Locating a Pan-African Rhetoric for Black Activism in Architectural Education

Charles Davis II, Ph.D. [He, him]
Assistant Professor of Architecture History and Criticism
University at Buffalo, SUNY
Chair, SAH Race and Architectural History Group

This talk extends Charles Davis's critique of whiteness in the discipline of architecture to discuss the structural forces that artificially contain the reach and scope of radical black activism in American architecture schools. Despite sharing a common analytical framework and critical vocabulary with many “subaltern” movements abroad—especially with activists in African architecture schools that have established historical ties with local freedom movements—African Americans routinely tell the story of black creativity in American architecture through an exclusively domestic lens. Within this restricted nationalist narrative, African Americans appear to labor under a regime of racism that is completely unique from that established anywhere else. Yet such a depiction belies the intellectual basis for many historical ties between leading African American and African intellectuals historically, from Alain Locke’s theorization of the “New Negro” during the Harlem Renaissance to the Nobel Committee’s current recognition of the global relevance of Black Lives Matter. Why has an isolationist narrative persisted in African American histories of architecture and what is its effects on black activism in the American academy?


SAH thanks The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation
for its operating support.
Society of Architectural Historians
1365 N. Astor Street
Chicago, Illinois 60610