Constructing Global Modernism: Jaroslav J. Polivka, Frank Lloyd Wright and Henry Kaiser

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Docomomo Hawaii, 9. 2. 2021,
In 1939, due to WWII and the Nuremberg Laws, the revolutionary Czech structural engineer Jaroslav J. Polívka arrived in the United States. After his arrival, he started a research job at UC Berkeley, renewed his engineering practice, and offered his services to the US military as many businesspersons did during this era. Polívka worked for Henry Kaiser who turned Richmond, CA, into a vibrant, fast developing workers city. New residential districts, hospitals, hangars, docks, and warehouses were built there. Henry Kaiser approached the structural development of the city in the same way he revolutionized the construction of battleships: from prefabricated, standardized parts. He supported research and development of new technologies. Mobile, round-shaped hospitals from prefabricated aluminum frames were one of the results of that research. In 1946, Jaroslav J. Polívka introduced himself to the “starchitect” Frank Lloyd Wright. A productive mutual co-operation that lasted 13 years and resulted in eight spectacular projects had started and Polívka, who had been working on extensive research both at UC Berkeley and Stanford University, came up with many technological, structural, and material innovations over the period. In 1957, Henry Kaiser funded the construction of one of the two geodesic domes designed by Richard Buckminster Fuller in Hawaii and in the process he invited Frank Lloyd Wright to consult the project. Jaroslav J. Polívka was probably in direct contact with Fuller, since he wanted to include him in his unfinished project of an encyclopedia of the world-famous structural engineers. On this particular story and a social matrix evolving around Henry Kaiser and Frank Lloyd Wright, the lecture seeks to rethink architectural global modernism as a cooperative project rather than a series of individual innovations manifested by isolated genius figures.
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Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
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