Fabiola Small

Architecture and Eugenics

Architecture and Eugenics: Modernist Design as an Orthopedic Apparatus, recorded with Fabiola López-Durán in Paris on June 9, 2015.

This conversation with Fabiola López-Durán is primarily structured around her work exploring Le Corbusier’s eugenic ideology from 1925 Paris to 1941 Vichy. At a moment when many events and debates are organized around his paradigmatic work, the main critiques seem to focus on his personal political engagement and ideology without fully engaging with the work and its consequences. What Fabiola proposes in her work is to take his claims for the orthopedic power of architecture seriously, and look at the vision of society it is therefore promoting. Although Le Corbusier’s example might be canonical, her argument is that the entire modernist movement (in particular in Latin America) embraced eugenics, and we spend the last part of this conversation, discussing about Lucio Costa and Brasilia in particular.

Fabiola López-Durán is a history of modern art and architecture professor at Rice University. Originally trained as an architect, López-Durán earned her Ph.D in the History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Prior to joining the Rice University faculty, she was the 2009-2011 Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities at the University of California-Berkeley. Adopting a transnational and interdisciplinary perspective, López-Durán’s work analyzes the cross-pollination of ideas and mediums—science, politics and aesthetics—that informed the process of modernization on both sides of the Atlantic, with an emphasis on Latin America. Her forthcoming book, Eugenics in the Garden: Architecture, Medicine and Landscape from France to Latin America in the Early Twentieth Century, investigates a particular strain of eugenics that, at the turn of the twentieth century, moved from the realms of medicine and law to design, architecture, and urban planning—becoming a critical instrument in the crafting of modernity in the new Latin American nation states. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards including the Dedalus Foundation Award, the MIT Schlossman Research Award, the Harvard University’s Center for European Studies Grant, and prestigious fellowships from the Woodrow Wilson National Foundation, the Camargo Foundation, the Samuel H. Kress Foundation, and the Fulbright. Her work has been published in Europe, Asia, South America and the United States.


– http://arthistory.rice.edu/Faculty.aspx?id=1302


– Fabiola López-Durán and Nikki Moore, “From France to Brazil and Back: Le Corbusier, Architecture and Eugenics” (forthcoming 2015)
– Fabiola López-Durán, “Architectural Modernism and Its Discontents: Brazil and Beyond” (forthcoming 2015)
– Fabiola López-Durán, “Utopía en práctica: eugenesia y naturaleza en la construcción de ciudad moderna latinoamericana.” In Gisela Heffes (edit), Utopías urbanas: geopolíticas del deseo en América Latina. Madrid, Spain/Frankfurt, Germany: Vervuert Verlag, 2013 (Spanish Edition)
– Fabiola López-Durán and Nikki Moore. “Ut-opiates: Rethinking Nature” in Architectural Design (Profile 208: Eco Redux: Design Remedies for an Ailing Planet, Edited by Lydia Kallipoliti), Vol 80, No 6. New York and London: John Wiley & Sons, November-December 2010.
– Léopold Lambert, “Le Corbusier and Fascism: Looking at Architecture Itself,” on The Funambulist (May 1, 2015)


– Abstract  to “Practicing Utopia: Architecture and Eugenics in Modern Brazil,” talk delivered by Fabiola López-Durán at ESA, Paris, on May 28th, 2015: 

In the early twentieth century, eugenics—the biological and social movement that strove for nothing less than the “improvement” of the human race—moved from the realms of medicine and law to architecture, landscape design and urban planning, becoming a critical instrument in the crafting of modernity in the new Latin American nation-states. By examining the intersection of science and aesthetics, this talk explores a particular form of eugenics that informed the very conception of physical spaces—natural and architectural—in early twentieth-century Brazil. More specifically, this talk crisscrosses the work of architects, artists, physicians and other technocrats to demonstrate an explicit connection between modernism and eugenics that was fueled by the fear, manipulation, and engineering of bodies and places in modern Brazil.


– “The Politics of Space and Time in Brasilia” with Antonádia Borges (September 16, 2014)