Maria C. Taylor, PhD, is a historian and theorist of architecture, landscape and urban design. With her multidisciplinary education and research specialization in the cities and history of Russia, Eastern Europe, and Central Asia, her work focuses on the role of urban landscape design in the entwined processes of modernization, urbanization and industrialization.
Her current writing and research investigates how Soviet architects, urbanists and landscape specialists used spatial and vegetative interventions to mitigate air pollution and other hazards produced by Soviet industry’s domination of cities and regions. This work diverges from most existing histories of the region by shifting focus from the infamous grey housing blocks and monumental facades of socialist cities to the places in-between—the courtyards, streets, and planted “sanitary-protective zones” around factories. These are spaces that have been generally overlooked by scholars but were of core importance to Soviet notions of urban socialist modernity and quality of daily life.
In her teaching, Taylor uses historical examples of urban environmental transformation to broaden the array of both inspirational and cautionary precedents shared with students. As students, practitioners and scholars collectively consider how to achieve a just transition to a post-carbon world, we face design problems with global consequences and specific local manifestations. In such a future-oriented context, she believes history offers a valuable chance to consider long duration processes of change, acknowledge anticipated and unexpected consequences of past design interventions, and examine how human beings across time and space have differently yet similarly envisioned built and unbuilt environments.
Taylor received her Ph.D in Architectural History and Theory from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she received the 2019 Distinguished Dissertation in Architecture award. She holds degrees in the Growth and Structure of Cities from Bryn Mawr College (AB cum laude), an M.A. in Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies from Stanford University, and is a 2009 graduate of the University of Washington MLA program with a Certificate in Urban Design. Her professional design experience includes working at Humphries Poli Architects and Wolff Lyon Architects in Colorado, and various work in theatrical stage design, set construction and lighting, including two seasons at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival. She has presented papers at an international and interdisciplinary range of conferences including the American Society of Environmental Historians, the Society of Architectural Historians, the Society for City and Regional Planning History, and the Association of Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies.