Event Date: 

Dissertation Proposal Defense: Carrie Bly

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You are cordially invited to attend

the Dissertation Proposal Defense of Carrie Bly




To be held on

Monday, June 6, 2022

11:00am on Zoom


This dissertation proposes an architectural history of light steel from 1920-194x in America. It is during this period that light steel products for architecture were first produced and entered building practices. These products were made from sheet steel, and could be competitively priced with other building materials. They include steel flooring systems, cellular panels, and light gauge steel members, also referred to as “metal lumber,” or cold-formed steel framing, or metal studs. Architectural histories of America and Modernity have been largely synonymous with the history of steel construction. However, they have focused exclusively on the “heavy” steel of skyscrapers and structural skeletons. Heavy steel signified solidity and longevity and was only used in buildings and infrastructure. In contrast, light steel could be as hollow and mobile as a car and was used in a wide range of construction practices and commercial products. It thereby evoked a contiguity between architecture and commercial commodities subject to obsolescence and exchange that would have troubled the narrative upon which American and Modern architecture was establishing their disciplinary and aesthetic authority during this period. My dissertation proposes that the history of light steel raises issues of commodification in architecture, of the growing control of industry in building practices, of architecture without architects, and of the material basis of aesthetic logics. I examine these issues in four chapters which bring economists, trade associations, labor unions, lay builders, and light-steel manufacturers into the theater of architectural history, some of which appear here for the first time. The history of light steel is one that not only corrects the historical record, but also transforms what we see as American architecture’s political economy. In doing so, this dissertation contributes to growing contemporary literature in architectural history on capitalism, labor and materials.


Advisor: Sylvia Lavin