College Corner: Kathryn O’Rourke, Architecture Professor

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Kathryn O’Rourke is a visiting professor for 2008-2009, and is teaching two courses on architecture this semester. She is a graduate of Wellesley College and the University of Pennsylvania, and has nearly completed her PhD at UPenn. Last week, Professor O’Rourke spoke with the Daily Gazette about her research and her thoughts about Swarthmore.

Daily Gazette: What courses will you be teaching while you’re at Swarthmore?

Kathryn O’Rourke: This semester I’m teaching a first year seminar, Architecture of Philadelphia, and also a History of Latin American Architecture, which also involves the architecture of colonial Spain and colonial Portugal.

DG: How did you become interested in Latin American architecture?

KOR: My interest started way back even in high school. I went to college at Wellesley and there combined my interests in Latin America and architecture, and here we are.

DG: You’re a PhD candidate at UPenn, right?

KOR: Yes, I’m almost, almost done my degree–I’m defending my dissertation next week. [Author’s note: the defense took place on September 10.]

DG: What did you write about?

KOR: I wrote about buildings in Mexico City built between 1925 and 1934. I’m looking at the intersection of modern architecture and public health reform in that period, which is right after the Mexican Revolution, fought between 1910 and 1920. I’ve been looking at the way that architects started incorporating different architectural languages like art deco and classicism, as well as Mexican architecture, into these buildings. They were designed as part of a larger political and social campaign for public health reform, [involving] new ideas about citizenship and civic responsibility and even new ideas about race and what it meant to be Mexican. […] Architecture is deeply connected to social and political issues.

DG: Since you’re an expert on architecture, what do you think of Swarthmore’s architecture?

KOR: I like it a lot! It’s really fun to be exploring a new campus and new places. In my first year seminar yesterday, actually, we talked about Parrish Hall and the building that preceded it. I don’t know if Swarthmore students know about this, but College Hall stood there before; everything that happened in the college was in this one building. It burned down in 1881, and then they rebuilt it as Parrish.

DG: Have you seen the new dorms, Alice Paul and David Kemp?

KOR: I haven’t been in them at all–I’m only beginning to explore the area. […] It’s a really pretty campus and you all are very lucky to have such a great place to learn.

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