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Dispatches from the Front: The Life and Writings of Ralph J. Gleason

Don Armstrong and Jessica Armstrong

Rock Music Studies, 1 February 2014

Celebrated music journalist Ralph Joseph Gleason (1917-1975) is recognized as one of the founders of popular music criticism. Gleason began his career as a jazz writer in the 1940s, wrote extensively about rock and roll in the 1950s, and became a seminal rock music critic and cofounder of Rolling Stone magazine in the 1960s. He framed a set of aesthetic themes and concerns which continue to influence popular music journalism today. Yet despite his significance, Gleason has not been the subject of a career-long retrospective. A gap is left in our understanding of the development of popular music journalism during its formative postwar years, and the impact of jazz writing on rock criticism. This study addresses Gleason’s role in that development.  It draws on a comprehensive survey of Gleason’s writings, including little-known record reviews and articles from the 1930s, a deep sampling from the thousands of newspaper columns he wrote from the 1950s to the 1970s, and his Rolling Stone writings (during his lifetime, Gleason had more of his columns and articles printed in Rolling Stone than did many of the other major rock music critics on their staff). Other key sources include the authors’ interviews with people close to Gleason, his personal correspondence, and the literature about Gleason, including certain assertions that are challenged. The intent is to provide a fuller understanding of Gleason’s significance, and in so doing, expand our understanding of the early development of postwar popular music journalism.


Space (Un)Veiled

Don Armstrong and Carla Bell

Chapter: Space Unveiled: Invisible Cultures in the Design Studio, edited by Carla Bell (London, Routledge, publication date: 1July 2014)

“I am invisible, understand, simply because people refuse to see me.” This line from Ralph Ellison’s novel Invisible Man speaks for every member of a marginalized group who has felt the majority gaze pass through them. This has prompted a number of eminent architectural educators to call for new studio pedagogies which acknowledge these groups’ contributions to the built environment. However, while these contributions are occasionally addressed in specialized lecture courses relating to ethnography, material culture, and race and architecture, they remain relatively unexamined in the broader studio context. This is striking given the significant role that minorities have played as users, designers and builders of built environments.

This chapter offers strategies for addressing invisibility in the beginning design studio by fostering communities of practice centered on the principle of techne. As applied in the theory of architecture, techne refers to how a building’s materials and methods of construction can reveal broader truths about the building’s relationship to nature and its socio-historical context. Techne is associated with revelation; it renders the invisible visible.

Studio projects will be presented which explore techne in the material culture of African-American history: the vernacular landscape, the black renaissances in the fine arts, and the roots of black culture in the African Diaspora. These projects will suggest how the principle of techne can be an effective tool for promoting visibility in the architectural design studio by catalyzing a community of practice which structures and motivates the students’ acquisition of knowledgeable design skills.

An earlier version was published in Not White: Diversity in Beginning Design Education, Hampton: Hampton University Urban Institute, 2006


Brick Making and the Production of Place at the Tuskegee Institute

Don Armstrong

Chapter: Space Unveiled: Invisible Cultures in the Design Studio, edited by Carla Bell (London, Routledge, publication date: 1July 2014)

In 1883, on the site of the Tuskegee Normal School, the first brick was laid for the foundation of Alabama Hall. As a carrier of meaning, this small masonry unit, irregular in shape, its surface a mottled topography of pits, dents and other deformations, embodied the story of student brick making at the school. This story has been retold for more than 100 years, including the account by the school’s founder, Booker T. Washington, in his autobiography Up From Slavery. The story of the student brick making program has also been prominently featured in scholarly works on the life of Washington and the architecture of the campus, most notably in the works of Dr. Richard K. Dozier and Louis R. Harlan.

This paper focuses exclusively on the early years of the student brick making program and its similarity to the contemporaneous Arts and Crafts movement. The story of the roughhewn bricks made by the students demonstrates that a significant aspect of architectural design is the making of its constituent materials. When that making is based on hand-working local raw materials into rustic construction materials, the approach advocated by both the Tuskegee brick makers and the Arts and Crafts movement, the result is humanistic architecture which engages its natural context.

Originally published in 2005 ARRIS: Journal of the Southeast Chapter of the Society of Architectural Historians


Rudolph at Tuskegee: Paul Rudolph’s Work for the Tuskegee Institute

Don Armstrong


In 1958, the same year he was appointed Dean of the Yale School of Architecture, American architect Paul Marvin Rudolph (1918-1997) secured the commission to design a master plan for the Tuskegee Institute. Known as one of the first U.S. architects to be associated with Brutalism, Rudolph actively engaged in practice while at Yale.

One-thousand miles away in the cradle of the African-American civil rights movement, Tuskegee Institute entered its 77th year as a private, historically black school, famous for its buildings of student-made brick. The Institute’s fourth president, Dr. Luther Foster Jr., faced the challenge of bringing a 19th century campus into the 20th century – in a time when the role of higher education for African-Americans was being radically and rapidly re-defined. This happened on a campus located a short bus ride from the Greyhound bus terminal in Montgomery where Rosa Parks sparked the civil rights movement three years earlier.

This paper will present the story of this fateful collaboration between a white architect and a black educator, an alliance which transformed the Tuskegee campus and produced a masterwork of postwar American architecture – the Tuskegee Interdenominational Chapel. This story raises questions of race and architecture relevant today. Explored will be the reception of modern theories of architecture and planning on the campuses of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) during the postwar era. Because Rudolph’s involvement with the Tuskegee Institute extended across the mid- and late-phases of his career, his work there – most of which, with the exception of the Chapel, has been unpublished nationally – shows how he developed his ideas about architecture and urbanism (as expressed in master planning). Rudolph’s work at Tuskegee and the response by the Institute’s community, illuminates issues central to this divide: the symbolic power of architectural form, architecture’s response to historic context and the potential of architecture to shape society. While Rudolph’s later work tends to be categorized as late-modernist by historians, this research will show that it actually embodied distinctly post-modernist impulses such as a deep sensitivity to regionalist factors.

This project will focus on archival research drawing on the collection of Rudolph materials – including original drawings – in the Tuskegee archive and other campus locations (a side benefit of the project will be to locate, document and safeguard all such materials on the Tuskegee campus, working with the recently re-organized Tuskegee University Archives). This paper will expand the existing literature on Rudolph’s work at Tuskegee, which is limited to articles about the design of the Chapel. The field of studies about the architectural development of HBCU campuses is a fairly new one, particularly the role of architectural modernism, which tends to be overlooked because many of these campuses were founded before World War II. This study will complement existing architectural histories of the Tuskegee campus, designated a Nationally Historic Site in 1965, the only college campus to be so designated.


Teaching for Transfer: Fostering Transmission of Knowledge between Classroom and Studio

Don Armstrong

Published in: Proceedings of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture 2009 Annual Meeting

When we have lived any time, and have been accustomed to the uniformity of nature, we acquire a general habit, by which we always transfer the known to the unknown, and conceive the latter to resemble the former.

David Hume, “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding”1

Transmitting knowledge into the design studio from related support courses remains a perennial interest in architectural education. Over a decade ago the Boyer Report called for “A More Integrated Curriculum,” noting that the architecture design studio is a potent tool for “the integration and application of learning.”2

Educational theory refers to the transmission of knowledge as transfer of learning. The theory of transfer addresses “how previous learning influences current and future learning, and how past or current learning is applied or adopted to similar or novel situations.” Transfer occurs between a learning context and a transfer context. Within the architecture curriculum the learning context is the lecture setting and the transfer context is the studio setting. As will be shown, when transfer strategies are used architecture students gain a deeper understanding of course content and more comprehensive design ability.

1. Robert E. Haskell, Transfer of Learning (Academic Press, San Diego, 2001) p. xiii.

2. Ernest J. Boyer and Lee D. Mitgang, Building Community (Princeton: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1996) p. 85.


The Low Cash-Cost Housing Program at the Tuskegee Institute

Don Armstrong

Published in: Archipelagos: Outposts of the Americas/Enclaves Amidst Technology, Proceedings of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture 2004 Technology Conference

The architectural significance of the campus of the Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama is well documented. The original buildings were built by students and faculty under the leadership of Booker T. Washington. The stories of their making have achieved near mythical status from continual retelling as generations of Black American college students have attended the school.

However, another program of noteworthy construction also occurred at the Institute. Designated the Low Cash-Cost Housing program, the initiative was founded in the 1940’s to provide home ownership to tenant farmers in the Alabama Black Belt. This region, named for the rich black soil which attracted plantation builders to the area in the early 19th Century, has historically had a large Black population, beginning with the slaves who worked on the plantations and whose descendants became ensnared in the sharecropping system which kept them perpetually in debt and without property. The Low Cash-Cost Housing program provided home ownership to these farmers through a program of participatory housing by using native materials and sustainable design strategies. Despite the cultural and technological significance of these buildings, they have not received the recognition accorded the earlier campus buildings.

This paper will present the story of the Low Cash-Cost housing program and an analysis of its houses. It is based on field observations of 32 remaining buildings identified by the author, archival documents relating to the program, and interviews with current and past owners. It will be shown that the houses foreshadow today’s sustainable design movement and that they are significant examples of culturally responsive design.


Techstudio: A Studio Approach to Teaching Architectural Technology

Don Armstrong and James Strueber

Published in: Architecture, Culture, and the Challenges of Globalization, Proceedings of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture 2002 International Conference

Architectural students always seem to have difficulty applying technology information to their studio work. Technology courses take a quantitative, engineering perspective while studio courses favor a qualitative, aesthetic perspective. As a result, students perceive that a dichotomy exists between the technology classroom environment and the studio environment. This paper proposes a hybrid lecture-studio approach where the students apply the lecture material directly to a design project. Called techstudio, this model enables students to obtain a deeper and fuller understanding of technology.

This paper first summarizes the existing pedagogy then critically discusses the proposed hybrid methodology using examples of projects from a cross-section of technology subjects. These projects demonstrate a level of technical proficiency usually lacking in studio work and a level of design complexity usually lacking in technology exercises. By directly applying the technical knowledge received through lecture to a design project, students retain and appropriate the knowledge more effectively than in the traditional lecture-only format.


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