The Historic Interiors Affiliate Group of the Society of Architectural Historians is proud to announce its first sponsored session at the SAH 2022 Meeting in Pittsburgh, “Electric Interiors” chaired by Timothy Rohan. Please circulate the call to those who might be interested. The deadline for paper submissions for this and other sessions that engage with interiors and their histories (listed below)  is June 2.


Electric Interiors from the Nineteenth Century to the Present

How did the introduction of electricity and subsequent development of electronics transform the design, use and experience of interiors? Science has investigated electricity since antiquity, but its transformative potential for interiors was realized only in the late nineteenth century when the introduction of devices such as the telegraph (1844) and the lightbulb (1878) connected and illuminated interior spaces. In the twentieth century, electrically powered circuitry and transistors further transformed the interior, causing reactions which ranged from delight to alarm about the prospect of the interior becoming something like a space capsule.

More recently, the advent of the internet, smart homes and cyberspace has further transformed our dwellings, workspaces and vehicles into fully electrified interiors laced with feelings of optimism and loss whose ramifications are only just beginning to be considered.

This session seeks to foreground electricity in order to consider how it has shaped our interiors and ourselves over the last century and a half through appliances, devices and networks integrating spaces with media and communications, while also delivering and limiting agency to the makers and users of interiors. Although electrification’s impact upon cities and countryside, infrastructure and world’s fairs has been discussed, its effect upon interiors of all sorts merits investigation as the overlooked but critical meeting point for the intersection of the design fields and electricity. Proposals are welcome that complicate subject matter by considering the roles of capital, colonialism, political power, consumerism, media, gender, sexuality, race, climate and more.

Organized by the SAH Historic Interiors Affiliate Group.

Session Chair: Timothy M. Rohan, University of Massachusetts Amherst


System Boundaries: Interior Environments Before Modernism

An interior is made discernable by its boundaries, yet how are those boundaries drawn? Descriptions of controlled environments have rarely looked beyond a structure’s immediate limits. For instance, the nineteenth-century critic César Daly portrayed Charles Barry’s 1841 Reform Club as a quasi-biological entity—its walls, he wrote, were filled with “flues, conduits, wires” that served as the “arteries, veins, and nerves” of a “new organic being.” As historians of architecture and technology have shown, this depiction appeared amid rapid changes to the design of building systems in the early nineteenth century. In naturalizing systems into an “organic” whole, however, descriptions like this one left out the interior’s many exteriors, from hinterlands of production and supply, to the social costs, political implications, and ideological preconditions of environmental control.

This panel aims to reexamine systems of modern interiority before they became taken for granted. Looking beyond Modernism and its fabled “machine aesthetic,” we ask what constituted an interior environment between roughly 1700 and 1900. Today, our intersecting environmental, political, and epidemiological crises cast the “well-tempered environment” in a very different light. How do these current emergencies unsettle the historical and geographical boundaries of the interior? On what exteriors did interiors depend?

We invite studies that explore the limits of environmental systems, from early sites of isolated control, to the reevaluation of supposedly failed experiments, to the emergence of new building typologies and technics where power was applied and distributed. We are interested in papers that question the ends of these designs (comfort, risk management), that examine their material basis (infrastructure, fuel, the geography and labor of extraction), and that interrogate the beliefs and ideologies that underpin such approaches (theories of race and climate, gospels of progress and improvement).

Session Chairs: Aleksandr Bierig, Harvard University; and David Sadighian, Harvard University


Bodies, Buildings and Health in the Age of Empire

This session considers anew the historical relationships between bodies and buildings. It seeks to add another perspective from which to assess the ongoing debate regarding the role of architecture in the social and biological production of human “wellness.” On one side, promoters of “healthy buildings” insist on the technical improvement of buildings for curative health promotion. On the other, recent exhibitions organized by architectural historians critique this rationalized approach and call for a less interventionist fit, shifting design matters of health to the social realm or inviting a more engaged friction between bodies and designed objects.

Embedded within these debates are fundamental questions of bodily continuity or autonomy within enclosed environments. John Harwood in his study of mid-century ergonomics introduced the concept of the interface to describe realms of body-machine interaction. This session aims to extend this discourse, focusing on the constructed nature of bodies, health, and interior atmospheres within sociotechnical and sociopolitical frameworks of labor/leisure, control/resistance, and inclusion/exclusion.

Scholarship on the long nineteeth century focuses primarily at the urban scale, with lesser attention paid to what British public health promoter Edwin Chadwick called the “internal economy,” the exchange between a human body and its immediate delimited surroundings. This session seeks especially papers considering relationships between bodies, buildings, and health in this period, but papers following these matters into the twenty-first century are also welcome. We encourage studies that address alternate bodily and environmental ontologies in contexts concerning colonial endeavors of racial difference-making; biopolitical projects of human “conservation” and labor development; political economies of competitive self-improvement; and other related topics. We ask respondents to examine not only how institutional actors instrumentally shaped the interior atmosphere, but also how individuals and groups transgressed, reimagined, or rejected the boundaries between bodies and buildings.

Session Chair: Betsy Frederick-Rothwell, The University of Texas at Austin


Architecture as an Expanded Practice

While architectural history is anchored in built form, it also reveals that architects turn their expertise to other kinds of projects, raising questions about the nature of architecture as a discipline or practice. This session will address these questions with papers that examine the transfer of architectural methods, strategies, standards and conceptualizations to projects that do not produce built forms and are typically identified with other disciplines or practices. The goal is to discuss architecture’s engagement with

and impact on other disciplines as well as the expansion of architectural practice itself.

Histories demonstrate that architecture has rarely fit comfortably within disciplinary and professional boundaries because it is often involved in their transgression. Rather than try to dissolve the boundaries, the session proposes to trace their evolution in order to understand the expansion of architecture as the result of its infiltration of other disciplines and practices. As much as it has asserted its own approach, architecture has also changed to work within the approach of another discipline or practice. Furniture and product designs are the most common examples; others include providing solutions for forensics by modeling crimes or for agriculture and commerce by organizing food distribution supply chains. The session will compare the incarnations of expanded practice over time through papers that discuss examples in the period between the late nineteenth century and the present. Examples from anywhere in the world are welcome.

In 1968 Hans Hollein claimed that “Everything is Architecture.” Earlier, Le Corbusier wrote that “[a]rchitecture is in the telephone and in the Parthenon.” Both pointed to a definition of architecture that included more than buildings. But rather than cast the world in architecture’s image, as they did, the session will explore examples that reveal the productive differences between architecture and the other disciplines or practices it has served.

Session Chair: Wallis Miller, University of Kentucky


Graduate Student Lightning Talks

The Graduate Student Lightning Talks provide graduate students with the opportunity to test ideas, refine thoughts, and enhance presentation skills among a circle of empathetic and supportive peers. This session is composed of up to 16 five-minute talks of approximately 650–700 words each that allow graduate students to introduce new and original research in various stages of progress. In their presentations, students are encouraged to raise questions over the direction of their investigations, explore methodology, or present challenges they have encountered in the development of their ideas. Papers should be clearly and concisely presented, with focused and well-chosen images, in order to encourage thoughtful feedback from the audience during the question and answer period. Students at both the master’s and PhD levels are invited to apply by submitting a succinct abstract of no more than 300 words. Authors/co-authors must be graduate students at the time of the conference and must present in person at the session. The SAH Board of Directors’ Graduate Student Representative serves as chair of these popular five-minute presentations.

Session Chair: Vyta Pivo, George Washington University


Open Session (3)           

Open sessions are available for those whose research does not match any of the themed sessions. Papers submitted to the open sessions are assessed in terms of perceived merit, and not in regard to geography, era, theme, etc.

Session Chairs: Madhuri Desai, The Pennsylvania State University; Diane Shaw, Carnegie Mellon University; and TBD