Lucia Allais, associate professor of architecture at Princeton University, is Italian by birth, grew up in France and moved to the US for a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and architecture at Princeton, followed by a master’s in architecture from Harvard Graduate School of Design and a PhD from MIT. She recalls finding “mentors who encouraged the pushing against disciplinary boundaries, especially between historical analysis and theoretical work, and between architectural history and history tout court”.
She has herself practised as an architect in both Europe and the US, something that Allais claims has illuminated her research in a rather unexpected way: “This may seem counter-intuitive, but training and working as an architect teaches you that spatial designs don’t always proceed through explicit architectural tools such as drawings, models and master plans. So when I approached an archive such as the one on monuments in the Second World War or the decolonisation of museums, I was especially careful not to assume that just because there weren’t drawings prescribing the destruction, its spatial effects were not deliberately ‘designed’. Often, the diagrams I made early on in my archival research to keep track of data and visualise its spatial consequences eventually became illustrations for the book.”
Although “told as an architectural history”, Allais believes that Designs of Destruction also has more general relevance for us now.
“There are sadly so many instances of large-scale environmental and urban destruction today”, she explains, “that we tend to forget there is a history to destruction. Even as technologies and policies evolve, there are specific techniques for calibrating destruction’s scale and ensuring that cultural markers remain – in other words, most designs of destruction do not result in a tabula rasa.”