Michael R. Allen's work encompasses architectural history, cultural geography, historic preservation, and political activism.
Allen practices prefigurative and critical heritage conservation, documenting buildings and cultural landscapes as possible clues to a collective future. His work seeks to reveal the ways in which the built environment encodes hegemonic and oppositional power relationships (political and aesthetic), economic histories, and granular imposition of statecraft. He sees history as space as well as time.
Allen currently holds appointments as senior lecturer in architecture and landscape architecture and lecturer in American culture studies at Washington University in St. Louis. He also directs his own consultancy, the Preservation Research Office, which has undertaken cultural heritage preservation projects in St. Louis and across the Midwest since its founding in 2009. Additionally he founded the Department of Walking as a platform for participatory critical spatial tours, and convened the Pruitt Igoe Now ideas competition (with Nora Wendl).
From studies of modernist architecture in the region to vernacular housing typologies to the history of St. Louis public housing, Allen has pursued questions around the emergence and erasure of architectural modernism, the politics of defining "wholeness" of cities and buildings in preservation and planning, American exceptionalism in heritage practice, the architectural history of the St. Louis region, and more. Allen's publications include chapters in Buildings of Missouri (forthcoming), Bending the Future: 50 Ideas for the Next Fifty Years of Historic Preservation in the United States (2016) and The Making of an All-America City: East St. Louis at 150 (2011). His critical writing has appeared in Next City, Temporary Art Review, Preservation Leadership Forum, CTheory, and other outlets.
Allen serves as an advisor to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a regional advisor to Landmarks Illinois, and a board member for the National Building Arts Center.