What Is the Urban?

Registers of a World Interior

Marwan Ghandour

Marwan Ghandour is a Professor of Architecture at Iowa State University. He teaches studios in architectural and urban design as well as multi-disciplinary theory seminars. His research and practice have been focused on two regions, the Middle East and the American Midwest where he conducts theoretical and historical research and develops urban regeneration proposals. 

Monoculture: The expansive space of the state and its global limits

The early nineteenth century is the period in which United States expanded and consolidated its territory westward to produce the “homogeneous yet fractured” capitalist space of the newly formed state. This presentation traces this expansion through territorial representations of the Midwest that circulated among surveyors, settlers, government officials, and guides makers. These representations are homogeneous because they applied one repetitive measure, the six-mile townships, and suppressed other geographic differences. They are also fractured because they sliced off ecological unities into rationalized geometric entities soon to be exchanged in the property market. While the federal government was expanding its territory for the rest of the nineteenth century to reach the Pacific Ocean, settlers in the Midwest were tracing the townships onto the landscape through their daily labor. This lead to the creation of dispersed-yet-similar private settlements throughout the Midwest; a seemingly endless repetition of productive units, which promoted an increasingly mechanized monoculture farming. This also lead to the formation of dispersed small towns that together with the railway, and later the highway, will act as the infrastructure of this productive and expansive farming economy of the modern state. The family farming economy that emerged out of this labor generated the highly efficient and repetitive industrial landscape of the Midwest, a unique form of state-lead urbanization. With the rise of corporate farming coupled with global neoliberal de-regulation policies, this productive landscape continued to expand and consolidate within and outside the state’s border. The presentation will conclude by speculating on the end game for this expansive process of “homogeneous yet fractured” form of urbanization in the contemporary post-neoliberal era. 


Iowa State University

Department of Architecture

April 4-5, 2016