Faculty Profile

Christina Cogdell
Associate Professor of Design
Design Graduate Program Chair

Field of interest: History and Theory of Design

Christina Cogdell is Associate Professor of Design, specializing in history, theory and criticism, and a Chancellor’s Fellow at the University of California at Davis. She is the author of Eugenic Design: Streamlining America in the 1930s (2004), winner of the 2006 Edelstein Prize for outstanding book on the history of technology, and is co-editor of the anthology Popular Eugenics: National Efficiency and American Mass Culture in the 1930s (2006).Her work is included in the anthologies The Politics of Parametricism (forthcoming), Keywords in Disability Studies (forthcoming), Visual Culture and Evolution, I Have Seen the Future – Norman Bel Geddes Designs America, and Art, Sex, and Eugenics, and published in the journals American Art, Boom: A Journal of California, Design and Culture, Volume, Design Issues and American Quarterly.

Over the last few years, she has been researching her current book project on generative architecture and design in relation to recent scientific theories of self-organization and emergence, development and evolution, and complex adaptive systems.  She has received fellowships to aid this research from the Mellon Foundation (New Directions Fellowship), the American Council of Learned Societies (Ryskamp Fellowship), the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, and the Penn Humanities Forum at the University of Pennsylvania. She has also received grants from the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, the Wolfsonian Design Museum at Florida International University, the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Research Center for the Study of American Modernism in Santa Fe, and the American Philosophical Society in Philadelphia.

At UC Davis, she teaches interdisciplinary classes in Design history/ theory/criticism, Art History, Cultural Studies, and American Studies. These include graduate seminars on “Self-Organization and Emergence in the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences” (CST 295), “BioDesign Theory” (DES 198/298), “Design in Context: Modern American Design,” (DES 222) and “Design Research and Writing Methods” (DES 222). Her large undergraduate lecture courses are “Energy, Materials and Design across Time” (DES 40A), “The History of American Architecture” (AHI 188B), and upper-division seminars “Nature Theorized, Nature Materialized: 20th-century American Architecture and Design” (AHI 250), and “Superman: The History of American Eugenics” (AMS 101). She previously has taught at the University of Pennsylvania, College of Santa Fe, and California State University – Fullerton, and holds the Ph.D. in Art History from the University of Texas at Austin (2001), an M.A. in American Studies from the University of Notre Dame (1994), and a B.A. in American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin (1991).

How long have you been with the Design department?
Since Fall 2009

What other, if any, professional work positions have you held?
Postdoctoral Fellow, Penn Humanities Center, University of Pennsylvania (2008-09); Assistant Professor of Art History, College of Santa Fe, Santa Fe, NM (2004-2008); Assistant Professor of Liberal Studies, California State University – Fullerton (2001-03)

Where could we find examples of your work?

Think about one of your favorite projects that you’ve worked on.
Recently, a senior design student Jonny Hoolko and I worked together in a synthetic biology lab at UC Davis to learn the methods of synthetic biology while exploring bioluminescence, the process by which fireflies and other animals produce light without also producing heat. It was fascinating to see how we could produce a wide range of colored light using e.coli bacteria engineered with a firefly gene sequence, and great to team up with scientists at UC Davis to explore new methods of BioDesign. We gained knowledge of limitations and possibilities for bioluminescence and BioDesign in general.

What led you to become a design educator?
I love thinking about how and why people make things, and the role that these things play in culture. I am an historian of technology, design, art, architecture and science, and I love teaching students how to think across these disciplines.

If you could teach any course, what would it be?
My favorite course is the one I created called DES 40A – Energy, Material and Design Across Time, which I also call a Critical History of Sustainability.

What do you think is the most difficult challenge designers struggle with?
I’m not a designer, but I expect that for a designer who cares about our world and environmental sustainability, the most difficult challenge is finding materials to use in the design process that are low in embodied energy, low in terms of how processed they are, and low in terms of distance traveled throughout their full life cycle to get to the design studio and beyond afterwards.

What do you think is the most pressing problem designers should be addressing today?
Lessening consumption; second to that, demanding and finding materials low in embodied energy and toxicity.

What are 6 things you believe all design students should read or watch?
1. William Myers, BioDesign: Nature, Science, Creativity (2012); 2. Ozzie Zehner, Green Illusions: The Dirty Secrets of Clean Energy and the Future of Environmentalism (2012); 3 & 4. Vaclav Smil, Harvesting the Biosphere: What We Have Taken from Nature (2012) and Energy in World History (1994); 5. Carl Zimmer, “Now: The Rest of the Genome,” New York Times (10 Nov. 2008) or the more difficult books Evolution in Four Dimensions by Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb (2014) or Postgenomics: Perspectives on Biology after the Genome, edited by Sarah Richardson and Hallam Stevens (2015) ; 6. http://openarchitecturenetwork.org/  and http://www.projecthdesign.org/ and other public interest design collectives; 6. 

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