Francesca Russello Ammon
Assistant Professor of City and Regional Planning
Ph.D., American Studies, Yale University
M.Phil, American Studies, Yale University
M.A., History, Yale University
M.E.D. (Master of Environmental Design), Yale School of Architecture
B.S.E., Civil Engineering, Princeton University
Francesca Ammon is a cultural historian of the built environment. Her teaching, research, and writing focus on the changing shapes and spaces of the 20th-century American city. She grounds her interdisciplinary approach to this subject in the premise that the landscape materializes social relations, cultural values, and political economic processes. In particular, Professor Ammon is interested in the ways that visual culture informs planning and design, the dynamic relationships between cities and nature, the politics of place and space, and the roles of business and the state in shaping the physical landscape.
At Penn, Professor Ammon is a member of the standing faculty of the City & Regional Planning Department and the Graduate Program in Historic Preservation. She is also an associated faculty member of the History Department and a member of the Gender Sexuality and Women’s Studies (GSWS) Executive Board.
Before joining the PennDesign faculty, Professor Ammon was a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. She has also held the Sally Kress Tompkins Fellowship, jointly sponsored by the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) and the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS). While completing her Ph.D. in American Studies, she held long-term fellowships as a Whiting Fellow in the Humanities, Ambrose Monell Foundation Fellow in Technology and Democracy at the Miller Center of Public Affairs, and John E. Rovensky Fellow with the Business History Conference.
Professor Ammon is currently a colloquium member of the Penn/Mellon Foundation Humanities + Urbanism + Design Initiative, an Andrew W. Mellon DH Fellow at the Price Lab for Digital Humanities, and a Faculty Fellow of the Penn Institute for Urban Research. She serves on the board of the Society for American City & Regional Planning History (SACRPH).
Professor Ammon recently published a history of the bulldozer in post-World War II America, for which the Society for American City and Regional Planning History (SACRPH) awarded her the 2017 Lewis Mumford Prize for the best book in American planning history. Bulldozer: Demolition and Clearance of the Postwar Landscape (Yale University Press, April 2016) asks how and why the postwar nation came to embrace destruction as a means towards progress. Construction equipment contributed vitally to Allied victory during the war. Afterwards, war-honed machines, men, methods, and metaphors effectively came home to reshape the domestic landscape. Case studies of urban renewal building demolition, suburban land clearance, and earthmoving for interstate highway construction demonstrate clearance practices in progresses. Meanwhile, an excavation of the bulldozer in postwar literature, films, and art reveals its popular reach. Ultimately, the project demonstrates both the processes and products of the postwar “culture of clearance.” Before the efforts of historic preservationists, neighborhood activists, and environmentalists began to temper the bulldozer’s work, the ideology, technology, policy, and practice of large-scale destruction dramatically transformed the American landscape.
This project grows out of Professor Ammon’s dissertation, for which she received the Anthony Sutcliffe Dissertation Award from the International Planning History Society (IPHS), the John Reps Prize from the Society for American City & Regional Planning History (SACRPH), the Zuckerman Prize in American Studies from the McNeil Center for Early American Studies, and was the mentioned finalist for the American Studies Association’s (ASA) Ralph Henry Gabriel Prize.
Additional research in progress explores the role of photographs in shaping planning and preservation discourse and practice. Professor Ammon recently organized a symposium on this general topic, titled "Picturing Policy: How Visual Culture Shapes the Urban Built Environment." During 2016-17, she is also exploring this interest as a Mellon Researcher with the project "Architecture and/for Photography" at the Canadian Centre for Architecture.
Professor Ammon has published articles in the Journal of Planning History, Journal of Urban History, and Technology & Culture. She has also been featured on popular radio programs WNYC's The Takeaway, WNPR's The Colin McEnroe Show, KPFA's Against the Grain, and the PBS television documentary 10 Towns That Changed America.
She has presented her work widely, including at the annual and biennial meetings of the Society for American City & Regional Planning History, Urban History Association, Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning, Policy History Conference, Business History Conference, and the American Studies Association. She has also given papers at special workshops and symposia at Penn’s McNeil Center for Early American Studies; Yale University’s Agrarian Studies Colloquium; the Center for the History of Business, Technology, and Society at Hagley Museum and Library; Stuttgart University’s Under Construction – Construction Sites conference; and Harvard University’s Capitalism in Action conference.
Articles and Chapters
“Refuge, Resort, and Ruin: Real Estate Development and the Identity of Asbury Park, New Jersey,” in Liberty and Leisure in North America, ed. Pierre Lagayette (Paris: Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2008): 41-57.
At PennDesign, Professor Ammon teaches both city planning and historic preservation courses focused on the history of the built environment, urban and architectural research methods, thesis research, and special topics in urban cultural history.
CPLN 500 / URBS 440: Introduction to City & Regional Planning: Past and Present
CPLN 707: Thesis Studio
HSPV 600: Documentation, Research, and Recording 1
HSPV 708: Historic Preservation Thesis Workshop
HSPV 638: Photography & the City: The Visual Construction of Urban and Suburban America
HSPV 638 / MUSC 621: Cities and Sound: The Spatial Politics and Practices of Sound in Modern Urban Life (with Naomi Waltham-Smith)