Chemical Desires: When the Chemical Industry Met Modern Design (1870-1970)


Getty/ACLS Postdoctoral Fellowships in the History of Art


Society of Fellows in the Humanities


"Chemical Desires" analyzes how industrial chemical engineering irrevocably changed modern design and its material practices from 1870 to 1970. Through archival evidence that extends from U.S. corporate records acquired in FOIA requests, architects' specifications, wallpaper advertisements, and laboratory notebooks, the book explores how BASF (Ludwigshafen, Germany), Monsanto (Monsanto, Illinois), and DuPont (Wilmington, Delaware), and Dow (Midland, Michigan) moved strategically from selling materia—raw matter—to pushing chemical substances into materials for design and construction with manufactured qualia—qualities in synthetic compounds derived from coal, oil, and gas. From Werkbund-sponsored BASF interior dyes to midcentury plastics lauded by architect and chemical heir Alden B. Dow, the materials scrutinized recast the industrial revolution through the lens of the chemical century. The research exposes modern design’s chemical modernity as inextricably linked to corporate profits and environmental destruction.