Saving the City: Entries from an Encyclopedia of Calamity Mollifying Devices for the Modern Metropolis
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Chicago, Illinois 60610
Industrialization introduced new threats to the city (electricity, speed, explosives) while also dramatically increasing the scale of historical perils (flood, fire, theft). In turn, these threats gave rise to a field of new products, accessory to conventional building. Negotiating the thresholds between the developing infrastructures of the city and its private spaces, these emergency devices may be understood collectively as a crumple zone intended not to prevent urban disaster but to absorb, limit, and contain its effects. In their early forms, these devices—including the automatic sprinkler, panic bar, emergency light, and theft alarm—were ready for production and deployment on a large scale, without definitive spatial identity, and suitable for use in new or existing construction. Their current ubiquity facilitated by invention, building insurance, and legislation, the integration of these devices into the spatial and psychological landscape of the city is the story of the Encyclopedia.
Elijah Huge is an architect, director of the design firm Periphery, and assistant professor at Wesleyan University. A graduate of the Yale School of Architecture, he received the AIA Henry Adams Medal and was editor of Perspecta 35: Building Codes. His writings and design work have been featured in Praxis, Thresholds, Perspecta, Architectural Record, Landscape Architecture, Dwell, Journal of Architectural Education, and Competitions. His current scholarly research examines the historical emergence of architectural emergency devices, from the automatic sprinkler head to the Vonduprin panic bar. At Wesleyan, Elijah Huge leads the architecture studio track and the North Studio initiative. Focused on developing and producing research and conceptually driven projects with real-world clients, North Studio is both a locus for undergraduate design education within the context of Wesleyan University's liberal arts curriculum and a laboratory for design research and fabrication.
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