The Process of Improvement: The Post-World War II Negotiation of Public Services and Architecture in Virginia's Small Communities

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Marshall, Andrew, Architectural History - School of Architecture, University of Virginia
Marshall, Andrew, Architecture Graduate-arg, University of Virginia

Economic strife and political battles across the first half of the twentieth century delivered new departments dedicated to the health, safety, and welfare of citizens at the national, state, and local levels. Simultaneously, a scientific lens was brought to bear upon the management of the governments’ ever-expanding role. Extensions of government were increasingly monitored by a concerned populace and the rhetoric of public officials responded. Always ‘efficiency and economy’ spoke a mantra first coined in the Hoover administration, yet the scale of government perpetually increased. In Virginia, this national impulse became localized. Akin to other southern states, public services were delivered at the county level. As the policies grew the government workforce, they eventually required new architecture. Through several case studies and a statewide survey of over three-hundred buildings, this thesis explores the political processes that directed the design and construction of public administration architecture in small Virginian communities from 1945 to 1985.
Through fieldwork and primary research, I propose a framework to consider the local expressions within Virginia’s postwar architecture of public administration via two dominant exterior expressions: the modernistic and the faux-Colonial. The constrained budgets for these buildings restricted the innovation of cutting-edge form or the replication of historical detailing, respectively. Employment of these expressions represented polar opposites of intention in midcentury public administration architecture: either an embrace of contemporary modes or a deference to existing architecture. Through this stylistic decision, public officials manifest their conception of the locality through architecture.
The landscape of public administration is shaped by fickle political will and mutable policies. As citizens grew accustomed to more services with little taste for higher taxes, politicians and architects found limited space or desire to seek ambitious public works. A lens of civic materialism allows us to view the architecture of postwar public administration in small Virginian communities as transactional. The polis viewed these buildings as distinct from those intended for older, more traditional public services. Where the establishment of law and order in a pre-modern context employed a rhetorical embrace of civic identity and unity, the management of modern public services instead relies on a technocratic mediation within a complex government. In the negotiated environment of public services, the political notion of civic identity through architecture is eliminated and replaced by mere public utility.

MARH (Master of Architectural History)
Civic Architecture, Public Architecture, Virginia, Municipal Buildings, County Administration Buildings, Public Health Center, Economy and Efficiency, Progressivism
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