Building up and taking down
Architecture is the embodiment and concretization of the structures of freedom, domination, capitalism, democracy, and other institutions that have an effect on people (West, 1997). Among these institutions is the construct of race. Race is a classification system derived from the color of human skin, with economic and symbolic value attached relative to skin color on a continuum from “dark” to “light”. This system was invented by Europeans in order to justify their enslavement of Africans. Within the Euro-American race construct, Black and other “colored” bodies are “raced”, whereas White bodies are the default, the norm, and considered “raceless” (Kendi, 2016). Forms, spaces and places are also assigned racial classifications. The racialization “Black” and “White” forms, spaces and places are recognized explicitly by people called Black and indirectly by people who need to believe that they are White, even as they choose to obscure or ignore that recognition (Lipsitz, 2007); to enforce racelessness is, to abhor Toni Morrison, itself a racial act (Savelson, 1997). This racialization of space can be seen in the designation of Congo Square as “Beauregard Square” in 1893, honoring the memory of a Confederate general who fought for the continuation of the practice of slavery in the very year of the Plessy v. Ferguson decision’s enshrinement of the farcical doctrine of “separate but equal”. The site was a social and commercial gathering space for indigenous people before the founding of New Orleans (Walker, 2004) and became one of the foremost sites of African cultural expression in the Americas. Attempts to destroy the Blackness of the space continued with the erection of a Beaux-Arts style Municipal Auditorium used for White supremacist rallies on the site; and the fencing off of the square to hinder its free use by the people called Black who inhabit the Treme neighborhood today (Crutcher, 2010). Such characterizations have profound effects on the lives of the people who inhabit, occupy and move through that space, enforcing White privilege and White supremacy while continually degrading the economic and social value of Black life. The denial of access and opportunity enabled by the racialized characterization of space leads to death, economic, social and literal, for people called Black in America, death as visible in household wealth statistics as in videos of police murder (Ellison, 1952; Patterson 1982; Rankine, 2014). Whitney M. Young, Jr, in his speech to the 1968 convention of the AIA, castigated the profession for its “thunderous silence and callous indifference to the cause of civil rights”. I repeat Young’s charge and add that the White-dominated discipline of architecture fails to consider or willfully ignores the capacity of the built environment to perpetuate systems of White privilege and White supremacy, thus implicating the discipline as an accessory in the deaths above enumerated. In the face of this implication, architecture faces a crisis of moral and political legitimacy (West, 1997). Through conversation with scholars, activists, artists, architects, educators and students, the author aims to raise consciousness of architecture and education’s roles in perpetuating White privilege and White supremacy. The author aims to speculate on what a built environment encouraging opposition to and dismantling of these systems - an actively antiracist built environment - might look like. The vehicle for this thesis is the Freedom School of Design, a public high school for architecture and design in New Orleans, Louisiana following the tenets of “freedom education” employed by civil rights workers in Mississippi in the summer of 1964. The FSD will include a design- build residential component for a limited number of students and a variety of outdoor spaces of varying degrees of publicness and privacy, activity and passivity. The FSD will respond to the architectural object of the Robert E. Lee monument and to other manifestations of White supremacy in the built environment of its context. The design of its forms an spaces will balance the consideration of architecture’s ability to reinforce or dismantle political systems within a matrix of practicality and symbolism.