticity at War, Beatriz Colomina shows how postwar American architecture adapted the techniques and materials that were developed for military applications to domestic use. Just as manufacturers were turning wartime industry to peacetime productivity—going from missiles to washing machines—American architects and cultural institutions were, in Buckminster Fuller’s words, turning "weaponry into livingry."

This new form of domesticity itself turned out to be a powerful weapon. Images of American domestic bliss—suburban homes, manicured lawns, kitchen accessories—went around the world as an effective propaganda campaign. Cold War anxieties were masked by endlessly repeated images of a picture-perfect domestic environment. Even the popular conception of the architect became domesticated, changing from that of an austere modernist to a plaid-shirt wearing homebody.

Colomina examines, with interlocking case studies and an army of images, the embattled and obsessive domesticity of postwar America. She reports on, among other things, MOMA's exhibition of a Dymaxion Deployment Unit (DDU), a corrugated steel house suitable for use as a bomb shelter, barracks, or housing; Charles and Ray Eames's vigorous domestic life and their idea of architecture as a flexible stage for the theatrical spectacle of everyday life; and the American lawn as patriotic site and inalienable right.

Domesticity at War itself has a distinctive architecture. Housed within the case are two units: one book of text, and one book of illustrations—most of them in color, including advertisements, newspaper and magazine articles, architectural photographs, and more.

Modern Architecture As Mass Media


Through a series of close readings of two major figures of the modern movement, Adolf Loos and Le Corbusier, Beatriz Colomina argues that architecture only becomes modern in its engagement with the mass media, and that in so doing it radically displaces the traditional sense of space and subjectivity.

Privacy and Publicity boldly questions certain ideological assumptions underlying the received view of modern architecture and reconsiders the methodology of architectural criticism itself. Where conventional criticism portrays modern architecture as a high artistic practice in opposition to mass culture, Colomina sees the emerging systems of communication that have come to define twentieth-century culture—the mass media—as the true site within which modern architecture was produced. She considers architectural discourse as the intersection of a number of systems of representation such as drawings, models, photographs, books, films, and advertisements. This does not mean abandoning the architectural object, the building, but rather looking at it in a different way. The building is understood here in the same way as all the media that frame it, as a mechanism of representation in its own right.

With modernity, the site of architectural production literally moved from the street into photographs, films, publications, and exhibitions—a displacement that presupposes a new sense of space, one defined by images rather than walls. This age of publicity corresponds to a transformation in the status of the private, Colomina argues; modernity is actually the publicity of the private. Modern architecture renegotiates the traditional relationship between public and private in a way that profoundly alters the experience of space. In a fascinating intellectual journey, Colomina tracks this shift through the modern incarnations of the archive, the city, fashion, war, sexuality, advertising, the window, and the museum, finally concentrating on the domestic interior that constructs the modern subject it appears merely to house.