Architecture's History Problem: Framing Built Environment Studies through Black Epistemologies by Jay Cephas


Architectural practice has often relied on a bracketing of history in order to maintain the narrative that architectural production - and specifically its aesthetic production- can function autonomously from historical contexts.  If this de-historicizing of architecture reflected a conceptual shift away from the figurative and the subjective in favor of abstraction, then engaging in built environment histories can serve as a critical means for bringing subjectivities back into architectural analysis in part by tracing social reproduction through the materialities of buildings and landscapes.  Situating architectural practice historically, however, also means acknowledging the multiple parallel knowledge systems and spatial practices that have contributed to architectural production.  What kinds of approaches and methods in architectural history can unearth the various frames of knowledge through which the practice of space has been encoded?  Black epistemologies, which describe the knowledge-ways generated by and among the experiences of African-descended peoples in the Americas, are introduced here as one framework for critically re-examining built environment histories.

Jay Cephas is an Assistant Professor of Architecture and Urbanism at Northeaster University conducting research that explores the relationships between labor, technology, and identity in the history and theory of the built environment.  Jay was recently awarded a Graham Foundation grant to support the Black Architects Archive, a repository of under-represented architects from across 200 years of history.  Jay served as a 2019 W.E.B Du Bois Fellow at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and previously earned a Ph.D. in the History and Theory of Architecture and Urbanism from Harvard University.  Jay is currently a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Architectural Education

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