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Culture, Society, Space - Penn State Architecture

Technical line drawing of building, showing numerous internal architectural spaces.

Architecture Research Cluster

The Culture, Society, Space research cluster examines how built spaces – from the artifact to the urban – affect those who interact with them and, conversely, how cultural, societal and disciplinary values shape the spaces we create.

Projects can address individual buildings, public spaces, communities, or cities, as well as typological, institutional, and wider forms of inquiry. Research methods include formal, theoretical, historic/historiographical, sociological, and systemic analyses. Studies may focus on spaces and ideas as forms of cultural expression, the people who produce and use them, and/or the ideological forces in which they operate, including all aspects of their sustainability.

People

Explore the faculty and students in this research cluster.

Core Faculty

  • Peter Aeschbacher: community design centers, public space, design activism
  • Pep Avilés: history of modern architecture, materialism and ornamentation, migrations and the avant-gardes, postmodern theory
  • Cathy Braasch: architectural design/urban landscape, creative production related to temporary structures, adaptive reuse
  • James Cooper: Michelangelo, architectural drawing, and design analysis; Forum of Pompeii
  • Denise Costanzo (chair): postwar U.S. architects and Italy; architectural study travel; 20th century historiography
  • Christine Gorby: urban theory, gender and landscape, space and sustenance in cinema
  • Katsu Muramoto: 20th century Japanese architecture and issues of subjectivity and modernity; theories of new media and digital mediation
  • Alexandra Staub: postwar European housing and urbanism; spatial practices and cultural identity

Associated Faculty

  • Lisa Iulo: environmentally conscious design education, ecological design and planning, energy and resource efficient building and housing solutions, affordable housing, urban design, community-scale, renewable energy, integrative process and project delivery methods
  • Darla Lindberg: organizational systems, responsive social problem solving and public health
  • Rebecca Henn: cultural contingencies of design, social structures of sustaiabilities
  • Ute Poerschke: functionalist theory, relationship of design and technology, history and theory of sustainable design, architecture for a renewable energy era

Ph.D. Students

  • Dima Abu-Aridah
  • Meher Bhagia
  • Michael Nowak
  • Irem Öz
  • Dario Vanegas Vargas
  • Nicolás Verdejo
  • Salma Zerkaoui

M.S. Students

  • Aleah Davis
  • Enam Rabbi Adnan
  • Nathan Steinhauer
Visibility graph analysis of structure floorplan with a node analysis visualization of different space types.
Overhead view of young students moving game pieces on table. A participatory design game for school design, developed by Baupiloten, Berlin.

Faculty Research

Section image: A participatory design game for school design, developed by Baupiloten, Berlin.


Architecture as Documentary Form

Former Bethlehem Baptist Church © Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin. From Maura Lucking, “(Black) Church of Schindler. Modernism on Compton Avenue”
Former Bethlehem Baptist Church © Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin. From Maura Lucking, “(Black) Church of Schindler. Modernism on Compton Avenue,” Faktur: Documents and Architecture, (Fall/Winter 2020), 6-31.


Architecture as Documentary Form

Lead Faculty: Pep Avilés

Team: Matthew Kennedy

Funding: Mr. Robert P. O’Hara and Ms. Maureen A. O’Hara Fund; Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts; Department of Architecture, Penn State University; The Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation, Columbia University; The School of Architecture, University of Technology, Sydney; Centre for Documentary Architecture, Bauhaus-University, Weimar.


In the last decade, the field of architecture, its agents, and its audiences have evolved significantly. One of the most notable developments in this evolution has been the proliferation of research-based architectural practices. We seek to explore topics, locations, and architectural concerns that function as micro-narratives that illuminate larger issues of global culture. We are interested in the construction of material arguments from local perspectives, linking them to long-durée historical threads within architecture on the one hand, and current political, economic, and cultural concerns on the other. Finally, we are interested in how these investigations affect, inform, or influence the design processes of contemporary architectural practices. We believe that a slow and documented form of architectural research will open up new perspectives for meaning and action, providing an operational tool to understand our culture, as well as to present new truths based on documented facts.


Film still of truck crossing a barren, snowy landscape from the documentary Landscape Healing, directed by Richard John Seymour and produced by 3RW arkitekter in 2019.
Film Still from the documentary Landscape Healing, directed by Richard John Seymour and produced by 3RW arkitekter in 2019.

Coal Culture: Architecture After Mining

Map of the Philadelphia and Eire Railroad and its Connection to the Mineral Lands, 1852. Library of Congress.
Map of the Philadelphia and Erie Railroad and its connection to the Mineral Lands, 1852. Library of Congress.


Coal Culture: Architecture After Mining

Lead Faculty: Pep Avilés

Team: Laia Celma (co-PI), Miranda Esposito, Ken Davis, Natasha Miles, Scott Richardson

Funding: E+D Fund, Ecology and Design, Landscape Architecture Program. Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture; CDR, Collaborative Design Research Fund, Stuckeman School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture; Oslo Architecture Triennale.


With the background of the ongoing climate change and global warming, this research explores the political, cultural, and environmental spaces that coal mining industry generated (directly and indirectly) in Pennsylvania. The work critically analyzes the history of coal as a source of energy and its role in the definition of spaces and architectures in modernity (whether actual or metaphorical). We focus in the anthracite region in PA as a case study, understood as the locus where larger global events can be perused.


Aerial view of an operating open-pit anthracite mine. Leigh Anthracite Corporation. Tamaqua, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania.
Aerial view of an operating open-pit anthracite mine. Leigh Anthracite Corporation. Tamaqua, Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania.

Collaborative Practices

Students collaborating on series of designs gridded out on a floor.
Image credit: Cathy Braasch


Collaborative Practices

Lead Faculty: Cathy Braasch

Team: Patricia Kucker

Funding: Faculty Research Grant


This project is a literature review of pedagogies and best practices for collaborative learning that include evidence of effectiveness. There is broad research for these practices for K-12, but less so for education art and design education. In addition to the collaborative practices there is a need to explore the role social dynamics, cultural differences and power play in group-work conflicts. The literature review as an outcome will form the framework for analyzing and developing collaborative practices in first-year design studio education while also considering the success of a diverse student demographics.

Drawing Laboratory: The Pedagogy of Robert Reed

Robert Reed, Yale professor of drawing, seated at a table talking with students.
Image Credit: Estate of Robert Reed


Drawing Laboratory: The Pedagogy of Robert Reed

Lead Faculty: Cathy Braasch

Funding: Faculty Research Grant, O’Hara Excellence Fund, Department of Architecture


The publication, Drawing Laboratory: The Pedagogy of Robert Reed, documents and analyzes the undocumented curriculum of Robert Reed (1938-2014). Reed taught drawing for nearly fifty years and was the first – and still only – black professor tenured at the Yale School of Art. His curriculum is key to understanding the Bauhaus legacy in the United States and the curricula of contemporary art programs. Based on interviews, Reed’s archives, and the implementation of curriculum at the 2019 Robert Reed Drawing Workshops, this book provides access to Reed’s pedagogical innovations for a broad audience of art and design students and educators.

Equitable Teaching: Underrepresented Designers

Design board with descriptive text and a computer rendering of the 'Valango Wharf' project by Studio Zwede. Image Credit: Studio Zewde
‘Valango Wharf’ project by Studio Zwede. Image Credit: Studio Zewde


Equitable Teaching Materials: Documenting Precedents by Underrepresented Designers

Lead Faculty: Cathy Braasch

Team: Joshua Achampong, Alisa Asare, Claudia Bowes, Luke Scanlon, and Sydney Yakowenko

Funding: Student Engagement Grants, Breanna and Christopher Artuso Scholarship for Internships in the College of Arts and Architecture, Department of Architecture


This project creates documentation of precedents by underrepresented architects equitable to resources available for widely published projects. Precedents are the core of any architectural curriculum. Many precedent publications used in architecture schools primarily contain projects by overrepresented designers (mainly white and international males. Evidence shows improved retention and academic success for students of color who have access to a more diverse representation of successful architects. The precedent guide will help make these projects more accessible to students and faculty and facilitate diversity and inclusion in design school curriculum.

Impact of Studio Culture on Students of Color

Students and faculty gathered around a student pointing to her project in an architecture studio course.

The Impact of Studio Culture on Students of Color in Schools of Art and Design

Lead Faculty: Cathy Braasch

Team: Wanda B. Knight (PI), Patricia Kucker (co-PI), Marc Miller, Joel Priddy, Erica Quinn, Angela Rothrock

Funding: Faculty Research Grant


Studio-based learning is a highly regarded educational model in art and design schools that relies on social and collaborative teaching and learning. Following a successful College of Arts and Architecture 2015 recruitment initiative, the enrollment of students of color increased, but students of color leave the Stuckeman School at a higher rate than white peers. This study focuses on first-year students’ experiences. Through quantitative surveys and qualitative interviews, the study’s outcomes will lead to a framework for improving racial equity, inclusion, and retention of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) across the Stuckeman School and School of Visual Arts.

Media, Historiography, and Postwar Architecture

Black and white photograph of Joan Miró at Antoni Gaudí’s Parc Güell in 1954 photographed by Brassaï.
Joan Miró at Antoni Gaudí’s Parc Güell in 1954 photographed by Brassaï.


Postwar Revivals. Media, Historiography, and Postwar Architecture

Lead Faculty: Pep Avilés


This ongoing research concentrates in postwar architectural revivals, and its impact in modern historiography. We pay special attention to the influence that media had – photography, film, etc. – in the understanding of architecture as image and its contribution to the aesthetic developments of the second half of the twentieth century.

Participatory Design: Designing for Stakeholders

Overhead view of young students moving game pieces on table. A participatory design game for school design, developed by Baupiloten, Berlin.
A participatory design game for school design, developed by Baupiloten, Berlin.


Participatory Design: Designing for Stakeholders.

Lead Faculty: Sandra Staub


Participatory design is a process by which users and other stakeholders are involved in determining the program and further design aspects of a project. In this research project, you will catalog various participatory design methods in order to analyze how stakeholders can be better integrated in the design process. Your work will involve an analysis of existing projects and a survey of design professionals and policymakers.

Social Justice in the Built Environment

Computer rendering of Sidewalk Labs Toronto, a project designed “from the internet up.” Image credit: Heatherwick Studio.
Sidewalk Labs Toronto, a project designed “from the internet up.” Image credit: Heatherwick Studio.


Social Justice in the Built Environment: The Role of Technology in Urban Settings

Lead Faculty: Sandra Staub


Technology has become a ubiquitous aspect of the built environment. From “smart cities” to “smart buildings” to “smart appliances”, tech projects claim to better the future for everyone. Yet who really benefits, and how can technology be used more equitably? This project examines technological aspects of the built environment through the lens of race, class, and gender. You will analyze case studies of tech-based projects, projecting them onto the population they are designed to serve. This work will examine how technology can potentially be harnessed for a socially more just built environment through re-aligning design priorities.

Student Publications

CSS Dissertations and Theses

  • Building in Light of Allah: Lighting Design as a Means of Theophany in the Süleymaniye Mosque, Stella Destephanis Murray (M.S. 2020)
    Adviser: Denise Costanzo | Committee: Cathy Braasch, Darla Lindberg, Jonathan Brockopp
  • Le Corbusier and the Ocean Liner: Metaphor and Machine Aesthetics, Grant Kyle Davis (M.S., 2020)
    Adviser: Denise Costanzo | Committee: Ute Poerschke, James Cooper
  • Unveiling the Wall: Physical Manifestations of Socio-Spatial Boundaries in the U.S.A., Sohrab Rahimi (Ph.D. 2019)
    Adviser: Mallika Bose
  • Central Park in Film: Architecture as the Structure of Desire, Sadra Tehrani (M.S. 2018)
    Co-Advisers: Mehrdad Hadighi, Donald Kunze | Committee: Pep Avilés, Kevin Hagopian
  • Seeing the Sidewalk: Giving New Terms to Everyday Urban Space, Cara Rangaswamy (M.S. 2018)
    Co-Advisers: Darla Lindberg, Peter Aeschbacher | Committee: Denise Costanzo
  • Every Case A Sheet of Music: A New Method of Visualizing Informal Activity Pockets Within the Spatial Order of Home, Anahita Shadkam (M.S. 2017)
    Adviser: Peter Aeschbacher |  Committee: Shadi Nazarian, José Duarte
  • Life, Death and Design: Revisiting Aldo Rossi’s Cemetery at San Cataldo Lindsay Connelly (M.S. 2017)
    Adviser: Denise Costanzo | Committee: Darla Lindberg, James Cooper, Craig Zabel
  • Places as Products: The Town Center as Retail Development, Emily Liuzza (M.S. 2017)
    Adviser: Denise Costanzo | Committee: Darla Lindberg, Johanna Slot
  • Nisei Architects: Challenges and Achievements, Katrin Freude (M.S. 2017)
    Adviser: Alexandra Staub, Denise Costanzo | Committee: Katsu Muramoto, Craig Zabel
  • Montage and Architecture: A Method for Temporal Design, Niloufar Kioumarsi (M.S. 2016)
    Adviser: Felecia Davis | Committee: Alexandra Staub, Daniel Willis
  • The Porticus of Eumachia in the Forum of Pompeii, Valerio Dario (M.S. 2016)
    Adviser: James Cooper | Committee: Denise Costanzo, Alexandra Staub
  • Design Morphology in Public Housing the Intersection of Design and Policy, Kaitlin O’Brien (M.S. 2016)
    Adviser: Lisa Iulo | Committee: Darla Lindberg, Alexandra Staub
  • The Life and Death of an American Architype: The Shopping Mall and the Suburbs, Anthony D’Alessandro (M.S. 2015)
    Adviser: Darla Lindberg | Committee: James Wines, Rebecca Henn
  • An Analysis of a Middle Eastern Enclave: Little Egypt, Dina Mahmoud (M.S. 2015)
    Adviser: Alexandra Staub | Committee: Nida Rehman, Ed Coulson
  • Complexity by Nature / Simplicity by Design, Dustin Julius (M.S. 2015)
    Adviser: Jawaid Haider, Darla Lindberg | Committee: Nida Rehman, Daniel Cardoso Llach
  • Social Interaction in Student Residence Halls Through an Architectural Lens, Sohrab Rahimi (M.S. 2015)
    Adviser: Alexandra Staub | Committee: Peter Aeschbacher, Susan Friedman
  • Dynamics of multiple claims in civic spaces: Understanding Urban Spaces of Mumbai’s Railway Station Hubs, Amruta Sakalker (M.S. 2015)
    Adviser: Alexandra Staub | Committee: Nida Rehman, Stephen Matthews
  • The Intricacy of Textiles. A Reappraisal of Textiles in Architectural Museum Settings, Farah Abdel Galil (M.S. 2015)
    Advisers: Christine Gorby, Ute Poerschke | Committee: Loukas Kalisperis
  • Urban Boundaries and Alternative Spaces: A Case Study of Tehran. Babak Soleimani (M.S. 2014)
    Adviser: Alexandra Staub | Committee: Peter Aeschbacher, Alexander Klippel
  • Intergenerational Housing: A Vernacular Perspective. Daniel Miller (M.S. 2014)
    Adviser: Jawaid Haider | Committee: Darla Lindberg, Deryck Holdsworth
  • Reducing Car Use Through New Urban Design Schemes in Western Tehran. Hasti Khodabakhsh (M.S. 2014).
    Adviser: Mehrdad Hadighi | Committee: Jawaid Haider, Madis Pihlak
  • Spatial Configuration and the Sense of Belonging in Two Communities in Shenyang, China. Qingyang Yu (M.S. 2013)
    Adviser: Alexandra Staub | Committee: Katsu Muramoto, Eliza Pennypacker
  • Teaching the practice: Comparing the traditional, modified, and additional course approaches for teaching professional practice in undergraduate schools of architecture. Ross Weinreb (M.S. 2013)
    Adviser: Scott Wing | Committee: Bob Holland, Jodi LaCoe, Alexandra Staub, Talat Azhar
  • The Relationship Between Neighborhood Social Capital and Built Form Explored Through the Chawls of Mumbai. Neha Parkar (M.S. 2013)
    Adviser: Rebecca Henn | Committee: Alexandra Staub, Madhuri Desai
  • Exploring Mumbai. A Feminist Perspective on Neoliberal City Space. Aparna Parikh (M.S. 2013)
    Adviser: Alexandra Staub | Committee: Denise Costanzo, Daniel Purdy
  • Negotiating contested zones: a post-tourist vision of Famagusta. Savia Palate (M.S. 2013)
    Adviser: Jawaid Haider | Committee: Darla Lindberg, Daniel Cardoso Llach
  • Gentrification & Urban Morphogenesis of San Francisco’s Mission District: Synthesis of the Hispanic Barrio and the Hipster Subculture. Brittany Wong (M.S. 2013)
    Adviser: Darla Lindberg
  • Expanding Biophilic City Design Theory: A Study Of Incorporating Nature Into The Urban Design Elements Of Kathmandu. Moti Gurung (2013)
    Adviser: Peter Aeschbacher | Committee: Madis Pihlak, Pasang Yangjee Sherpa
  • An Approach to Sustainable Regionalism. Moondeep Pradhananga (M.S. 2013)
    Adviser: Rebecca Henn | Committee: Ute Poerschke, Mallika Bose
  • Spatial Perception and Imagination Through Andrei Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia. Maria Jimena Guzman (M.S. 2013).
    Adviser: Jawaid Haider
  • Re-Mapping Territories of Architectural Practice: Cedric Price and the Procedures of Social Action. Aleksandar Vujkov (M.S. 2012)
    Adviser: Peter Aeschbacher | Committee: Denise Costanzo, Graeme Sullivan
  • Vulgar + Prejudice: Johann Heinrich Lambert’s Reverse Methods of Perspective. Berrin Terim (M.S. 2012)
    Adviser: Jodi LaCoe | Committee: Donald Kunze, Katsuhiko Muramoto
  • Resourceful Perspectives: Valuing Industrial Heritage in Small Towns. Craig Bastin (M.S. 2012)
    Adviser: Lisa Iulo | Committee: Jawaid Haider, Steven Walton
  • Sustainable or Not? A Case Study Challenging Traditional Architectural Design Education Through Humanitarian Design. David Mosemann (M.S. 2011)
    Adviser: Darla Lindberg | Committee: Jawaid Haider, Ute Poerschke
  • Enhancing the Environment of a Spiritual Setting in Varanasi, India. Nanditha Veeraraghavelu (M.S. 2011)
    Adviser: Jawaid Haider | Committee: Madhuri Desai, Ute Poerschke
  • Double-Shift Schools: Architectural Strategies to Counter Alienation. Gauri Kelkar (M.S. 2010)
    Adviser: Jawaid Haider | Committee: Darla Lindberg, Ute Poerschke
  • Heterotopia & Time: a search for a new connection through the Apni Mandis of Chandigarh. Susmita Rishi (M.S. 2008)
    Adviser: Peter Aeschbacher | Committee: Jawaid Haider, Alexandra Staub
  • Understanding Emergence of Systems in a City Using Complexity Theory: Analyzing the Informal Railway Markets of Mumbai. Arpita Dwijendra Mitra (M.S. 2008)
    Adviser: Peter Aeschbacher | Committee: Alexandra Staub, Jawaid Haider, Deryck Holdsworth
  • Hurricane Katrina Aftermath and Post Disaster Construction: Towards a Self-Generative Society, Gina DeLeon (M.S. 2008)
    Adviser: Darla Lindberg | Committee: Lisa Iulo, Ute Poerschke
  • Urban Co-Evolution: The Architectural Linkages Between People and Ecology, Emily Denhoed (M.S. 2008)
    Adviser: Lisa Iulo | Committee:, Ute Poerschke, James Wines, Loukas Kalisperis ,B. Ikubolajeh Logan
  • Development Without Displacement: The Making of Community Identity, Avenue of the Arts, Philadelphia. Arundhati Sett (M.S. 2006)
    Adviser: Jawaid Haider, Peter Aeschbacher | Committee: Alexandra Staub, Michael Rios
Colored floorplan and images highlighting Islamic exhibitions at the Metropolitan Museum; student thesis work.