South Portland, South Auditorium, and the Architecture of Postwar Ambition

01/23/2021 10:00 AM - 11:30 AM PT


Virtual Event


  • $15.00


FREE for AHC Members! (must log in to your account when registering)

South Portland, on the edge of downtown, is perhaps the most potent example of how architecture makes the image of the city. At first a transitional neighborhood, the area became the site of the city's first implemented urban renewal project, South Auditorium. More than eighty acres were condemned and cleared by the then-new Portland Development Commission. The resulting buildings introduced a new, modernist form of urbanism that forever changed the cityscape. While historians sometimes discuss South Auditorium as a local example of American postwar city planning trends, relatively few give attention to the ways that architecture shaped decision-making, and how South Auditorium was a unique kind of urban renewal rooted not in perceived urban problems, but in urban ambitions.

Alexander Benjamin Craghead will relate an unconventional, cultural history of South Portland's architecture, revealing collisions of power, imagination, and urban self-image. Craghead is a historian of technology, representation, and landscape, and holds a Ph.D. in architecture from U.C. Berkeley, where he presently teaches in the program in American Studies. Alex's talk will place a significant emphasis on four distinct ways that architecture in South Portland both shaped, and was shaped by, postwar notions of what makes a good city. You will learn how opportunism and architectural anxieties led to urban renewal, how the city's ambitions fit within the context of national trends and regional rivalries, and how Portland's civic leaders sought to make South Auditorium a re-founding that would change the city's image both for itself and for the outside world. Throughout, architecture was virtually personified, as if it sat in a seat of power alongside planners, developers, city commissioners, and mayors, shaping decisions at every level.

This talk is in conjunction with our current exhibit South Portland and the Long Shadow of Urban Renewal.




Image: Promotional view of Portland Center, part of the South Auditorium Urban Renewal Area. c.1965. AHC Library.

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