Publication details [#7318]

Lieber, Jeffrey D. 2007. Pervasive beauty: Modern architecture and mass democracy at mid-century. Ann Arbor, Mich.. 420 pp.
Publication type
Ph.D dissertation
Publication language


This dissertation examines the relationship between modern architecture and mass democracy in the 1950s and 1960s. It situates mid-century architecture in socio-political, philosophical, and cultural contexts by exploring the late 1950s discourse on antiquity and democracy, nuclear technology, peace and security, corporate and domestic lifestyles, and America's newly perceived civilizing mission in the world at odds with the ruin-satiated European worldview. The dissertation engages current debates about the restoration of mid-century modern buildings, while also making a larger argument about the relationship between politics and aesthetics. I examine buildings by the major mid-century American architects---Gordon Bunshaft, Marcel Breuer, Eero Saarinen, Edward Durell Stone, Philip Johnson, and Louis Kahn---and in creating a context for them revisit writings by Hannah Arendt, Vincent Scully, Henry Luce, C. Wright Mills, William Pfaff and Edmund Stillman. A number of major themes and concepts emerge to form the basis for a dynamic and synthetic social history of modern architecture at mid-century. In the first part of the dissertation, through an analysis of the images and metaphors associated with Luce's concept of "pervasive beauty" and the culture of mass democracy, I delineate a "common sense" for mid-century architecture and specifically for the glass curtain wall. Coined by Luce in 1957 to express the new aim of architecture in the postwar world under American hegemony, "pervasive beauty" encompassed ideas of material richness, an abundance of goods, and a notion of democracy as cheerful, welcoming, and transparent. In the second part of the dissertation, the concept of "total peace," coined by Eisenhower in 1958 to express the aim of American democracy as the Cold War heated up, emerges as the political counterpart to pervasive beauty. If pervasive beauty corresponded to a landscape of glass walled buildings, total peace corresponded to buildings of and for an American Acropolis, buildings that would be emblematic not merely of a nation, but of an enduring, imperial civilization. In the third and final section, I present a short political history of the postwar period, from roughly 1950-1963, told through close readings of works by Arendt, Mills, and Pfaff and Stillman. (Dissertation Abstracts)