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The Colour of Oppositions: White and Gray Ideology and Media Representation of the 1970s Architectural "Elite".

Part 2 Dissertation 2003
Nadia Watson
Queensland University of Technology Brisbane | Australia
Architecture culture was not immune to the social upheaval and ideological struggles of the 1970s. This study is concerned with the political climate of architecture in the United States during this period, with a particular focus on questioning the way it is presented in texts which historicise the activities of the New York “architectural avant-garde”. It deals specifically with the journal Oppositions, and the individuals, groups and organizations involved with the journal. The study investigates the distinction of groups with conflicting ideologies, the Whites and Grays, and traces the participation of these and others in the activities of the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies (IAUS), the self-nominated American architectural avant-garde of the 1970s.

Commentators and critics of Oppositions argue that the agenda of the publication was the cultural elevation of architecture as a discipline through the promotion of this new avant-garde. This study draws on the work of a number of historians who have commented first-hand on the relationships between key figures, as well as published interviews and analysis of content of Oppositions itself. These are used to analyse, in light of social theory, the intentions of the journal’s editors. The study concludes that while genuine scholarly debate between the Whites and Grays occurred, media portrayal of the division between them was exaggerated, and developed to generate publicity. Evidence also indicates that Oppositions was intended primarily to develop such theoretical discourse and publicise international attention to American architecture, rather than simply to promote White ideology.

The roles played by contributors, both American and European, and organizations such as the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), supported this aim to promote architecture as an autonomous, cultured and intellectual discipline. Certain individuals gained social power by centring themselves within the discourse developed, thereby distinguishing themselves as influential leaders of the discipline, and part of a cultural “elite.”

This dissertation demonstrates the power of the media to portray architectural culture. The specific case of the 1970’s American architectural avant-garde exemplifies the manner in which media representation affects not only immediate public perception of culture and politics, but historical record.

Nadia Watson

This is a critical study that explores an important and highly debated development in architectural theory in America. The document throws light on the circumstances surrounding the publication of the journal Oppositions and challenges commonly held views as to the political agendas of the editors. By exploring and revealing connections between individuals associated with the journal it discloses a network of affiliations. The essay points to the power of groups in establishing critical positions, and the power of the media in publicising ideologies and individuals through both positive and negative commentary. The contribution of the study lies in the fresh perspectives it offers in the specific case of Oppositions, and on media in general, as a promotional tool.

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