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SCI-Arc Channel Releases Special Collection of Films for Black History Month

In honor of Black History Month, SCI-Arc has created a collection of videos featuring lectures from its Media Archive to highlight and amplify the critical work of influential black and African American creators and thinkers within the architecture and design community.

Spanning nearly five decades, this year’s selection of Channel films broaches an extraordinarily wide breadth of topics featuring an array of both interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary minds across fields of art, architecture, technology, theory, design, and various other cultural and creative practices.

Read descriptions and visit links below to view the collection on SCI-Arc Channel.

V. Mitch McEwen: Uses of the Normal: The Normal as Power (October 16, 2019)

V. Mitch McEwen begins by thanking Hernán Díaz Alonso for his introduction, clarifying that the title of her talk doesn’t refer to Georges Canguilhem but Audre Lorde—specifically her essay, “Uses of the erotic: the erotic as power." McEwen identifies a range of issues that her practice engages “speculating while Black,” including a critical engagement with the normal, focus on the event, bodies, material and robotics. She cites Fred Moten’s essay “The Touring Machine: Flesh thought inside out” from “Plastic Materialities” (2015).

Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble: 2020 Commencement Address (September 13, 2020)

At SCI-Arc’s September 13, 2020 graduation ceremony, commencement speaker Dr. Safiya Umoja Noble challenges the graduating students, “to ask yourself what are the values and the models that you are developing as you organize your own work, when many of the models and the values in computing, in entertainment, in education, in politics, in healthcare are indeed failing us—they are just insufficient to meet the needs of the majority of people in our society.” She encourages them to seize the opportunities opening at this time: “It’s an incredible moment to graduate in 2020, … when so many of these systems are failing to step into the vacuum to envision and propose, to organize and enact new kinds of value-based systems; a moment where we get to imagine a future for ourselves in ways that the world doesn’t encourage us to do.”

BLM Week of Action: 1. Restorative Justice, Loving Engagement, and Black Women (February 1, 2021)

Hernán Díaz Alonso welcomes everyone to the first event of SCI-Arc’s 2021 Black Lives Matter Week of Action. The student hosts Allyn Viault and Babatunde-Majadi Adejare describe the Week as a student-run event held in the first week of February, dedicated to unapologetic conversations and presentations on Black culture, expression, and justice. The session moderator Natou Fall introduces Pascale Sablan.

At 8:27, Pascale Sablan discusses a range of recent education and activism projects to empower minority architects, and raise awareness of their work. At 33:34 the panelists discuss her work with her.

At 1:09:04, Kahlila Williams describes the work of the youth-led organization Students Deserve “making Black lives matter in school,” by creating police-free public schools and redirecting funds to services schools need.

At 1:29:43, the panelists discuss their achievements and challenges.

At 1:52:24, David “Mr. StarCity” White discusses his recent multimedia paintings, sculptures, and installations with Natou Fall, the panelists, and livestream participants.

BLM Week of Action: 2. Diversity, Globalism, and Collective Value (February 2, 2021)

The student hosts Allyn Viault and Babatunde-Majadi Adejare outline the Week of Action events. The session moderator Mira Henry points out the themes of the Week of Action reflect the thirteen guiding principles of Black Lives Matter At School: Restorative justice and struggle, Empathy, Loving Engagement, Diversity, Globalism, Queer Affirming, Trans Affirming, Collective Value, Intergenerational, Black Families, Black Villages, Unapologetically Black, and Black Women.

At 9:46, after Mira Henry’s introduction, Charles L. Davis II argues that the myth of American exceptionalism creates a narrative that translates racist injustices into momentary failures within an overall progressive movement forward. Through this lens he critiques books by three African-American writers on architecture—Melvin L. Mitchell, Darrell Wayne Fields, and Mario Gooden. Davis proposes that settler colonialism offers a more accurate discourse for discussing the US, and also opens possibilities relevant to architects and architectural education. At 41:39, the other participants respond.

At 1:25:38, Bryan Lee Jr. affirms that “for nearly every injustice there is an architecture, a plan, a design to sustain it,” and articulates a concept of design justice “to challenge the privilege and power structures that use architecture and design as a tool of oppression,” redirecting the discipline towards a “radical anti-racist vision of racial, social and cultural reparation through the process and outcomes of design.” At 1:43:25 the panelists respond.

On Futures: Olalekan Jeyifous

"On Futures" is a series highlighting how designers, artists, curators, and writers envision alternative cultural and architectural temporalities that map out an expansive range of possible futures. Brooklyn-based visual artist Olalekan Jeyifous creates work that critiques the present by looking at the past and the future. Trained in architecture at Cornell University, he blends techniques and skills from the field with speculation drawn from a range of science fiction imaginaries from Afrofuturism to Solarpunk—a genre that envisions possible ecological futures under climate crisis. Best-known for his digital illustrations in the series Shantytown Megastructures, an imagined Lagos, Nigeria in which contemporary ad hoc construction practices are extrapolated into fantastical vertical settlements, his practice crosses between disciplines and mediums, taking shape as drawings, films, and installations.

Jeyifous’s work has been shown at the Shenzhen Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Guggenheim Bilbao. His large-scale public artworks were shown at Coachella in 2017 and recently along the waterfront in Alexandria, Virginia. He is one of the participants in the 2020-21 cycle of Exhibit Columbus and the upcoming MoMA exhibition, Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America.

BLM Week of Action: 3. Trans-Affirming, Queer-Affirming, and Empathy (February 3, 2021)

Student hosts Allyn Viault and Babatunde-Majadi Adejare introduce session moderator Li Pallas.

At 6:38, Ravyn Wngz discusses her journey from dance to Black Lives Matter, from Georgia to Toronto, stressing the interplay between self-esteem and activism. At 48:35, participants join in a discussion of the issues she raises.

At 1:39:36, Elegance Bratton discusses several projects about chosen families, including the photo book Bound by Night (2014) and the films Pier Kids (2019) and Walk for Me (2016). At 2:05:27, Bratton discusses his work with Pallas and viewers.

Charles L. Davis II: American Architecture is a Settler Colonial Project (September 30, 2020)

Mira Henry introduces Charles L. Davis II, explaining that this lecture starts a series of workshops with Davis for the SCI-Arc community. She notes that Race and Modern Architecture: A Critical History from the Enlightenment to the Present, which Davis co-edited and contributed to, appeared this summer—a timely intervention at a moment of heightened awareness of race in America.

Charles L. Davis II begins by outlining the trajectory and range of his writing and activism. He identifies two key ideas. First, “settler colonialism,” understood as “a distinct type of colonialism that functions through the replacement of indigenous populations with an invasive settler society that, over time, develops a distinctive identity and sovereignty in its place.” Second, “the phenomenology of whiteness,” as discussed by Linda Martin Alcoff and Sara Ahmed, that focuses on racial embodiment through the lens of everyday life, bodily practice, and place-making.

Davis reviews how these ideas inform his discussion of nineteenth-century European and American architectural discourse in his book, Building Character: Racial Politics of Modern Architectural Style (2019). He argues that the racial discourse of nineteenth-century natural science and ethnography informed contemporary architectural discourse. The belief that the physical appearances of race and style categories were regulated by a common set of organizational principles in nature led to the development of design strategies abstracted from nature, and also to a view of architectural history as a form of natural selection, in which buildings were treated as natural history specimens.

As an example, Davis outlines Gottfried Semper’s appropriation of Aryan migration theory in his development of a vernacular architecture of the French-Swiss and Bavarian Alps. Davis also discusses Viollet-le-Duc’s development of a Swiss chalet from contemporary ethnographic history.

Davis demonstrates how these ideas migrated to the U.S., from which emerge self-proclaimed “American” architectures. Davis discusses the influence of physiognomic theory on Louis Sullivan, as demonstrated by Sullivan’s Kehilath Anshe Ma'arav synagogue (1890) in the Bronzeville neighborhood of Chicago (which in 1922 became the Pilgrim Baptist Church, celebrated as the birthplace of gospel music).

Davis discusses his essay on Henry Van Brunt (1832-1903) that appears in Race and Modern Architecture. He discusses Van Brunt’s railroad depots as part of a wave of White cultural nationalism, replacing earlier settler cultures as wells as indigenous cultures, while also inaugurating a new historical narrative.

Davis concludes with a mention of the work of the Society of Architectural Historians (SAH) Race and Architectural History Affiliate Group, exploring the enduring legacy of racial discourses within architectural history.

Elsie Owusu OBE: Architecture: From Empire to Independence (September 16, 2020)

After being introduced by Hernán Díaz Alonso, Elsie Owusu discusses in depth a project for “A Gallery for Returning Treasures” (GRT) in Kumasi Ghana. She describes the global movement for the restitution of cultural property and the significance of African artifacts lost through colonialism and theft, focusing on the material heritage of the Astante Empire. She describes how this project is linked to a Kumasi City Hall Complex, currently in development.

At 27:50. Owuso shares “Akrafokonmu / Soul Washer’s Badge,” an audio work incorporating sounds, music, and text, inspired by the heroism of Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa (1840-1921) in the War of the Golden Stool, the Ashanti uprising against the British Empire in 1900.

At 32:30, Hernán Díaz Alonso and Owuso discuss the behavior of objects in terms of political relationships. Owuso stresses the magic contained in “that silent communication between architects, the public realm, and artifacts.”

Michaele Pride: Practice What You Preach (October 11, 1995)

After being introduced by Vic Liptack, Michaele Pride (formerly Pride-Wells), founding principal of the architecture firm Regarding Architecture, describes her architectural practice and how volunteering has influenced her. Pride discusses socially responsible projects including community planning, development, and redevelopment with the aim of realizing community goals, as well as her past work and current projects.

Charles L. Davis II: Workshop 1 (October 1, 2020)

After being welcomed by Mira Henry, Charles L. Davis II proposes the workshop to begin with a presentation by him on past and present concepts of race—stressing historic intersections where architects have assimilated these concepts into their work. He reviews how in the eighteenth through late nineteenth centuries the typology categories that emerged in biology, anthropology, ethnology and other natural sciences evolved from a way of making sense of human variety into narratives that supported nationalism and colonialism. The concept of racial type was appropriated by architects like Viollet-le-duc to generate narratives of vernacular and regional styles. Davis argues that these typologies still condition how we see buildings, especially the tendency to dismiss the elements of a building are essential to inhabitants. He illustrates this with a discussion of the Shotgun house.

Davis continues with a review of more current concepts of race, stressing the social construction of difference, a cultural process which serves political purposes. He reviews writers and concepts, including W. E. B. Du Bois on double consciousness, Edward Said on orientalism, Michael Omi and Howard Winant on racial formation theory, Critical whiteness studies within the broader field of cultural studies, Stuart Hall on race as the floating signifier, critical race theory, and phenomenological approaches to racial embodiment.

At 56:24, the workshop participants break up into smaller groups to discuss Lisa Findley’s essay, “Building Presence: The Southern Poverty Law Center,” from her book Building Change: Architecture, Politics and Cultural agency (Routledge, 2005), focusing on Erdy McHenry Architecture’s 2001 Southern Poverty Law Center headquarters in Montgomery, AL. The participants regroup, and discuss the article, and the main issues of their conversations.

At 1:09:52​, David analyzes the SPLC headquarters, stressing “different moments of spatial embodiment” in the city of Montgomery, in the activities of the SPLC, and the aspects of the design. He proposes that Findley’s essay as a model for students to reassess canonical precedents (Monticello, The White House) using race as a critical lens.

From 1:39:48​ to the end, Davis and workshop participants discuss issues of white hegemony raised in the workshop, including architectural education, institutions, and power structures.

Charles L. Davis II: Workshop 2 (October 2, 2020)

Charles L. Davis II begins by outlining the development, conceptualization and organization behind the Museum of Modern Art’s upcoming exhibition Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America (February 20-May 31, 2021). He describes the advisory committee’s discussions of issues, context and events.

Then he presents arguments from an essay he is contributing to the exhibition, proposing an alternative Black modernism. Davis stresses the importance of introducing an architectural lineage for projects that are excluded from the tradition of avant-garde architecture promoted by MOMA. He describes the work of production designer Wynn Thomas as an example. Davis argues that changed definitions, lead to changes in what gets preserved and archived, which is then reflected in practices, institutions, and teaching.

From 30:00 through 56:00, Davis and Mira Henry lead a Zoom discussion on issues raised by Davis’s presentation, including alternative narratives of modernism, the work of Bernard Rudofsky and Sibyl Moholy-Nagy.

At 56:30, Mira Henry introduces Michael Osman and Victor Jones who respond to a draft of Davis’s Reconstructions essay, touching on issues of reforming, abolishing or ignoring the avant-garde, the dominant white culture of the academy’s indifference to Blackness as part of the American experience. Jones proposes that a Black project in architecture should ignore the issues valued by the white avant-garde elite. Davis looks for a more equitable ecosystem with greater reciprocity. The conversation then focuses on architectural schools, the need for a pluralist conversation. Davis points out the non-reciprocity of some post-George Floyd theorizing, which appropriates without acknowledgement the work of theorists of race and place. Mira Henry points out a disconnect between the discourses concerning Black visual art and those concerning Black architecture. The ensuing conversation contrast art history and architectural history, and their role in changing architectural institutions.

Stephen Slaughter: From Phat to Watts (March 26, 2010)

Stephen Slaughter reviews his influences and his belief in abstraction, in outlining his goals. He stresses that success depends on teamwork, discussing how this relates to his entry for low-income housing competition. Slaughter discusses a studio he taught in which students created shelters at the Burning Man festival. He describes the renovation of a house that represents the culture of the occupants and the history of the site. He presents a video that offers an African-American history of Watts and its culture. Slaughter discusses his engagement in the community and activist aspirations. He talks about his passion for an expressive facade, showing the completed house renovation. The house incorporates the abstract representation of heritage Slaughter sought to achieve.

Luyanda Mpahlwa: Thirty Years in Architecture: The Politics and The Architect (October 10, 2011)

Luyanda Mpahlwa begins by describing how in 1978 he was part of the first group of Black students permitted to study architecture in South Africa. His education was interrupted by five years at Robben Island Maximum Security Prison, after which he completed his education at the Berlin Technical University. He notes how working in Berlin during the reconstruction period immediately following German reunification was a good preparation for post-apartheid South Africa after 1994. Mpahlwa describes his work as project architect for the Felleshus campus of five Nordic embassies in Berlin, and as designer of the new South African embassy in Berlin. He reviews his work in Cape Town since 1994, including an extension to Parliament, and the international airport, a luxury home, and participation in the committee overseeing the construction of ten new stadiums to accommodate South Africa hosting the 2010 World Cup.

Mpahlwa describes conditions in the townships, where the Black population struggles without services and facilities much of the world takes for granted. He describes a number of his architectural interventions, including a school, a youth center, low-cost housing using sandbags in the Mitchells Plein area of Cape Town, the Nike Football Training Facility in Soweto, and his proposal for a Design District Incubator for the Fringe district of Cape Town–an area which had been an urban Black community until being cleared by apartheid. Mpahlwa responds to questions about the usefulness of the World Cup stadiums after the games, working in difficult environments with very limited resources, and the value of architects intervening creatively in townships.

Minorities in Architecture panel (January 28, 1976)

The video begins with a slide show with music of East LA by SCI-Arc student Rafael Menendez. Ray Kappe introduces Jack W. Haywood. Haywood reviews his career, from working in large firms to starting his own firm in 1972. He praises the SCI-Arc student work on display, but warns students that big projects tend to go only to big firms. David Angelo describes the challenge of trying to run an architectural office in East LA He argues that the only architecture that will work there is something that reflects and works with Chicano culture, not something imposed on it from outside. Jesus Arguelles works in several different Hispanic communities across the US, and approaches the problem differently. He argues that the main problem is miscommunication. Arguelles sees himself as a broker in a complicated physical, economic, psychological and political situation. Arthur Silvers of DMJM notes the absence of women on the panel, and tells a story about his encounter with Jim Crow segregation traveling to Cincinnati in 1958 as USC's representative at the Scarab national architecture student convention. He sees architects as politically disenfranchised, but nevertheless guardians of design and the environment. Kappe leads the panelists in a general discussion. The video cuts off before the end of the discussion.

The Next LA: Leimert Park and Pershing Square (February 11, 1994) Part 10 of 11

This video documents an event of the National AIA Regional Urban Design Conference “Restructuring Urbanisms: the Next LA,” held February 10-13, 1994, at Shutters Hotel, Santa Monica. Anne Zimmerman takes planners on a bus tour of Los Angeles. En route to South Central, Deborah Murphy, Steven Flusty and Katherine Spitz discuss the area. The group stops for a barbecue lunch at Leimert Park. Ron Lewis of the L.A. Planning Department’s South Central Task Force discusses the challenge of applying planning resources appropriately. Dwayne Wyatt from the Los Angeles Conservancy reviews the history of the Leimert Park area, stressing its enduring status as a outstanding African American neighborhood. The group leaves Leimert plaza for a different kind of park, Pershing Square. Lupe Valdez and Miriam Simmons of the MTA review current transportation initiatives in LA After Pershing Square, the group explores Biddy Mason Park, the Grand Central Market, and the Bradbury Building.

The Next LA: John Kaliski, Michaele Pride, et al. (February 10, 1994) Part 4 of 11

This video documents the National AIA Regional Urban Design Conference “Restructuring Urbanisms: the Next LA,” held February 10-13, 1994, at Shutters Hotel, Santa Monica.

John Kaliski argues that the people are the main source of power in determining the fate of their neighborhood. He challenges the “two-dimensional” view of LA and proposes new zoning codes and land use plans. David Stein tries to dispel some myths surrounding Los Angeles through graphs, data, and comparisons with other major cities. The panelists discuss emerging trends in Los Angeles and its inhabitants. They describe the different scales of urbanism, and the difficulty that creates in creating a cohesive regional infrastructure that makes transportation a seamless transition from one place to another. They also describe the economics of maintaining regional infrastructure to support a growing economy.

Elizabeth Mull describes her projects as a way of addressing the differing scales through strategic planning and addressing a range of communal issues. When designing for a community, she stresses the importance of understanding the existing conditions, insuring basic amenities, and providing multi-use spaces in the public realm. She observes that Los Angeles needs to create a place that defines the culture of the city.

Michaele Pride (formerly Pride-Wells) of the Professional Design Coalition describes their community-based efforts to increase personal ownership and to create jobs within lower-income communities. While describing Crenshaw and the efforts to revitalize its neighborhoods, the group notes the importance of having the local community behind them when dealing with politicians. The panel discusses job markets, a region’s image, poverty, and real estate. Panelists suggest that the sweeping urban schemes that usually get presented to city officials need to be informed by an emphasis on daily life.

Duel + Duet: Ellie Abrons and Mira Henry (September 23, 2016)

Ellie Abrons and Mira Henry discuss work produced in a 2016 exhibition exchange between the University of Michigan Museum of Art (UMMA) and SCI-Arc, in which Abrons exhibited Inside Things in the Library Gallery at SCI-Arc, and Henry exhibited The View Inside Things at UMMA. Henry discusses her exhibition in terms of her interest in architectural elements—fireplace, roof eaves, interior corner, table—leading to a room flattened against a wall, pointing out the connections with her long-standing interest in drapery, scenic wallpaper, and color.

Abrons discusses Inside Things in terms of forms that derive from familiar things but remain elusive, setting into play contrasts between inside and outside. Abrons surveys recent work employing photogrammetry, and describes the Detroit Reassembly Plant project for the 2016 Venice Biennale.

Abrons and Henry conclude with a discussion of five ideas that are significant in their work: Image, Materiality, Figures, Color, and Representation.

Cornel West (March 28, 1988) Part 1 of 2

Cornel West characterizes his theme as "historicizing the postmodernism debate,” arguing that it is “symptomatic of larger currents in culture and society.” He references cultural critics such as Matthew Arnold, T.S. Eliot, Lionel Trilling, and Franz Fanon. West asks, “What is the postmodern moment?” And what does it have to do with culture, politics and other aspects of society? West relates high modernist architecture, such as Le Corbusier's, with the social forces outlined by Eliot. He also discusses decolonization and its political and social consequences. During the Q&A West responds to questions about architecture and notes the democratizing of architecture which generates debate with audience members, Eric Owen Moss, Ann Bergren, Michael Rotondi, and others.

Cornel West (March 28, 1988) Part 2 of 2

Cornel West continues engaging the audience in a debate and discussion about transgression and the status quo. He calls Craig Owens and Hal Foster “transgressive postmodernists.” West asks, “to what degree are architectural practices more privileged then other cultural practices?” He questions how transgression affects that privilege and considers architecture privileged “because is it so thoroughly dependent on huge amounts of capital.” West calls Thomas Pynchon the greatest postmodernist novelist. He asks if there an architectural equivalent of Thomas Pynchon and answers, “Hell no.” West further debates privilege, capital, economics and architecture with the audience. He talks about early oppositional figures, and wonders about “oppositional architects” and architecture today.

Fire in the Library: George Evans and John Otterbridge (November 16, 1995) Part 1 of 2

Eugenia Butler introduces her lecture series and welcomes artist John Otterbridge and poet George Evans. John Otterbridge and George Evans compare their families and discuss the idiosyncrasies of their environments. Topics include poverty, neighborhood folklore, and work. The video ends abruptly.

Fire in the Library: George Evans and John Otterbridge (November 16, 1995) Part 2 of 2

The concluding 44 minutes of Eugenia Butler’s conversation with artist John Otterbridge and poet George Evans.