SFMA, MoMA and the Codification of Bay Region Architecture (1935-1953)
This paper addresses the under-recognized implications of SFMA’s early architectural exhibition program. Conceived under founding director Grace Morley, a series of pioneering events first presented Bay Area architects’ work as interdependent with the region’s rich geographical and cultural context, offering new lens through which Eastern critics prompted to re-evaluate California modernism. Among these shows, the 1949 landmark exhibition Domestic Architecture of the San Francisco Bay Region would epitomize the postwar discussions upon the autonomy of American modern architecture. Correspondingly, by exploring SFMA-MoMA exchanges during Elizabeth Mock’s curatorship, this essay aims to examine the conflict of perceptions and intentions between the country’s two Coasts that brought about the 1949 show as part of a well-orchestrated campaign that had begun years before Lewis Mumford’s 1947 New Yorker piece triggered a controversy over the existence of a “Bay Region Style.” Contrary to prevailing assumptions that this exhibition was a delayed reaction to the 1948 MoMA symposium organized by Philip Johnson to refute Mumford’s arguments, it was the consequence of an effective regionalist agenda whose success was, precisely, that many influential actors in the United States were exposed, indoctrinated and/or seduced by the so-called Bay Region School’s emphasis on social, political and ecological concerns.
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