BLACK city examines American cities and renders visible the implicit and explicit policies, customs, and beliefs that have affected social structures and power dynamics and shaped the physical spaces of Black settlements. Complex racial histories reveal how the patterns and structures of the past link to and engender the present. The work distills these histories through various media, including buildings, maps, timelines, glossaries, and games, to provide an alternative reading of Black settlements and community-building methods in narratives of resistance, resilience, and transcendence. Collectively, these projects compensate for official records of Black spaces that are often absent, a symptom of slavery and subordination. The projects manifest the traces and lacunae of official records as material and spatial presences and objects of design. They generate a foundation for speculation on future possibilities for Black settlements (and Black life).
This body of research began in the essay black bodies black space: A-Waiting Spectacle which appeared in the anthology White Papers, Black Marks: Architecture, Race, Culture (Athlone Press, 2000). The Black City Editions were originally installed as individual projects in themed group exhibitions.
BLACK City Editions explore both general and specific conditions of Blackness in America by representing socio-spatial phenomena that reflect customs, laws and events at the national and local scales: gentrification in the New York Edition (black city2), 2003-4; restrictive covenants in the Los Angeles Edition, 2020; racial expulsions and sundown towns in the Arkansas Edition, 2022; and in Jim Crow era legal topographies of segregation and integration in de Facto/de Jure | By Custom/By Law, 2006.
The Venice Edition: The BLACK city Astrolabe is a network comprised of points and lines extracted from events and movements in settlements and cities outlining the African diaspora. Within it, is a constellation unearthing the lives of “Black” women since the 15th century. From the multiple displacements of race and gender, the Black City Astrolabe, a space-time field comprised of a 3-D map and 24-hour cycle of narratives reorders the forces of subjugation, devaluation, and displacement through the spaces, events, and narratives of African diasporic women. The project received the support of the MIT Department of Architecture and a CAST Mellon Faculty grant from the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST). On exhibit 20 May - 26 November 2023.
The Arkansas Edition: Histories of Negation was commissioned for Architecture at Home, a group show of affordable house prototypes curated by Dylan Turk at Crystal Bridges Museum for American Art (2022). The project comprises a house prototype, Totem House, that is inscribed with Histories of Negation, a timeline of settlements and expulsions in Northwest Arkansas that illustrates the negation of Indigenous Nations and African American settlements from 1750 to the present. The events etched on the surfaces of the Totem House can be explored on the website Histories of Negation which expands the inscriptions in an interactive timeline that draws connections between events, people, and places. The project received the support of the MIT Department of Architecture. Production of the website was made possible through the support of a Fay Chandler grant from the MIT Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST). On exhibit through November 2023.
The Los Angeles Edition examines Black settlement from the founding of the Puebla de Los Angeles in 1531 through the American statehood of Los Angeles in 1850 to the present day. The project comprises maps that trace the migration of historic Black settlements within contemporary Los Angeles; a model detail that represents the expanding and contracting forces of integration and segregation; and dictionary plates that feature buildings and spaces central to the narrative of Black settlement in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Edition was commissioned for the Issues in Contemporary Architecture exhibition series’ Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America, a group show held at the Museum of Modern Art, curated by Sean Anderson, Associate Curator of Architecture and Design, with Mabel Wilson (2021). The project was published in the exhibition monograph Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America (Museum of Modern Art, 2021). This project received the support of the MIT Department of Architecture.
The New York Edition: black city2 is a game prototype that explores the social dynamics of race in Harlem, from the elision of representational tropes on lived realities to the relationships among policies, statistics, social concepts, physical forms, and implicit and explicit policies and statistics at three scales: Neighborhood-to-City, City-to-Nation, Nation-to-World. black city2: the miscegenation game was exhibited in Harlemworld: Metropolis as Metaphor, a group show curated by Thelma Golden at the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2003), and in the open studios at the American Academy In Rome (2004). black city2: the miscegenation game was published in the respective exhibition monographs Harlemworld: Metropolis as Metaphor (The Studio Museum in Harlem, 2003) and Index 2004 (The American Academy in Rome, 2004).
The 13 Cities Edition: de Facto/de Jure (By Custom/By Law) is a game that explores public accommodations and discrimination across state lines by transporting players to thirteen cities on the Southern Crescent Railroad between 1866-1964 (the Jim Crow era). de Facto/de Jure: By Custom/By Law was commissioned for the Dresser Trunk project, a group show curated by Professor William D. Williams (2007). The exhibition traveled from 2007-2009 to the Extension Gallery for Architecture in Chicago, and galleries of the University of Virginia, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Maryland. de Facto/de Jure was published in the anthologies Installations by Architects: Experiments in Building and Design (Princeton Architectural Press, 2009), and Beyond Patronage: Reconsidering Models of Practice (Actar Publishers, 2016).
The Huston Edition: Intimate Landscapes (of the Shotgun House) examines the absence of historical records of African American dwellings and domesticity through the genealogy of the shotgun house, a typology prevalent in the historic third ward of Houston that can be traced back to slave-plantation housing, and to traditional West African dwellings. intimate landscapes (of the shotgun house) was installed in Row: Trajectories Through the Shotgun House, a curated artist residency for ten African American architects at Project Row House Art Gallery Houses in Houston, TX, in 2022 and published in an anthology under the same title in 2004.