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Title:Marketing modernism: Aluminum cladding and the American commercial landscape
Author(s):Johnson, Tait
Director of Research:Cupers, Kenny
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Mortensen, Peter
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Harris, Dianne; O'Brien, David; Weissman, Terri
Department / Program:Architecture
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Architectural history
Modern architecture
Aluminum cladding
Architectural materiality
Abstract:In the postwar United States, aluminum became more widely used than any other metal in building construction except for steel. It was first produced in the early nineteenth century, finding architectural uses in the latter part of the century. By the 1960s, it was broadly employed to clad buildings in the form of frames, panels and screens. Because it was a new and extensively useful material, producers believed that its identity must be controlled. Focusing on the marketing mechanisms of Alcoa, Reynolds and Kawneer in the decades surrounding World War II, this dissertation examines the way in which commercial aluminum cladding was marketed as both instrumental in modernization and an image of modernity. Producers claimed that aluminum possessed properties which they believed underpinned the agency of aluminum to enact specific advantages for buyers. Properties that were identified by promoters, such as its relative lightness, ductility and particular visual characteristics were marketed within the context of capitalism as the ability of aluminum to reduce building cost, increase profit and reflect beauty. In turn, these advantages were promoted as enacting prosperity for the buyer and the commercial districts in which aluminum cladding was deployed. The promoted advantages of aluminum cladding and its underlying abilities were carried as messages in visual and textual productions. Furthermore, aluminum-clad buildings themselves were employed by promoters as “silent salesmen,” advertising aluminum to potential buyers, and as “machines for selling,” able to attract customers and make merchants profitable. Reflecting upon the assertions of promoters that aluminum held the ability to modernize the commercial landscape, I argue that for aluminum cladding promoters, modernism – the reactions to modernity in visual, textual and architectural productions – was a marketing project. The reproduction of aluminum-clad buildings in promotional material constituted a modernism to sell for the merchant, the corporation and the aluminum producer.
Issue Date:2017-12-05
Rights Information:Copyright 2017 Tait Johnson
Date Available in IDEALS:2018-03-13
Date Deposited:2017-12

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