Sara Stevens

Sara Stevens

Assistant Professor

School of Architecture & Landscape Architecture

Research focus:

Sara Stevens is an architectural historian who writes about the history of real estate development. Chock full of cookie-cutter buildings and tax-avoidance schemes, this might be the least glamorous way to study the history of architecture, but Sara argues that following the money helps us to understand not just how certain signature buildings came to be, but also about how entire urban landscapes came to inhabit the forms they did. Real estate development is an area that historians have largely ignored, but real estate developers are key figures who link architects to big money and big projects. They connect architects’ dreamy, grand visions to the concrete and steel that comprise our cities and in doing so, they embed the history of architecture in stories about the biggest changes facing urban landscapes. By understanding the role of real estate in the history of architecture, Sara’s research shows how both big ideas and practical constraints have shaped cities, both in their downtowns and at their suburban edges. Given the recent explosion in Vancouver’s real estate market, she imagines this topic will find plenty of new material to research here and looks forward to expanding this work.

Prior to UBC:

Sara taught at Rice University’s School of Architecture in Houston, Texas, where she also held a postdoctoral fellowship in the Humanities Research Center. She also taught the history and theory of urban design at Columbia University (New York City) in the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation. She received her PhD from Princeton University, her Masters in Environmental Design from Yale University and her professional degree in architecture (BArch) and BA from Rice University. She has also worked in the non-profit sector and as an architect in firms in Houston and New York City on projects ranging from single family homes to university buildings and outdoor sculpture parks.


Sara has received grant support for her book, forthcoming from Yale University Press (2016), from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts and from the Barr Ferree Fund for Publications from Princeton University. She was a Woodrow Wilson Scholar at Princeton University.

Personal interests:

Sara likes to travel and visit the places she writes about. She has flown across an ocean to visit a train on a pier, taken boat tours of ports, taken walking tours of American suburbs and French megastructures, been escorted from numerous Walmarts for taking videos and trespassed at a winery (for its architectural significance, of course). She takes being a tourist seriously: she has toured an Italian boat fabricator, furniture makers, a Swiss lumber mill, bathhouse, quarry, monastery, Chinese new towns and traditional gardens, a Philadelphia prison, a Swedish cemetery, banks, office towers, housing towers, public housing, modernist housing, tenement housing, shotgun houses and Elvis’ birthplace. She celebrates Pi Day with enthusiasm, as it is an excellent excuse to bake more pies.

Department/School profile