In the past year, various architecture firms acknowledged their complicity in upholding white supremacy, prompting actions that ranged from publishing statements to reviewing hiring practices to reconsidering built projects that have negatively impacted minorities. Most importantly, they reaffirmed their moral positions, indicating that the business of design should be an extension of personal, anti-racist beliefs.
Yet the systemic racism permeating our lives today is a modern manifestation of much older instincts, those honed during the Age of Exploration and centuries-long European colonial activities carried out over more than three-quarters of the planet. For architectural thinking and architecture practice to become truly anti-racist, they must also be actively anti-colonial. Though the term “colonial” evokes antiquated attitudes and quaint buildings, it is essential to acknowledge that this period of our history is not over. Decolonization did not erase the impacts of colonialism, it simply meant that the colonizer no longer took responsibility for their administration. In America, we exist moment to moment in territories stolen from indigenous populations and on land cultivated with stolen labor. Colonial and postcolonial environments are ubiquitous, and unless design confronts this set of conditions through planning, zoning, site analysis, and even small-scale architectural decisions, it will continue to vindicate the colonial mindset.
The nature of building is to colonize the earth. Land is excavated; rain is jettisoned; temperature is precisely controlled. An anti-colonial architecture may very well resemble an anti-architecture, the intentional un-building of monuments, buildings, parks, suburbs, cities, and infrastructures that have perpetuated spatial racism. We have seen some of this unfolding already, but in the long-term designers need a completely new set of theoretical tools to be able to comprehensively reform the built environment.
This selection of texts draws from postcolonial theory, history, social sciences, fiction, and journalism to provide perspectives on assumptions that have historically anchored modern thought and woven themselves tightly into the fabric of architecture theory.
[Image: Colonial-era houses line Spruce Street in Society Hill, Philadelphia, by Kriston Jae Bethel for Places Journal from “The Inequality Chronicles: Nicetown,” by Elizabeth Greenspan.]
History at the Limit of World-History
Oxford University Press
Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History
University of Pittsburgh Press
The Wretched of the Earth
The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness
Is the United States Postcolonial? Transnationalism, Immigration, and Race
University of Illinois Press
The 1619 Project
The New York Times Magazine
The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene
Empire of Cotton
Cities of Empire: The British Colonies and the Creation of the Urban World
The Paradoxical Invention of Economic Modernity
Duke University Press
Connectography: Mapping the Future of Global Civilization
Wide Sargasso Sea
The Meursault Investigation
The Underground Railroad