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On the Wings of Modernism: The United States Air Force Academy

On the Wings of Modernism: The United States Air Force Academy

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Book DescriptionThe United States Air Force Academy stands as one of the most extensive architectural projects of the entire cold war era. Robert Allen Nauman's fascinating On the Wings of Modernism shows the project was also a volatile battleground for competing ideas about aesthetics and politics. It remains a key to fully understanding American modernism.

Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill's (SOM) first public exhibition of plans and models for the project was designed by the former Bauhaus master Herbert Bayer, and it incorporated photographs of the Colorado Springs site by Ansel Adams and William Garnett. Myths and metaphors of flight and the American West were interwoven with those of modernism, both to justify the design and to free it fromany lingering socialist or European associations. Questions of architectural imagery and meaning in postwar America were debated in numerous hearings as Congress considered the funding of the academy buildings.

Nauman argues that contrary to the technological and teleological interpretations presented by the polemicists of "International style" modernism, the academy's actual production was squarely grounded in bureaucratic and political processes. He demonstrates that selection of both the site and the design firm was the result of political maneuverings involving the U.S. military leadership.

On the Wings of Modernism examines the complete history of the academy's construction, from the earliest conception of the project to its eventual completion. Using previously unexplored resources of the U.S. Air Force Academy, SOM, and the Air Force Academy Construction Agency, Nauman uncovered materials such as negatives of original Ansel Adams photographs of the sites. He also conducted extensive interviews with the SOM project director for the academy, Walter Netsch.

This timely study of a cornerstone of American modernism offers new interpretations of the complex political and cultural environment of the postwar era and is sure to enrich any discussion of architecture, architectural history, or modernism generally.