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Mary Pepchinski on America Day by Day
22 January, 2021
At the 2008 conference held at the FU Berlin to commemorate the 100th birthday of Simone de Beauvoir, many speakers called for new frameworks to understand her prodigious and diverse oeuvre, which included philosophy, literature, biography, letters, and gender studies. Intrigued by this suggestion, over the years I have been reading de Beauvoir, and discovering her to be an astute observer of how she – a gendered being – experienced architecture and urbanism in the twentieth century. She was extremely well read in contemporary French and English urban sociology, edited texts about everyday life by Henri Lefebvre for Les Temps Modernes, and made a point to visit new architecture from the Berlin housing estates of the 1920s to Brasilia in the 1960s when traveling around the world. Although she never proclaimed architecture and urbanism to be a central interest, her engagement with this subject is clear throughout her writings.
L’Amerique au jour le jour (America Day by Day), (1947/48), is a fictionalized account of Simone de Beauvoir’s extended sojourn through the United States in 1947. De Beauvoir wanted to distinguish her book from other travelogues of the day by describing how she, as a middle-aged, single, foreign, bisexual women felt while exploring the American city, marked by extreme racial and ethnic separation, before it was transformed by the rampant suburbanisation in the 1950s.