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Germane Barnes wins Harvard GSD’s 2021 Wheelwright Prize

Fellowship to support Barnes’s research proposal Anatomical Transformations in Classical Architecture, an examination of classical Roman and Italian architecture through contributions of the African Diaspora

Harvard University Graduate School of Design is pleased to name Germane Barnes the winner of the 2021 Wheelwright Prize, a grant to support investigative approaches to contemporary architecture, with an emphasis on globally minded research. With his winning proposal Anatomical Transformations in Classical Architecture, Barnes will examine Roman and Italian architecture through the lens of non-white constructors, studying how spaces have been transformed through the material contributions of the African Diaspora while creating new architectural possibilities that emerge within investigations of Blackness. As with past Wheelwright winners, the 100,000 USD prize is intended to fund two years of Barnes’s research and travel.

Germane Barnes smiles while standing on a bridge.
Germane Barnes, winner of the 2021 Wheelwright Prize

Barnes will commence his research project this summer, with archival research geared toward generating an index of the portico typology throughout Italy and Northern Africa, as well as maps that show the spatial mobility of the porch and the portico across continents and cultures. Central to Barnes’s proposal is the idea that porch-as-portico may offer a new frame on the spatial and conceptual terrain through which one finds inventions of race, identity, and the built environment. A gallery of select works by Barnes appears below.

“The past year has shown the world that marginalized communities offer more than a cursory look, but a thorough excavation of their contributions and legacies,” Barnes says. “As a Black architect I have struggled with the absence of my identity in the profession, and there have been moments where I have questioned my talent and ideologies because they failed to gain recognition in prominent architecture circles. To believe that the only way to measure success is acceptance was a thought I had to exterminate. I am fortunate to have a support system that challenges these systems of exclusion because it gives importance and agency to Black spatial investigations. To be selected as the winner of this year’s Wheelwright Prize provides credibility that Blackness is a viable and critical discourse, and strengthens my resolve and confidence in my professional trajectory. My hope is that my win and the work that follows it will be a necessary accelerant to provide more opportunities and exposure to Black practitioners and researchers.”

“Harvard GSD is proud and honored to award the 2021 Wheelwright Prize to Germane Barnes for a research proposal that is at once sweeping and nuanced,” says Sarah M. Whiting, Harvard GSD’s Dean and Josep Lluís Sert Professor of Architecture. “His focus on the classical origins of a familiar type—the porch—is both potently precise and generously speculative. Importantly, Barnes positions his research in terms of overlooked or underacknowledged connections and contributions, focusing upon a specific architectural question and, from there, suggesting a constellation of revelations. Barnes delivers the specificity, the technical skill, the innovation, and the passion that promise to make his project significant both for architecture as a discipline and for architectural culture writ large.”

Barnes's Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears a Crown (2020) offers a celebration of Black hair and Black architecture, and a reflection on the porch as a distinctly Black architectural aesthetic

The 2021 Wheelwright Prize is juried by: David Brown, Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Architecture; David Hartt, Carrafiell Assistant Professor in Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania Weitzman School of Design; Mark Lee, Chair of the Department of Architecture at Harvard GSD; Megan Panzano, Assistant Professor of Architecture and Program Director of Undergraduate Architecture Studies at Harvard GSD; Sumayya Vally, founder and principal of Counterspace Studio; and Sarah M. Whiting, Dean and Josep Lluís Sert Professor of Architecture at Harvard GSD.

Barnes was among four remarkable finalists selected from more than 150 applicants, hailing from 45 countries. The 2021 Wheelwright Prize jury commends finalists Luis Berríos-Negrón, Iulia Statica, and Catty Dan Zhang for their promising research proposals and presentations.

Barnes follows 2020 Wheelwright Prize winner Daniel Fernández Pascual, whose Wheelwright project Being Shellfish: The Architecture of Intertidal Cohabitation is in its travel-research phase.

Now in its ninth cycle, the Wheelwright Prize is an open international competition that awards 100,000 USD to a talented early-career architect to support expansive, intensive design research. The annual prize is dedicated to fostering innovative, boundary-driving architectural research that is informed by cross-cultural engagement, and that shows potential to make a significant impact on architectural discourse. Previous winners have presented diverse research proposals, including studies of kitchen typologies around the world; the architecture and culture of greenhouses; and the potential of seaweed, shellfish, and the intertidal zone to advance architectural knowledge and material futures.

About Germane Barnes and 2021 Wheelwright Prize proposal, Anatomical Transformations in Classical Architecture

Through his research and design practice Studio Barnes, Barnes investigates the connection between architecture and identity. Mining architecture’s social and political agency, he examines how the built environment influences black domesticity. He is Director of Studio Barnes in Miami and the former Designer-In-Residence for the Opa-locka Community Development Corporation, where he led a multi-site urban revitalization project. He is currently the Director of the Community Housing Identity Lab (CHIL) at the University of Miami School of Architecture. Learning from historical data and perspectives from within architecture as well as cultural and ethnic studies, CHIL posits that the built environment is manipulated by factors that extend far beyond conventional construction methods. Barnes’s design and research contributions have been published and exhibited in several international institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art, Pin-Up Magazine, the Graham Foundation, The New York Times, Architect Magazine, DesignMiami/ Art Basel, the Swiss Institute, Metropolis Magazine, Curbed, and the National Museum of African American History, where he was identified as one of the future designers on the rise.

With Anatomical Transformations in Classical Architecture, Barnes observes that, while Blackness in America carries a particular connotation, there is an absence of consideration as to how Roman and Italian architecture may be understood through the lens of non-white constructors. His Wheelwright proposal uses the porch, and the portico, as a lens to view issues of racism, classicism, criminalization, and colonization, proposing study of the porch and its different machinations as a lens of spatial mobility. Barnes points to classical architecture’s direct relation to the porch, materialized as the portico—which, like the porch, operates at multiple scales, including residential, civic, and human. Scale represents more than purely measurement, Barnes observes, arguing that the porch as portico will be an entry point to considering the spatial and conceptual terrain through which one finds inventions of race, identity, and the built environment.

In particular, Barnes proposes a focus on the column as perhaps the most identifiable feature of the portico, asking: What would a columnar order derived from a Black body resemble? The evaluation of the human body as a system of measurement is required, Barnes observes, in order to propose new interpretations of bodily form that centers the unwritten history of the African Diaspora in Rome.

Ultimately, Barnes will create an index of porticoes throughout Rome and Northern Africa, generating maps that show the spatial mobility of the porch and the portico across continents and cultures. He will also create maps that outline the diasporic enclaves within Italy as well as maps that articulate the Italian influence within Northern Africa. He will then utilize the same process specific to Italian column orders to create a new column order derived from Blackness, one that, he writes, provides clear authorship to Black building methodologies. An additional outcome will be the production of 1:1 scale Black column variants. This Black column variant, when placed alongside Corinthian, Ionic, Doric, and Tuscan orders, will be used to revise the form of Italian colonial architecture. The culmination of this research, combined with Barnes’s earlier porch documentation, will be used to create an exhibition and publication that posits the spatial mobility of this space from Africa to the United States.

About the 2021 Wheelwright Prize Finalists

The Wheelwright Prize jury commends the 2021 finalists for their outstanding applications:

Luis Berríos-Negrón: Remediating the Specularium: a deposition of colonial memory that may contribute to the geological timescales of the Anthropocene (so to learn to live, again)

Luis Berríos-Negrón is a Puerto Rican experimental architect and environmental artist investigating the forms of sculptural and spatial display being shaped by the forces of global warming. Recent exhibitions and installations include “Anarquivo Negantrópico” (Gammelgaard, Denmark, 2019), “Wardian Table at Agropoetics” (Savvy Contemporary, Berlin, 2019), “Impasse Finesse Neverness” (Museum of Ethnography and Archeology of Bahia, Salvador, Brazil, 2017), “Collapsed Greenhouse at Undisciplinary Learning” (District, Berlin, 2016), and “Earthscore Specularium at Experiment Stockholm” (Färgfabriken Konsthall, Stockholm, 2015).

Berríos-Negrón received a PhD in Art, Technology, and Design from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) and Konstfack University of the Arts in Sweden. His dissertation is titled Breathtaking Greenhouse Parastructures, published by Konstfack Collection (2020). He holds a Bachelor of Fine Art from Parsons New School, and a Master of Architecture from MIT. Berríos-Negrón lives and works between San Juan, Copenhagen, and Berlin.

With “Remediating the Specularium: a deposition of colonial memory that may contribute to the geological timescales of the Anthropocene (so to learn to live, again),” Berríos-Negrón asks: Is colonial memory the drive of global warming? In his PhD dissertation, Berríos-Negrón investigated this question through a critical deposition of the greenhouse technology from a Caribbean perspective. That approach was set to challenge and contribute to the scientific debate about the geological timelines and scales of the Anthropocene. For the Wheelwright Prize, Berríos-Negrón now looks to further that transhemispheric and decolonial contribution by making an intersectional repass of five medicinal gardens that he has worked with, on both sides of the Atlantic. Indirect and multi-perspectival methods are to be implemented, leading to comparative field work and reflexive documents. These will both inform, and be informed by, a process of careful, practice-based research interventions to take place in Puerto Rico. This iterative, complementary process is set to test the unfulfilled beginnings of—as well as more-than human divergences from—what Berríos-Negrón observes are the traumatic technics driving global warming and the messianic endings defining the current geological epoch.

Iulia Statica: Home and Beyond: Women, Care and the Architecture of Migration 

Iulia Statica is an architect and currently a Marie Curie Research Fellow at The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London. Her research interests focus on the relationship between gender and domesticity in the development and transformation of housing infrastructures and urban landscapes in Eastern Europe and Latin America. She is the co-founder with Tao DuFour of the Office for Architecture, Urban and Environmental Research, a research-design practice based in New York and London. Their work explores questions of space and political ecology, most recently in their proposal, Together at the Table: Văcărești Park as Intergenerational Commons, as finalists for the competition for the Romanian Pavilion at the 2020 Venice Architecture Biennale. She employs documentary film as an integral aspect of both research and practice; her latest documentary — My Socialist Home — is forthcoming in 2021.

Statica completed her PhD at the Department of Architecture at the University of Rome “La Sapienza” in 2016, and was awarded the Fellowship in Architecture at the Romanian Academy in Rome (2012-14). Between 2018 and 2019 she was a Visiting Scholar at the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Latin American Studies Program, at Cornell University. She is the author of Urban Phantasmagorias: Domesticity, Production and the Politics of Modernity in Communist Bucharest (Routledge, forthcoming 2021).

With Home and Beyond: Women, Care and the Architecture of Migration, Statica takes as a point of departure the deficit of care in developing countries due to the feminization of migration, seeking to explore new and changing patterns of domesticity. In doing so, Statica plans to interrogate the architect’s role today as both designer and humanist able to engage approaches to domestic space in the context of this global dynamic of migration. In light of current decolonial efforts in the theory and practice of architecture, the proposed research would contribute to understanding contemporary shifting practices of migration from the Global South to the Global North and their impact on the transformation of domesticity both as an everyday practice and as an architectural typology.

Catty Dan Zhang: Shared Air: Space, Automation and Humanity in Architectures of Meat Processing

Catty Dan Zhang is an Assistant Professor of Architecture at University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Her research and practice explore the design of active atmosphere at the convergence of digital media and architecture. Employing atmospheric and computational mediums, her work translates ordinary objects into performative and synergistic systems to visualize and to modulate ephemeral forms.

Zhang has practiced in the US and China. In 2020, she was selected as the winner of the inaugural Emerging Designer’s Exhibition Competition and had her solo exhibition entitled “The Moving Air” at the University of California at Berkeley, exploring a cultural-environmental paradigm of airflow as spatial agencies. Her work has been featured in group exhibitions at venues such as the London Design Festival, Carnegie Museum of Arts, A+D Museum, Harvard GSD, among other institutions, and has received recognitions in international design awards and competitions including the AN Best of Design Awards and A+D Design Awards.  Zhang was a finalist of the 2018 Wheelwright Prize. She earned a Bachelor of Architecture from Tsinghua University, a Master of Architecture with Honors from Washington University in St. Louis, and a Master in Design Studies, Technology concentration, from Harvard GSD, where she was the 2017 recipient of the Daniel L. Schodek Award for Technology and Sustainability.

With Shared Air: Space, Automation and Humanity in Architectures of Meat Processing, Zhang considers air as the spatial, sensorial, and psychological measure to offer an imaginary model unveiling the emergency and aftermath of the pandemic in meat processing plants across the global. Reflecting upon Sloterdijk’s criticism on fragmented atmosphere and individualized breathing spaces threatening social synthesis in contemporary architecture, the proposed research explores perceptions of shared atmosphere, making a case for humanity and automation. Through visual techniques and field studies, the investigation manifests current urgencies and contributes to the design culture as a critical lens through which we rethink infrastructural resiliency and longevity of technological adaptation.