January 29, 2018 Sachs’s Book Examines the Evolution of a People, Society and Politics

Profile Picture of Avigail Sachs

Avigail Sachs is an observer.  She studies those aspects of life that are perplexing and perhaps contradictory then ponders how to make sense of them.  Many times, these observations become investigations….and sometimes those investigations become a 15-year immersive and quite intimate examination of a people, a society, politics and design and how they evolved, conflicted and resolved.  This deep investigation led to Sachs publishing the book, “Environmental Design: Architecture, Politics, and Science in Postwar America.”

Several years ago, Sachs, an associate professor of Landscape Architecture and Architecture, says she found science “as a new frontier.”  She has taught architectural history and theory for 15 years and studio for five, so well-honed knowledge of the art of design was in her wheelhouse.  Through her keen sense of curiosity, she became intrigued by science and how it relates—or doesn’t relate—to design.

She knew this duality was nothing new.  For decades, polite friction existed based on the conflict of design as art or science.  It has both elements, so which discipline does design belong to?  Sachs wondered about the source of this friction and thus began a years-long investigation that led to her new book.

“I wrote the book I wanted for my students,” Sachs says.  “We have to ask questions based in history and examine the evolution of design for students to be able to determine who they want to be as architects and why.”

Cover image of Avigail Sachs book

Sachs’ book positions America after World War II together with the explosive new scientific knowledge architects of the day were learning about humans, environments and how they interact.  This change in thinking influenced the progress of society as architects began to take the human aspect—and later the ecological and political aspects—of their designs into consideration.

In her book, Sachs examines the Modernist and Progressive movements in America in contrast to the European avant-garde, and how architects began to realize their responsibilities had shifted from satisfying only aesthetic needs to also engaging sociopolitical ideas.  Called “environmental designers,” these architects were responsible for shifting the disciple from almost purely art focused to a broader discipline that included scientific and political influences.

“The shift of architecture after World War II is fascinating,” Sachs says, “and it sets the stage for discussion about what architects can do and what architecture is.  The ‘homegrown Modernism’ in the U.S. is based in progressive politics, which is a much more robust way to understand the shift in architecture than through traditionally narrow histories of architecture education.”

What started as a research project for her Ph.D. dissertation and fed by her curiosity thankfully continued to grow.  “Environmental Design” is available for pre-purchase now and will be available in print in May 2018.