volker m. welter, professor

History, theory, and historiography of Californian and modern European architecture from the 19th century to the present; history of sustainable architecture.


Arts 1228

office hours: winter 2015
Wednesday, 9:00-10:00; Thursday, 1:30-2:30


Ph.D. University of Edinburgh

Volker M. Welter studied architecture at the Technische Universität Berlin and received his Ph.D. in history of architecture from the University of Edinburgh. He has worked as architectural historian, archivist, and lecturer in history of architecture in Berlin, in Scotland (University of Edinburgh and Strathclyde University, Glasgow), and in England (University of Reading). From 1998-2000 he was the recipient of a Senior Research Grant, Getty Grant Program, Los Angeles. During the academic year 2007-8, he received a Senior Fellowship of the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art. In summer 2009, he was a Visiting Scholar at the Centre Canadien d'Architecture, Montreal.

His research focuses on Western, in particular Californian, British, and German, architecture and urbanism from the late 19th century onward. The interactions between architectural, philosophical, and sociological thought are one area of his scholarly interest, the critique of Modernism in architecture and urbanism are another. Methodologically, his work relies on biographical and micro-historical approaches supplemented by the study of contemporary sources from cognate fields. In general, his scholarly work is influenced by the Greek poet Archilochus’s saying that “the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing”, an issue the philosopher Isaiah Berlin also pondered over when asking, in The Hedgehog and the Fox (1953), whether historians should study the variety of ideas held by diverse human beings in order to explain the past or singular, grand theories as means of determining the future.

Following on from Biopolis-Patrick Geddes and the City of Life (Cambridge, Ma., 2002), Prof. Welter continues publishing on Patrick Geddes, especially on the influences of Geddes’s theories on mid-20th century modern urban and planning thought. A current research project focuses on the Association for Planning and Regional Reconstruction, a planning think tank which organized a town planning correspondence course for members of the British Army fighting overseas during the Second World War.

Prof. Welter’s latest book, Ernst L. Freud, Architect: The Case of the Modern Bourgeois Home (Oxford/New York, 2012) continues the revision of the emergence of architectural modernism in Central Europe that began with his essay "The Limits of Community--The Possibilities of Society: On Modern Architecture in Weimar Germany," Oxford Art Journal (2010). More recently his research focus has shifted to the influences of active military service of architect-soldiers during the Great War on the post-war rise of both modernist concepts of space and architecture in the German-speaking countries.

Modern mid-20th century domestic architecture in California and the American West are the focus of both a planned book and a forthcoming exhibition. The former centers on the patronage of modern architects by the Tremaine family--two brothers and their wives who today are well remembered as modern art collectors and philanthropists--from approximately the 1930s to the 1970s. The later concerns the oeuvre of self-trained architect Walter S. White (1917-2002) whose many buildings in the Coachella Valley, California, from the 1940s to 1960, and in Colorado thereafter ask for an approach that supersedes any explanatory juxtaposition of vernacular buildings versus architecture as conceived by architects. The exhibition will be shown at the Art, Design, & Architecture Museum in Fall 2015 and draws on holdings of UCSB's Architecture & Design Collection. The publication of a catalog, which is in parts written by undergraduate and graduate students, is planned.

Complete list of publications

undergraduate courses

Introduction to Architecture and Environment
Revival Styles in Southern Californian Architecture
Modern Architecture in Southern California, 1890s to the present
Modern Architecture in Early Twentieth-Century Europe
From Modernism to Post-Modernism in late Twentieth-Century Architecture
Sustainable Architecture: History and Aesthetics
State Street Santa Barbara (undergraduate seminar)
Campus Architecture (undergraduate seminar)
Santa Barbara Architects (undergraduate seminar)
Palm Springs Modern (undergraduate seminar)
Readings in the Historiography of 20th-Century Western Architecture (undergraduate seminar)
Reading Twentieth-Century Modern Architecture (undergraduate seminar)
Animals Buildings (undergraduate seminar)
Charles Moore in California (undergraduate seminar)

graduate seminars

2003   Gazing at the (Urban) Environment
2004   Organic, Biological, and Natural Metaphors in Architecture
2005   History and Theory of Conservation and Restoration in Architecture
2005   Expressionism in German Architecture
2007   The Architecture of Museums and Painting Galleries
2008   Reading of Space and Spatiality: Aesthetics, Gestaltpsychology, Sociology, Phenomenology, Art History, Theory of Architecture
2009   Domesticity and Interiority in the 19th and 20th Century
2011   After Modernism: The Emergence of Post-Modernism in Architecture
2013   Architectural History between Microhistory and Biography
2014   this is tomorrow—London 1956