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Fall 2020 Lecturers Face Scale, Empire, and Racial Politics of Architecture

SCI-Arc is proud to continue its commitment to maintaining a robust platform for interdisciplinary speakers with its fall 2020 series of lectures. SCI-Arc’s fall 2020 public programs will feature virtual presentations from a wide range of cultural practitioners, including artist Yinka Ilori, architect and designer Frida Escobedo, scholar and critic Charles Davis II, and writer and architect Andrés Jaque.

headshot compilation
From top left: Jack Halberstam, Charles Davis II, Sylvia Lavin, Graham Harman, Elsie Owusu OBE, Frida Escobedo, Yinka Ilori, Ruha Benjamin, Trevor McFedries, Dominic + Christopher Leong, and Andrés Jaque

SCI-Arc’s annual Selected Thesis exhibition, highlighting the most compelling graduate thesis projects of the year, will open to the public via SCI-Arc Channel on October 12.

Admission and access to SCI-Arc-hosted public events and exhibitions are always free and open to the public.

  • September 16 Elsie Owusu OBE: Architecture: From Empire to Independence
  • 23 Ruha Benjamin Lecture
  • 30 Charles L. Davis II: American Architecture is a Settler Colonial Project: Locating the Racial Politics of Modern Architectural Style
  • October 12 Selected Thesis Exhibition
  • 14 Andrés Jaque: Superpowers of Scale
  • 21 Frida Escobedo Lecture
  • 28 Graham Harman + Sylvia Lavin in Conversation
  • November 4 Jack Halberstam Lecture
  • 11 Trevor McFedries Lecture
  • 18 Dominic Leong and Christopher Leong Lecture
  • December 4-5 A Queer Query Symposium

Visit for more information about upcoming lectures. All events begin at 7pm unless otherwise noted. Lectures will be live broadcast on SCI-Arc’s Livestream and Facebook page.


September 16, 7pm PST


Elsie Owusu OBE: Architecture: From Empire to Independence

Elsie Owusu OBE is an architect, artist, and urban designer. Her projects include the UK Supreme Court and London’s Green Park Station. She was runner-up for the RIBA Presidency in 2018, being re-elected to RIBA National Council. Current projects include a studio/residency complex for the artist Yinka Shonibare CBE in Lagos; the new Kumasi City Hall and Royal Museum, Ghana; and a low-energy home in Sussex, England. She is a director of JustGhana, which promotes inward investment and good governance in Ghana with a special focus on education for children and young people through the creative industries. In 2003, she was honored by the Queen for services to architecture as Founding Chair of the Society of Black Architects.

As a young architect, she led a student design competition for the Gallery for Returning Treasures (GRT). This ideas competition was co-sponsored by the Africa Reparations Movement (ARM) led by Bernie Grant MP and RIBA. 25 years later, GRT was reborn in Kumasi, the site of the “punitive expedition” of 1873, where Sir Garnet Wolseley’s British troops looted precious royal and sacred regalia. The present Ashanti king HRH Otumfuo Nana Osei Tutu II has since demanded the return of these treasures. Many bought at auction by institutions, including the British Museum and V&A, are now part of the global restitution movement. Owusu’s vision for the new GRT is a center of excellence on the African Continent—a catalyst for housing and curating the treasures and artefacts being returned the country of origin.

September 23, 6pm PST


Ruha Benjamin

Ruha Benjamin is a professor of African American Studies at Princeton University and author of People’s Science: Bodies and Rights on the Stem Cell Frontier (Stanford University Press). She has studied the social dimensions of science, technology, and medicine for over fifteen years and speaks widely on issues of innovation, equity, health, and justice in the US and globally. She is also a Faculty Associate in the Center for Information Technology Policy; Program on History of Science; Center for Health and Wellbeing; Program on Gender and Sexuality Studies; Department of Sociology; and serves on the Executive Committees for the Program in Global Health and Health Policy and Center for Digital Humanities. Ruha is the recipient of many awards and honors, including the 2017 President's Award for Distinguished Teaching at Princeton.

Her second book, Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code, examines the relationship between machine bias and systemic racism, analyzing specific cases of “discriminatory design” and offering tools for a socially-conscious approach to tech development. She is also the editor of Captivating Technology.

Ruha received her PhD in Sociology from UC Berkeley, completed postdoctoral fellowships at UCLA’s Institute for Genetics and Society and Harvard University's Science, Technology, and Society Program, and has received grants and fellowships from the Institute for Advanced Study, American Council for Learned Societies, National Science Foundation, and California Institute for Regenerative Medicine among others.

Her work is published in numerous journals including Science, Technology, and Human Values; Policy & Society; Ethnicity & Health; and the Annals of the American Academy of Social and Political Science and reported on in national and international news outlets including The Guardian, National Geographic, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and Nature.

September 30, 7pm PST


Charles L. Davis II: American Architecture is a Settler Colonial Project: Locating the Racial Politics of Modern Architectural Style

Charles L. Davis II is a designer, architectural historian, and cultural critic at the School of Architecture and Planning at SUNY Buffalo, where he teaches design studios and courses in history and theory. He received a PhD in Architecture from the University of Pennsylvania and an M.Arch from SUNY Buffalo. His academic research examines the racial discourses of the modern architectural style debates and its long-term effects on the cultural biases of contemporary practice. His book manuscript, Building Character: The Racial Politics of Modern Architectural Style (2019) traces the historical integrations of race and style theory in paradigms of “architectural organicism,” or strategies of design that personified buildings to mirror the essential characteristics of the populations they served. He is also co-editor of the forthcoming book Race and Modern Architecture: A Critical History from the Enlightenment to the Present, which challenges designers to “write race back into architectural history.” This research has been supported by grants from the Canadian Center for Architecture, the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.​ Davis also manages the academic blog Race and Architecture and the experimental design practice Studio DaSP (Design as Social Praxis), which expands the ways architecture serves as a tool for mediating social needs. His work has been exhibited at galleries in New York State and North.

In the past, architectural historians have been quick to interpret American architectural movements through the lens of an inclusive liberalism that embraces people of all colors, nationalities, and religious creeds. Yet few have examined these architectures from the other perspective, namely in terms of how they promoted exclusion by materializing the white nativist tendencies of American democracy that privileged the political values, social mores, and cultural practices of white elites. This presentation examines the influence of settler colonial politics on the historical formation of American architecture through the work of two canonical architects: the Irish-American Louis Sullivan and the Welsh-American Frank Lloyd Wright. Each architect based their vision of American architecture on a romantic portrait of life in the Midwest prairie, the supposed heartland of America. While the prairie was spatially defined by the wide-open spaces and an abundance of resources each architect valued, it was also the site of a tragic social struggle between white settlers and non-white natives competing for land, resources, and cultural representation. Davis argues that Sullivan and Wright’s visions for American architecture reifies a racially exclusive conception of the body politic that continues to introduce cultural biases in architectural discourses today. This reading invites a reassessment of the long-term effects of modern architecture's racial discourses, including the perceived European pedigree of contemporary architecture culture.

October 14, 6pm PST


Andrés Jaque: Superpowers of Scale

Andrés Jaque is an architect, writer, and curator internationally known as one of the initiators of interscalar and transmedium approaches to urban and territorial studies. His work explores architecture as the entanglement of life, bodies, technologies, and environments. He holds a PhD from UPM and has been a Heinrich Tessenow Stipendiat (Alfred Toepfer Stiftung FVS) and Graham Foundation grantee. He is the founder of the Office for Political Innovation, a New York/Madrid-based agency working at the intersection of research, critical environmental practices, and design. The office is the author of awarded projects including Plasencia Clergy House, Cosmo MoMA PS1, Escaravox, the Thyssen-Bornmisza Ocean Space, Reggio School, House in Never Never Land, and the Transvector for Lafayette Anticipations.

He has been awarded the Frederick Kiesler Prize, the Silver Lion for Best Project of the 14 Mostra Internazionale di Architettura della Biennale di Venezia, and the Dionisio Hernández Gil Prize for his intervention on historical enclaves. He is chief curator of the 13th Shanghai Biennial for 2020. In 2018 he cocurated Manifesta 12 in Palermo, The Planetary Garden Cultivating Coexistence, an inquiry into the ecological, technological, and political role Palermo plays as a site and actor of border violence and cross-pollination. His work IKEA Disobedients is the first architectural performance ever included in the MoMA Collection, and his work PHANTOM. Mies as Rendered Society is part of the permanent collection and exhibition of the Art Institute of Chicago. His work has been exhibited in international biennales including Venice, Seoul, Sao Paulo, Oslo, Gwanju, Santiago de Chile, and Lisbon; and he has developed projects with many of the most important cultural organizations around the world, including Victoria & Albert Museum, MAK Museum, Het Nieuwe Instituut, CA2M, London Design Museum, MoMA PS1, Tel Aviv Museum of Art, ZKM, Whitechapel Gallery, Cal Arts Contemporary Art Center, Columbia University, Princeton University, and Z33. Jaque is the director of Columbia University’s Advanced Architectural Design Program, a legendary architectural innovation lab that has helped shape the evolution of architecture in the last three decades. He previously taught at Princeton University and ETSAM. His publications include Superpowers of Scale (2019), Transmaterial Politics (2017), PHANTOM. Mies as Rendered Society (2013), Transmaterial/Calculable (2017), Different Kinds of Water Pouring into a Swimming Pool (2013), Melnikov. Car-park for 1000 vehicles, (2004), and Everyday Politics (2011). The work of the Office has been published in both general and architectural media including A+U, Bauwelt, Domus, El Croquis, The Architectural Review, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, and El País.

October 21, 7pm PST


Frida Escobedo

Frida Escobedo is an architect and designer based in Mexico City. Her work focuses largely on the reactivation of urban spaces that are considered to be residual or forgotten, through projects that range from housing and community centers, to hotels, galleries, and public art installations. In addition to her practice, Frida Escobedo has taught at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation and Harvard Graduate School of Design. She is the recipient of the 2016 Architectural Review Emerging Architecture Award, the 2017 Architectural League Emerging Voices Award, and in 2018 was selected to design the 18th Serpentine Summer Pavilion in London. During spring 2019 she was a visiting professor at Rice University and is currently teaching at Harvard Graduate School of Design.

Frida Escobedo Architecture Studio is based in Mexico City, sharing a small building in Colonia Juarez with Estudio Herrera, a studio specializing in art direction and editorial design. The diversity of disciplines that converge in the building, as well as the number of events and informal talks that are hosted in the space, are a constant influence for the work they develop, extending from art and installation to research and academia.

This cross-disciplinary approach has led them to understand their own practice as a language that—as with the written word—grows via deposition and erosion as it is inhabited and personalized, transferred and translated over time. For the pavilion in El Eco Museum, they approached the space like the spread of a blank page, using only cinder blocks as a structural alphabet: literal concrete poetry. This temporary project has a second iteration, developed in 2015 for the Rebuild Foundation in Chicago, where it will become a courtyard for the Stony Island Arts Bank.

October 28, 7pm PST


Graham Harman + Sylvia Lavin in Conversation

Graham Harman is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at SCI-Arc. His most recent books are Object-Oriented Ontology (2018), Speculative Realism (2018), Art and Objects (2020), and Is There an Object-Oriented Architecture? (2020, ed. Joseph Bedford). He is Editor-in-Chief of the journal Open Philosophy, editor of the Speculative Realism series at Edinburgh University Press, and co-editor (with Bruno Latour) of the New Metaphysics series at Open Humanities Press. Forthcoming books within the next year include Skirmishes (punctum books), Architecture and Objects (Univ. of Minnesota Press), and Waves and Stones (Penguin). His writings have been translated into twenty-four languages. Harman has also taught at the American University in Cairo, the University of Amsterdam, the University of Turin, and Yale University.

Sylvia Lavin is head of the PhD in Architecture program and Professor of Architectural History and Theory at UCLA and co-director of Program in Media and Modernity at Princeton. She received her PhD from the Department of Art and Archaeology at Columbia University in 1990 after having received fellowships from the Getty Center, the Kress Foundation, and the Social Science Research Council. Prior to her appointment at Princeton, Lavin was a Professor in the Department of Architecture and Urban Design at UCLA, where she was Chairperson from 1996 to 2006 and the Director of the Critical Studies MA and PhD program from 2007 to 2017.

The MIT Press published Lavin’s first books Quatremère de Quincy and the Invention of a Modern Language of Architecture and Form Follows Libido: Architecture and Richard Neutra in a Psychoanalytic Culture in 1992 and 2005. Her most recent books include Kissing Architecture, published by Princeton University Press in 2011 and Flash in the Pan, an AA publication from 2015.

Lavin is also curator of recent exhibition Everything Loose Will Land: Art and Architecture in Los Angeles in the 1970s, and was a principal component of the Pacific Standard Time series supported by the Getty Foundation which traveled from Los Angeles to New Haven and to Chicago. Exhibition Models, a show Lavin curated for the Princeton University School of Architecture, opened in September 2018. The exhibition presented 18 models collected by Heinrich Klotz, historian of Brunelleschi and chronicler of postmodernism, as he formed the German Architecture Museum (DAM). Her installation, Super Models, was shown at the 2018 Chicago Architecture Biennial and she is currently working on Architecture Itself and Other Postmodernists Myths, an exhibition that will open at the Canadian Center for Architecture in the fall of 2018. Lavin is the recipient of an Arts and Letters Award in Architecture from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

November 4, 7pm PST


Jack Halberstam

Jack Halberstam is Professor of Gender Studies and English at Columbia University. Halberstam is the author of seven books including Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters (Duke UP, 1995), Female Masculinity (Duke UP, 1998), In A Queer Time and Place (NYU Press, 2005), The Queer Art of Failure (Duke UP, 2011), Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal (Beacon Press, 2012) and a short book titled Trans*: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variance (University of California Press). Halberstam’s latest book, out in 2020, from Duke UP is titled Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire. Places Journal awarded Halberstam its Arcus/Places Prize in 2018 for innovative public scholarship on the relationship between gender, sexuality, and the built environment. Halberstam is now finishing a second volume on wildness titled: The Wild Beyond: Music, Architecture and Anarchy.

November 11, 7pm PST


Trevor McFedries: Master of none. On creating a “full-stack” career

Trevor McFedries is the founder of the technology startup Brud and the creator of virtual pop star Miquela, a Gen Z icon with millions of fans around the world. Since its inception in Los Angeles 2017, Brud has raised funds from venture firms Sequoia Capital, Spark Capital, and SV Angel, amongst others.

Today Miquela has more than 5M followers and 50M+ streams across platforms. Recently signed with CAA as the agency’s first virtual client and performed at Lollapalooza 2020. She has modeled for Prada, Calvin Klein, Burberry, and more, interviewed artists at Coachella, graced the covers of Wired, V Magazine, L’Officiel, 032C, Wonderland, ES Magazine, and Highsnobiety, and was named one of Time's 25 Most Influential People on the Internet in 2018.

McFedries's work at Brud focuses on leveraging boundary-pushing technologies to build a radical, intelligent, and accessible entertainment company for a new generation. Before creating Brud, he was known professionally as Yung Skeeter and worked as a DJ, producer, and director for acts including Ke$ha, Azealia Banks, and Katy Perry. McFedries has also performed at music festivals Lollapalooza and Coachella, served as an entrepreneur-in-residence at Bad Robot, and was an early employee at Spotify. Themes of the work to be shown include Imagination Maintenance, Reparations Speculation, Profound Modernity, and Speculating While Black.

November 18, 7pm PST


Dominic Leong and Christopher Leong

Christopher Leong received his Master of Architecture from Princeton University and his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California, Berkeley. As partner at Leong Leong, he has overseen the direction of multiple mixed-use projects including the Anita May Rosenstein Campus of the Los Angeles LGBT Center, AAFE Center for Community and Entrepreneurship, and City View Garage. He is currently on the board of Triple Canopy, a publication that encompasses digital works of art and literature, public conversations, exhibitions, and books. He has also served as the co-chair of the New Practices Committee and the Occulus Committee at the AIA New York Chapter at the AIA Center for Architecture. Leong is currently Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, where he teaches an Advanced Design studio. Previously, he has taught at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and he has been an invited critic Yale University, Cornell University, University of Pennsylvania, City College of New York, Syracuse University, Pratt Institute, and The Cooper Union.

Dominic Leong received his Master of Science in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University, graduating with Honors, and his Bachelor of Architecture from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. He has lived and worked in Shanghai, Paris, and New York. In 2007, he was awarded the Architecture League Prize by The Architectural League of New York. Leong has received recognition for his work that includes a Graham Foundation Grant for his interest in the role of research in contemporary architectural education and practice. He is currently Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation, where he teaches Advanced Design Studio. He has been invited to speak about Leong Leong’s work at a wide range of institutions, including Columbia University, Princeton University, UCLA, Yale University, American Institute for Architects, and the US Pavilion at the 14th Venice Biennale. Leong serves on GSAPP Alumni Board and is a registered architect in the States of New York and Florida.

December 2, 7pm PST


Yinka Ilori

Yinka Ilori is a London-based multidisciplinary artist of British-Nigerian heritage, who fuses his heritage to tell new stories in contemporary design. He began his practice in 2011 by upcycling vintage furniture, inspired by the traditional Nigerian parables and West African fabrics that surrounded him as a child.

Humorous, provocative, and fun, each piece of furniture he creates tells a story, bringing Nigerian verbal traditions into playful conversation with contemporary design.

Yinka Ilori Studio was established in 2017 following a successful pitch to transform the Thessaly Road Bridge. The studio now consists of a team of color-obsessed architects and designers, with the expertise and capacity to take on large-scale architectural and interior design projects. The studio continues to experiment with the relationship between function and form, with an output that sits between traditional divisions of art and design.

December 4-5

Livestream Day 1:
Livestream Day 2:

A Queer Query Symposium

A Queer Query invites architects, theorists, and artists to outline the role that architecture plays in queer culture today, and vice versa. Panels of architects, critics, and theorists examine the aesthetic and political intersections of queer culture and architecture. Organized by David Eskenazi. More info


October 12
View virtual exhibition at

Selected Thesis 2020

SCI-Arc’s 2020 Graduate Thesis will be held virtually, culminating in a lively, immersive online Thesis Weekend on September 10-12, 2020. As the school’s largest annual event, Graduate Thesis Weekend allows graduating M.Arch 1 and 2 students an invaluable platform to articulate, propose, and defend their work to the SCI-Arc community and beyond.

This year, the Selected Thesis exhibition will take the form of a documentary film. With a juried exhibition of exceptional thesis projects by 2020 graduates and featuring the 2020 Gehry Prize winning thesis project, the Selected Thesis exhibition will be accessible to the public and viewable online at as of October 12.