Michael R. Allen works as an academic researcher, historian, teacher, design critic, public artist, critical spatial tour guide, and heritage conservationist in private practice. The binding ties in his research are investigation of the ideological and political constitution of architectural and infrastructural space, study of the claiming of material heritage and the politics of its conservation, and inquiry into the forms of liberatory agency that realize the potential of the modern metropolis to distribute wealth, knowledge, and shelter.
Currently, he is a Senior Lecturer in Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Design at the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, as well as a Lecturer in American Culture Studies (AMCS), at Washington University in St. Louis. Allen’s university teaching has focused on interdisciplinary investigation of architectural history, cultural dimensions of landscape, historic preservation, political power and urban space and the racial histories of US cities. He also serves as Executive Director of the National Building Arts Center, an anti-museum of the American built environment rooted in the largest collection of architectural artifacts in the US well as a comprehensive research library on the US built environment.
Allen was Director of the Preservation Research Office, a heritage consultancy that he founded, from 2009 through 2022. He is a US federally qualified architectural historian who has worked on various historic preservation projects in fourteen US states. He contributed to the Charting the American Bottom cultural landscape guide, co-led the architectural yoga series Building As Body with Mallory Nezam, and co-convened and managed the Pruitt Igoe Now ideas competition with Nora Wendl. Allen also has been Urbanist-in-Residence at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation and, more recently, Research Adviser to Laboratory for Suburbia.
Allen’s scholarly and critical articles have appeared in a wide range of scholarly and popular sources, such as Buildings and Landscapes, CityLab, Disegno, Forty-Five Journal, Hyperallergic, Next City, PLATFORM, Temporary Art Review, St. Louis American, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Studies in the History of Gardens and Designed Landscapes. He has contributed chapters to Bending the Future: 50 Ideas About the Next 50 Years of Historic Preservation, Midwest Architecture Journeys and Buildings of Missouri. Allen also has a past in experimental literary publishing, radical community theater and public ecological education.
In 2018, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named him to its “40 Under 40” list honoring young preservationists whose work is expanding the concept and practice of historic preservation in the United States. Allen’s preservation career started with tenures at the National Building Arts Center and the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, where he was Assistant Director. Since November 2021, he is a member of the Preservation Board of the City of St. Louis.
Allen is a Ph.D. candidate in Cultural Heritage at the Ironbridge Institute for Cultural Heritage at the University of Birmingham, England, with degree expected in 2024. He holds a B.A. in Literature and History from The Union Institute.
Political economy of architecture; architectural and cultural theory; modernism in US and European city planning and architectural production; traditional settlement and vernacular architecture; public/social housing history, US and Europe; historic preservation; critical heritage study; metropolitan urbanism and the politics of inhabitation rights; modern segregation and the metropolis; the political economy of landscape architecture; anthropocene (as an era and and as an ideology); “right-sizing” and shrinking cities theory; Marxist thought; nationalism, imperialism, colonialism and spatial production.
Full Curriculum Vitae (updated September 2023).
- Association for Critical Heritage Studies
- DOCOMOMO US
- International Association for the Study of Traditional Environments
- Society for American City and Regional Planning History
- Society of Architectural Historians
- Vernacular Architecture Forum
- Urban History Association
- City of St. Louis Preservation Board: Commissioner, since 2021.
- Landmarks Illinois: Regional Advisor, since 2009.
- Modern STL: President, 2010-13; Vice President, 2013-16.
- National Building Arts Center: Board of Directors, 2009-22; President, 2021-22.
- National Trust for Historic Preservation: Advisor, since 2016.