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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Suspension of Disbelief: California City 1955 – 1972

  • Author(s): Starkey, Shannon
  • Advisor(s): Lavin, Sylvia
  • et al.

This dissertation examines the relationship between design and building production and real estate speculation in the mid-century desert development of California City north of Los Angeles. Contrary to the dominant postmodern discourse illustrating the shift from building to image as a product of an indirect intersection with increasingly abstract capital, I argue, rather, that buildings were re-materialized as objects that continued to be produced, circulated, stored, and consumed. The financialization of architecture did not occur through building, but through design itself, in alternative formats including newspapers, deeds, bonds, specifications, construction guides, software code, budgets, memos, organization diagrams, correspondence, in addition to familiar modes like drawing, model, or photograph. A change in building production coincided with a change in design practice. It became a kind of media practice, not in the Modern sense that buildings were subject to mediation; rather, design actively mediated. Over a period is just fifteen years, the production of design became the production of paperwork; the development of buildings became the development of evidence; and the analysis of the built environment became the analysis of the corporation. Through a collection of architects and designers – Whitney Smith, Wayne Williams, Garrett Eckbo, Konrad Wachsmann, Deborah Sussman, Robert Venturi, and Denise Scott Brown – this dissertation reveals the ways in which architectural design mediated the real and the speculative, the environment and real estate development, private investment and the social, research and the corporation, materiality and money.

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