PLAS Graduate Works in Progress: Elis Mendoza & Felice Physioc

Oct 14, 2020, 5:00 pm6:30 pm
Zoom Meeting (registration required)



Event Description



 Elis Mendoza (Architecture, Princeton University)

In 1976, after a devastating earthquake hit Guatemala, dozens of international relief and voluntary agencies arrived at the capital to assist in the emergency. After the government divided the territory among the newly arrived specialists, and with no clear focal point, each agency developed a response according to what they saw as immediate needs. Oxfam and World Neighbors, who already had operating development programs in the region, brought in disaster specialist Fred Cuny to design a housing strategy. Cuny came up with a multi-focus project that used self-building and roof lending principles common to development programs.  However, the proposal included novel additions like a "model house," in which aid workers alphabetized and trained residents in local trades, and engineers taught masons how to build seismic-resistant houses. 

The model house was a "live building process," built by specialists and senior regional masons, designed to leave parts of its structure and elements revealed. The house acted as a 1:1 model in which a mason could see different types of joints, materials, and building solutions working together. It was also used as a materials lab and a civic center. Arguably, although the model proved effective as a collaborative teaching tool, its materiality, described as a "recalibrated vernacular architecture" revealed a series of practices and assumptions common to relief and emergency practices: the ubiquity of the corrugated metal sheet as a Third World solution to the point of being considered a vernacular material.

Elis Mendoza is an architect and researcher based in New York City. She is a PhD candidate in Architecture History and Theory by Princeton University. Elis works in the intersection between built space, memory, and human rights with a special focus in post-conflict cities. Her Ph.D. dissertation From Refuge to Shelter: Frederick Cuny’s Humanitarian Architecture as Deferred Utopia, aims to trace a history of architecture expertise within the incipient humanitarian government of the 1970s parallel to the more common architectural histories of development and technology. Elis is a Paul Mellon Centre Junior Fellow (2019-2020), a PLAS fellow (2019-2020) at Princeton University; and has been a Vera and Donald Blinken Open Society Archives Fellow (2018), a Lassen fellow at Princeton University (2015), and a CONACYT fellow 2012-2014. Her work has been supported by the Soros Foundation, UN Women, SEP and CONACYT.

Photo courtesy of Cuny Foundation



Felice Physioc (History, Princeton University)

Physioc's dissertation explains how Spanish colonial merchants used Inkan roadways, waystations and patterns of organizing labor to meet the needs of commercial expansion. She looks at how the increasing volume of commerce caused material transformations of the landscape and placed pressure on social relationships that founded local community organization. Some have argued that indigenous participation in commercial activity led to an inevitable proletarianization of the pueblo de indios. Physioc instead emphasizes how social reproduction in the Andes balanced indigenous trade and wage labor with subsistence agriculture. She also asks what factor catalyzed a change in social relations, and hypothesize that it can be explained by the mule, which was crucial for commercial activity but also encroached upon fragile agricultural systems. 

Felice Physioc is a Ph.D. candidate in History at Princeton University. Prior to pursuing the doctoral degree, Felice completed a B.A. from Emory University, followed by a dual M.A./M.Sc. degree at Columbia University and the London School of Economics in International and Global History. Her research has received support from the Tinker Foundation, the Social Science Research Council, and the John Carter Brown Library.

View our event e-flyer.

Photo: Felice Physioc

Discussants: PLAS Postdoctoral Fellows, Noa Corcoran-Tadd, and Marian Thorpe.

Moderator: Galileu Kim, Politics, Princeton University