Contested Spaces: Architecture and Power

In this course we discuss space as the site in which power is mobilized, negotiated, and contested. We examine how buildings, landscapes, and their representation through multiple media inform uneven power relationships and participate in the construction of class, race, gender, body ability, and other markers of identity. Building on the histories of art and architecture, the course proposes the category of “space” as an alternative to the geographic, aesthetic, and analytic categories that have shaped the canons of these disciplines. Readings address the art and architecture production of those excluded from these canons. We will also problematize notions of agency and authorship in cultural production.

Each week we will focus on a type of space central to the formation of modernity, which we discuss through close attention to objects and sites from different historical times and geographical locations. The first half of the semester focuses on notions of otherness from broad transnational processes to the space of the body. We discuss the colonization of the Americas as a process of violence, resource extraction and exchanges that led to the construction of multiple modernities. We trace networks of colonial trade and the spaces they engendered, including the plantation, the quilombo, and the underground railroad. We explore the kitchen as a site of both community and labor, and the closet as a metaphorical space for the construction of gender identity. On the second half of the semester, we turn to institutional spaces such as schools, prisons, and museums. We supplement canonical analysis of these spaces with discussions on the prison industrial complex, the university as a settler colonial institution, and architecture’s own exhibitionary complex.

The use of a core spatial construct as the base of each weekly theme enables the course to range broadly across time and space while also offering students concrete, in-depth knowledge of specific objects and sites. By examining these contested spaces, we challenge canonical narratives and reveal the fundamental role of class, race, gender, body ability, and other struggles in the construction of modernity.

This course is taught with a politics of co-learning: we will assemble as a community of active participants. Our weekly sessions will include short lectures or presentations complemented with group activities such as collective diagram drawing, group reading, and small group conversations. Students are evaluated on class participation, discussion facilitation of one assigned session, three writing assignments, and a final project in the format of their choice, decided in conversation with the instructor.

* This course was designed by FAAC (Feminist Art and Architecture Collaborative: Olga Touloumi, Tessa Paneth-Pollak, Martina Tanga, Ana María León); it has been modified for the GSD by Ana María León.