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Civic Center and Cultural Center: The Grouping of Public Buildings in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit and the Emergence of the City Monumental in the Modern Metropolis

Simpson, Donald E. (2013) Civic Center and Cultural Center: The Grouping of Public Buildings in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit and the Emergence of the City Monumental in the Modern Metropolis. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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The grouping of public buildings into civic centers and cultural centers became an obsession of American city planners at the turn of the twentieth century. Following European and ancient models, and inspired by the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 and the McMillan Commission plan for the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 1901, architects sought to create impressive horizontal ensembles of monumental buildings in urban open spaces such as downtown plazas and quasi-suburban parks in direct opposition to the vertical thrust of commercial skyscrapers. Hitherto viewed largely through narrow the stylistic prism of the City Beautiful vs. the city practical movements, the monumental center (as Jane Jacobs termed it) continued to persist beyond the passing of neoclassicism and the rise of high modernism, thriving as an indispensable motif of futurist aspiration in the era of comprehensive and regional planning, as municipalities sought to counteract the decentralizing pull of the automobile, freeway, air travel and suburban sprawl in postwar America. The administrative civic center and arts and educational cultural center (bolstered by that icon of late urban modernity, the medical center) in turn spawned a new hybrid, the center for the performing arts, exemplified by Lincoln Center and the National Cultural Center (the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts), as cities sought to integrate convention, sports, and live performance venues into inner-city urban renewal projects. Through the key case studies of Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Detroit, one-time juggernauts of heavy industry and twenty-first century regions of rust-belt collapse, this study examines the emergence of the ideology of grouping public buildings in urban planning as well as the nineteenth century philology of the keywords civic center and cultural center, terms once actively employed in discourses as diverse as Swiss geography, American anthropology, Social Christianity, the schoolhouse social center movement, and cultural Zionism. It also positions these developments in relation to modern anxieties about the center and its loss, charted by such thinkers as Hans Sedlmayr, Jacques Derrida, and Henri Lefevbre, and considers the contested utopian aspirations of the monumental center as New Jerusalem, Celestial City, and Shining City on a Hill.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Simpson, Donald E.donaldsimpson1713@gmail.comDES460000-0001-8060-8689
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairSavage, Kirkksa@pitt.eduKSA
Committee CoChairArmstrong, Christopher Drewcda68@pitt.eduCDA68
Committee MemberToker, Franklinftoker@pitt.eduFTOKER
Committee MemberMuller, Edward K.ekmuller@pitt.eduEKMULLER
Committee MemberLyon, John B.jblyon@pitt.eduJBLYON
Date: 2 July 2013
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 1 April 2013
Approval Date: 2 July 2013
Submission Date: 10 March 2013
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 459
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > History of Art and Architecture
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: city, planning, city planning, urban, urban planning, urban studies, city beautiful, civic center, cultural center, Detroit, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, World's Columbian Exposition, McMillan Commission, architecture, Foucalt, Derrida, Sedlmayr, Jane Jacobs, Death and Life of Great American Cities, Robert Moses, Frederick Law Olmsted, Charles Mulford Robinson, Charles Moore, social Christianity, cultural Zionism, Wissler, performing arts, culture center, center of culture, civic centre, cultural centre, culture centre, centre of culture, Vienna, museum, park, library, monumental architecture, monument, public monument, Victor David Brenner, sculpture, plaza design, park design, regional planning, comprehensive planning, campus planning, urban university, philanthropy, Saarinen, Burnham, Group Plan, University Circle, Oakland, social center, Lefebvre, New Jerusalem, Celestial City, John Bunyan, Shining City, Washington, Kennedy Center, Raymond Williams, keyword, keywords, Pittsburgh Survey, medical center, urban renewal, monumental center, Cleveland Conference for Educational Cooperation, Frederic Allen Whiting, Cleveland Museum of Art, Case Western Reserve University, Western Reserve, Wayne State University, Wayne University, Adelbert College, Cranbrook, Woodward, L'Enfant, Pilafian, education center, educational center, branch museums, branch cultural center, G.I. Bill, slums, Schenley, Schenley Park, Grand Circus, Mary Schenley, Hubbell, Benes
Date Deposited: 02 Jul 2013 14:49
Last Modified: 10 Apr 2017 14:22


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