Associate Professor of Modern and Contemporary Architectural History, Oberlin College
Page the Atlantic Ocean (will you please?)
For one Cass Gilbert, architect-at-large
Somewhere at sea beyond the twelve-mile marge. –
He’s wanted by the ancient Pericles,
(Since both Ictinus and Callicrates
The elder members of the firm, have gone, –
The architects who built the Parthenon
Whence Elgin hove away the famous frieze.)
Page every corner of the Briny Inn,
Call out his name through all its corridors,
In every wave-length make a wireless din
That shall be heard upon its farthest shores.
He’s wanted on “long distance” (Time and space)
By one who’s speaking for the human race.
– John H. Finley, “Call for Cass Gilbert,” 1934 
Telephony was, in the first instance, wireless. But it always had walls. As the first “short history” of telephony written after the invention of the Bell system relates, the “ear trumpet” and “speaking trumpet” were early instances of communicating sound at great distance, allowing sound waves to travel further through the medium of air because “the walls of the tube reduced the loss of energy from spherical action.”  Whether it was the human voice projected through one of Athanasius Kircher’s architectonic tubes meant to project the sound of an opera performance outside of the walls of the opera house or one of Wolfgang von Kempelen’s pneumatic “speaking machines,” the increase in volume (or prevention of decay) of a given sound was accomplished through tectonic means.
Even though many inventors can lay claim to the discovery of a means of telecommunication through a solid (as opposed to gaseous) medium well beforehand, the scientist, inventor and entrepreneur Sir Charles Wheatstone deserves credit for picking up an often ignored observation from the preface to Robert Hooke’s 1667 Micrographia. As Hooke boasted there, “I can assure the reader that I have, by the help of a distended wire, propagated the sound to a very considerable distance in an instant, or with as seemingly quick a motion as that of light – at least incomparably swifter than that which at the same time was propagated through the air, – and this not only in a straight line, or direct, but in one bended in many angles.”  Wheatstone resuscitated these experiments in a sequence that would lead him to share in developing the first commercial electrical telegraph, in parallel with his ongoing research into the nature of sound as propagated via vibrations in the air.
After reproducing Hooke’s experiments and devising his own, Wheatstone demonstrated that a “Conducting-wire for transmission of Sounds” could be attached to the sounding board of a musical instrument such as a piano-forte or a harp at a perpendicular angle, which would then transmit the sounds to a similar instrument via its sounding board at the other end. Moreover,
The sounds of an instrument may be at the same time transmitted to more than one place: for instance, communications may be made from a square piano-forte to a resounding instrument above, and to another below; and the communication may be even continued through a series of reciprocating instruments.If the instruments be not in adjacent rooms, but be further removed from each other, a person in the intermediate room, through which the conductor passes, will hear no sound but what is communicated by the ordinary means. Hence it would be possible to extend a horizontal conductor through a series of rooms belonging to different houses, and (provided the instrument connected with one of its extremities be constantly played upon) to hear at pleasure the performance in any of these rooms, by merely attaching a reciprocating instrument to the conductor; on removing this instrument, the sonorous undulations would pass inaudibly to the next apartment.  (fig. 1)
Similarly, Wheatstone observed, one could produce a sounding board to “resound” all of the instruments in an “entire orchestra” in order to transmit them via the conducting-wire to another place. (Wheatstone noted that the sounding board could only register a faint signal; optimistically, though, he reported “on placing the ear close to [the reciprocating instrument at the other end] a diminutive band is heard, in which all the instruments preserve their distinctive qualities…. [T]he effect is as a landscape seen in miniature beauty through a concave lens….”  )
With this set of observations, the wired world was born, a mass media challenge to the primacy of print media, and Wheatstone was one of its most aggressive theorists. He noted that because sound travels roughly 17 times faster through “iron wire, glass, cane, or deal-wood rods” than it does through the air (or, as many had it well into the twentieth century, the ether), it would be “as easy to transmit sounds through such conductors from Aberdeen to London, as it is now to establish a communication from one chamber to another.” All that was needed was a means of “communicating sounds produced in the air with sufficient intensity to solid bodies.” Microphones and amplifiers were some ways off yet, even if Wheatstone had developed the former device in a rudimentary way, but the conceptual organization of Wheatstone’s experiments allowed for a full vision of communication from machine to machine over vast distances at high speeds. 
The wired world, as even Wheatstone’s interconnected musical instruments made clear, was one in which the relationship of architecture to telephony was inverted. Instead of serving as a direct means of bounding, reflecting and projecting sound, architecture had to be penetrated by “solid media” of a different technical nature. A glance at a multiple switchboard from the 1880s (fig. 2) is enough to carry the point: the intricate web of wires penetrates the architecture of the telephone exchange building according to its own logic, and requires the design of an interface at the scale of furniture in order to make it manageable for its female operators.
By the time Marconi and an international coterie of inventors, engineers, and amateur enthusiasts had developed so-called “wireless telegraphy” near the turn of the twentieth century, these networks of wires had been threaded through buildings on urban, regional, and national scales by increasingly massive corporate concerns – such as American Telephone & Telegraph and Western Union, in the United States – and a wired infrastructure had bridged the oceans. But the “magic” of transmitting electromagnetic radiation through the air, as opposed to along wires, led to a temporary belief that these wires and the walls that served as their inconvenient adjuncts would no longer be necessary.  Radio is only ever apparently “wireless” – in fact, the complexity of the machinery needed for even a live broadcast (thus leaving out recording) demanded an amount wiring an order of magnitude greater than even the largest of telephone switching installations. As a cantankerous “but on the whole reasonably friendly critic of broadcasting” in the earliest days of the BBC put it: “I do not like the description ‘wireless’: why describe the thing as a negation?” 
The Geometry of Radio and the Organization of Radio Architecture
There are several geometric tropes of radio broadcast technology, each of which has a core conceptual figure. The most familiar is the trigonometric Hertzian wave, representing the wavelength and amplitude of a “wireless” signal. The second, less familiar but dominant trope in the earliest days of radio-telegraphy, is the network of “point-to-point” telecommunication, in which people would communicate – telegraphically and, after 1836, using various versions of Morse code – from set to set. And yet a third, is the concentric rings of broadcasting waves radiating outward from a central transmission point. There are more, of course, but it is the combination of these three that gives shape to what became the architecture under investigation here (fig. 3).
With few exceptions, these geometric tropes are not to be found in the partis of buildings designed for radio broadcasting, or even in their ornament.  Instead, these buildings are necessary technical adjuncts to producing these geometries as practical, technical effects. Radio, then, like any technology, is not a single machine but rather a coupling of machines in a vastly complex apparatus.  As with other mass media technologies, such as telegraphy, telephony, and television (radio, oddly, never getting that Greek prefix in anything other than the short-lived moniker “wireless telegraphy”), radio required an architecture to secure the relationships of its various couplings. The architects and engineers who developed the important early buildings for ‘wireless’ transmission of radio signals over vast distances instead effected a nuanced synthesis between conventional architecture (e.g. a building with walls, floor, and ceiling, useful and habitable for human beings) and the vastly complex electromagnetic apparatus required. This allowed for the transmission of the waves, the integration of performing and recording studios, transmission towers, relays, and receivers into an intricate functional network, and as a consequence, the blanketing of swathes of territory in radiating electric waves.
That this synthesis was necessary may be seen in the uneasy relationship of radio equipment and architecture in Marconi’s establishment of the first radio station at the Royal Needles Hotel on the Isle of Wight in 1897 (fig. 4). Descriptions of Marconi’s successful efforts to broadcast and receive a radio signal sent from an antenna on the island to ships in motion in the English Channel mention the appearance of the exclusive Victorian building marred an odd assortment of wires connected to posts and sparks flying from the code key as operators tapped out their messages.  By the 1920s, however, the problems of integrating the unsightly, complex and even mortally dangerous broadcast apparatus were more apparent, and the subject of architectural and engineering research rather than the ad hoc bricolage of the enthusiast and inventor. 
The first comprehensive published statement on the theory of radio station design appeared rather late, in the form of an article by the architect Dexter Purinton in the pages of American Architect in 1935. Purinton began “Radio…A New Architectural Problem” by noting that precisely because the physics of radio broadcasting was but poorly understood “even by the experts themselves…the architect faces not so much the problem of housing complicated machinery as that of providing a kind of insulated shelter in which a dangerously powerful force can be safely bent to the service of an engineering technique which is expanding with rapidity.”  Purinton’s prod at the engineers, physicists and inventors of radio puts one in mind of the criticism frequently made of Marconi himself, that he did not understand radio broadcasting technology, he just produced it, mostly by cobbling together other inventors’ discoveries; Purinton was clearly at pains to stake out a role for architects in the exciting young field of radio station design through an appeal to a perceived risk that only architects could ameliorate.
The sources and character of this danger were multiple. In strictly physical terms, because radio-frequency current passes through air and matter it is most easily conducted, not in the body of a material, but along its surface and if not properly grounded, will collect upon a surface until it jumps viciously across space to the nearest point of contact. Electrical current shocks. But radio-frequency burns, often so deeply that death results even though only a slight shock is present. 
Thus the architect needed to provide a redundant system of grounding throughout the radio station building or buildings – “the slightest spark” could destroy not only equipment, but kill its human operators as well. Every piece of metal in the building, no matter how small, had to be connected with a secure bond to other metal pieces in a continuous connection to the ground: “The interior of a transmitting station must be completely enclosed with some sort of metallic shield,” and since radio-frequency ionizes dust and causes sparks (the same noted by observers of Marconi’s earliest station), the control room of the station needed to be kept in a state of “absolute cleanliness.”  Purinton recommended a central forced-air cooling system – the interiors of these metal buildings, with generators and resistors humming, would be extremely hot – with paper filtration, and all plumbing pipes kept at the exterior of the building as much as possible to isolate them from dangerous “potentials.”
These constraints on the architect’s design produced other consequences as well. Since the safest and most efficient organization of the building involved the segregation, to the greatest extent possible, between the bulk of the equipment and the space inhabited by human beings, it was also necessary, in Purinton’s view, to understand the architecture of radio as governed by a different geometry – rather than think of the building in terms of “square foot areas,” he argued, “units for radio transmission are best arranged to minimize lengths of all bus and cable connections.” The inhabitable areas of the building would thus be organized so as to facilitate the shortening of these connections, by organizing them alongside a long service chase which would house the dense web of wires – even efficiently organized, a medium-sized 50kW station would require an absolute minimum of 60,000 cubic feet of space. The habitable interior of the building would also be as open as possible, since “interior obstructions” would produce radio potentials “in spite of the most careful grounding.” Therefore, the radio station as an architectural artifact, became an intricately layered series of shells: the outer structure of the building corresponded roughly to conventional tectonic conventions, but this surrounded a layer of chases, which then surrounded a layer of insulation, which then surrounded the inhabitable interior. All of this complex structure, and the sophisticated geometries of the wiring threaded out on and through various boards and boxes, was necessary to realize the relatively simple geometry of an undulating wave rippling outwards in every direction from the top of the broadcasting tower.
Purinton offered up his own design for WOR’s radio transmitting station in Carteret, New Jersey (fig. 5) – done in his capacity as an architect working in the large New York firm Vorhees Gmelin and Walker (VGW)  – as an exemplary instance of meeting the heightened demands of a 50kW system. The design solved the problem of organizing a building according to its electrical wiring by establishing two perpendicular “reference lines” crossing one another at the center of the building (fig. 6). These allowed the radio engineers to place benchmarks on the walls and floor in order to facilitate situating (and resituating) equipment and ensuring stable connections between various units.
The transmitter room is located in the center of the building, shielded on all sides by metal walls, which in turn shielded that space from two large rooms for 5 and 50kW transmission equipment and a third intended for “future short-wave television” transmitter equipment. The radio transmitter equipment rooms are pushed toward the center of the plan, away from the walls, to allow engineers to access the equipment from all sides. The control room and studio office are situated in a corner of the roughly square plan, and windows are only allowed on the main entrance façade. The plumbing received special note from Purinton, who paused to remark that in order to cool amplification equipment but avoid sparking from ferrous materials threaded through the structure of the building, VGW had made use of rubber hoses to run water from a large spray pond dug nearby. All of this complex arrangement served as the core of the architecture of the radio station; however, it would have accomplished nothing without the two 350-foot tall steel towers nearby, painted with aluminum to prevent corrosion, that served as the station’s antennae. These icons of “wireless” radio broadcast, it seems, serve to conceal the modest but intricate architecture of wires in their shadows.
This relatively small-scale radio station illustrates much of the intricacy of radio architecture; however, there is much more than transmission to consider. Given that radio was produced through a massive complex of storage and playback media running from print to architecture to transmission towers, it is easy to forget the invisible origins of the radio signal: the administrative offices necessary to govern radio production, and the performance and recording studios in which the “content” of the new medium was played and captured, synchronized and transmitted. Perhaps the single most significant building from the period to accommodate both of these essential aspects of the radio apparatus was the headquarters of the BBC: Broadcasting House (fig. 7). Designed in 1928 by George Val Myer and the first civil engineer of the BBC, Marmaduke T. Tudsbery, along with interiors by Raymond McGrath, Serge Chermayeff , Edward Maufe, and Wells Coates (among many others), and completed (in its first iteration) in 1932, this Art Deco rabbit warren of offices and studios in Marylebone is far too complex an architectural work to address in so small a space here.  Suffice it to say for now that it helped to secure a number of patterns for the organization of architectural space for administration, performance and recording of radio broadcasting, and deserves at least a mention here in addition to its own freestanding historical study.
It is possible, though, to turn to a later building, the NBC Building in San Francisco (fig. 8), also known like its New York counterpart as “Radio City,” for insight into the radical technical intricacy of radio studio architecture, and the strange spaces it produced. Designed by the local architect Albert. F. Roller and completed in early 1942 (before wartime rationing of building materials), the sheer concrete and glass block façade – dominated on one side by a 16-foot by 40-foot ceramic mosaic mural in 126 colors by the artist C.J. Fitzgerald depicting a hand emerging from a radio transmitter to grasp a tuning dial which sends brilliant waves of energy upwards from South America and Africa to the North Pole (fig. 9) – concealed behind it a newly scientific acoustical and psychological architecture that added to the complex metal shielding and wiring schemes of transmitter stations like WOR. As Architect & Engineer described the building, likely transcribing NBC’s press release directly:
Following the best accepted practice, every studio has been set on springs with the walls and ceiling suspended by springs – the box within a box idea. In this way it is impossible for any outside sound or vibration to reach the studios. All wall surfaces have scientifically correct acoustical treatment and are set at angles that make echoes and sound reflection impossible. 
The violence and magic of radio technology and the bustling city just outside the studio walls was, in the architecture of Radio City, domesticated. The means for accomplishing this – seismic isolation of each recording studio – was accompanied by equally domestic tropes of interior decoration. Studio G, which was used for recording interviews with “a person who was not a broadcasting professional,” was “furnished to look like the living room of a fashionable 1940s home” in order to reduce “mike fright.” Such doubled spaces – models of domestic interiors that were in fact laboratories for examining the performances of actors, interviewers, interviewees, and listeners alike – were routine inclusions in the syncretic architectural program of a “Radio City” (fig. 10)
The invisible architectural history of radio
These preliminary notes on a future history of radio architecture must conclude with a description of why and how radio architecture has fallen through the cracks of history. It is partly in this strange pairing of architectural techniques for domesticating radio that the fate of radio architecture in the historiography of architectural modernism was sealed. Simultaneously more technical and more conventional – particularly in architects’ frequent adaptation of moderne or Art Deco decorative tropes in order to express the dynamism of electricity – than mainline International Style modern architecture, the state-of-the-art recording studios, broadcasting installations and administrative buildings erected for the purpose of proliferating the newest of communications technologies remained somehow perfectly encrypted even when in full view of contemporary architects, critics, theorists and historians.
One could be forgiven for assuming that the rigorous technicity of radio architecture – an architecture designed less for its appearance than for the way that it facilitated the performance, recording, and broadcasting of sounds – might have held an appeal for those modernist architects and their supportive historians and critics who argued that the way towards a modern “style” of architecture was a functionalist aesthetic. Works such as Sigfried Giedion’s Bauen in Frankreich, Bauen in Eisen, Bauen in Eisenbeton, written during the boom years of radio broadcasting in the 1920s, argued that the creation of modern architecture was simply a matter of stripping away encrustations of ornament from the heroic monuments of engineering to reveal the technical wonder at their core. 
Strangely, though, this is anything but the case. Radio architecture is documented quite thoroughly in trade publications, but for the most part did not find its way into the publications of the vanguardists. The spare forms of broadcasting antennae did adorn the works of certain movements, such as the familiar propagandistic projects of Russian Constructivism, yet the technologies that appealed to most modernist architects were instead those of mass production, vehicles and vehicular infrastructures. One thinks of Hannes Meyer’s fascination with the factory, Le Corbusier’s passion for aviation, ocean liners, and sports cars, or Giedion adorning the cover of the first edition of Space, Time and Architecture with an American highway cloverleaf.
Although much work remains to be done in reinscribing radio in the history of architecture, it seems safe to at least assume the working hypothesis that radio architecture was inadmissible to vanguardist histories of modernist architecture because it appeared to lack a suitable image. The critique of modernist architectural design, criticism and history by a younger, post-WWII generation emphasized the superficiality of the interwar appeal to technology. As leading architectural historians with very different outlooks, Reyner Banham, William Jordy, and Peter Collins (to name just three) all argued, the interwar vanguards only produced architectural images or symbols of technology rather than a truly technical architecture. 
Indeed, many architects actually expressed an inability to confront the medium in the most basic of ways. Julia Gilbert, wife of the architect Cass Gilbert, recorded an amusing but illuminating anecdote about her husband’s first encounter with the new mass medium. Long famous for his skill at delivering (rather pompous) improvised speeches at large gatherings such as professional associations, art societies, and the like, when Cass Gilbert was asked to deliver an address “live” over the radio, he was instructed by the producers to prepare his remarks in advance. When he refused, his family urged him to do so too. Grudgingly, he wrote the first half of the speech, trusting himself that once he had gotten started, the rest would flow naturally. Julia Gilbert retells the disaster that followed:
We saw him leave the house, attended by a radio escort, and shortly after heard his voice over the radio – delightful, full, and rich. We listened with a sigh of relief, but the inevitable happened, of course. When the written part was over, the spoken words did not follow with their customary ease; a halting, inadequate, and unsatisfactory delivery was the result of unpreparedness, added to which he ceased speaking two minutes before his time was up, leaving the announcer in the terrifying position of having nothing to say or continuing to talk on the topic of which he was totally ignorant – and there was no orchestra or crooner to take up the slack left by Mr. Gilbert’s sudden silence.
I have always pitied that announcer, with the silent microphone before him and two minutes to go.
When Mr. Gilbert returned to the family, he asked how the speech went. We told him tearfully that the first half was fine, but the last half was dreadful. This was his awakening to the fact that over the radio it is hearing, not seeing, that counts. 
The man who had designed signature buildings for some of the largest organizations on the planet – including large retail corporations, universities, the railroads and the US Army – was nearly broken by the experience. His wife reports that afterwards he no longer accepted many speaking invitations.
Why this silence on the part of an architect when faced with the new medium? This small episode is but one event, the nightmare of a single man; however, once the historian begins to look for evidence of architects’ unease – ‘mike fright,’ if you will – in the face of radio, the evidence is legion that a unfriendly détente between architects, their historians, and radio was only awkwardly and slowly produced. The American Institute of Architects experimented with radio broadcasts to promote the services of architects in the 1940s, but such experiments were little more than advertising, and short-lived at that.  Perhaps not until Nikolaus Pevsner delivered his seven famous Reith Radio Lectures in 1955 on “The Englishness of English Art,”  did major architectural thinkers find a comfortable use for the medium. If architecture appeared on the radio, it did so as a subject for critique by people outside of the profession, such as the enigmatic Walter Benjamin’s “Enlightenment for Children” series, of 1927-33. 
So much for the architect on the radio; but what about the architect confronting the technical rigors of the medium as a design and theoretical problem? The work of the psychologist, art and film theorist Rudolf Arnheim, who wrote a monograph on Radio while in exile in Rome in 1936 and later worked for the BBC in London during World War II, makes plain at least some of the difficulties of assimilating both the technical and aesthetic aspects of early radio into architectural discourse. As he noted in the third chapter of Radio on “Direction and Distance,” the technical limitations of the sensory apparatus of the microphone obliterated directionality in the perception of sound, and the very nature of broadcasting radio signals apparently obliterated distances. Far from being discouraged by this, Arnheim gleefully catalogued – with numerous photographs of the interiors of recording studios and performance halls for radio broadcasting, and tens of the diagrams of aesthetic “experience” for which he was to become so famous – the multiple artifices invented by the radio engineer to simulate distance and direction in radio broadcasting. Anticipating arguments regarding media specificity in art history and criticism, Arnheim argued counter-intuitively “In praise of blindness” that the sensory limitations of radio were precisely what made it a powerful model of an alternate reality:
Wireless’s sin of omission…is most apparent. The eye alone gives a very complete picture of the world, but the ear alone gives an incomplete one. So at first it is a great temptation for the listener to “supplement” from his own imagination what is “lacking” so obviously in the broadcast.
And yet nothing is missing! For the essence of broadcasting consists just in the fact that it alone offers unity by aural means. Not in the external sense of naturalistic completeness, but in affording the essence of an event, a process of thought, a representation. Everything essential is there – in this sense a good broadcast is complete! One can dispute whether the aural world alone is rich enough to give us lively representations of our life, but if one agrees, even with reservations, no further doubt is possible that the visual in any case must be left out and must not be smuggled in by the listener’s power of visual imagination. Statues must not be subsequently given a coating of flesh-tints, and a wireless broadcast must not be envisaged.
The wireless artist must develop a mastery of the limitations of the aural. 
The invisibility of the medium, despite the wealth of illustrations accompanying Arnheim’s text (those of BBC’s Broadcasting House no doubt secured for him by his friend, fellow art critic and translator Herbert Read; fig. 11), posed a problem for critics and historians of the visual arts. The methods that had been developed to account for painting, sculpture, photography, and film all relied heavily upon ekphrasis. Radio, at least in Arnheim’s terms, was an abstract medium, requiring an intellectual and emotional withdrawal from visible reality.  Early BBC publications even encouraged listeners to dim or extinguish the lighting in their homes while listening to radio broadcasts. 
This tendency toward abstraction and sensory deprivation, it should be added, was cause for alarm for many critics, not least of them Arnheim himself. In his chapter on “The Psychology of the Listener,” he warned that radio could produce a “standardised man” who would succumb easily to the lures of state propaganda (writing of Italian, German and British radio, he did not yet fear advertising). The specter of Hitler loomed large in the ether at the time of writing, and it is not strange to imagine that the Nazis’ storied exploitation of radio was a primary reason for Arnheim’s decision to work for the BBC during the WWII…fighting fire with fire, so to speak. As a recent generation of scholarship has forcefully argued, albeit without serious reference to the technics of radio, there was nothing less physical or potent about the only seemingly immaterial radio waves emanating from the capitals of the Axis and the Allies alike: they too could burn. 
Perhaps the most dramatic example of an architect’s inability to accept radio as a technical reality is the case of Hans Poelzig. The great German architect – so often, and so criminally, identified with the non-movement of “Expressionism” as described by formalist art historians  – designed the Haus des Rundfunks in Charlottenberg, Berlin, built in parallel with the first generation of great monuments to the new broadcast medium in 1929-31 (fig. 12). With its monumental scale reflecting the need for a complex section to accommodate large performance halls and a dense warren of offices, and its radial plan allowing for the careful parsing of programmatic elements, the building was seen widely in its day as the best building yet built for radio. It served, until the exigencies of the rise of Nazism and WWII intervened, as the fulcrum of a new project of urban planning in far West Berlin.
There is much yet to be said about the architecture of one of Poelzig’s masterworks, from its unusual planning to its main court including the Georg Kolbe sculpture Die Nacht to the curious cladding system of glazed ceramic tiles; yet what is most relevant here is the architect’s almost instantaneous disavowal of a relationship between the purpose and program of the building and its architecture. For Poelzig, there could be no relation between the two. As he argued vehemently in a speech delivered only a few months following the dedication of the Haus des Rundfunks,
No one dares refute the demonic grandeur of technical forms – but they are worlds away from the sphere of art and architecture, which in the past reached their greatest heights, produced their best achievements, in the religious sphere. Technology is rooted in natural sciences, architecture in the arts, in religion, and in philosophy.
Anticipating later twentieth century eschatologies of technology such as miniaturization and automation, Poelzig added that the advance of technology was busy rendering itself invisible and informal:
technical forms…will…disappear or become so small that they will no longer have any significance as forms. There is therefore no point in trying to attach artistic significance to technical forms.
Today, technology is pursuing its own course with its own achievements, using, for example, radio or wireless telegraphy to lose itself in the formless and elevate itself to technological magic.
Art, and with it architecture, cannot follow this course. Architecture is concerned with spatial design, with form for its own sake. Its laws are not on the technical plane, although this can serve architecture, and indeed must influence its forms. 
Poelzig saw the increasing autonomy of technology, embodied in the “formless” tangles of wires and concealed by the invisible forces of broadcasting, as challenging the formal and spatial basis of architecture. This conservatism in the face of technology had a long pedigree in German architectural theory, but it is shocking to witness the architect of the famous chemical factory in Lubán (1910), the Haus des Rundfunks, and the mind-numbingly large headquarters for I.G. Farben in Frankfurt (1931) turn so sharply away from the putative essence of his architecture when attempting to discuss architecture’s past and future.
No less an authority on mass media than Sigfried Kracauer wrote a review on the occasion of the building’s dedication in Die Frankfurter Zeitung in early 1931. He noted that even though Poelzig’s massive building seemed to try mightily to represent something of the nature of radio broadcasting, it remained “so alone and so solemn” precisely because “the idea of the building is not strong enough.” If one asked the question – what is radio? – one did not get a response. Instead radio was obscured by a mysterious non-imagery that remained mute even when its primary medium was sound: “the neutrality of radio broadcasting is a compromise, produced under pressure from the power relations between political parties rather than a higher unity.” Broadcasting, Kracauer believed, must possess definite qualities, yet making “the hidden quality [Eigenschaft] of broadcasting visible” was not yet possible, even for a “master” like Poelzig. 
What makes the invisibility of the history of radio architecture in architectural histories shameful is that the situation is no better in the subdisciplines of the histories of technology and business, and worse in critical theory.  As the best early historian of American radio, Gleason L. Archer, noted, radio was from the beginning in danger of losing its history. Archer, president of Suffolk University in Boston and an experienced radio lecturer, wrote already in 1938 that
despite the fact that radio broadcasting began less than eighteen years ago, great confusion has arisen as to essential details of its beginning. Human memory is unreliable. Contemporary records, usually undated as to year or month, on paper that disintegrates in a decade, filed without regard to value, become perishable sources of information. Kaleidoscopic changes have occurred in the industry, the leaders of which have been too busy making history to give much thought to its preservation. 
The vast complexity and rapid change of radio has meant that its history is fragmented. Technical histories occasionally make mention of the acoustical aspects of studio design, and business histories refer glancingly to the offices filled with managers, engineers, writers, and many more involved in the production of live radio broadcasting. Yet the architecture that makes radio possible, indeed realizes it as an apparatus, is nowhere in evidence. Part of this is due to an evidentiary bias endemic to the history of technology – even in its more recent guise as media archaeology – that identifies one crucial component of an apparatus as the true subject of technical history, at the expense of the other elements coupled to it. For example, the transistor is the subject of many monographs; however, the antenna does not have one (although there are short capsule histories in many engineering handbooks and on enthusiasts’ websites).
There are several business histories of radio, and even more works written with a (scholarly or popular) sociological approach. These too miss architecture, unless there is a casual description of a typical family in its living room, leaning towards the furniture-sized receiver. It is almost as if the magic of the medium, the legerdemain that allows invisible waves to transport electricity and sound from one place to another via the ‘ether,’ has obscured the history of the architectural component of the radio apparatus – studio, station, home, vehicle – from view.  An architectural history of radio, produced by a number of architects and historians, could potentially revive awareness of what the material realities of a mass media age is and could be.
1. Published in Cass Gilbert, Reminiscences and Addresses, with “Reminiscences” by Julia Finch Gilbert (New York: privately printed, 1935). The poem is not dated, but from the context in which it was published it is possible to deduce that it was offered as a eulogy on the occasion of Gilbert’s death in 1934.
2. John E. Kingsbury, The Telephone and Telephone Exchanges: Their Invention and Their Development(London, New York, Bombay, Calcutta and Madras: Longmans, Green and Co., 1915): 7.
3. Robert Hooke, Micrographia: Or some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies Made by Magnifying Glasses with Observations and Inquiries thereupon(London: John Martyn, Printer to the Royal Society, 1667), “The Preface,” n.p.
4. Charles Wheatstone, “On the Transmission of Musical Sounds through Solid Linear Conductors, and on their Subsequent Reciprocation,” Journal of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, v. 2 (November 1831), republished in Sir Charles Wheatstone, The Scientific Papers of Sir Charles Wheatstone…Published by the Physical Society of London (London: Taylor and Francis, 1879): 348-367, 47-63, p. 57.
5. Ibid. 58-59.
6. A few years after his early experiments on solid media transmission of sound, Wheatstone published a substantive article on “Reed Organ-Pipes, Speaking Machines, Etc.,” in the London and Westminster Review (1837; republished in ibid. 348-367), which made plain his ambition to produce a “written language” adequate to “the articulations of speech.” This would, in his view, overcome the obstacle of translating sound from gaseous to solid media for the purpose of telecommunications. Instead, as is well known, Samuel F.B. Morse solved the language problem the other way around in telegraphy, and many others in a wholly different way through “wireless telegraphy” or radio. On the intersections between Morse’s contributions to telegraphy, cryptography and the fine arts, see Jean-Philippe Antoine, “La démocratie à l’oeuvre: The House of Representatives et The Gallery in the Louvrede Samuel F.B. Morse (1791-1872),” unpublished lecture available online, accessed 3 March 2014, http://www.youscribe.com/catalogue/rapports-et-theses/savoirs/sciences-humaines-et-sociales/la-democratie-a-l-oeuvre-the-house-of-representatives-et-the-gallery-1547486
7. Numerous utopian paeans to the power of “wireless” in this period proliferated in magazines, newspapers, and books; there were even efforts to make this technology portable many decades before Bell Labs and others developed the “cellular” telephone network. See Grant Wythoff, “Pocket Wireless and the Shape of Media to Come,” Grey Room 51 (Spring 2013): 40-63. Carolyn Marvin, in her book When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking about Electric Communication in the Late Nineteenth Century (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), writes about long-standing popular fantasies about instantaneous wireless telecommunication, pp. 152-157.
8. Lord Riddell, Radio Times (21 December 1923), quoted in Asa Briggs, The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom, 5v. Volume I: The Birth of Broadcasting (London, New York and Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1961), 15.
9. The discussion below concerns broadcasting, to the exclusion of “line radio.” See Dr. Louis Cohen, “‘Space Radio’ and ‘Line Radio,’” Radio Broadcast1, n. 1 (May 1922): 28.
10. A notable exception is the Maison de Radio in Paris, designed and built from 1952 to 1963 in Paris by the architect Henry Bernard, which is organized in a radial plan and features a skyscraper topped by radio broadcast towers. See Léon Conturie, “Concours pour la maison de la radio diffusion à Paris,” L’Architecture d’aujourd’hui 24, n. 49 (October): 21-29, and “Le concours de la maison de la radio de Paris,” Construction moderne 69 (November 1953): 406-417.
11. This description of radio as an apparatus has its basis in the classic definition of machinery as one or more kinematic “couplings” given in Franz Reuleaux’s Lehrbuch der Kinematik 2v. (Braunschweig: F. Vieweg & Sohn, 1875-1900); however, it also proceeds analogically from the process of international exchange of scientific literature and mechanical inventions that produced a functioning broadcasting “system” in the years leading up to the establishment of companies like RCA and the BBC. See A. Frederick Collins, Wireless Telegraphy: Its History, Theory and Practice (New York: McGraw, 1905), which offers an overview of the history of research into electromagnetism and radiation in the 19th century; and an authoritative recent history, G.R.M. Garratt, The Early History of Radio, from Faraday to Marconi (London: The Institution of Engineering and Technology and The Science Museum, 1994).
12. These stories are related in the introduction to an otherwise lightweight contribution to the literature on Marconi: Gavin Weightman, Signor Marconi’s Magic Box: The Most Remarkable Invention of the 19th Century & the Amateur Inventor Whose Genius Sparked a Revolution (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2004), xv.
13. A later important example of the awkwardness of integrating radio broadcasting equipment into an architectural matrix is Das Vox-Haus, an office building in Potsdamer Platz designed by the German architect Otto Stahn of 1907-08, which was later remodeled by the Swiss architect Otto Rudolf Salvisberg from 1921 to 1923 in order to accommodate the Vox recording and radio broadcasting company. This was the site of the first radio broadcast in Germany, on 29 October 1923. See Horst Krüger, “RadioZeit,” in: Hans Poelzig: Haus des Rundfunks (Berlin: Sender Freies Berlin and ARS NICOLAI GmbH, 1994), 20-24.
14. Dexter Purinton, “Radio…A New Architectural Problem,” American Architect 146, n. 2634 (June 1935): 68-76, p. 68. An earlier article, “Engineering Problems of Radio Broadcasting Studio Design,” had appeared in American Architect six years earlier (135 [5 February 1929]: 195-203), but it was much less comprehensive and mainly discussed the logistical organization of spaces in order to accommodate the needs of musicians, actors, producers, special effects producers, and so on. Similar, later articles covered many of the same bases as Purinton, albeit with greater detail; see the special issue of L’Architecture française 9, n. 77-88 (1948) on “Maisons de la Radio,” in particular the introductory essay by Léon Conturie, the chief engineer of French radio broadcasting, “Maisons de la Radio,” pp. 3-16, who emphasizes the inversion of the relationship between walls and wires in his analysis of recording and broadcast studios: “These studios, which do not have, for the most part, anything in common with traditional theaters, must meet special and extreme acoustical conditions. Enclose these in a network of technical installations, a veritable nervous system that brings these programs ready to be broadcasted to a central point” (p. 3; my translation).
15. Ibid. 70.
17. As indicated in a captioned photograph from Broadcasting: Broadcast Advertising 16, no. 7 (April 1, 1939): 24. As was the firm’s practice in publishing their designs, the lead architect on a project was allowed to publish an article in the professional press on the building; however, the stripped-down Art Deco façade of the building, with its parallel bands of crisply organized bricks divided by recessed string courses, seems to indicate that Purinton was strongly marked by working alongside the firm’s principal and lead designer Ralph Walker. See Kathryn E. Holliday, Ralph Walker: Architect of the Century (New York: Rizzoli, 2012). On the firm’s somewhat ambiguous attitude towards technology – it served as “house architect” to AT&T and many other high technology firms from the 1920s to the 1950s – see in particular Stephen F. Voorhees and Ralph T. Walker, “The Machine and Architecture,” in: Charles A. Beard, ed., Toward Civilization (London, New York and Toronto: Longmans, Green & Co., 1930): 213-231.
18. On Broadcasting House, see Mark Hines, The Story of Broadcasting House: Home of the BBC (London: Merrell, 2008), and Colin Reid, Action Stations: A History of Broadcasting House (London: Robson Books, 1987).
19. “Radio’s newest plant: The NBC Building in San Francisco,” Architect & Engineer 149 (May 1942): 19-23, p. 21. Fred Krock, a former radio engineer and NBC employee, writes that in at least one studio, this seismic isolation system failed: “In Studio G you could feel the building shake when a cable car went by outside on O’Farrell street, in spite of the spring mounted studio floor.” Krock, “A Backstage Visit to NBC Radio City, San Francisco, in the 1950’s,” http://www.theradiohistorian.org/radcity.htm (accessed 17 February 2014).
20. Sigfried Giedion, Bauen in Frankreich, Bauen in Eisen, Bauen in Eisenbeton (Leipzig: Klinkhardt & Biermann, 1928); translated into English by J. Duncan Berry as Building in France, Building in Iron, Building in Ferroconcrete (Santa Monica: Getty, 1995).
21. See William H. Jordy, “The Symbolic Essence of Modern European Architecture of the Twenties and Its Continuing Influence,” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians22, n. 3 (October 1963): 177-187; Peter Collins, Changing Ideals in Modern Architecture(London: Faber and Faber, 1965); Reyner Banham, Theory and Design in the First Machine Age (London: The Architectural Press, 1960).
22. J.F. Gilbert, “Reminiscences,” 8-9.
23. Manuscripts in the Ralph Walker Papers, Syracuse University Library Archives, offer an insight into the AIA’s reluctance to engage with mass media. In particular, a speech by Walker to the National Institute of Arts and Letters (17 November 1952) reflects the widely held view amongst American architects that radio and television were unsuitable media for architectural discourse, since they tended to exacerbate the problem of the “mass man – a man without personality, one who is filled with the ‘malaise’ of our times, and one who becomes strangely uprooted in loneliness, and with an increasing insecurity felt by the individual within the growing mass itself” (p. 11).
24. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7K0X6Zb_E24 (accessed 3 March 2014).]
25. See Alexander Eisenschmidt, review of Walter Benjamin: Aufklärung für Kinder (und Erwachsene), audio recordings with booklet (Bremen: Hoffmann und Campe Verlag, 2003), Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 69, n. 2 (June 2010): 262-265.
26. Rudolf Arnheim, Radio, trans. Margaret Ludwig and Herbert Read (London: Faber & Faber, 1936): 135-136.
27. Arnheim, Radio, 167-168.
28. “Good Listening,” BBC Yearbook (London: BBC, 1930), quoted in part in Hines, The Story of Broadcasting House, 16-17: “Give [radio] your full attention. Try turning out the lights so that your eye is not caught by familiar objects in the room. Your imagination will be twice as vivid. If you only listen with half an ear you haven’t a quarter of a right to criticize.”
29. See David Welch’s authoritative The Third Reich: Politics and Propaganda, 2nd ed. (London et al: Routledge, 2002), and Horst J.P. Bergmeier and Rainer E. Lotz, Hitler’s Airwaves: The Inside Story of Nazi Radio Broadcasting and Propaganda Swing (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1997). Architectural historians have been slow to catch up: Barbara Miller Lane’s Architecture and Politics in Germany, 1918-1945 [orig. ed. 1968], 2nd ed. (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1985) remains the most frequently cited standard work, and despite its excellent characterizations of pivotal speeches and spectacles, it omits any mention of radio.
30. See Richard Murphy’s critique of the idea of expressionism as a “movement” in his Modernism, Expressionism & Theories of the Avant-Garde(Port Chester, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 4-5.
31. Hans Poelzig, “The Architect,” 1931, speech given to the Bund Deutscher Architekten in Berlin, 4 June 1931, published and trans. in Julius Posener, Hans Poelzig: Reflections on His Life and Work, ed. Kristin Feireiss (New York: The Architectural History Foundation; Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press, 1992): 190-191.
32. Sigfried Kracauer, “Sendestation: Das Haus,” Die Frankfurter Zeitung (23 January 1931), 18; republished in Hans Poelzig: Haus des Rundfunks(Berlin: Sender Freies Berlin and ARS NICOLAI GmbH, 1994): 12-13. The translations are mine.
33. A key culprit here is Theodor W. Adorno, who in his exile in the United States found himself forced into a pragmatic association with the “Radio Project” run by the Austro-American empirical sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld (1901-1976). Alongside many other sociologists, Lazarsfeld and Adorno collaborated for a short time on an protracted study of radio listening. For obvious reasons, not least of which was Lazarsfeld’s distaste for continental philosophy and Marxism, Adorno eventually used this research as a particularly hated whipping boy. See Theodor W. Adorno, “A Social Critique of Radio Music,” The Kenyon Review 7, n. 2 (1945): 208-217; republ. in The Kenyon Review Classic 18, n. 3/4 (Summer-Autumn 1996): 229-235. The best recent commentary on the controversy surrounding Adorno’s position on both jazz and radio, but one that also demonstrates the continued difficulty in theorizing radio as something other than an relatively insignificant chapter in the development of a totalizing “culture industry,” is given in Thomas Y. Levin, “For the Record: Adorno on Music in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility,” October 55, n. 4 (1990): 23-47.
34. Gleason L. Archer, The History of Radio to 1926(New York: The American Historical Society, Inc., 1938), v.
35. Of course, this historical project is not one of an uncritical recuperative nature; instead, it is polemical, seeking to plunge other historical narratives into the darkness of forgetting by shifting historical method from monography to discourse analysis. See Friedrich Kittler, “Forgetting” , trans. Caroline Wellbery and David Wellbery, Discourse 3 (Spring 1981): 88-121, esp. p. 93: “Discourse analysis practices a ‘joyful positivism’ [Foucault]. It accords not even a relative autonomy to philosophical discourse. It does not deal with the one Urschriftwhich every metaphysics of presence has supposedly forgotten, but rather with the many forgotten techniques which were invented to counteract forgetting.” A wonderful recent book by Mark Goble, Beautiful Circuits: Modernism and the Mediated Life(New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), brilliantly explores this problem of the archive in chapter 4, “The New Permanent Record.”
John Harwood is Associate Professor of modern and contemporary architecture in the Department of Art at Oberlin College, Ohio. His research centers on the architectural articulation of science, technology, and corporate organization. His articles have appeared in Grey Room, AA Files, and do.co.mo.mo. He is coauthor, with Janet Parks, of The Troubled Search: The Work of Max Abramovitz (2004), and coauthor with Jesse LeCavalier and Guillaume Mojon, of This—Will This (2009). His book The Interface: IBM and the Transformation of Corporate Design, 1945–1976 was published in 2011 by the University of Minnesota Press.