International architectural historians honor USC scholars

Vittoria Di Palma and Amy Ogata write award-winning books on desolate regions and the history of architecture

April 14, 2016 Allison Engel

The books of two USC professors, Vittoria Di Palma of the USC School of Architecture, and Amy Ogata, chair of art history at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, have been honored at the international conference of the Society of Architectural Historians in Pasadena.

Di Palma received the Elisabeth Blair MacDougall Book Award, which recognizes the most distinguished work of scholarship in the history of landscape architecture or garden design, for Wasteland: A History, published by Yale University Press. The book previously was honored with the Louis Gottschalk Prize by the American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies, a John Brinckerhoff Jackson Book Prize by The Foundation for Landscape Studies, and an award from The American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence.

Architectural historian Di Palma spent several years researching desolate areas ravaged by culture and produced the first history of the concept of wasteland — toxic, derelict and abandoned sites. Her efforts produced an engaging history of landscape and land use that explains how these forlorn places have shaped our conceptions of landscape.

Distinguished scholarship

Ogata accepted the Alice Davis Hitchcock Book Award given to the most distinguished work of scholarship on the history of architecture published by a North American scholar. Designing the Creative Child: Playthings and Places in Midcentury America was published by the University of Minnesota Press.

A review described the book as demonstrating “how new ideas about children’s natural creativity and expressiveness … were materialized, packaged and disseminated through a range of designed objects and spaces that included educational toys, play structures, suburban playrooms, schools and children’s museums.”

Founded at Harvard University in 1940, the Society of Architectural Historians is an organization of academics, preservationists, architects and members of the public interested in studying the built environment that boasts members in 56 countries. It publishes a journal, creates curricula for K-12 education and received a $1.5 million National Endowment for the Arts grant to document the 100 most iconic buildings in each state. Images and information on these 5,000 sites will be available to the public on the society’s website.

The president of the society for the past two years has been USC Architecture Associate Professor Ken Breisch, who founded USC’s graduate Historic Preservation Program (now called Heritage Conservation) and teaches popular courses on the modern tradition in Southern California and the history of American architecture and urbanism.

The society’s conference featured architectural tours throughout Southern California, including projects by John Lautner, Myron Hunt, Rudolph Schindler, Richard Neutra and Gregory Ain, and areas of architectural interest in Frogtown, Claremont, Boyle Heights and Irvine, among other locations.