Séminaire SEARCH / IUF avec Aaron Shkuda (Princeton University)
Lofts and the Spatial Imagination of New York City
Dr. Aaron Shkuda (Princeton University)
In American cities, the term “loft” can denote a range of structures and spaces. The word describes both gritty live/work spaces in former industrial building that were informally, and sometimes illegally, renovated by individual artists, as well as large-scale luxury housing projects funded by developers as part of the state-sanctioned reuse of defunct factories and warehouses. The aesthetic of lofts has influenced the commercial architecture of high-tech startups, the interiors of fast-food restaurants, and the design of art museums. Depending on the context, lofts can represent creative energy, real estate investment, cultural appropriation, displacement, and/or the nostalgia for a more liberated and innovative time in the pre-neoliberal city.
The loft’s central place in narratives of artist-driven urban development and gentrification comes from its role in the transformation of New York’s SoHo neighborhood in the 1960s and 70s. Starting with a brief history of the SoHo loft, this talk will trace the loft’s enduring influence on the aesthetics of gentrification and the spatial imagination of contemporary cities. Particular attention will be paid to the architectural form of the loft, the large-scale market forces that drove deindustrialization and the adaptive reuse of lofts as live-work spaces, and the policy frameworks that shaped this urban architectural typology. Lofts are key to understanding how and why the arts are seen as critical to economic growth in urban areas, and the spatial imaginaries of lofts reveal the varied ways that an aesthetic of creativity is appropriated by development regimes in the contemporary city.
Aaron Shkuda has run the Princeton-Mellon Initiative in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities, a program that fosters collaboration between scholars studying urban life and the built environment, since 2014. Aaron received his PhD in United States urban history from the University of Chicago and is the author of The Lofts of Soho: Gentrification, Art, and Industry in New York, 1950–1980 (University of Chicago Press, April 2016). He has published articles on subjects ranging from arts-focused retail districts to the architecture and planning behind Battery Park City. Aaron previously taught at Carnegie Mellon and Stanford Universities.
Contact: Monica Manolescu, manoles[at]unistra.fr