Member Stories: Stathis G. Yeros

Jun 6, 2023 by SAH News
Stathis Yeros has dark hair and wears a red sweater

Stathis G. Yeros is an assistant professor of architecture at the University of Florida. He lives between Gainesville and New York and has been a member of SAH since 2021.

Can you tell us about your career path?

My big passions that have shaped my choices in educational and career paths are art and politics. So it makes sense then that architecture, combining both, was the right choice. But the course was not straightforward. My first degree is in art history and theater, where I focused on experimental performance and feminist theory influenced by debates at the time about women's representation in the art world. I studied in Glasgow, Scotland, a city with a robust alternative music, art, and performance scene, which opened my horizons and allowed me to experiment with art as a way of life that transcends any single form.

These experimentations opened the door to architecture. As a master's student at UC Berkeley, I paired formal training with my interest in the social side of making space. After a brief time as a designer in San Francisco, I decided to pursue a Ph.D. that combined my interest in alternative cultures—queer and trans cultural expressions in this case—with their political dimensions. My doctoral training was a period of intellectual growth and soul-searching to find the right combination of design as art and social practice. As an assistant professor of architecture at the University of Florida, where I moved last year, I am lucky to be able to engage both with design through studios and with history/theory through seminars and research initiatives.    

What projects are you currently working on?

The project that occupies most of my time is finishing my first book, Queering Urbanism: Architecture, Embodiment, and Queer Citizenship, which is currently under contract with the University of California Press. The book examines queering as a historical, economic, and cultural process whose meaning changes as it encounters neoliberal urban governance regimes in San Francisco and Oakland, home to some of the most symbolic sites for LGBTQ+ rights activism and contemporary debates about gentrification. I argue that everyday decisions about how people live and the aesthetics of queer and transgender spaces, for example, leather or camp, shape and are shaped by what I define as insurgent queer citizenship. Using a citizenship lens, I identify how alternative forms of kinship and subaltern urban minority coalitions based on race and class lead to claims for "the right to the city" that shape queer social politics and urban public life.

As I complete this project in the next few months, I am beginning two new ones. The first is a study of queer and trans spaces in the U.S. Deep South (South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, and parts of Mississippi, Texas, Arkansas, and Florida) that I tentatively call Building the Queer South. I am structuring this as a set of itineraries through the Deep South to interview people and observe queer and trans social life in the spaces where it takes place. Recent legislation against drag shows and trans athletes and my move to Florida to teach led me to dig deeper into the themes of my previous work: how do LGBTQ+ people resist mainstream assimilation; how do physical spaces inform the construction of insurgent LGBTQ+ cultural identities; and how do their politics work with and against state institutions to safeguard LGBTQ+ people's rights to these spaces and ways of life?

The second project extends the thread of queer citizenship, a critical analytical lens for studying space in my work. For this project, I plan to explore local attachments to physical spaces and the politics of design through contemporary citizenship transnationally. What do designers mean when they talk about citizen participation? And what can contemporary discourse about queer, insurgent, minority, and urban citizenships offer to design for spatial justice in different global contexts?

Do you have a particular memory of when you first became aware of the significance of architecture or when you knew you wanted to study it?

The first time I considered the power of design to influence people's lives was in fourth or fifth grade in primary school, when I wrote a report for my teacher to deliver to the Mayor of Kos, the town where I grew up. The report outlined what I thought were urgently needed infrastructural improvements. They included everything from re-paving the port to adding traffic lights and even the specific intersections where I thought they would make the most significant difference. In retrospect, it was maybe inevitable that I studied urbanism. Architectural design was another passion that I developed early on. In middle school, I spent long hours drawing my future home, eventually landing on a design hybrid between a greenhouse for plants with an area for living with movable partitions and a creek passing through the kitchen. In fact, if I were not an architect, I would probably be a horticulturalist. My parents encouraged this passion and even helped me get some experience in gardening by planting a small vegetable garden that lasted for a couple of summers. I hope I get a chance to build that greenhouse attachment to my home one day!

What is your biggest professional challenge?

My biggest challenge in embarking on an academic career is finding a clear way to explain my work's central focus in order to develop a legible profile as a scholar and professional. My research could fit under several academic disciplines studying space and social life. The most important thing I had to do was to clarify—for myself first—what would sustain my interest in research and teaching long-term. Design was an important part of it. That allowed me to better explain the different parts of my work as one trajectory combining design teaching, practice, and a research agenda that employs historical and ethnographic methods to understand social life in the present.

On a more practical note, I learned through a lot of trial and error that clarifying a new project's research goals and contributions early on and seeking out as much feedback as possible is imperative for successful grant applications. Unfortunately, this process can sometimes take years and can be a significant source of anxiety in building a career as an academic.

When and how did you become involved with SAH?

I first learned about SAH when my studio instructor over a decade ago attended a conference, and I remember perusing the program online. I was impressed by the breadth of topics, but I was not yet ready to fully comprehend what architectural historians do. I became involved with SAH much later, toward the end of my doctoral studies, when I was ready to share my research with colleagues and contribute to field discussions. I did not consider my research as primarily historical for a long time. However, during this year's SAH conference and ongoing virtual programming, I found many colleagues sharing similar interests and a rich intellectual environment to grow as a scholar.  

Do you have a vision for how SAH should evolve in the future?

I am new in my engagement with SAH and still learning about the organization's history. After attending the latest conference in Montréal, I returned with renewed energy to engage with colleagues who explore different ways of "doing" architectural history. I think the balance that SAH strikes among its members' various methods and research interests is one of its strongest assets, and I hope future conferences maintain this breadth. I am also really interested in how we can better integrate architectural history in design education in architecture schools. To that end, I believe that SAH could expand existing programming to help junior faculty like me learn from more experienced teachers.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to enter your field?

Each person's trajectory is different. Reflecting on what brought me here, I can offer three of my mistakes as examples of what I had to improve over the years. First, I learned to approach my colleagues and, consequently, the field with humility. When I began my Ph.D. I often jumped to expressing my opinion or disagreement before listening carefully. Second, I had to clarify the big picture of why I wanted to do this job. Sometimes legitimate worries about funding, a project deadline, or even a course paper obscured the long-term commitment to my work and brought thoughts of quitting. Though it is impossible to eliminate those thoughts altogether, after considerable efforts to change this, I now bounce back sooner. And finally, I had to develop a listening ear and appreciate critical feedback as a gift that only someone who cares about my work enough to engage with it thoughtfully would offer. 

SAH members engage with the history of the built environment through a broad array of specializations, professional fields, and areas of interest. Member Stories is a regular feature that recognizes the expertise and unique experiences of our members.