Dissertation Proposal Defense of Maxwell Smith-Holmes

Princeton University School of Architecture

announces the Dissertation Proposal Defense of

Maxwell Smith-Holmes






Sylvia Lavin (Princeton University, Advisor)

Spyros Papapetros (Princeton University)

Jay Cephas (Princeton University)

Rachael DeLue (Princeton University)

Michael Osman (University of California, Los Angeles)


Tuesday, April 23, 2024 at 10am S-118, Architecture Building



This dissertation contends that money depended on material forms and professional practices of architecture to attain the universal value that commentators from the nineteenth century through today have taken for granted. Four chapters, each based around a different material standard, examine the necessity of architecture – as building infrastructure, profession, and epistemological model – for the metamorphoses of economic value that transpire in the United States during the second half of the nineteenth century. Throughout, the dissertation narrates the architectural means that structured distinct examples of monetary ecology, a term encompassing the relational dynamics and material exchanges through which symbols of exchange-value obtained trust, efficacy, and cultural significance. Chapter One examines how architectural form and economic value trafficked from California gold mines and through the offices of a marine underwriter, precipitating the Panic of 1857. These metabolic circuits suggest that the mutability of midcentury architecture was crucial to period money’s protean nature. The following chapter analyzes how banking and architecture used paper media to overcome the problems of trust and distance in postbellum society. Bank architecture transferred trust onto paper currency simultaneously as architecture professionalized by standardizing contracts and competition drawings; in both cases, paper transacted legitimacy and assent. The third chapter analyzes how new models of architectural practice emerged as financial firms diversified to capitalize on the growth of Anglo-American settlement in the West. As an agent of nineteenth century continental imperialism, architecture invented new modes of entrepreneurialism and commercial specializations in infrastructure and corporate branding, developing a professional polymorphism that cohered with the functionalist partitioning inside financial buildings. The final chapter centers on two architectural technologies of compression, steam heating and pneumatic tubing, that facilitated the profitable acceleration and manipulation of commercial information. In the final decades of the nineteenth century, the built environments of banking and finance structured the clerical labor that produced financial surplus value far removed from scenes of agricultural or industrial production. The methodological and historiographic stakes of this project center form and matter to reframe a materialist impulse that has often anonymized architectural history’s agents and objects, thus streamlining the jump from substances to abstractions and inadvertently rehearsing the same assumptions that cast the dematerialized fungibility of money as a fait accompli.