Program in Media and Modernity

Princeton University

Feb 9 | RACE AND MODERN ARCHITECTURE: A DISCUSSION

RACE AND MODERN ARCHITECTURE: A DISCUSSION
Irene Cheng, Charles L. Davis II, and Mabel O. Wilson
Tuesday, February 9, 2020 @5pm
Online Event [register here or stream here]

Although race—a concept of human difference that establishes hierarchies of power and domination—has played a critical role in the development of modern architectural discourse and practice since the Enlightenment, its influence on the discipline remains largely underexplored. Race and Modern Architecture offers a welcome and long-awaited intervention for the field by shining a spotlight on constructions of race and their impact on architecture and theory in Europe and North America and across various global contexts since the eighteenth century. Challenging us to write race back into architectural history, contributors confront how racial thinking has intimately shaped some of the key concepts of modern architecture and culture over time, including freedom, revolution, character, national and indigenous style, progress, hybridity, climate, representation, and radicalism. By analyzing how architecture has intersected with histories of slavery, colonialism, and inequality—from eighteenth-century neoclassical governmental buildings to present-day housing projects for immigrants—Race and Modern Architecture challenges, complicates, and revises the standard association of modern architecture with a universal project of emancipation and progress.


Irene Cheng is associate professor of architecture at the California College of the Arts, where she directs the Experimental History Project. She is the coeditor, with Bernard Tschumi, of The State of Architecture at the Beginning of the 21st Century (Monacelli Press, 2003). Her forthcoming book The Shape of Utopia(University of Minnesota Press) explores the relationship between architecture and politics in nineteenth-century American utopias.

Charles L. Davis II is an assistant professor of architectural history and criticism at the University at Buffalo, State University of New York. His research examines the integrations of race and style theory in paradigms of “architectural organicism,” or design movements that emulated natural principles of development to produce a “living architecture.” His book Building Character: The Racial Politics of Modern Architectural Style (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019) was supported by grants from the Graham Foundation and the Canadian Center for Architecture.

Mabel O. Wilson is the Nancy and George E. Rupp Professor of Architecture, Planning and Preservation  and a professor in African American and African Diaspora Studies at Columbia University. She is the director of the Institute for Research in African American Studies and co-director of the Global Africa Lab. She has authored Begin with the Past: Building the National Museum of African American History and Culture (Smithsonian Books, 2017) and Negro Building: Black Americans in the World of Fairs and Museums (University of California Press, 2012).

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This entry was posted on February 2, 2021 in roundtable, Spring2021.