Architectures of the Humanitarian Front
PhD Research by Theodossis Issaias, Yale School of Architecture, Yale University.
(2015 – 2021)
Theodossis’s research focuses on a period around WWI when conflict, displacement, and territorial insecurity provoked the reconfiguration of humanitarian operations –their spatial organization and ethical imperatives. Between the 1910s and 1930s, a flurry of humanitarian activity emerged, old institutions were restructured, new institutions were formed, and new methods of action crystalized, entrenching representations, languages, and practices that have stayed with us ever since. His dissertation, “Architectures of the Humanitarian Front, 1915-1930: The American Red Cross and the Refugee Settlement Commission of the League of Nations,” begins with an examination of the American Red Cross (ARC, 1881-), as it transformed from a relatively unknown philanthropic society into the only recognized relief organization responsible for administering foreign aid on the country’s behalf. Contingent on the geopolitical and commercial ambitions of the U.S., these foreign aid programs unfolded over strategic locations around the globe, culminating in the refugee aid and resettlement programs in Europe during WWI. From there, I trace the rise of an international refugee regime and the creation of the League of Nations (1920-1946) in the aftermath of the War by focusing on the League’s Refugee Settlement Commission (RSC) operations in Greece between 1924 and 1930. Objects of study are material traces, plans of settlements, drawings of shelters and construction details, stipulations of housing assistance loans, letters between humanitarian workers, official reports, and publicity campaigns from the archives of the two organizations and the localities of their respective interventions. I posit that spatial production –from institutional headquarters to emergency shelters– was a central concern of these organizations. As soon as they systematized their modes of operation, they sought the knowledge and technical expertise of architects, who, in turn, conscripted to the humanitarian cause. Within a period of two decades, renowned architects –including Chester Aldrich and Fred Forbát– led technical departments, mapped destruction and displacement, and managed the organizations’ building activity, shaping the very notion of humanitarianism. Ultimately, this dissertation argues that modern definitions about space and citizenship emerged from these projects and debates, and, thus, provide a critical window into understanding today’s relation between humanitarianism, displacement, and architecture.
The following book chapters, articles and conference papers emerged from this work:
2021. Architects, Humanitarian Experts, and the American Red Cross, 1910-1920
Paper Presentation in GUD Design Network Experts, Export, and the Entanglements of Global Planning Workshop and conference organized by Filippo De Dominicis and Ines Tolic, University of
2021. Agrarian Hinterlands: The Humanitarian Garden, the Self-Help House, and the Resettlement of Refugees in South Macedonia, 1923-1930.
Paper Presentation in Projective Cities, Architectural Association School of Architecture
2020. Humanitarian Relief and Confinement
Book chapter in States of Emergency: Architecture, Urbanism, and the First World War, edited by Sophie Hochhäusl and Erin Sassin (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 2020).
2020. Foregoing Empathy.
Essay in Expansions: 100 Responses to “How Will We Live Together?,” edited by Hashim Sarkis and Ala Tannir. (Venice: La Biennale di Venezia, 2021.)
2020. The American Red Cross Refugee City in Italy, 1918.
Paper Presentation in Divergence in Architecture Conference, Session: Materialization of Space (moderator: Todd Cronan), Atlanta, Georgia Tech, March 4–6, 2020.
2020. Displaced, in Place and in Transit: Refugee Population in Greece and the Formation of Planning Protocols and Domestic Machines. With Platon Issaias.
Book chapter in Transient Spaces, edited by Loukia Tsafoulia and Suzan Wines (New York: City College of New York, The Spitzer School of Architecture, 2020).
2018. Agrarian Visions: The League of Nations Refugee Settlement Commission in Greece (1923–1930). Paper Presentation in Modernism, Politics, Crisis at the Society of Architectural Historians/NE Conference, Boston, April 3, 2018.
2017. Popular Art, Henri Focillon, and the League of Nations.
Paper Presentation in Interdisciplinary Colloquium for Critical Study of the Built Environment, Yale University – School of Architecture, May 1, 2017
2017. Crafting Modernities: The League of Nations Committees and Exhibitions on Popular Arts.
Paper Presentation in Globalized Regionalism and Modernist Aesthetics in the Built Environment (moderators: Susanne Bauer and Eliana Sousa Santos), College Art Association, 105th Conference, February 15–18, 2017.
2016. Spinning the Globe: League Nations’ Resettlement Experts after WWI
Paper Presentation in Intemezzo at Duke University ‐ Department of Art, Art History and Visual Studies, February 29, 2016.