Postdoctoral Fellows

Jessica Varner, 2021-23 Postdoctoral Fellow School of Architecture

Jessica Varner

2021–2023 Postdoctoral Fellow, Architecture
PhD in the History of Art and Architecture, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Jessica Varner explores the intersections between architecture history, chemical engineering, building materials, and product regulation. She received her Ph.D. in the History of Art and Architecture (HTC) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2020. 

Her current book project, Chemical Desires, Chemical Modernities, uncovers the ties between corporate chemical firms and architecture at the turn of the twentieth century in the United States and Germany. Her work reveals how companies employed novel research strategies, exhibitions, advertising campaigns, and sponsorship to conscript architects and engineers as enthusiastic exponents of their novel synthetic compounds. In doing so, her work exposes how chemical corporations promoted desires for “new” engineered qualities that aligned with growing modernist expectations while simultaneously unknowing harm—creating a new chemical modernity embedded in modern architecture. This work received generous support from the Fulbright Foundation, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science (MPIWG), MIT Martin Society of Fellows, and the Graham Foundation (Carter Manny Dissertation Award, Citation of Special Recognition).

She is also an architect, Environmental Data & Governance Initiative steering committee member, and co-curator for EDGI’s A People’s EPA public history project. Her recent research includes articles, book chapters, and projects on chromium, drywall, material mitigation, toxicity, the EPA’s public history, and chemical modernity.