America’s history with racism is reflected in brick and mortar. New York’s MoMA takes a look at inequality and oppression through the lens of architecture.
Entire US cities were deliberately segregated for decades as part of Jim Crow legislation after the end of the Civil War. Prior to that, the concept of “slave quarters” reflected centuries of abuse and oppression in the New World. And even in the present, there are countless instances in city planning and architecture that still cast people of color as second-class citizens living in the 21st century.
The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York is now examining various approaches in architecture developed to address these injustices with its “Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America” exhibition, highlighting imbalances that are “embedded in nearly every aspect of America’s design” — according to the show’s organizers.
How does race structure US America’s cities?
This is the central question at the heart of the new MoMA exhibition, which is part of its ongoing “Issues in Contemporary Architecture” series launched just over a decade ago. The idea of architecture being “racist” might sound strange at first — after all, how can an edifice encourage division and hate?
Hope in a hopeless place
Indeed, the spaces directly or indirectly allocated to African-Americans may often appear grim and hopeless in nature; however, Cooke goes on to highlight unexpected opportunities arising from such adversity, with members of the Black community carving their own places out of such oppression:
“From these devalued spaces emerged some of America’s most valuable cultural contributions—the blues, jazz, the Harlem Renaissance, and hip-hop. Black identity, instead of being defined by the oppressiveness and banality of these environments, asserted itself to redefine how public space is conceived and used,” Cooke explains.