Thesis submitted to the University of Birmingham for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Cultural Heritage, through the International Center for Heritage, School of History and Cultures, College of Arts and Law. March 2024.

Cochran Gardens Tenant Management Corporation leader Bertha Gilkey leading a tour of Cochran Gardens Apartments in St. Louis, Missouri. 1989.

While mass housing is one of most common types of modernist architecture built globally during the twentieth century, it has been marginalized in the inscription and identification of modernist architectural heritage. This study focuses its investigation on the problems and prospects of inscribing modernist mass housing architecture within the United States of America, where unlike most nations, vast numbers of mass housing buildings have been systematically demolished. Two case studies illuminate both past problems and current prospects for identification and inscription as heritage: Cochran Gardens Apartments in St. Louis, a public housing development built in 1953 but completely demolished by 2012; and Parkchester in New York City, a larger, private mass housing development completed in 1942 that still stands today. In researching these cases, I explore the dynamic of constructing and asserting expertise between architectural historians, heritage officials, housing officials and housing inhabitants. The question of dissonant valuation is central to the research, although the research aims not simply to note problems but also locate possible points of positive convergence.

The Metropolitan Oval at Parkchester in the Bronx, New York, New York. Author photograph, June 2023.

In undertaking research, I utilized grounded theory to support semi-structured interviews of actors occupying multiple positions, on-site observational work and interviews of inhabitants. I also undertook review of mass media (especially newspapers), primary source heritage documents and popular cultural forms such as music related to the case study sites. My research explored how inhabitant communities construct and assert value of their housing developments, and how those values intersect with the usually more-dominant values of expert actors. Deploying interpretative models, I identified not simply conflicts in value, but discursive differences between how inhabitants and experts articulate the heritage value of modernist mass housing. I especially focus on the discursive space between valuing housing for aesthetic achievement and valuing the same for its utility and affordability. I conclude by examining the potential connections between dissonant values, and how those connections could serve the inhabitants struggles while confronting the implicit biases in expert assessments.