SAH Blog

  • Black Lives Matter

    By
    Meredith TenHoor and Jonathan Massey (Organizers)
     |
    Mar 10, 2015

    The Black Lives Matter dossier, published by the Aggregate Architectural History Collaborative, is edited by SAH members Jonathan Massey and Meredith TenHoor and includes essays from SAH members Amber Wiley, Michael Abrahamson, Dianne Harris, and Charles David II. Excerpt from the Introduction republished here with permission.

    What does it mean to put black lives at the center of our thinking about architecture and its history? On the Aggregate website, thirteen new essays by scholars, designers, students, and citizens address the Black Lives Matter movement through architectural and urban research. The edited collection diagnoses sources of violence, identifies forms of resistance, and reimagines Black aesthetics.

    Introduction: Black Lives Matter

    Black Lives Matter is an ideological and political intervention in a world where Black lives are systematically and intentionally targeted for demise. It is an affirmation of Black folks’ contributions to this society, our humanity, and our resilience in the face of deadly oppression.

    —Alicia Garza, “A Herstory of the #BlackLivesMatter Movement”1

    What does it mean to put Black lives at the center of our thinking about architecture and its history? How do architecture and urban design contribute to violence against black people? How can the tools and knowledge of our disciplines prompt change? Inspired by the scholars, activists, and everyday citizens who have spoken out, marched, and protested against police killings of African-Americans, we present this collection of short essays that directs architectural research to the Black Lives Matter movement.2

    Racism fundamentally shapes architectural and urban spaces. Ta-Nehisi Coates’ devastating Case for Reparations outlines the ways in which Black Americans have been dispossessed of land, excluded from homeownership, and impoverished by redlining and predatory lending from the Jim Crow era to the recent Great Recession.3 As Darnell Moore has argued, in cities ravaged by both predatory lending and gentrification, “Black people will continue to be treated as something other than human as whiteness continues to function as a sign for possession and asset.”4 One hundred and fifty years after the end of the Civil War, houses and subdivisions remain architectural instruments in racialized practices of investment, financing, ownership, maintenance, monitoring, and tenancy. In these and other ways, architecture and urban design in the United States today too often support white supremacy, which we understand, following George Lipsitz, to include “a system for protecting the privileges of whites by denying communities of color opportunities for asset accumulation and upward mobility.”5

    These links between race and space have long been visible in lived experience, and they have been addressed in architectural scholarship.6 But as architect Mitch McEwen has argued, the necessity of an architectural critique of new forms of segregation became undeniably urgent after George Zimmerman killed Trayvon Martin in the Retreat at Twin Lakes, a gated community in Sanford, Florida.7 Because they privatize formerly public functions and spaces, gated communities exemplify neoliberal approaches to housing, and some commentators were quick to identify their role in Martin’s death.8 Yet as McEwen and others have made clear, Martin’s death can not be pinned on form; rather, it must be understood as the result of intersecting spatial, legal, and social operations. Such violence against people of color requires architectural analysis, but architecture cannot account for it alone.

    After the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Kimani Gray, Tamir Rice, and too many others, the vulnerability long experienced by black people in public spaces challenged the legitimacy of the state, even for those protected by white privilege. Streets, sidewalks and playgrounds such as those where Brown, Garner, Gray, and Rice died are sites where racially-biased policing governs access to liberty and life itself. Over the past year, they have been reclaimed through demonstrations, die-ins, teach-ins, boycotts, Black brunches, and “Blackout Fridays.”9 These spaces have also become sites for design interventions that make sites of violence safe for people of all colors.

    While responses to this crisis of space and state can untangle, critique, and resist the conditions that have made Black life too precarious in the United States, recent protests and design projects make clear that architectural responses to the Black Lives Matter movement must also activate the aesthetic dimension of architecture, a dimension that offers resources to sustain alternative visions of Black life.10 This collection of brief essays thus comprise a mixture of aesthetic, critical, historical and theoretical analyses which we have grouped into three categories. The first essay group, Diagnosis: Policing and Incarceration, describes the architectural origins and human effects of racially-biased policing, the “school-to-prison pipeline,” and mass incarceration, identifying ways in which design has helped to create the present crisis. In Resistance: Rights to the City and Suburb, contributors outline forms of resistance developed by black people and their allies through activism, protest, research, and analysis. The third set of essays, Aesthetics: From Cities to Curricula, illuminates architectural practices that figure and reimagine Blackness through a variety of aesthetic, educational, and formal practices.

    When we put out our call for contributions, we aimed to highlight work underway on this topic, as well as to spur further scholarship and reflection on the biopolitical and architectural questions raised by the Black Lives Matter movement. Time was of the essence: We hoped that this writing might nourish political conversations, and that it could be used in seminars and teach-ins this spring semester. We are very grateful to all our contributors for putting this project on the front burner, and for writing and editing so quickly and diligently. As a result of their efforts, the work gathered here directs a wide range of scholarly and activist insights toward the present crisis. But it raises as many questions as it answers, and only begins to encompass the possible responses to the Black Lives Matter movement. We invite you to deepen the discussion by commenting on the work presented here using the links at the end of each essay. We also welcome further proposals for work in a variety of lengths and formats ranging from short photo, video, sound, or text essays to long-form scholarly articles for peer review.

    Continue reading at we-aggregate.org/project/black-lives-matter.

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