Dimensions of Citizenship: US Pavilion, 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale

Niall Atkinson, Ann Lui & Mimi Zeiger with Iker Gil

1. US Pavilion 2018 Participants.jpg

In a time when the expansion of the United States–Mexico border wall looms over more nuanced discourses on national citizenship, Dimensions of Citizenship tasks architects and designers with an urgent request: to envision what it means to be a citizen today.

Questions of belonging, of who should be included and how, are central to the curatorial mission, which defines citizenship as a tangle of rights, responsibilities, and attachments linked to the built environment. The exhibition asks: How might architecture respond to, shape, and express rhizomatic and paradoxical conditions of citizenship, even as transnational flows of capital, digital technologies, and geopolitical transformations expand conventional notions of citizenship?

The US Pavilion explores citizenship across seven spatial scales: Citizen, Civitas, Region, Nation, Globe, Network, and Cosmos. These scales, telescoping from body to city to heavens, broadly position citizenship as a critical global topic.

Commissioned installations by architects, landscape architects, artists, and theorists investigate spaces of citizenship marked by histories of inequality and the violence imposed on people, nonhuman actors, and ecologies. These works aim to manifest the democratic ideals of inclusion against the grain of broader systems: new forms of sharing economy platforms, the legacies of the Underground Railroad, tenuous cross-national alliances at the border region, or the seemingly Sisyphean task of buttressing coastline topologies against rising tides.

The works on view do not solve the complex relationships of governance, affinity, and circumstance that bind us—citizen to stranger, self to other. Instead, they use architecture’s disciplinary agency to render visible paradoxes and formulations of belonging. Only when spatial understandings of citizenship—legal, cultural, and ecological—are in sight might we struggle free from antiquated definitions, forms, or bureaucracies and activate potent spaces for design.

Mapping Feminist LA

Leana Scott


Mapping Feminist LA (MFLA) is a collaborative research project with the goal of building the Angelena Atlas, a crowdsourced map showing intersectional feminist spaces in Los Angeles County. The MFLA collective brings volunteers together every month at the Women’s Center for Creative Work (WCCW) to strategize and discuss the planning of its in-progress map. MFLA began and remains a community program at WCCW, a kindred space that provides the collective with project incubation support. Inspiration for the map draws from physical spaces of the past and present in Los Angeles that connect folks to resources linked to intersectional feminism and anti-oppression movements.

MFLA envisions the Angelena Atlas as a springboard for the discovery of places of activism and becoming. Their focus has been collecting information and building towards digital and print maps to include spaces with resources that are anti-racist, anti-ableist, pro-immigrant, LGBTQ friendly, and otherwise empowering. The hope is to foster a new spatial awareness of LA through the lens of intersectional feminism.

During its first two years, the collective explored the possibilities and strategies necessary to building a community web project committed to intersectionality. As MFLA now begins digitally building the Angelena Atlas and exits the initial stages of planning and outreach, they are moving forward with like-minded developers and considering open-source technologies. The collective has plans to keep building in iterative stages to include information on spoken languages and live events that these spaces feature.

While the final form is still a work in progress, the core values of accessibility and intersectionality will always guide the project as it evolves. The Angelena Atlas will also provide documentation of MFLA’s process and will allow for collaboration through version control and public engagement.

Prison Design Boycott Campaign

Raphael Sperry


The Prison Design Boycott for Alternatives to Incarceration is a pledge campaign launched by Architects/Designers/Planners for Social Responsibility (ADPSR) in 2004. In some ways a response to the violence and racism of the Iraq war, the Prison Boycott turned the critique of militarism inwards to call out prisons and jails as the architectural embodiment of the domestic war on poor people of color. The Prison Boycott pledge gathered over 1,000 signatures from architects, designers, and allies, demanding an end to the construction of new jails and prisons. It is a private matter for an architect or a firm to decline projects they feel are morally or politically unacceptable, but it is a public reckoning to demand that one’s profession as a whole cease such projects. The Prison Boycott asserted that professional ethics are a ground for collective action, grounded in the professional charge to act in the public health, safety, and welfare.

ADPSR expanded the Prison Boycott in 2012 with a petition demanding that the American Institute of Architects (AIA) prohibit members from designing execution chambers and prison spaces for solitary confinement. A campaign highlight was a design competition for posters, with the winning entries mailed to deans of the 100+ schools of architecture across the United States for display in their schools. After six years of rejection, denial, and exclusion, AIA’s 2018 Code of Ethics was changed to prohibit members from ”wanton disregard of the rights of others” under the heading of human rights. This victory marks a success of intersectionality, having been driven as much by demands for AIA to address sexual harassment and gender discrimination as by human rights concerns for people in prison. More work is needed to ensure that the role of human rights within the AIA Ethics Code is widely understood, respected, and enforced.

Open Architecture Collaborative

Garrett Jacobs


The Open Architecture Collaborative (OAC) is a global learning network mobilizing architects and designers with technical skills to build capacity within communities experiencing systemic marginalization.The organization’s programs bring people from different backgrounds together to cocreate a new narrative of power in our contemporary environment through accomplishing small projects. Programs include the volunteer Chapter Network and Pathways to Equity, a design leadership experience for social equity launched in 2018. All programs support local practitioners working their local communities.

The OAC was born from the network of Architecture for Humanity in 2016 and maintains twenty volunteer chapters located around the globe, with thirteen located in the US. Informed by over fifteen years of volunteer coordination, community project management, and advocacy, the organization identified a need to develop more rigorous training and focus on building resources to help practitioners develop a lens for equitable practice. In order to deepen the impact of community design for everyone from community partners and local residents to designers, all OAC members must develop a better understanding of the systems of oppression that lead to the projects we often undertake.

Pathways for Equity is designed to build an equity lens in design. Supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Curry Stone Foundation, and the Association for Community Design. Pathways to Equity brings together an interdisciplinary cohort of fellows to develop skills such as self-reflective practices and resetting frameworks around privilege, power dynamics, and systemic racism.

The OAC is committed to providing leadership opportunities and programming for those who want to be the change-makers and problem-solvers in the fight for a more inclusive, diverse, and equitable society.

The Entrepreneurship Question

Julia De Vito


On September 16, 2015, the student collective A-Frame, formed within the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning, and Preservation (GSAPP) at Columbia University, organized “The Entrepreneurship Question” event.

Stemming from the observation of the changes technology brought to the relationship between professions and the economy, the goal of the event was “to identify what entrepreneurship has to offer the field of architecture,” with the belief that it was “time to make our own bold propositions about architecture’s relationship to the economy.”

To address this question, A-Frame curated a panel of five professionals—a real-estate tech founder, a virtual reality entrepreneur, an architecture labor activist, an architecture incubator director, and an architecture business strategist—to share their diverse views.ins

Three main themes were discussed throughout the two-hour-long panel.

The first was the acknowledgement of the value of the varied skill set architects possess and the suggestion that architects define which alternative types of services, other than those strictly related to designing buildings, they could offer.

The second theme was financing and the apparent inequality of entrepreneurial enterprises. Architects should learn to garner the financial resources needed in order to see their ideas through.

The third theme centered on changes needed within academia. The final call was for students to take control of their education and not wait until after graduation to pursue their interests and ideas.

These three main strands fall under a more general issue that inspired the event in the first place: the precariousness generated by the architecture work culture, where the long-standing dichotomy between art, considered “good,” and business, considered “bad,” along with the belief that “architecture can be the product of a single visionary” has impeded architects from being true agents of their professions and coming up with alternative practice models.

The event, an entrepreneurial action in itself, ultimately became a call to action for students and professionals to take agency of their role at the global and micro scale.


Columbia GSAPP, “The Entrepreneurship Question”, Sept. 16th 2015, available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_w1F28KjCFE

A-Frame, Alternative Practices Workshop at GSAPP Incubator, New INC, Feb. 5th 2016, available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q0HtKyFwtck

Lohry, Matthew and Pedtke, Julie, “The Entrepreneurship Question” Intro, found at http://www.a-frame.work/blog

A-Frame, “The Entrepreneurship Question”, edited by Lechene, Valerie, Pedtke, Julie and Schugars, Miranda, February 2016, available on Issuu at https://issuu.com/_aframe_/docs/inside

The Memorial for Peace and Justice

Alison Katz


"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
-George Santayana

How we address our history affects how we remember it and frames the lessons we learn from the past. Racial violence is often glossed over in school, watered down in textbooks, and sanitized for white America’s convenience. Many Americans, however, are not privileged enough to be able to ignore this part of American history. Violence and terrorism have haunted black communities, particularly in the South, shaping race relations and power structures through policy and psychology.

All over the United States, organizations like the Ku Klux Klan targeted black Americans with beatings, bombings, lynchings, and other acts of terror to demonstrate their power and to repress the political and economic action and success of black communities. This violence intensified when the Confederacy was defeated in 1865 and continued with increased intensity until the murder of Emmett Till in 1955. It was only after the media coverage of Till’s open casket—a decision made by Till’s mother to display her fourteen-year-old son’s unrecognizably beaten face—that white Americans began to express outrage and call for justice.

MASS Design Group, and Equal Justice Initiative (EJI) created the Memorial for Peace and Justice to finally memorialize the lives lost through these acts of racial terrorism. MASS is a nonprofit architecture firm known for empowering communities through their thoughtful design and work with nonprofits. EJI has been working for twenty-nine years to end mass incarceration, protect the basic human rights of vulnerable communities, and end racial and economic injustice against these groups.

The Memorial for Peace and Justice is sited in Montgomery, Alabama, a city with a vital history in both the civil rights movement and the enslavement of African Americans. Pre-Civil War, Montgomery was one of the largest trading posts for domestically sold slaves. During the Civil Rights movement, it was also the city where Rosa Parks sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The Freedom Riders were attacked by a mob at the Montgomery Greyhound station in response to their fight to end illegal interstate segregation. John Lewis led an attempted 54-mile march from Selma to Montgomery, during which his marchers suffered police brutality on the Edmund Pettus Bridge so vicious that 50 protesters were hospitalized after being severely beaten. While the city had dozens of statues and memorials celebrating its Confederate heritage, it was not until 1990 that the city began to use signage and statues to acknowledge its role in the civil rights movement.

At the memorial entrance is a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “True peace is not merely the absence of tension; it is the presence of justice.” Passing through the gate, an outdoor path walks you through a brief history of the enslavement of Africans, their treacherous voyage to the Americas, emancipation, and the creation of Jim Crow laws. The pathway is lined with written history and accompanying sculptures depicting the physical and emotional struggles of African Americans leading up to Reconstruction.

Approaching the central structure of the memorial, you enter the era of racial terror in America. A roof floats over the square pavilion, with a central courtyard open to the sky. As you circulate through the building, the path descends lower and lower. In the first section, corten steel boxes hang just above the floor. From afar I thought each box represented a single life lost, but to my horror I discovered every box represents a county—one for each county in the United States where a known lynching had taken place. On each box is a list of names that ranged in length. Some boxes contain dozens of names. If a person’s name was unknown, but their death had been recorded, they were listed as “unknown.”

As the path descends, the roof remains at the same level. By the second side of the pavilion, the boxes float above you. While it very literally represented the way many of these lynchings happened, through hangings, it also symbolized two things to me: the weight of the life lost and the feeling that the names where floating towards the sky, towards freedom.

In the third wing, the boxes hang about eight feet from the floor and as the viewer continues to descend, the boxes hang well above them, at about twelve feet. Along the walls are plaques detailing what triggered white Americans to lynch black citizens. People were lynched for reasons that included  registering black voters, refusing to give up their land to white people, asking for a drink of water, complaining about the lynching of a husband, and eloping with a white woman.

The final wing focused on two sentences. The wall read, "Thousands of African Americans are unknown victims of racial terror lynchings whose deaths cannot be documented, many whose names will never be known. They are all honored here.” This wing leads you to the final pathway, which brings you through even more boxes; this is powerful because as you leave the structure you may assume that all of the boxes have been displayed, but there are many more names waiting to be read and acknowledged.

Beyond the final box is a statue of Rosa Parks in celebration of the civil rights victories of the 1950s and 1960s but beyond her, there is another reminder of how much we still must do for civil rights and racial equality. The final stop along the timeline of racial terrorism is a statue of a line of black men with their hands held above their heads, a reminder of the all-too-frequent killing of unarmed black men at the hands of the police, is the final stop along this timeline of racial terrorism. Although mass lynchings no longer take place, last year dozens of unarmed people of color were shot and killed by the police.

The monument forces the viewer to feel and acknowledge the weight of the history. While at times overwhelming, the structure itself was peaceful, calming even. I found myself sitting and thinking about what I had seen, and instead of feeling bogged down by the weight of the subject matter, I felt empowered. What holds many people back from visiting these memorials is the sadness and reflection they must face, but in order to effect change, we must recognize the past and our roles within it.

As a white woman from the Northeast, some may argue that I am not a directly impacted by this history; am I the right person to be reviewing this? People of all backgrounds need to experience this memorial. My experience was drastically different than that of a person whose family has been victims of these crimes, or a person whose family took part in the lynchings. Regardless of background, this memorial should mean something to you. It reminds me of the consequences of apathy and motivates me to engage in the fight against oppression. It reminds me of the innate privilege I have, and how others have suffered and continue to suffer in America due to lack of opportunity, lack of respect, and lack of understanding for those who come from diverse backgrounds. As an architecture student, my profession has been guilty of heinous racism and lack of empathy for underprivileged and diverse peoples. We can either practice through ignorance or thrive by elevating and empowering disenfranchised communities.

The Memorial for Peace and Justice screams for just that: peace and justice. While we may like to believe that this history is behind us, the Equal Justice Initiative reminds us that racial terror and inequality did not end, they just evolved. This memorial gives America a place to publicly express the pain and anguish this truth evokes. EJI also created the Museum of Legacy in Montgomery, which chronicles the evolution of slavery into the current system of mass incarceration.

Future Firm’s Office of the Public Architect

Anastasija Spasovska


Future Firm is a Chicago-based architecture practice founded by Craig Reschke and Ann Lui in 2015. Their work spans a number of disciplines, placing them at the intersection of art, architecture, community engagement practices, and technological innovation. Both founding partners have worked for corporate offices and are involved in academia. After working in offices on mostly foreign, large-scale projects, they started Future Firm to explore how architecture can more methodologically describe and affect the built environment through landscape, culture, and society.

Running in conjunction with the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial, the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) challenged fifty Chicago-based architects to rethink underappreciated and underperforming spaces in their city. Showcasing their investigations at the exhibition, “Between States—50 Designers Transform Chicago's Neighborhoods,” the design teams were to identify a physical asset in one of Chicago’s fifty wards that could benefit from a redesign and imagine a way to transition it “between states.” The meaning was twofold: first, propose a way to change the state of an underperforming or dilapidated site into a rejuvenated civic anchor; and second, present an inspiring case study of a similar and successful project from another US state or location outside of Chicago.

Future Firm answered CAF’s call with a proposal for an Office of the Public Architect. Rather than working in a single area of the city, Lui and Reschke took a more systematic approach to the problem. Having recently opened a practice in Chicago, Lui and Reschke were quite open about the type of projects they would take on. Working on standard residential and commercial projects, they started dealing with the practical and mundane problems of their clients. In this period, and to the surprise of its partners, the office started to receive numerous inquiries and requests from Chicago citizens on another type of work: help in resolving building code violations.

The Department Of Building logged over ninety thousand building violations in 2017 alone, according to Chicago’s data portal. About 45 percent of residential field inspections revealed code violations. Building codes go a long way toward ensuring that houses are safe, and it is not uncommon for a building to have multiple violations at the same time. Some building code violations are easy to find, such as missing or defective ground-fault circuit interrupters, handrails without returns, improper bathroom ventilation, missing deck flashing, and misplaced smoke alarms. Other common and potentially dangerous building code violations are hard to locate—and even harder to fix—because they’re buried behind finished walls. These include improper framing, excessively cut and notched studs and joists, shallow insulation depth, improper type and size of electrical wires, and inadequate connections between building materials. The occurrence of building code violations can be an effect of hiring a careless inspector or disreputable builder, or of the house predating current building codes.

In the firm’s experience, professional developers or landlords are not usually the ones who call to ask for help. Homeowners seldom reach out for assistance, and architectural services, in this case, have a different dimension when the payer is an individual client. This led Lui and Reschke to think about what happens when a person cannot afford the architectural services needed to bring their building up to code. Furthermore, Chicago is known for having a problem with empty lots and dilapidated buildings. According to Reschke, owners not being able to resolve their building code violations has directly contributed to the empty lot issue.

“When you commit a crime, if you cannot afford a lawyer, you have the right to a public defender. When issued a building violation, should you also have the right to a public architect? People could go get guidance, get architectural plans, have a way to fix their violations,” Reschke says. Future Firm proposes opening an office that would provide services to those who can’t otherwise afford them.

Future Firm envisions this office as an easy access resource for design, architectural work and bureaucratic building code resolution procedures that would offer a faster, compassionate, and dignified service to its citizens. In regards to prospective employees, they see this office as a good fit for early-career architects to gain on-the-ground experience and a chance for senior designers to engage in community-based work.

There are precedents to pro bono work within the field of architecture. Some architecture offices lend their services for free to communities in need and nonprofit organizations that genuinely cannot afford to pay market rates. Others, such as Public Architecture, serve as a connection between such nonprofits and architects willing to contribute. However, Future Firm’s proposition avoids charity and donations, relying on taxpayer dollars.

Lui and Reschke understand that this concept might seem a bit far-fetched. However, the same was originally said of the idea of a public defender. Clara Foltz, California’s first woman attorney, proposed the idea at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. She saw the public defender as a counterweight to public prosecutors, having equal funding and stature. Though Los Angeles opened a public defender office in 1913, it wasn’t until 1963, in the case of Gideon v. Wainwright, that the Supreme Court decided that states must provide legal counsel for those that cannot afford their own.

Thinking about underutilized space in the framework of CAF’s multi year strategy for Chicago, Future Firm positions the Office of the Public Architect in the unused spaces of post offices. Regarding the post office as a central civic space of society, it would be a perfect fit for the proposal, taking over empty post office windows in a number of wards in the city. From these windows, the public architect could work on behalf of Chicago’s citizens through collective investment in the city’s architecture.

Clara Foltz's idea that “the law should be a shield as well as a sword” grew mainly from her experience representing underprivileged citizens in the western courts. Future Firm’s idea is a big one, but the firm believes it has the political will to achieve it. Examining the existing structures of society in regard to public service and human rights has put this office on the map of activist thinking within the architecture and design industry. We all deserve safer and more humane living spaces—and we all deserve dignified means of achieving them. Projects like this bring us closer, one step at a time.

Ed Roberts Campus

Je'Nen Chastain

The Ed Roberts Campus (ERC) is one of the first buildings of its kind in the nation—opened in 2010 as a community center serving and celebrating the Independent Living /Disabled Rights Movement. Located at a regional transit hub and integrating advanced strategies of Universal Design and Sustainable Design, the ERC is designed to welcome and support people of all abilities.

The Ed Roberts Campus is a nonprofit corporation formed by seven organizations that share a common history in the independent living/civil rights movement of people with disabilities. In 1998, these seven organizations joined together to plan and develop a universally designed, transit-oriented, and environmentally sustainable campus located at the Ashby BART Station in Berkeley. Commemorating the life and work of Edward V. Roberts, an early leader in the independent living movement of persons with disabilities, the ERC is the foremost disability rights service, advocacy, education, training, and policy center in the world.

The ERC is an 85,000 square foot facility designed from the ground up to meet the needs of people with all ability levels. The program includes exhibition space, community meeting rooms, a childcare center for children with disabilities, a fitness center, offices, vocational training facilities, and a café gathered around an enclosed courtyard. A transparent entry façade at the new civic plaza displays a monumental helical ramp inside. The ramp, a major work of public art beneath a skylit rotunda, serves both functional and symbolic roles, expressing the spirit of universal design by providing dramatic access to upper floors for all users.

Guided by the principles of Universal Design—the creation of environments that are equally usable by individuals of all abilities—the project exceeds the accessibility requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Universal Design strategies and elements were selected to maximize benefits to the broadest variety of users while remaining economical and replicable by others. The ERC is designed as an important community building with a distinct civic presence that celebrates the collective values of its partner organizations. The building acts as both community center and urban threshold, positioning the partner organizations at a major regional transit portal.

SAY IT LOUD: The Distinguished Minority Designers of NOMA

Pascale Sablan

At time of writing, there are approximately 2,224 licensed African American architects in the United States—roughly 2 percent of the total population of licensed architects in the US. This is staggering in today’s world, where diversity is supposedly more than a buzzword. Studies show that including people of different backgrounds and races benefits everyone—something that is certainly true for architecture. Exposure to a diverse pool of contributors can enrich the field and generate more unique and innovative ideas. Over the past three years, curator Pascale Sablan has established an initiative that shines a spotlight on the impact of architects and allied professionals of color in the architecture and design community as well as the greater community at large. These individuals blazed a trail that is rarely acknowledged. In 2015, the New York chapter of National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), New York Coalition of Black Architects (NYCOBA), created a Membership Highlight initiative to acknowledge the work and accomplishments of these talented individuals on a monthly basis. The highlighted members range from sole practitioners to commissioners of city agencies to AIA fellows. This ongoing initiative has become a full exhibit that has been displayed at New York’s Center for Architecture, the United Nations Visitor Centre, and at S9 Architecture during the 2018 AIA National Convention.

The SAY IT LOUD exhibition elevates the work of minority architects, engineers, and designers of color in a culture that often omits them and their contributions to the built environment. The exhibition features projects by twenty-one designers and includes quotes and video interviews on their experiences. The concept of this exhibit, according to Sablan, is “To see our faces, hear our voices, feel our impact within the colorful tapestry of our heritage.” This initiative has become an international movement, with local SAY IT LOUD exhibits slated for numerous states, conferences, and United Nations Information Centers worldwide.

Pascale Sablan, AIA, NOMA, LEED AP, is a Senior Associate at S9 ARCHITECTURE, the 2017–18 historian for the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), and the NOMA Northeast Now What!? Exhibition Planning Grant 18 Regional Vice President for 2018–19. Pascale is past president of the New York Chapter of NOMA, serves the AIA National Planning Committee for the 2018 Design Justice Summit, and is a member of the AIA’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee. Pascale was selected as a 2018 AIA Young Architects Award Recipient and was featured in the CTBUH Research Paper: “Ratios - Voices of Women in the Tall Building World.” She was recently named Building Design + Construction 40 Under 40 and was featured on the cover of the September issue of their magazine. She has lectured at universities and colleges all over the US. In 2017 she curated the Say It Loud: Distinguished Black Designers of NYCOBA | NOMA exhibition at the Center for Architecture in New York City. She is the 315th African American female architect in the United States to attain her architectural license. As of 2017, there are only 400 women who hold this distinction.

Blacklines of Design

Kathleen Ettienne

Blacklines of Architecture originated in a publication by a few ambition visionaries, resulting in about four issues. Printing costs were very expensive, and eventually the idea was put to bed until 2011, when I decided to revamp the concept. The focus shifted to include other related trades, such as landscape architecture and lighting design. I also shifted the project to an online publication called Blacklines of Design.

My vision for Blacklines of Design is for it to be a channel for diverse and developing architects and designers of color to showcase their contributions to the global architectural community. The quarterly publication acts as a resource for those seeking to learn about the diversity of style and design that can strengthen the foundations of modern design as well as further an understanding of historic architecture.

The online publication was received well by many designers who welcomed a place to finally exhibit their work. I was just as excited—but very nervous at the same time, as I was alone in the undertaking. I had to finance the project out of pocket.

My first online issue included an article on a hot topic: hip-hop meets architecture. As a graduate student of cultural studies at the University of Minnesota, Craig Wilkins was struck by how people defined space at hip-hop raves.

A group of college students started this dialogue at a National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) conference by a group of college students. It was a thought-provoking session to ignite a conversation about how hip-hop culture influences the built environment. The fresh discussion earned a positive response, and Wilkins went on to further investigate and document the relation between the dynamic shared components of the urban art form and design.

#Roadsidemarker Series: an Interview with Dr. Alyssa Mt. Pleasant

Elsa Hoover

Elsa Matossian Hoover + Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, Central NY Waterway Systems, photograph courtesy of Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, 2017.

Elsa Matossian Hoover + Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, Central NY Waterway Systems, photograph courtesy of Alyssa Mt. Pleasant, 2017.

Dr. Alyssa Mt. Pleasant’s #roadsidemarker series is a personal archive that considers the spatial implications of memorial markers and political signage. As a Tuscarora scholar of Native American and indigenous studies at the University at Buffalo, Dr. Mt. Pleasant’s travel draws her along the highways and backroads of New York State, which has been contested space for over 200 years—and her people’s homeland for much longer.

A 2017 interview between Dr. Mt. Pleasant and myself (an architect) brought this project into architecture’s orbit. #roadsidemarker series’ historical lens, archival approach, and biographical qualities create important points of reference and discussion for architects and spatial thinkers. For the last 18 years, Dr. Mt. Pleasant has watched—and now photographed—signs playing out a microcosmic fight over the future of these lands through historical representation, a fight occurring simultaneously in judicial, academic, public, and commercial spaces along these roads.

This includes:

  • historical markers recalling the violent Sullivan Campaign and land surveys directed by Gen. George Washington (what native people here remember as the invasion);

  • towns, parks, roads, and other places named in ways that represent a long-standing anxiety toward indigenous presence; and

  • political signs contesting the Cayuga Nation’s litigation and earlier landmark legal fight by the Oneida Indian Nation of New York to reclaim land in the region between the 1970s and the first decade of the twenty-first century.

History is directed through physical remembrance along the highways of the Haudenosaunee homeland, some of which is called Upstate New York. Contemporary legal battles resurrect the invasion—and with it a zombified history told by parts, reanimated and made to walk the highway. The spatial experience generated by these signs and their documentation are sites of indigenous memory work that make room for future visual practice by indigenous designers, builders, and communities.

400 Forward

Tiffany Brown


Growing up in Detroit’s inner city, I didn’t see much art or architecture of any kind. I attended school in what was considered a failing district. I didn’t have many professionals coming to my schools for things like career day.  

I’ve recently realized I was indirectly exposed to something I would grow to love. I was good at drawing, art, math, and creative writing, which I would eventually learn are related to architecture.  Against all odds, I managed to receive three college degrees, as well as become an adjunct professor in the college of architecture at my alma mater.

My journey toward architecture inspired me to make the road easier for girls following the same path I did.  In August 2017, the 400th living African American woman became licensed (as of 2018,there are over 110,000 licensed architects in the United States). My goal is to seek out the next 400 women architects through 400 Forward.

Through this initiative, I can show girls in our inner cities they can accomplish anything, and that they can make needed change in our communities. I use my story as a tool of empowerment to create the next generation of women leaders in architecture. I aspire to be the face I was looking for growing up and look forward to using this initiative to shape the future of our profession while promoting social change.

Sybil Griffin, the woman who saw something special in me and gave me my first job in architecture, inspired me to make a difference in my profession. The work and research of Roberta Washington on black women in architecture is also a source of motivation. These women and many others encourage me teach the next generation to change our world for the better.

Tiffany works diligently to raise awareness on how planning and design makes a significant social impact in urban communities, and seeks to examine the influence of the built environment and its impacts on culture, behavior, and health. She is dedicated to rethinking architecture education for the traditionally underserved.

When Ivory Towers Were Black

Sharon Sutton

This photo, taken in front of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) Department of Architecture in Kumasi shows some of the Kinne Award recipients during the Ghana trip. In addition to KNUST, the group toured the city of Accra, a slave castle, and various projects Max Bond had designed for the government, most notably the Bolgatanga Regional Library.  Left to right : Lloyd de Suze, Ghanaian professor, School of Architecture student, David Kirkwood, Sharon Egretta Sutton, and Marva Britt. Photo courtesy of Stanford R. Britt

This photo, taken in front of the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) Department of Architecture in Kumasi shows some of the Kinne Award recipients during the Ghana trip. In addition to KNUST, the group toured the city of Accra, a slave castle, and various projects Max Bond had designed for the government, most notably the Bolgatanga Regional Library. Left to right: Lloyd de Suze, Ghanaian professor, School of Architecture student, David Kirkwood, Sharon Egretta Sutton, and Marva Britt. Photo courtesy of Stanford R. Britt

When Ivory Towers Were Black tells the story of how an unparalleled cohort of ethnic minority students earned degrees from Columbia University’s School of Architecture during the Civil Rights Movement.

Chronicling a little-known era in US history, the book begins with an unsettling effort to end Columbia’s exercise of authoritarian power—on campus and in the community. It ends with an equally unsettling return to the status quo.

The book follows two university units that steered the School of Architecture toward educational equity. It illustrates both units’ struggle to recruit ethnic minority students, while also involving them, and their revolutionary white peers, in improving Harlem’s slum conditions.

The book is narrated through the oral histories of twenty-four ethnic minority alumni who, after receiving the gift of an Ivy League education, exited the school to find the doors of their careers all but closed due to Nixon’s racist policies.

The book assesses the triumphs and upending of this experiment to achieve racial justice. It demonstrates how the triumphs lived on not only in the careers of the alumni but also as best practices in university/community relationships and in the fields of architecture and urban planning.

Through its first-person portrayal, When Ivory Towers Were Black can catalyze contemporary struggles for educational equity as injustices increase and historically marginalized students remain excluded from elite professions like architecture and planning.

Architect as Advocate: Beyond Patronage, Toward New Subjectivities

Joyce Hwang


To be an advocate is to defend the cause of another or to support the interests of another. One might find readily the term “advocate” in the realm of law, politics, and activism. But what does it mean for architecture to be a form of advocacy? Certainly, one could identify important concerns and address them through community-oriented design processes that engage particular (and often underrepresented) stakeholder groups; this mode of working is common among architects who stand as advocates. I would like to push this a step further and propose that we take up the notion of architectural subjectivity in a more expansive sense, not only identifying specific groups to assist but to reconsider the pluralities of subjectivity itself. In my work, for example, I place particular emphasis on exploring the inclusion of nonhuman species in the built environment. This preoccupation with underacknowledged or alternate “subjectivities” has led me to consider the scope of architectural audiences and agencies more broadly—in terms of both human and nonhuman subjects.

Focusing and expanding on these issues of redefining audiences and stakeholders, I coedited (with Martha Bohm and Gabrielle Printz) a book, titled Beyond Patronage: Reconsidering Models of Practice (Actar, 2015). As we well understand, the profession of architecture centers on the conventional notion of “patronage” and is shaped by its implications. Patronage—or relationships between clients (patrons) and architects (those in service to the patrons)—has indeed been the defining role in our understanding of architectural practice. Key relationships between architects and private clients have enabled the development and realization of some of the most significant canons of work. Today, conventional patronage is still thriving, and, of course, it is necessary to maintain the profession. Yet, we have to be aware that embedded within these relationships are power structures that tend to give advantages to wealthy patrons and people connected to them and established networks and circles (such as “old boys’ clubs”). These established forms of patronage tend to feed a system in which dominant cultures remain dominant.

In initiating Beyond Patronage, we were interested in what we perceive to be a shifting landscape of patronage today. We see an increasing number of designers who are engaging in broader collaborative relationships and finding forms of enabling outside of these dominant modes of practice and actively redefining the role of sponsorship in architecture and design. Added to that, there is a growing sense of urgency around pressing issues today—whether they are economic, political, or ecological issues—that influences practices in different ways and provokes designers to confront our own disciplinary priorities and assumptions. These emerging issues are ultimately asking us a number of questions: How can architecture transcend its status as a “service” industry to move beyond primarily serving those who can afford it? How can architecture be more inclusive of diverse interests and audiences? How do we initiate work on projects that advocate for what we believe is important and urgent?

To start addressing many of these issues, we organized a symposium at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York in 2012—which was then expanded into the book—that focused on three themes:

1. Architect as Initiator: architects who seek out ways to initiate and fund their own project through forms of creative entrepreneurship or by forming new processes of collaboration.

2. Architect as Detective: architects who conduct research and deploy strategies to reveal the unknown, finding clues to “discover” projects where they were thought not to exist.

3. Architect as Advocate: architects who find and define “clients” and “audiences” where they were thought not to exist. These architects reach out to communities beyond the conception of the typical moneyed client. They engage underrepresented populations and reconsider who the audiences and users are—and what their subjectivities are.

On one level, the book is about expanding models of practice, reflecting on ways to move architecture beyond the status of “service” and toward becoming a vehicle for advocacy or revealing knowledge. And already since the writing of the book, we have seen a multitude of new examples emerging in both the academy and practice. But at another level, the symposium and book also advocate for thinking about architecture beyond the dominant master narratives and considering a much more pluralistic view on architectural issues and ways of practicing. We conceived of the Beyond Patronage project with a decidedly feminist agenda, one that would also specifically advocate for women in architecture. We invited only women speakers to the initial symposium to make a statement. Today, when one sees an all-male panel, it is hardly a disruption in the status quo. Although we now see an emerging number of online and social media watchdogs monitoring the frequency of all-male panels—such as Congrats, you have an All Male Panel! and the Feminist Wall of Shame—it is still infrequent that one might find a panel or event consisting of all women without it explicitly being labeled as a women’s event. Citing Lori Brown’s research presented in Beyond Patronage, in the 2011–12 academic year, out of 73 US schools of architecture’s lecture series, 65 percent had no woman or just one woman in its series, and 34.3 percent—that is, over one-third of all schools—had no women as part of their public programming.

Now, in the twenty-first century, we may like to think that we are already in a postgender, inclusive world. However, many events of even the immediate past—such as the results of the 2016 presidential election in the United States and the #MeToo movement—have shown that this is not the case. Not only are the rights and dignity of women still being challenged, but so are the rights and dignity of many others, due to their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, or gender. Indeed, approaching our work as advocates is essential to undertake, now more than ever. It is imperative, as in the spheres of society and politics, that we as architects resist the urge to move smoothly along with the tides—that is, to go along with “business as usual.” That kind of complacency, especially in the face of the challenges before us, will not only impede any social, environmental, or cultural progress that has been made, but more fundamentally, it will slowly and imperceptibly drive a stake into the heart of humanity itself.

Joyce Hwang is the director of Ants of the Prairie and an associate professor of architecture at the University at Buffalo SUNY. She is a recipient of the Architectural League Emerging Voices Award, the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship, the MacDowell Colony Fellowship, and is coeditor of Beyond Patronage: Reconsidering Models of Practice.

Women in Architecture at Georgia Tech

Anna Preece

Founded by seven graduate students in 2012, when only 30 percent of enrolled students were women, Women in Architecture (WiA) has continued to gain momentum and presence in the College of Design at Georgia Institute of Technology. In 2015, membership grew fivefold, and the WiA clarified its mission: Inspire. Empower. Celebrate.

• Inspire by encouraging members and peers in the College of Design to pursue their goals with passion and confidence

• Empower by providing a variety of opportunities that are not as easily accessible outside of the organization

• Celebrate by bringing people together to recognize the wide range of talents within the community and offer opportunities to show their talents

This mission guides and frames every meeting, lecture, and event sponsored by WiA. The formation of a mentorship program, created in 2015, fosters relationships between students across all levels throughout the school. In addition, the design, development, execution, and installation of an independent design-build project leveraged the facilities in the (previously male-dominated) Digital Fabrication Lab, putting WiA squarely in the spotlight. Furthermore, amongst numerous events to learn about others’ work, from symposia to casual roundtable discussions with respected professionals, members of WiA seek to showcase and learn from the work created by their peers. In February of 2018, WiA curated a student exhibition held in the Ferst Center of the Arts, which shared the work of many students in a variety of media, from photography to physical models.

The exchange of ideas, values, and opinions promotes leadership among women within the College of Design and creates role models and mentors within the college and the greater Atlanta community. WiA’s growth and recent achievements continue to build an energetic community of leaders who inspire, empower, and celebrate.

Anna Preece, an Atlanta native, is a 5th year Undergraduate student at Georgia Tech, who will return to the Institute for the Graduate program in Fall 2018. She has served on the Executive Board of Women in Architecture since 2015, and aided in developing the new mission to "Inspire. Empower. Celebrate."

Expanding Practice

Peggy Deamer

There are so many ways to parse through what expansion in architectural practice means—expand our scope of service; expand our labor pool (more women, people of color, and the socioeconomically unprivileged, to start); expand our power to shape the built environment; expand fees; expand our horizons. As a member of the Architecture Lobby, I believe that all of these expansions are related and necessary. However, it is worth focusing on expanding horizons because its expansive umbrella, far from being ephemeral, contains specific and illuminating ideological lessons.

The American Institute of Architects’ (AIA) Look Up campaign of 2014 suggests to the public that “Architects look up to art . . . to looking within . . . to our hearts . . .  to something higher . . . to nature.” All these nuggets are meant to indicate that our architectural vision is expanded, sincere, easily achieved, and appreciated. Just look up! Yet there is clearly more to our work than this, and if this feel-good horizon expansion is one step forward, it also is three steps back. Actually, it is six steps back, given that the promotion speaks separately to both the public and the profession.

The three steps back for the public:

1. Architects dream! And since there is no way to monetize dreaming—indeed, dreaming is self-indulgent—why pay? “Hey, this isn’t really work, right?”

2. Architects can’t explain what they do because it is so mystical. It’s not just dreamy, it’s quasireligious. “Surely the architects are getting their souls nourished; reward for them transcends the merely monetary, and why interfere with that?”

3. Architects are scattered. “There are reasons that these folks aren’t engineers; they’re thinking laterally! Should we worry about whether the house will stand? And how much would the engineering consultant, who actually knows, cost us?”

The three steps back for architects:

4. We dream! We don’t work! So why pay attention to the conditions that we work in? The #MeToo movement and gender inequity are just the side effects of dreaming together with geniuses. And why pay attention to whether we work legally or healthily? And really, why worry about how or if I’m paid?

5. What we do isn’t communicable. No one understands us. If only the world understood us! Let’s blame the world; there’s nothing I can do about it. Maybe there’s another route. Let’s fetishize that mystery! Aesthetics is something only we chosen few can master. And I am surely one, since I’m suffering so much for it.

6. I’m a synthetic thinker. Please don’t confuse me with techies or builders or mere service providers. I’m all and none of these! I haven’t figured out how to charge for my lateral work, though. But at least I’m not the only confused architect! All I really need to know to get that next job is to underbid the next guy.

If it were only the AIA that sent out Look Up-type messages, we wouldn’t worry. But because our schools teach us the same thing, which we then spout in our brochures, which our historical narratives indulge, and which the media—with its rare, often negative mentions of us—perpetuates, the message is deeply damaging and relevant.

A colleague of mine, Philip Allsopp, recently observed:

 “[At] the heart of the issues we are discussing are two different epistemologies for the way we live on this planet. One of them is born out of a convenient corporate aberration of Adam Smith's writings . . . wherein every person only does things that will result in personal gains—no matter what the consequences are for others or the world around them. The other has its roots in democracy and speaks to the power of helping others to thrive and by doing so returns large and sustained economic and social benefits.”

Architects, and architecture as a whole profession, must decide which epistemology is theirs. Looking up just guarantees that we don’t look at the dichotomy at all. I believe that the world divides on other lines: those who have the courage to look at true conditions and those who do not.

In July of 2013, the Architecture Lobby held its first meeting. Those gathered in Brooklyn—thirteen in all—had identified their frustrations with the profession of architecture: how hard architects and designers worked for little reward, debt taken on during school, projects that rarely had social relevance, firms that did not pay interns or overtime, offices with sexist protocols, impossible work-life balance, and lack of support from the AIA.

This discussion did not yield specific actions, but it did identify that the problem sat at the feet of all the actors in an architectural project: the public, or clients who don’t understand the profession and pay accordingly; firm owners who don’t negotiate good fees and hence pass down insufficient wages; and firm employees who believe that they are lucky to work for almost nothing. The group realized the need to hold meetings every third week, a policy that the New York chapter of the Lobby still follows. By the second meeting (still in Brooklyn), we had our name. By the fifth (at the East 19th Street Manhattan office of a supportive firm) we identified the content for our website—three declarations for each of the three constituents (the public, firm owners, and staff). By the eighth, we had people outside of the New York City area calling in.

Anxious to find a cause that would announce our presence and our concerns, we used the 2014 Venice Architecture Biennale as an occasion to announce our presence. Two Lobby members in Venice turned the nine points of the website declaration into our ten-point manifesto and, part protest and part performance, made public our demand for change in the profession. The manifesto has since been the road map for our actions. We now have ten chapters across the country.

Voyage of the Sable Venus

Imani Day

In October of 2016, the Department of African American Poetry and Poetics at the University of Pittsburgh invited three designers of color to create architectural, analytic translations of a book of poetry. The feature poem, entitled Voyage of the Sable Venus, examines the depiction of the black female figure as shown in art history through the titles of artworks from ancient times to the present. Juxtaposing autobiography with historical constructs of racial identity allows the author to envision new horizons for the image of the black woman, both in society and art culture. This conceptual project seeks to do the same.  

The original Voyage of the Sable Venus is a twisted depiction of the Middle Passage, in which a  full-figured black woman gracefully sails across the mid-Atlantic, comfortably supported by a shell. The poet, Robin Coste Lewis, collected these titles as a testament to the complexity of race, confronting its pleasures and horrors. The space created is a theoretical safe haven for the historically disenfranchised to recount and protect their histories and truths.  

The name “Parallel Poetics” comes from the use of similar rules to create poetic and architectural concepts and the power of cross-pollination between the two creative industries. Through a series of two- and three-dimensional sketches, different concepts from Voyage were visualized as physical spaces. The lower foundational structure is meant to serve as a symbolic anchor, filled with memories and shared information to be used as a launchpad for continued support and empowerment. Reflecting on misrepresentations of the histories and image of the black woman is a first step toward reclaiming an identity of strength. Moving forward feeling a sense of safety, under a protective structural expression, women can redefine their image and strategize for how to move forward as an informed unit.

Imani Day is a designer with Gensler and an adjunct professor of design at the University of Detroit Mercy. She is also an editorial fellow with the Avery Review. Passionate about educational spaces and cultural work, Day moved to Detroit in 2015 to focus on community-oriented design projects.

Feminist Practices

Lori Brown

Maryland 2008.JPG

How might feminist approaches impact our understanding of and relationship to the built environment? If feminism, as feminist activist bell hooks posits, “is defined in such a way [to] call attention to the diversity of women’s social and political reality, . . . [compelling us] to examine systems of domination and our role in their maintenance and perpetuation,” we as designers must question normative design relations and their expected outcomes.

First conceived as a traveling exhibition and series of public talks, Feminist Practices: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Women in Architecture focuses on various forms of architectural investigations employing a range of feminist methods of design research and practice by women designers, architects, and architectural historians. The primary mission of the project is to raise awareness among those both within and outside the profession about ways feminist methodologies impact design and our relationship to the built environment.

There were two broad goals in writing this book. The first and most important goal was to showcase more women in the discipline of architecture whose creative practices work at a variety of scales and engage a range of issues through feminist methodology. Women included were emerging in the field as a way to increase exposure of women architects and designers. The second goal was to expand the way we think about architectural creative practice. Architecture is not only about buildings. Designing installations; working in communities doing small-scale design build projects; giving agency and voice to underrepresented groups; researching and writing on pertinent social, political, and economic concerns affecting spatial relationships; and urban strategic planning are all part of the expansion of creative design practices.

Space Unveiled

Carla Jackson Bell

Space Unveiled edited by Carla Jackson Bell, The American Institute or Architects Archives, Washington, DC, 2015

Space Unveiled edited by Carla Jackson Bell, The American Institute or Architects Archives, Washington, DC, 2015

Space Unveiled: Invisible Cultures in the Design Studio is an edited collection that reveals invisible cultures and pedagogical approaches from twenty-four practicing architects and educators in architecture studios in the United States. 

Since the early 1800s, African Americans have designed signature buildings; however, in the mainstream marketplace, African American architects, especially women, have remained “invisible” in architecture history, theory, and practice. As the result of current teaching models, African American architects tend to work on the technical side of building rather than in the design studio. Thus, it is vital to understand the centrality of culture, gender, space, and knowledge that is brought into view in design studios.

Space Unveiled offers a significant contribution to the study of architecture education. Architecture education needs to emphasize an inclusive cultural perspective, but research shows that, in the case of American architecture education, it does not because part of the culture is “invisible.” Space Unveiled focuses on cognitive apprenticeship approaches (CAAs) from architecture educators to improve and align architecture curricula content to encourage more participation and to employ CAAs, which assume the near-continuous presence of an expert who works alongside students to tackle expert challenges, in their design studios. 

Space Unveiled examines teaching approaches in the field and probes into critical challenges in architecture education that contribute to the lack of diversity among licensed architects. Further, Space Unveiled serves as a basis for pedagogical approaches that are hidden under a veil of CAAs in architecture curricula content. Finally, this book reproduces the voices of students and a wide range of diverse perspectives from professional architects and educators who have experienced and taught cultural and pedagogical approaches that are underutilized in modern American education.

African American Studies Minor at Tuskeegee

Carla Jackson Bell

The Robert R. Taylor School of Architecture and Construction Science in conjunction with the department of History at Tuskegee University was awarded a grant from the National Education of Humanities in 2018 to develop humanities curricula—architecture, education, history, and philosophy—for a first–ever interdisciplinary minor in African American studies with a concentration in the Tuskegee Architects and the History of the Built Environment in the South. The minor will explore ways of thinking, researching, and writing about the diverse experiences of African Americans.

The new minor seeks to extend African American history and liberal arts formally into the architecture curriculum through new humanities offerings, and in so doing, provide a focused historical perspective for students’ current educational and professional trajectories. The minor will be discipline-specific to architecture and integrate a humanities approach into the professional training of architects and builders. Unlike many historical courses of study, this minor goes beyond documenting educational inequities and offers an alternative curriculum that will advance diverse issues and inclusiveness in architecture and humanities education.  

In order to make an interdisciplinary connection between African American studies and the architecture curriculum, a collaboration will take place in the summer of 2018 between visiting scholars with critical research projects, national guest speakers, and an HBCU faculty cohort. After this one-week workshop, participants will unveil a curricular model that is vital to understanding and appreciating the philosophical roots of African American architecture education, history, and culture for students in any major. The product of the workshop will be three new architecture course syllabi for classes beginning fall 2018. This minor will serve as a model for other HBCUs with schools of architecture and will unveil how to integrate the humanities into other professional disciplines as well as stimulate the revision of existing humanities courses to bridge humanities studies with professional schools.