Black People, Porches, and Politics
This reading list primarily focuses on the investigation of black domesticity. The search for positive identity politics in architecture has typically proven empty for this racial group. Architecture has always excelled at using the built environment to convey narratives. Unfortunately, that opportunity has rarely materialized in African-American communities. Providing access to narratives undiscovered and often neglected, one can begin to understand and empathize with marginalized communities. The porch is an iconic architectural feature that explores topics of gender, race, and production. While there have been numerous scholarly articles and critical dissections which focus on its legacy, this list contextualizes them from the perspective of spatializing blackness. Additionally it utilizes the kitchen and kitchenette as a lens to view issues of racism, classism, and gender politics. Racism continues to be the most divisive social issue in modern society and the role of architecture in this debate is a missing component of the conversation.
A range of scholarship, from urban planning, sexuality and gender studies, architectural history, spatial restriction, environmental justice, whiteness studies, labor, linguistics, migration and identity politics is included. My research practice is one that attempts to interrogate a multitude of issues in disenfranchised black communities and raise awareness of the legacies those communities possess. These texts provide entry to those legacies.
This list is critical of architectural history as it covers an underrepresented experience in our country. It is critical of urban planning as policies that were created by professionals directly contributed to inhumane practices of segregation and exclusion. It is vital to architectural theory as it posits the role of the blackness during Jim Crow-era America. It is vital to architectural education as we aim to bestow knowledge to future generations of designers so that they may not repeat practices that negatively affect large groups of people.
The readings are organized by two familiar architectural tropes: history and theory. The first category of readings provides a historical look at black contributions to architecture, specifically the shotgun house, and utilizes various texts to trace the African Diaspora through the American South. The second category of readings provide intersectional context through the identity politics of blackness in the built environment. Whether personal essays or anecdotal proof, they offer a range of the experiences of black people in the United States.
Vernacular Architecture of West Africa: A World in Dwelling
This book reviews the housing of hundreds of ethnic groups across the continent to create a taxonomy of African Architecture. This is particularly important with regards to blackness and identity in the Americas, as it can provide a diasporic ancestry of African-American architecture. Through the transatlantic slave trade we know that not only humans were trafficked across the oceans but their building methods and environmental sensibilities. These skills were primary generators for many of the architectures found in the American South. This book pairs well with Back of the Big House: The Architecture of Plantation Slavery, by John Vlach, below.
Shotgun: The Most Contested House in America
Buildings & Landscapes: Journal of the Vernacular Architecture Forum
This article is concerned with place of the shotgun home in American architectural history and also its role as a bellwether for racial and social disparities in Louisiana, specifically New Orleans. Edwards attempts to prove a link between the ti-kay (small house) in Haiti and the shotgun house in New Orleans, and examines the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the the ways that the house is understood in American architecture. Edwards interrogates the public desire to maintain such homes as critical parts of the architecture of the American South alongside the history of New Orleans's urban planning and post-1800s sprawl. This text pairs well with Vernacular Architecture of West Africa: A World in Dwelling, above.
The Shotgun House: An African Architectural Legacy, Part I
In the first part of a two-part article researching the lineage of the shotgun house, Vlach conducts a survey of rural shotgun homes and discusses their lack of acknowledgement in architectural discourse.
The Shotgun House: An African Architectural Legacy, Part II
In the second part of a two-part article researching the lineage of the shotgun house, Vlach discusses the building articulation from rural Haiti to New Orleans, Louisiana. At a moment in which the black experience is gaining more acceptance in the larger discourse of the built environment, Vlach's two-part article provides a valuable documentation of the material contribution of African Americans to American architectural culture. Vlach's research is also important contextually because it identifies the shotgun house as the foundation of black domesticity in terms of homeownership and at the same time acknowledges how it functioned as a means of restriction, as many cities erected shotgun homes using shoddy construction practices. Vlach's analysis of the typology also offers valuable context to the promotion of the porch as an integral part of the black experience.
Creolization Theory and the Odyssey of the Atlantic Linear Cottage
This article traces the legacy and impact of the Atlantic Linear Cottage, also referred to as the shotgun home, in American architectural history. Edwards presents fieldwork as well as maps, drawings, and photographs from Senegal, Haiti, and Louisiana to prove with empirical examples that creolization is present in traditions of material culture. This is an excellent piece to read alongside Vlach's The Shotgun House: An African Architectural Legacy, Parts I and II , above.
Bronzeville: Black Chicago in Pictures, 1941-1943
This text presents a historical view of Chicago, once referred by Nicholas Lemann to as “the capital of black America.”. It provides historical references to the living conditions of black communities as a result of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Focusing on Chicago’s South Side, the sole area of occupation for black families during the first Great Migration, the book presents a catalogue of photographs featuring city streets and sidewalks, thriving businesses, popular cabarets, and the intentionally overcrowded kitchenette housing units. The text portrays Chicago as the potential center of black culture and nationalist movements in America, supplanting Harlem in this regard. This is an excellent text to read alongside Spatializing Blackness: Architectures of Confinement and Black Masculinity in Chicago , by Rashad Shabazz below, which provides context to these beautiful photographs.
Spatializing Blackness: Architectures of Confinement and Black Masculinity in Chicago
University of Illinois Press
This text discusses the consequences for black communities and black men in the built environment. Focusing on Chicago’s Black Belt on the city's South Side, Rashad Shabazz interrogates myriad residual effects, from policing to incarceration to restrictive urban planning. Highlighting the kitchenette, an iconic architectural space in the black community, he mines the role of race and segregation in domesticity. The result is an intersectional portrayal of the racialization of occupiable space and the politics of mobility under conditions of perceived freedom, and the ways black men react as a result. I recommend reading alongside Bronzeville: Black Chicago in Pictures 1941-1943 above, which provides visual evidence of the unfortunate housing accommodations discussed here.
Sites of Memory: Landscapes of Race and Ideology
Princeton Architectural Press
This text is a compilation of national authors providing multiple perspectives on architecture and race in the built environment. In particular, I recommend editor Craig E. Barton's essay on the duality and invisibility of race and memory in the American South, which provides historical precedence for black domesticity in the region with the largest black population; Nathaniel Q. Belcher's discussion of Miami’s role in the greater black South; and Bradford Grant's exploration of accommodation, resistance, and appropriation in African-American building. These three essays offer clarity on the black experience in the home, on the porch, and in neighborhoods. Elsewhere in this collection, the essays contributed by women of color provide the additional lens of gender with relation to space.
The Poetics of Space
Bachelard uses architecture, specifically the single family dwelling, as a way to discuss issues of occupation, psychology, and design. From my perspective as a researcher concerned with ideologies of black space, an influential Euro-centric perspective is critical in comparing and contrasting the ways in which different cultures inhabit space. Bachelard uses prose and poetry while discussing the personal and emotional response to buildings. When placed in the context of black domesticity one can better understand the manipulation of finite space and the limitations of space that is provided to the black family. Additionally, one can better understand the connection to the porch and the kitchen as spaces of comfort, compassion and care. When paired with Carrie Mae Weems kitchen table series, Bachelard's text becomes alive.
White Flight/Black Flight: The Dynamics of Racial Change in an American Neighborhood
Cornell University Press
This text explores the systemic issues through which a neighborhood transforms from a predominately white neighborhood into a predominately black neighborhood. In order to illicit objective and comprehensive answers, Woldoff utilizes a pseudonym to describe what is found in a typical metropolitan city in America. It acts as a social study through personal interviews of the many ways that institutional racism, unfair urban planning practices, and outright bigotry impacts the built environment. This text pairs well with When Ivory Towers Were Black: A Story About Race in America’s Cities and Universities, by Sharon Egretta Sutton. While Woldoff’s text examines neighborhoods at the residential level, Sutton’s text observes from an institutional level.
kitchen table series
This text presents the kitchen as a place of domesticity, blackness, and gender. Weems devoted a small segment of her daily life to taking a photograph of herself in her kitchen. The book documents her relationships with her lover, her family (her daughter, especially), and friends. It provides an important view into the life of an African-American woman, a demographic often ignored and woefully underrepresented in architecture. Additionally, when placed in the context of the role of female black labor, this text becomes more influential to the understanding of spatializing blackness.
When Ivory Towers Were Black : A Story About Race in America's Cities and Universities
Fordham University Press
This text by Sharon Egretta Sutton is a critical piece of any study on the ramifications of racial prejudice and the built environment. Utilizing one of the most traditional black means of historical dissemination, the griot, this is an important story of how Columbia University encroached upon the historically black neighborhood of Harlem. Intertwined with the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, Sutton’s text is a must-read. The inclusion of an alphabetical list of the students of color who attended the School of Architecture during this era is critical to the contemporary understanding of race and architecture: the list amounts to 22 students over a decade. This abhorrent statistic is all too typical of architecture education.