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Peter Christensen - University of Rochester. Rochester, NY, US

Peter Christensen Peter Christensen

Assistant Professor of Art History | University of Rochester


Peter Christensen's specialization is modern architectural and environmental history of Germany, Central Europe and the Middle East.

Areas of Expertise (7)

Architectural design theory and history

Critical Digital Humanities


19th Century Architectural History

20th Century Architectural History

Cartography and Architecture

Architectural Design



Peter Christensen Publication



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Peter Christensen is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Rochester. His specialization is modern architectural and environmental history, particularly of Germany, Central Europe and the Middle East. His theoretical interests center on issues of geopolitics and multiculturalism. He also maintains a strong interest in infrastructure and its history. He explores critical applications of the digital humanities in his research and teaching which includes a major research project entitled Architectural Biometrics. He is the author of the book, Germany and the Ottoman Railway Network: Art, Empire, and Infrastructure (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017).

He has served as Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter at the Technische Universität München (2012-2014) and Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art (2005-2008). Peter is the recipient of the Philip Johnson Book Award (2010) from the Society of Architectural Historians and grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, Fulbright Foundation, the Forum Transregionale Studien in Berlin, the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD), the Society of Architectural Historians, and the Historians of Islamic Art Association, among others. Peter's writing has appeared in leading scholarly journals including MUQARNAS: An Annual on the Visual Culture of the Islamic World, The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, The International Journal of Islamic Architecture, Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, Harvard Design Magazine and New Geographies, among others. He is the co-editor of three volumes: (with Vimalin Rujivacharkul, Hazel Hahn and Ken Oshima) Architeturalized Asia: Mapping a Continent Through History (Hong Kong University Press & University of Hawai'i Press, 2013), (with Mohsen Mostafavi) Instigations: Engaging Landscape, Architecture and the City (Lars Müller, 2012) and (with Barry Bergdoll) Home Delivery: Fabricating the Modern Dwelling (The Museum of Modern Art, 2008). Peter has also curated and assisted in the organization of a number of exhibitions, including at the Museum of Modern Art, the Harvard Graduate School of Design and the Denver Art Museum.

Education (3)

Harvard University: Ph.D., Architecture, Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning 2014

Harvard University: M.A., History and Theory of Architecture 2009

Cornell University: B.Arch., History of Architecture and Urbanism 2005

Affiliations (10)

  • Society of Architectural Historians : Member
  • German Studies Association : Member
  • Historians of Islamic Art Association : Member
  • College Art Association : Member
  • DOCOMOMO : Member
  • Association for Asian Studies : Member
  • GAHTC (Global Architectural History and Theory Collaborative, working group with Itohan Osayimwese [Brown University], Mrinalini Rajagopalan [University of Pittsburgh], Shundana Yusaf [University of Utah]) : Member
  • Association for Computers and Humanities : Member
  • Society for the History of Technology : Member
  • Association of Architecture Organizations : Member

Selected Media Appearances (8)

Rochester historian takes a role in preserving world cultural heritage

University of Rochester Newscenter  online


What do the Great Barrier Reef, the mountain railways of India, and the historic center of Kraków, Poland, have in common? They’ve all been deemed World Heritage sites by UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. More than 1,000 locations around the globe—alphabetically speaking, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe—have been so named since the UNESCO’s 1972 Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. The designation serves to encourage the sites’ preservation as places “of outstanding value to humanity.” Now Peter Christensen, an associate professor of art history at the University of Rochester, has a role in the selection process. He’s a newly minted juror for the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), one of the three non-governmental or intergovernmental organizations that advise UNESCO in its deliberations. Trained as an architect and a scholar, Christensen worked as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art before earning a PhD in the history and theory of architecture at Harvard.

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Harvard Announces the 2019 Richard Rogers Fellows

ArchDaily  online


Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) has announced the six recipients of the 2019 cycle of the six recipients of their Richard Rogers Fellowship program. Inspired by Lord Richard Rogers’ “commitment to cross-disciplinary investigation and engagement,” the Fellowship established last year to support individuals “whose research will be enhanced by access to London’s extraordinary institutions, libraries, practices, professionals, and other unique resources.”

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I Run “Facial Recognition” On Buildings To Unlock Architectural Secrets

Fast Company  print


About a decade ago, a modest update to Apple’s iPhoto software showed me a new way to study architectural history. The February 2009 update added facial recognition, allowing users to tag friends and loved ones in their photos. After a few faces were tagged, the software would begin to offer suggestions. But it wasn’t always accurate. Though Apple’s algorithm continues to improve, it had a tendency to find faces in objects–not just statues or sculptures of people, but even cats or Christmas trees. For me, the possibilities became clearest when iPhoto confused a human friend of mine–I’ll call him Mike–with a building called the Great Mosque of Cordoba.

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Faculty earn NEH honors for religious history, art history research

University of Rochester Newscenter  online


The National Endowment for the Humanities has awarded fellowship grants to two Rochester faculty in the humanities. Aaron Hughes, the Philip S. Bernstein Professor of Jewish Studies in the Department of Religion and Classics, will receive a grant for the project titled “Silent History: Judaism on the Arabian Peninsula at the time of Muhammad.” He will spend a year at the Corpus Coranicum, a research project of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, in Berlin.

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Facial Recognition Gives Art History Academic New Architectural Insights

Mobile ID World  online


An art history academic is using computer vision to gather new insights into the creative forces behind architecture. Writing for The Conversation, Peter Christensen, an Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Rochester, says that he was inspired by the emergence of facial recognition technology. One particular inciting incident got him going, when the face-tagging feature of his iPhone confused one of his friends with the famous Great Mosque of Cordoba.

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The biometric identities of buildings

Archinect  online


Peter Christensen, Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Rochester, elaborates on his research with 'facial recognition' on buildings to unlock architectural secrets.

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Looking at urban history as a fight for space, power

University of Rochester Newscenter  online


Chicago, Istanbul, Rome, and Delhi. The students in the 100-level course The City: Contested Spaces take a virtual tour of them all, while pondering an overarching question—can people’s lives be reshaped by redesigning urban spaces?

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100-Plus Things: Buffalo History Museum

Buffalo News  


Peter Christensen, a professor of art history at the University of Rochester, finds documents related to the opening of the Peace Bridge. He's writing an essay on the subject.

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Selected Event Appearances (5)

Expertise and the Ottoman Railways

Humboldt Universität  


The Art of Infrastructure: The German Construction of the Ottoman Railway Network

Forum Transregionale Studien  Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin


Infrastructure Matters

ETH Zurich  


Ambiguity and Authorship: The Case of the German Construction of the Ottoman Railway Network

SUNY Binghamton  


Germany and the Ottoman Railways: Art, Empire, and Infrastructure

University of Rochester Humanities Center  


Selected Articles (3)

Comparative analysis of homologous buildings using range imaging

Proceedings of the IEEE International Conference of Image Processing

Li Ding ; Ahmed Elliethy ; Eitan Freedenberg ; S. Alana Wolf-Johnson ; Joshua Romphf ; Peter Christensen ; Gaurav Sharma

2016 This paper reports on a novel application of computer vision and image processing technologies to an interdisciplinary project in architectural history that seeks to help identify and visualize differences between homologous buildings constructed to a common template design. By identifying the mutations in homologous buildings, we assist humanists in giving voice to the contributions of the myriad additional “authors” for these buildings beyond their primary designers. We develop a framework for comparing 3D point cloud representations of homologous buildings captured using lidar: focusing on identifying similarities and differences, both among 3D scans of different buildings and between the 3D scans and the design specifications of architectural drawings. The framework addresses global and local alignment for highlighting gross differences as well as differences in individual structural elements and provides methods for readily highlighting the differences via suitable visualizations. The framework is demonstrated on pairs of homologous buildings selected from the Canadian and Ottoman rail networks. Results demonstrate the utility of the framework confirming differences already apparent to the humanist researchers and also revealing new differences that were not previously observed.

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Expertise and the Economies of Knowledge of Architectural Practice in the Islamic World since 1800

International Journal of Islamic Architecture

Christensen, Peter

2015 The editorial introduction to this special volume presents the theme of this collection of articles: ‘expertise’ in the architecture of the Islamic world since 1800. Taken together, these articles address how the processes of empire building, modernisation, statecraft and diplomacy – some of the most common themes of architecture in the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty-first centuries – have been contingent on a web of expertise defined by a rich and varied array of authors and contexts. These studies demonstrate that while European and later North American agents and paradigms of expertise left a strong, often forceful, imprint on the architecture of the Islamic world, a number of dynamic forces internal to Islamic tradition, from the practices of gardening to mosque design, from the mural to the master plan, consistently inflected these imprints. They turn our attention away from an obsession with agency and historiography towards the vicissitudes and specificity of historical and cultural context.

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The ‘Inventive Jump’: Curiosity, Culture and Islamicate Form in the Works of Peter and Alison Smithson

International Journal of Islamic Architecture

Christensen, Peter

2014 Using materials from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design’s Special Collections, this article explores scantly documented master plans and architectural designs for cities and projects in or relating to the Islamic world, located in Kuwait, Tehran, Alexandria, Khartoum and London and designed by British architects Peter and Alison Smithson from the 1950s through to the 1980s. These projects illustrate the architects’ generative approach towards Islamicate building contexts and the ways in which it at once is in sync and divergent from orientalist, colonial and developmental legacies. Examining aspects of an array of projects – from a chair to a master plan – this article illuminates the pitfalls and promise of the qualities of ‘sympathy’ and ‘empathy’ in the Smithsons’ architectural projects for the Islamic world in the latter half of the twentieth century.

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