Experts, Exports, and the Global Entanglements of Postwar Planning

Theodossis Issaias (Carnegie Museum of Art - USA) Architects, Humanitarian Experts, and the American Red Cross, 1910-1920

During a period of unprecedented territorial and political insecurity around the First World War, the American Red Cross (ARC) launched a flurry of civilian relief operations in foreign lands, entrenching representations, languages, and practices of humanitarian action, which have stayed with us ever since. Contingent to the geopolitical ambitions of the U.S. empire, the ARC developed and deployed relief protocols and procedures to address exigencies caused by environmental catastrophes and conflicts, of which displacement of peoples was deemed the most urgent. Across the globe, ‘earthquake stricken and homeless people’; ‘itinerant famine victims’; ‘homeless persons living in temporary camps’; ‘the refugees [who] throng cities and villages, homeless, shelterless, starving’ became the subjects – the humans – of humanitarianism.

To systematise these modes of operation, the ARC sought the knowledge and technical expertise of architects and urban planners, who, in turn, conscripted to the organisation’s cause. Within a short period of a decade, renowned architects of the American North East led ARC departments, mapped destruction and displacement, and managed the organisation’s building activity, contributing to the reconfiguration of humanitarian priorities and imperatives. This paper will focus on material traces, plans of settlements, drawings of shelters and construction details, contracts between contractors and organisations, official reports, and publicity campaigns from the ARC archives, to provide an insight into the beliefs, misunderstandings, and prejudices of humanitarian actors and hint at a homology and continuity between the ARC and humanitarian institutions that followed.

November 11, 2021 - 5 pm CET (Link)

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