Reconstructions / Unearthing Traces (On History, Memory and Architecture for Life)

“The questions which one asks oneself begin, at least, to illuminate the world, and become one's key to the experience of others.”

      James A. Baldwin

The values that we embody in our social constructs become the values embedded in our physical constructs. The art and architecture of our built environment are inextricably linked to our social existence, yet the depths of this relationship sit on the periphery of our conversations about racism and oppression. As we engage in these conversations, we -historians, architects, teachers, designers, artists, activists and interested members of the community- find ourselves playing important roles in public discourses about history and memory, about justice, and about the democratic public space.

Throughout the country, and the world, significant initiatives -including endeavors that seek reparative justice and symbolic justice, marches and public demonstrations, community practices, the ongoing fight against present-day forms of slavery, mass incarceration and other forms of oppression, truth and reconciliation processes, removal of monuments- have been and are being discussed. Among these are the many universities engaging with their own past, including Harvard and its recently unveiled Harvard and the Legacy of Slavery report.

The studio -understood as a design laboratory and collective environment- will dissect the Harvard report, and other readings, and assess the spatial, programmatic, and political implications, locally, nationally or globally. Architecture cannot and should not be seen, in isolation, as a solution to the issues we define in this studio but rather as one part of a combinatorial set of approaches that challenge the histories of violence embedded in our built environment. As we investigate, through our design work, the legacies of Enslavement, Slavery and the Trade and contend with conceptual, political, artistic, and architectural complexities, our Studio Mission will be based on the principle that the field of architectural operations should be expanded to include new forms of justice-centered design, institutional and community work. Students will work on various design projects, studies, and exercises to develop their own responses and positions. Our final design projects, which will include programmatic and site-specific proposals, are expected to achieve a high level of architectural resolution. The studio will invite both students and faculty to envision ourselves as architects and cultural activists committed to transforming the world around us in meaningful and life-affirming ways.