Esra Akcan

Esra Akcan's research on modern and contemporary architecture and urbanism foregrounds the intertwined histories of Europe, West Asia, and East Africa, and offers new ways to understand architecture's role in global, social, and environmental justice. She has written extensively on critical and postcolonial theory, racism, immigration, architectural photography, translation, neoliberalism, and global history. Her book Architecture in Translation: Germany, Turkey and the Modern House (Duke University Press, 2012) offers a new way to understand the global movement of architecture that extends the notion of translation beyond language to visual fields. It advocates a commitment to a new culture of translatability from below and in multiple directions for cosmopolitan ethics and global justice. Turkey: Modern Architectures in History (Reaktion/Chicago University Press, 2012, with Sibel Bozdoğan) is part of a series that aims at an inclusive survey of modern world architecture and is the first volume in any language to cover the entire 20th century in Turkey. Open Architecture: Migration, Citizenship and the Urban Renewal of Berlin-Kreuzberg by IBA-1984/87 (Birkhäuser/De Gruyter Academic Press, 2018) defines open architecture as the translation of a new ethic of welcoming into design process. It exemplifies formal, programmatic, and procedural steps towards open architecture during the urban renewal of Berlin's immigrant neighborhood by giving voice not only to the established and understudied architects who were invited to build public housing there, but also to noncitizen residents. Abolish Human Bans: Intertwined Histories of Architecture (CCA, 2022) builds on her theory of architectural translation to construct an activist gesture against the racist anti-immigration policies of ruling powers. Currently, she is editing Migration and Discrimination (with Iftikhar Dadi) and writing Right-to-Heal: Architecture in Transitions After Conflicts and Disasters.

Akcan completed her architecture degree at the Middle East Technical University in Turkey, and her Ph.D. and postdoctoral degrees at Columbia University in New York. She has taught art and architecture history and design studios at UI-Chicago, Humboldt University in Berlin, Columbia University, New School, and Pratt Institute in New York, and METU in Ankara. She received numerous awards and fellowships from multiple institutions and has taken leadership positions including the IES Director at the Einaudi Center for International Studies and Resident Director at Institute for Comparative Modernities at Cornell University, as well as the Director of Graduate Studies at UIC. She occasionally participates in exhibitions by carrying her practice beyond writing to visual media. She has advised almost 40 doctoral students (14 as primary advisor) in Architecture History, Art History, and related programs.

Academic Research/Specialty Areas

  • Architectural history
  • Architectural theory
  • Global and intertwined histories of architecture
  • Migration and diaspora studies
  • Critical, postcolonial, and translation theory

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Classes (Selected)

  • ARCH 1802/5802 History of Architecture II
  • ARCH 6308/ARTH 6308/SHUM 6308 Mellon Expanded Practices Graduate Seminar: Migration and Discrimination
  • ARCH 6819 Open ArchitectureThis course addresses pertinent issues relative to the subject of History of Architecture and Urbanism. The instructor(s) of the course are drawn from the permanent and visiting faculty who may either broadly or narrowly define the course's scope and content. For precise content, please see the Architecture Department webpage.
  • ARCH 6800 Architecture and Justice
  • ARCH 6801 (Foundations of the Discipline): Writing Architecture
  • ARCH 6800 - State of the Discipline: Global Architecture HistoryThis seminar will provide a survey of architectural historiography paying particular attention to the paradigm shifts of recent decades. Through the critical readings of important texts we will discuss the current state of the field while simultaneously reconsidering our position in it. The course will address how we apply theory to practice, develop research strategies that maximize methodological alliances, imbue the study of the past with contemporary relevance, and contribute as much to other disciplines as we borrow from them.
  • ARCH 3819 Climate : History : Architecture
  • ARCH 6805 Practicum - Building Exhibitions in the Age of Reparations

Awards, Grants, and Fellowships (Selected)

  • Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Studies at Harvard University (2019–20)
  • Canadian Center for Architecture (two-time awardee: visiting scholar in 2009, and research fellow in 2019)
  • Graham Foundation (four-time awardee: special recognition for a doctoral dissertation in 2003, publication grants for Architecture in Translation in 2010, and Open Architecture in 2017, CCA Singles as a group project in 2020)
  • Berlin Prize, American Academy in Berlin (2016–17)
  • Getty Research Institute (2008–09)

Exhibitions and Presentations (Selected)

  • ArchitectuREfugee, competition entry for Turkish Pavilion, 2016 Venice Biennale of Architecture, finalist
  • Urban Renewal and its Discontents: Kreuzberg-IBA '84/87, Istanbul Design Biennale, Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, Istanbul (2012)
  • (Land)Fill Istanbul: Twelve Scenarios for a Global City, First Architectural Festival of Istanbul, Darphane, Istanbul (2004)

Publications (Selected)

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