The SAH David B. Brownlee Dissertation Award recognizes the most outstanding doctoral dissertation in the field of architectural history completed during the two years prior to the submission date. In recognition of Professor Brownlee’s wide-ranging interests, there will be no geographical or chronological limitation placed on the subject. The award will recognize thorough primary research, original analysis, and exceptional writing.

To Apply:

The Award consists of a certificate and citation that will be presented at the Society's Annual International Conference, along with a stipend up to $1,000 designated for the recipient to travel to the conference to receive the Award. Like other SAH awards, the recipient will be announced in the SAH Newsletter. 

  • Dissertation must be written in English (translations into English are not eligible)
  • Doctoral dissertation must have been completed during the two years prior to the submission year (July 31, 2022–July 31, 2024).
  • SAH membership is encouraged but not required to apply.

All submissions must include the following and be assembled into a single PDF document in this order.  

  • Letter of application (500 word limit)
  • Dissertation Abstract
  • Full dissertation as filed
  • Transcript or equivalent

Letter of Application: Submit a cover letter in which you select one chapter for the committee to read first; choose a chapter (other than the introduction) that you feel best represents your dissertation. 

Dissertation Abstract: Submit the official abstract that was submitted with the dissertation. 

Full Dissertation: Submit a full dissertation as submitted when the dissertation was filed. 

Transcript or Equivalent: Proof of eligibility requires official university documentation, such as the official transcript, affirming that the dissertation was completed and successfully passed in the eligibility period.

Please use the following naming convention for your PDF file: Last name _dissertation title (may be truncated)

Example: Young_SAH_and_the_New.PDF

Applicants will be instructed to upload their PDF to the SAH Dropbox folder (link will be available on June 1).

Dissertations may be submitted twice (two consecutive years), but no more than twice. There will be one award recipient each year.

Applications will open on June 1, 2024. Applicants must email their application packet to by July 31, 2024.

2023 Award Recipient

Davide Spina, ETH Zurich
"Christian Democrats, Architecture and Capitalist Development in Post-War Italy: Società Generale Immobiliare (SGI), 1945–75"

Davide Spina’s close archival study of a major Italian real estate developer, SGI, shines a bright light on the under-examined subject of patronage in postwar Italy and revises our understanding of this era in Italy. The committee found his dissertation impressively and creatively researched. He tapped into a neglected trove of materials, conducted interviews, and drew both on high theory and popular culture to produce a convincing account of how vital this Vatican-controlled developer was in recasting the architectural landscape of postwar Rome. For example, in a case study of the Rome Hilton, designed originally by Gordon Bunshaft in the early 1950’s, Spina deftly recreates a building environment of immense complexity, in which city officials, the Hilton corporation, the local architectural community, the Vatican, and the developer negotiated through design. In Spina’s words, the Hilton Hotel functioned “as the cinematic stand-in for Christian Democratic hegemony.” Spina’s account is engaging, accessible, lucidly written, and witty. He transforms seemingly dry contractor records into a riveting and subtle account of how buildings were built in this period and the ideological tempest that surrounded them. It is conceptually agile, mature scholarship, which moves fluidly between bricks and mortar, and larger issues of architectural discourse and historiography to bring often overlooked forces in the building industry to life.

David Brownlee Dissertation Award, 2023 Committee: Andrew M. Shanken, Chair, William Douglas, Martha McNamara, Michael Rabens, and Julia Walker 

Past Recipients

2023: Davide Spina, "Christian Democrats, Architecture and Capitalist Development in Post-War Italy: Società Generale Immobiliare (SGI), 1945–75"

2022: Will Davis, "Palm Politics: Warfare, Folklore, Architecture"

2021: Esther Miriam Choi, "The Organization of Life: Architecture and the Life Sciences in Britain, 1921–1951"


In April 2018 three former students of David Brownlee approached SAH Board President Sandy Isenstadt and SAH Executive Director Pauline Saliga with the desire to establish a new SAH award that would honor the distinguished career of David B. Brownlee. The Award will recognize his impact as a scholar, teacher, and mentor to his many doctoral students at the University of Pennsylvania. The Committee had approached fellow Brownlee advisees who pledged financial support to help establish the SAH David B. Brownlee Dissertation Award. The SAH Board of Directors approved creation of the Brownlee Award in April 2019. 

Brownlee_DavidDavid B. Brownlee, the Frances Shapiro-Weitzenhoffer Professor of Art History at the University of Pennsylvania, is a historian of modern architecture and urbanism whose interests embrace a wide range of subjects in Europe and America, from the late-eighteenth century to the present. A graduate of Harvard, he has taught at Penn since 1980. He is a recipient of the University of Pennsylvania’s Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching.

Professor Brownlee, a Fellow of the Society of Architectural Historians and a member since 1973, has won numerous fellowships and grants, and his work has earned the book, exhibition catalogue, and article Publication Awards of the Society of Architectural Historians. From 2007 to 2012 he served as editor of the JSAH, during which time he and SAH leadership created a unique publishing platform designed to illustrate scholarly articles with zoomable images, 3D models, video, and interactive maps. 

Active in civic affairs, Professor Brownlee served for 15 years on the Philadelphia Historical Commission and chaired its designation committee. During this time the Commission created the Rittenhouse and Society Hill historic districts. He was a founding member of the Design Advocacy Group of Philadelphia, on which he now serves as a vice chair. In January 2017, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Global Philadelphia Association for his contributions to the growth of the city.