My scholarship deals with the problems posed to the study of architecture by information technology. It confronts us with a new order of things. Electronic media, for example, intersects with the traditional mode of creating place, meaning, and identity in surprising ways. It has destabilized our sense perception by transporting auditory and visual sensation without the witnessing body. Old distinctions—between high and low, art and life, us and them—have crumbled. From their rubble rise new, as yet unnamed hierarchies. My recent book, Broadcasting Buildings: Architecture on the Wireless, 1927-1945 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2014) was informed by these methodological and conceptual challenges. I argued that “wireless sites,” namely programs on the built environment, made a subtle but incredibly powerful crucible for the formation of a participatory democracy. British radio placed architecture, the least autonomous and the most compromised of symbolic systems, at the heart of national debates on welfare economy and democratic progress.
The broadcasts that formed my primary archive created a dynamic cross-section of British architecture during the period: its participants and problems, victories and failures, ideals and illusions, debates and intrigues, commissions and extra-curricular activities. They offered a fresh perspective on interwar and wartime debates on conservation, town planning, and design in modern life. These “wireless sites” presented a prodigious occasion to discuss the role of architects in the new political economy, the place of their work in contemporary life, the impact of democratic finance on their section of the luxury market, challenges of town and country planning with the breakup of large country estates and disappearance of aristocracy, the expansion of local councils’ power, and mass tourism.
My next project will take the lens of media and sound studies outside modern Europe and the realm of electronically transmitted spoken word, to the auditory landscapes and the logo- and anthropocentric environs of the Sufi shrines in Iran, Pakistan, and India. Sufi Shrines in a Hyperconnected World, 1800 to 2015 will explore how the technologies of tourism and mass communication in the past two hundred or so years have transformed, in fact, reinvented these millennium old institutions and their unique sonic spaces. Of special interest to me is the continuity and discontinuity in the attitudes towards tangible (built) and intangible (performative) heritage that should be best reflected in the strategies of preservation and neglect since the nineteenth century. Here, I anticipate a bitter confrontation between literate (preservationist) and non-literate (or oral) ways of organizing information, passing on traditions, and being in the world. Attention to the practices of reconstruction, extension, and adaptive reuse should indicate how more than any other sites, Sufi shrines have become arenas of conflict as well as points of convergence between the formal and informal segments of society, between orality and literacy, between the local and the global, between sound and site, tradition and modernity, and between the formality of fixed exhibition and the vernacular preference for ephemeral performance. Thus these globalized locations as well as their localized dislocations are particularly germane to the exploration of the interplay of ritual, audition, space, politics, and heritage in the current stage of globalization.
I will publish this research in a book format, supporting it with short podcasts, documentary clips, recorded site tours, and digital maps. I will also manage most of the research conducted in Farsi, Dari, Pushto, Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi and English, online. I have done preliminary travel in Iran and Pakistan; and have been learning Farsi for the past two years.
At the moment, I am working on an intervening book length digital humanities project entitled SAH Archipedia. Funded in part by National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), it develops metadata, maps, images, and short thematic essays on the hundred most important buildings in each state of the United States. I am the state coordinator and primary author for Utah. To an architectural historian, Utah presents itself as a compelling and understudied archive. This archive has given me an opportunity to look at the interface of technologies of communication and transportation with architecture across the ages.
The peer-reviewed list covers everything from ancient Anasazi roads that were meant not for transportation but sacred rituals to the Central Pacific Railroad Grade Historic District that is a shrine to the age of efficient and opportune circulation. Readers can learn about the food technologies, tools and mnemonic devices found in 12,000 years old Danger Cave in Wendover side by side with the rationalized food production and industrial tools and planning techniques shrouded in a quint-looking 20th century dairy barn. McPolin farm stands as the logo of the current ski resort, Park City, whose resourceful (mostly part-time) residents are preserving all things that fulfill their desire to live in an alternative if not botoxed reality. The spatialized competition between church and state gets an airing in the study of the revival styles of LDS buildings, federal as well as state institutions. The world’s largest open pit copper mine in Daybreak that in 2012 donated the cladding for the entire facing of the digitally modeled Natural History Museum, simulating the dramatic landscape of Southern Utah, is featured along with the environmentally conscious 2012 Wetland Discovery Center in Kayseille. If the acoustics of the Mormon tabernacle speaks to the role of reverberating chambers in creating an other worldly religious experience, the crisp sound heard in Symphony Hall, standing across from the Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, reminds us of the dissociation of modern sound from the space in which it is produced and consumed. The value of Moshe Safdie’s grand gesture at the City Library in Salt Lake, I insist, is to express the library as a node in a global network of information flow rather than a static repository of knowledge. It is nothing if not a celebration of thinking in the agora. Whether in the analysis of the prairie style homes, vernacularized by the real estate developers, or the conceptual framing of the monumental high-rise office buildings of corporations, media studies had remained my primary methodological device.
The peer review process of the first fifty sites this spring and summer has ensured that my essays, mainly geared towards students and scholars of architecture, are also relevant to the uninitiated readers. This segment is currently in queue for final copyediting and publication. I am under contract with SAH and the University of Virginia Press and will submit a complete package by June 30th 2016. My experiment with short form scholarship, with most essays ranging from 750 words to 1400 words, has been invaluable for teaching and research. I have negotiated with Archipedia editors and publishers to reformat the Building of United States series (BUS), so that this material can be published under the series without much work. The introduction to the BUS Utah will think through the genre of short form scholarship and digital humanities. It will stress the impact of interdisciplinary thinking on formal analysis, the value of looking at vernacular buildings alongside monumental, and the advantage of thematic readings across time. The book will end with an epilogue on learning from Utah.
- Urban History
- Sound Studies
- Modern Islam
- Media Studies in Art and Architecture
- History of Globalization
- History of Architecture
- Sufi Shrines in the Age of Hyperconnectivity. PI: Shundana Yusaf. 07/01/2016 - present.
- Global Architecture History Teaching Consortium. PI: Shundana Yusaf. Co-PI(s): Peter Christensen, Mrinalini Rajagopalan, Itohan Osayimwese. 04/01/2014 - present.
- SAH Archipedia -- Utah. PI: Shundana Yusaf. 11/01/2013 - present.
- Saint John’s College, Oxford University Conference Theme: Stylistic Dead-Ends? Fresh Perspectives on British Architecture Between the World Wars Paper: “Overcome the Traps of Stylistic Analysis by Listening to Radio,” June 2013. Conference Paper, Refereed, Accepted, 03/2013.
- 11th International Bauhaus-Colloquium Conference Theme: Henry van de Velde and the Total Work of Art Paper: “Figure of Speech: Reflections on the Idea of Gesamtkunstwerk,” April 2013. Conference Paper, Refereed, Accepted, 02/2013.
- The 8th Savannah Symposium Conference Theme: Modernities Across Time and Space Paper: “Work of Art in the Culture of Mass Listening,” Feb. 2013. Conference Paper, Refereed, Presented, 02/2013.
- Rocky Mountain European Scholars Consortium at the University of Utah Conference Theme: Europe in Sickness and in Health Paper: “Oral Travelogues and New Preservation,” Oct. 2012. Conference Paper, Refereed, Presented, 10/2012.
- English, fluent.
- Persian, functional.
- Pushto, fluent.
- Urdu, fluent.
Nineteenth and twentieth century European architectural and urban history .
- Southern Asia
Nineteenth and twentieth century Islam with a special focus on South Asia, Iran, and North Africa.
- United States of America
Native American and Utah.
- “Oral Travelogues and New Preservation: The Curious Case of Sir John Betjeman” in Connections, European Studies Annual Review, 2013. From printing press to smartphones, every media has influenced our traditional mode of making place, meaning, and identity in several ways. Radio broadcasting, for example, robbed architecture of its identity constituted in materiality, visuality, spatiality and locality. Second, the microphone translated space and distance into narrative, i.e., temporal events. Third, it destabilized sense-perception—our very path to reality—by transporting audition without the witnessing body. In addition, its simultaneity split the unity of “location” over sites of recording, reception, and transmission. Such radiophonic annihilation of place and body, it must be said, was accompanied by the manufacturing of collective identity afresh, the invention of new objects of desire, the updating of heritage, and the modernization of past. Drawing upon the oral travelogues broadcasted for the BBC in the 1930s and the 1940s by the architectural aficionado and poet laureate, John Betjeman, I propose to look at the conflicting relationship of the British preservationists with the promotional technology of radio. Betjeman’s travelogues aligned the notion of heritage to a public manufactured by mass media, popular finance, and welfare politics. His exploitation of the medium constructed a paradoxical view of the material residue of past, at once hopelessly romantic and radically pragmatic. His vicarious outings turned English towns and countryside into pleasurable “scenes,” to be consumed rather than contemplated. They taught listeners how to experience architectural surprises, recognize stimuli, and enjoy oddities. He offered a new olde England that fiddled with the architectural canon inherited from Edwardian antiquarians. It replaced works beholden to the scholarly gaze with works that pleased a casual glance. I will argue that Betjeman’s populist modification of the architectural canon was as much a critique of the scholastic order of things as it was a response to the uncertainty at the heart of the realm of radio. Accepted, 12/2013.
- Harrison Bush and Shundana Yusaf, "Yet Another Treatise on Architectural Fictions," Dialectic II, Oct. 2013. Accepted, 10/2013.
- “The English House in the Age of its Wireless Dispersal,” in Journal of Architecture, August 2011. From 1927-1939, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) aired hundreds of radio programs on domestic design, good housekeeping, and home maintenance. This essay examines the broadcast representation of the house. It considers how the composite image they created was influenced by the medium of radio and the politics of broadcasting. To tease out what changes, if any, occur when the same object of consideration moves from the normative space of reading to the novel space of wireless listening, I compare the broadcast word on the radio with the written word in the professional press. This reveals that the professional journal preserves the notion of house, even one that is mass-produced, as a monument, as an imperative of the individualizing and abstracting typographic culture. Radio, which Marshall McLuhan insightfully calls the reverberating “tribal drum,” inclusive, pluralistic and implosive, in contrast, made “house,” even one that is tailor made, synonymous with large scale production—mass-produced, mass-consumed, all-encompassing, everyday, and authorless commodity. But this definition of what constituted a work by the likes of Frank Pick, Anthony Bertram, Serge Chermayeff, John Gloag, and Amyas Connell was only the making of a middle-of-the-road, consumer-oriented-modernism that helped the constituent hierarchies of culture to operate in mass culture. Published, 08/2011.
- Multimedia Review, “Design in the Street” and “Meaning and Purpose in Design,” in Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, June 2010. Published, 06/2010.
- “Monument without Qualities: Popular and Official Appropriations of Jinnah’s Mausoleum in Karachi,” in Architecture + Identity, Publication of Proceedings (Berlin: JOVIS Publishers, 2009). Pakistan, an Islamic Republic, was founded in 1947 on the political ideology of a homeland in which a people would be able to freely pursue their religious way of life. The irony of such nationalist principles is not lost onto those who define religion correctly but insufficiently as blind faith and lack of critical reflection. After all, from Pakistan to Israel, exclusionary religious nationalisms have been erected on liberal, even enlightened justifications. They derive their authority from rationalist paradigms of social organization to secure the freedom of religion. In 1948, the death of the grand narrator of Pakistan’s raison d’être, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, made the imagination of his mausoleum, as if, a natural site for debates over self and identity, past and future, state and Islam. From 1948 to 1968, hundreds of ordinary men, women and children mailed their visions for a befitting monument to his sister, Fatima Jinnah. Thirty-six of these letters survive in the National Archives in Islamabad. They are written in Urdu and English and come with drawings, models, and photographs. Their ephemeral monument when studied against the built structure provides a rare view. It reveals how official and popular imagination wove the yin and the yang: competing spatial configurations wrestling civic and religious ideals. This is the production of public space. It involves the most careful forging of architectural vocabulary with which to selectively define Islamic heritage within the bosom of participatory democracy. These negotiations are nothing but attempts to put modern governance and civic justice at the service of the preservation of some sort of “authenticity” and “tradition.” Need it be said that this desire (preservation) and its object (authenticity and tradition) are at once the product and the other of modernity. They go hand in hand with the uneven emergence of historical consciousness and the unjust playing field of global capitalism. The popular imagination of Jinnah’s mausoleum teaches us anything, it teaches us that religion as a cultural orientation is no less new, and no more fundamentalist than the liberations of modernist rationality. But this is by no means to say that we have arrived at the end of distinctions and differences and therefore history. Something still remains of the practice and concept of religious belief that cannot be reduced to faith in modernity. For one, they illuminate each other’s contours. “Spatial Inscriptions of Yin and Yang” will present some of the epistemological challenges encountered in the study of those religious identities in modern architecture whose experiences of modernity cannot be directly traced back to the intellectual shifts of the Renaissance or the Enlightenment. Building my argument on the archive at my disposal and the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of practice, I will suggest that a theory of religion, if it has to have epistemological currency, has to be sought in its cultural uses and practices, not logocentric labyrinths. Published, 01/2009.
- “Tradition after Baudrillard: Speaking FORM on Early British Radio” in Traditional Dwellings and Settlements Review, Berkeley: IASTE, Winter 2008. Between 1927 and 1945, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) aired an average of two radio programs a month on architecture. This paper explores the effect of these simulated wireless sites on a traditional mode of knowledge like architecture. What happens when architecture, framed within the institutional vision of the BBC, encounters the specific mode of production, reproduction and diffusion of radio? I argue that early radio in Britain was not just another medium of representation but simulation that reinvented the social identity of architecture. This historical account of wireless sites gives us fresh insight into the perceptual and conceptual category we call “tradition.”. Published, 11/2008.
- “Broadcast Culture: The Fate of Arts in the Space of British Radio (1927-1945)” in Thresholds, MIT: School of Architecture, Fall 2007. Over the years, the physical apparatus of radio has evolved from a heavy piece of living room furniture or a home made box with leaky batteries to a smaller, lighter and wireless transistor built into our walkmans and watches. In addition to this portability, Samuel Weber has pointed to radio’s power to transport audition where the rest of body cannot go, something that has challenged the classical notion of perception. More recently, Alan Weiss has explored the value of disembodiment of voice on radio and the liberation of sound from its source. Focusing on the history of British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), I, in this paper, will examine the roles of these structurally specific movements produced by radio in another kind of portability that it introduced—the portability of culture to locations hitherto inaccessible to it. It is this aspect of movement that most ignited the imagination of the first generation of Continental cultural theorists who witnessed radio’s speedy incorporation in everyday life. Thinking of the performative and visual arts, Theodor Adorno speculated that the new “technology of distribution” would also change “that which is distributed.” Filippo T. Marinetti dreamed of an aerial art, liberated and uninhibited by the geographical and ideological constraints of existing genres. Frank Warschauer took stock of the disruptive effects of broadcast opera being “delivered to the residential dwellings like gas and water.” The foremost concern of these observers was the status of traditional forms of artistic expression at the threshold of electronic mass diffusion. More precisely, what was to be the fate of arts—traditionally encountered in the controlled settings of concert halls, salons and museums, and by limited, relatively informed audiences—when they were confronted for the first time with the option of being transported directly into differently mediated setting of the homes of a diverse and enlarged audience through the courtesy of radio? Published, 09/2007.
- “Wireless Sites: British Architecture in the Space of Radio (1927-1945)” in IASTE Working Papers, (Berkeley: Berkeley University Press), 2006. Published, 06/2006.
- Yusaf, Shundana (2011). The English house in the age of its wireless dispersion. Informa UK Limited. Vol. 16(4), 551-573. Published, 2011.
- Yusaf, Shundana (2010). Frank Pick, Interviewed by John Gloag . "Design in the Street," part VIII of "Design in Modern Life," BBC radio broadcast, London, 6 June 1933, 20 min. Frank Pick, Lecture . "Meaning and Purpose in Design," part XI of "Design in Modern Life," BBC radio broadcast, London, 27 June 1933, 22 min. University of California Press. Vol. 69(2), 269-273. Published, 2010.