Of Rocks, Trails and Televisions: The Democratic Monument in America

The technological transformations of modernity, from electricity to digital communication, have valorized progress over tradition as a determining social force, challenging the classical monument as a medium of cultural expression. Endless urbanization and the conceptions of democracy that followed from romanticism have created an environment where physical and social mobility are given priority over the stability and built permanence of society\’s institutions. Taking the monument as a synecdoche – a part that speaks for the whole – for architecture\’s changing political function, this course will explore how new types of monuments have emerged from a struggle for democratic representation within the uniquely modern geography of the United States. Three interrelated developments will be explored. First, monument making will be situated within the theories and practices of modern art, architecture and the avant-garde that sought to redefine, change – or even eliminate – the monument as a category. These will include writings and works spanning from Alois Riegl, Adolf Loos and Filippo Marinetti to Siegfried Giedion, Robert Smithson, Claus Oldenburg and Krzysztof Wodiczko. Second, the course will contextualize these issues within a history of the built landscape that emerged in the United States after the 19th century, which can itself be read as an index of the cultural and technological project of modernity. Finally, the course will examine a specific set of monument projects spanning the last 100 years, which, in order to address America\’s political aspirations and vast topography, have taken alternately geological, trail-like, infrastructural and media-based forms.A central theme of the course is that the status of the monument in a democracy, rather than being retrospective and aimed at fixing a view of the past (as it is conventionally understood), is both contingent and prospective, acting as a spur to political engagement.