Upstate Modern is a series of courses and public programs at Syracuse University examining the urban history of Upstate New York through transdisciplinary research that draws on archives, buildings, landscapes, and communities.


How did artificial weather change modern architecture, the character of work, the geography of modernization, and the pattern of urban development? This research seminar used the archives of Carrier Corporation, once the world’s leading supplier of air conditioning, to address these questions, and in the process to write new histories of 20th century architecture and urbanism.

The class took Carrier as a window onto three related topics:

TECHNIQUES: What were the technologies of air conditioning and how did they change the form, materiality, and design of buildings and systems?

ASSOCIATIONS: How did air conditioning change the ways people lived, worked, and played? From cold storage warehouses to sealed office buildings to the Carrier Dome, technologies of environmental control created what Peter Sloterdijk and Bruno Latour call the “air conditions” of modernity.

GEOGRAPHIES: How can air conditioning reveal distinctive geographies of globalization? As “air conditioning capital of the world,” Syracuse generated technology that contributed to decline of its regional economy when artificial weather supported growth in the U.S. Sunbelt and other hot spots around the world.

The course engaged concepts and readings from architecture, urban history, philosophy, geography, sociology, and other disciplines. Through a partnership with the Carrier Corporation, students will have access to the historical records collection stored in the Records Center at the company’s campus in DeWitt NY. Combining primary research in this archive with other forms of primary and secondary research, students generated original insights into the history of Carrier, air conditioning, and the “air conditions” of modernity.

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