1770, 1870, 1970: Craft, the machine and human transaction in the technology of three Philadelphia buildings

Martin John Harms, University of Pennsylvania


As more is expected of architectural practice in the United States today, so architects are less and less in control of design and construction processes. In particular, they often lack a full understanding of modern technology as it influences and shapes the construction of buildings. This is evident in the lack of character and meagre construction quality of much contemporary building. This dissertation investigates the historical roots of this phenomenon by studying three institutional buildings erected in Philadelphia at one hundred year intervals since 1770; Carpenters' Hall, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the United Fund Building. A picture of the design/construction enterprise in a single location is established, tracing from evidence in the structure and external envelope of each building, interrelationships between the design professions, the building industry and technology-at-large. A major purpose of the study is to reveal the modes of production peculiar to each of these realms and to assess the manner in which they are balanced to produce architecture. Assumptions about the nineteenth century elimination of craft by the machine are questioned by comparing shifts in the relative importance of customization versus standardization in the production of window elements in the three buildings. The dissertation concludes that architects are not powerless in the face of modern technology provided they attempt to understand its character. It suggests that the key factor in the successful marriage of design and construction technology is for the architect to recognize and take advantage of the network of human relationships involved in the task of building--the transactional context. Vital to this is the knowledge that present roles and relationships are the product of multiple shifts and transformations in the past.

Subject Area

Architecture|American studies

Recommended Citation

Harms, Martin John, "1770, 1870, 1970: Craft, the machine and human transaction in the technology of three Philadelphia buildings" (1992). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI9227676.