You are here

Environmental Design

Architecture, Politics, and Science in Postwar America
Avigail Sachs

BUY Cloth · 240 pp. · 7 × 8 · ISBN 9780813941271 · $39.50 · Aug 2018
BUY Ebook · 240 pp. · ISBN 9780813941288 · $22.15 · Aug 2018
BUY Paper · 240 pp. · 7 × 8 · ISBN 9780813947556 · $29.50 · Sep 2021

SESAH Publication Award for Best Book, Southeast Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians (2020)

Much of twentieth-century design was animated by the creative tension of its essential duality: is design an art or a science? In the postwar era, American architects sought to calibrate architectural practice to evolving scientific knowledge about humans and environments, thus elevating the discipline’s stature and enmeshing their work in a progressive restructuring of society. This political and scientific effort was called "environmental design," a term expanded in the 1960s to include ecological and liberal ideas. In her expansive new study, Avigail Sachs examines the theoretical scaffolding and practical legacy of this professional effort.

Inspired by Lewis Mumford’s 1932 challenge enjoining architects to go beyond visual experimentation and create complete human environments, Environmental Design details the rise of modernist ideas in the architectural disciplines within the novel context of sociopolitical rather than aesthetic responsibilities. Unlike today’s "starchitects," environmental designers saw themselves as orchestrators of decision making more than auteurs of form and style. Viewing architectural practice as rooted in Progressive Era politics and the democratic process rather than the European avant-garde, Sachs plots how these social concepts spread via influential architecture schools. This rich examination of pedagogy and practice is a map to both the history of environmental design and the contemporary consequences of architecture understood as a pressing social concern.


"Avigail Sachs has produced an essential map of the history of environmental design. This is the book on this important subject we’ve been waiting for."

Simon Sadler, University of California, Davis, author of, University of California, Davis, author of Archigram: Architecture without Architecture

Avigail Sachs asks at the outset of this deeply researched book: what happened to the scientific approach? More precisely, she wants to know what happened to scientific rationalism as a humanistic discourse and progressive social agenda in modern architectural and urban design. Sachs reaches back to the social-science methodologies and environmental philosophies put forward in the U.S. in the middle decades of the twentieth century, thoughtfully exploring the legacy of critical thinkers, teachers, and design professionals from Lewis Mumford, Catherine Bauer, and William Wurster to William Caudill, Christopher Alexander, and Ian McHarg, among many others.

Joan Ockman, University of Pennsylvania School of Design, author of, University of Pennsylvania School of Design, author of Architecture School: Three Centuries of Educating Architects in North America

[ Environmental Design] is a well-researched and in-depth look at the rise and influence of environmental design in the United States.... Sachs leaves us with much to consider in her pioneering work, especially the role of schools of architecture. Their leaders are profiled and a clear understanding of their influence emerges. She details significant ideas and contributors and brings to light the complex and intertwined history of an important piece of the modern movement in architecture.

Art Libraries Association of North America

Avigail Sachs explores the heydey of the concept and how it foundered on the rocks of persistent social and professional divides.

Landscape Architecture Magazine

Avigail Sachs's compact yet expansive Environmental Design provides a broadly based analysis of the evolving relationship between environmental design and architectural education, thinking, and design during the middle decades of the twentieth century.

ARRIS, Journal of SESAH

About the Author(s): 

Avigail Sachs is Assistant Professor of Architecture and Landscape History and Theory in the College of Architecture and Design at the University of Tennessee. She was recently awarded the prestigious 2017 Mellon Author Award from the Society of Architectural Historians.

Interested in this topic?
Stay updated with our newsletters:

Related Books