Reinhold Martin

May - August 2011
Reinhold Martin (born 1964) has been Associate Professor of Architecture at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation at Columbia University since 2004, where he directs the PhD program in architecture, and the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture. He received a PhD from the School of Architecture at Princeton University (1999) for his dissertation titled “Architecture and Organization, USA c. 1956”. He is founding co-editor of the journal Grey Room and has published widely on the history and theory of modern and contemporary architecture. In addition to his academic work, Reinhold Martin is also a partner in the firm Martin/Baxi Architects and has participated in several exhibitions together with Kadambari Baxi.
His current projects are The Architecture of Knowledge: Universities as Technical Media 1750-1950, a study of the American university that combines architectural history with the history of technical media, and A Philosophy of the City: Abstraction, Risk, and the Sublime, a study that aims at reworking the categories of abstraction, risk, and the sublime as the basis for an aesthetic philosophy of the contemporary city.

Fields of research

The history and theory of modern and contemporary architecture and urbanism; American architecture since the 18th century; cultural theory and globalization; architecture and technical media.

IKKM Research Project

The Architecture of Knowledge: Universities as Technical Media 1750-1950

In 1897, the architect Charles Follen McKim designed a large wooden sphere, painted a dull white, to hang suspended from inside the monumental dome of the newly completed Low Library at Columbia University, over the undergraduate reading room. The sphere was illuminated by eight arc lights encircling the dome’s perimeter, to simulate the light of the moon.

Moments such as this suggest that the development of universities in the United States during the late eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries belongs in part to a history of technical media. Architecture, understood as a material complex with its own internal logics that integrate formats of vision, audition, cognition, and communication into a semi-coordinated ensemble, lies at the center of this history. The architectures of reading, writing, observing, speaking, and listening that gave form to American universities during the “long” nineteenth century further correspond to a set of overlapping, post-Enlightenment public spheres. For not only was Benjamin Franklin a protagonist in the development of print capitalism; he was also among the founders of the University of Pennsylvania. McKim’s electric “moon” and its domed reading room figure this dull afterglow of Enlightenment as belonging to an enigmatic media apparatus in which knowledge and power glide in and out of the shadows together.

To comprehend this “moon” and the many other lights, domes, reading rooms, lecture halls, library stacks, and other instruments that comprise the architecture of universities, I aim for a general history of intermediation among different spatial and technical formats in the production, storage, and transmission of knowledge. Rather than posit abrupt paradigm shifts shaping these processes, I concentrate on gradual, partial, and overlapping modulations in the epistemic field. And rather than limit my scope to individual media, I take up specific architectural elements—libraries, classrooms, auditoria, museums, chapels, observatories, laboratories, and the campuses themselves—as apparatuses of intermediation.