The Architecture of Belonging: “Livable Places” in the United States since 1945

Kristina Borrman
Art History
UC Los Angeles

This dissertation is about the representation of “livable places” in lifestyle and shelter magazines. “Livability” emerged as a buzzword in scientific discourse during the postwar period. It suggested the desegregated landscapes championed by social scientists in the U.S. who believed that racial segregation was undemocratic. Americans’ exposure to Nazism heightened their awareness of institutionalized racism at home, and this led to new topics for scientific scholarship. Scientists studied racially diverse places where citizens lived out their democratic ideals, and they argued that these places were more “livable.” Today, “livability” connotes walkable neighborhoods—where houses, shopping, and parks cluster together—since this is how mainstream architectural literature identifies the most livable places. Social and ethnic homogeneity is also an important criterion for livable places, though this is never acknowledged. The desire for livability is entrenched in our cultural imagination, but its effects have been understudied because pictures of “good neighborhoods” appear to merit little critical observation, much less any inquiry into the history of livability as an idea. By studying this repressed history of livability, “The Architecture of Belonging” explores how racial knowledge is constructed in landscape imagery.