Catherine Bonier

Ph.D. Candidate
Architecture Department
University of Pennsylvania

2012 to 2013
Dissertation Research Fellow

Benjamin H. Latrobe's Philadelphia Waterworks: Republican Emblem and Democratic Instrument of Healthy Equilibrium

Abstract: Benjamin H. Latrobe's Philadelphia waterworks of 1801 was an innovative system: a sixty foot high marble rotunda housing a steam engine and reservoir, which fed the city through a network of wooden pipes. What was new, and pressingly important, in the Philadelphia waterworks was an integration between the architectural construction of public space and the infrastructural production of public health. This first American steam-driven waterworks was designed to respond to devastating epidemic disease, by architecturally mediating nature, technology, and democratic society. Latrobe's calibration of the system to the city embodies both Thomas Jefferson's republican ideology and Dr. Benjamin Rush's purgative medical protocol. A secondary assessment of later waterworks reveals the singular yet influential position of Latrobe's visionary construction. The Philadelphia waterworks, despite its considerable flaws, embodies a foundational American ideology regarding public health, urban space, and civic life. Read Catherine's report on her PACHS-sponsored research here.