Horror in Architecture

get this book!!
get this book!!
smart Rutgers students.
smart Rutgers students.

An informal coffee chat with Rutgers MFA’s on Tuesday unearthed a collective concern about space. For two hours we talked Architecture, infrastructure, sustainability, power, privatization of the land, life on the Moon and Yertle the Turtle. I raised a few questions here and there, about race and access, about perceptions of self relative to nature and/or the urban built environment. We all have something at stake when it comes to self-determination and our living environment.

Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s
“the Undercommons, Black Study and Urban Planning” has become the densely worded spirit guidebook for many of us, Aki, Marc and I are plugging along in its poetics.

Another book I meant to bring to the forefront is a very amazing little read by Joshua Comaroff and Ong Ker-Shing called “Horror in Architecture” which looks at the underlying anxiety of disorder and destruction in the heart of the modernist enterprise, using the horror genre and the human body as a departure point.

The feeling toward the end of our meet-up was that we should work toward a Spring project, similar to last years’ performance event , perhaps embracing more of the Rutgers campus, examining its “corporate” architecture and landscaping. All this can be discussed and thought about further at a January meeting, date to be determined. Meantime, wouldn’t it be nice to put together a newspaper or ‘zine that can contain the various articles and theories everyone put into play yesterday? We talked about separatist idealist communes, nature and romanticism, pragmatic nuclear waste storage issues and reuse, purchasing air rights, the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe housing project… we spoke about citizenship, immigration, choice, and Non-participation in the systems that bind us to the modern, built world.

6 thoughts on “Horror in Architecture”

  1. Hi Kara,

    The topic of architecture, space, and power amongst many others that you are exploring is both complex and captivating and also necessary.

    I remember you mentioning the lack of black architects during the discussion with the BFA thesis class last thursday and with me having two black architects in my own family, I know first hand that this is true. My dad is a traditional architect and designed sanctuaries for churches in the tri state area of Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee most of his career, now he teaches. My brother on the other hand deals with landscape architecture. He was one of two African Americans studying architecture at the PhD level and to receive his doctorate, about two years ago, he’s a professor at Virginia Tech now .

    You might be interested in a talk he’ll be giving on campus here at Rutgers on November 18th @ 4pm in the Cook/Douglass Lecture Hall 110 – http://landarch.rutgers.edu/documents/cl/2105%20Fall%20CL%20Poster%20sm.png .

    Speaking on Architecture from a location I’m familiar with in Memphis, TN. The public housing projects which are predominantly black in downtown Memphis has had a major overhaul from late 90s and early 2000s until now, where the structures are and have been torn down and replaced by colorful town homes and apartments which the people who previously inhabited that space cannot afford and essentially are given vouchers to encourage moving to other parts of the city.

    But this act seems to reflect a shift in power, a reclaiming of the space migrating from the suburbs back to the city.

    I guess a question I would pose to think on is: Does architecture provide a means for an unregulated power structure that benefits some and leaves others at a disadvantage, and is one side conscious and the other unaware ?

    1. thanks Aaron for the info about your brother’s lecture. Very interesting indeed. I included an essay by Dr. Craig Wilkins, in that catalogue I passed around (and lost, its a rare one too). He’s an architect based in Detroit and has written a book that discusses the difficulty of defining a black architectural aesthetic, and the necessity of so doing. African Americans in particular and those in poverty have been singularly impacted by architectural movements and urban planning in the 20th century.

      “The Esthetics of Equity” is worth a read.


  2. Hi Kara, Aaron, and everyone else.

    Amee Pollock, who works at Mason Gross, just forwarded this to me. Its an email from Rutgers’ Chancellor Richard L. Edwards, announcing the formation of a committee to research and propose ways of addressing Rutgers’ involvement in both the colonization of Native American land, and slavery.

    The timing is interesting. The University of
    Missouri’s Chancellor and President both resigned just the other day, following protests against the school’s inability to engage racism on campus (amongst other things, one student went on hunger strike, and the entire football team refused to continue playing).

    Of course, it remains to me seen how deeply they’ll go, and whether it will take form as lip service or real action. Let’s hope the latter.

    Here is the body text from the email that was sent out:


    “Rutgers University begins today the yearlong celebrations that will culminate next year in the 250th anniversary of the University’s founding in 1766 in New Brunswick. Throughout the next twelve months, special events and programs will examine and celebrate the University’s revolutionary pursuit of teaching, research and service.

    As some in the Rutgers community have pointed out in recent weeks, we must acknowledge that our history also includes some facts that we have ignored for too long, such as that our campus is built on land taken from the Lenni-Lenape and that a number of our founders and early benefactors were slave holders. Given our history as a colonial college, these are facts not unique to Rutgers, but it is time that we begin to recognize the role that disadvantaged populations such as African Americans and Native tribes played in the University’s development.

    I am therefore announcing the formation of a committee to study enslaved and disenfranchised populations in Rutgers history. This committee will be charged with examining the role that the people of these disadvantaged groups played in the founding and development of Rutgers University, and with making recommendations to me on how the University can best acknowledge their influence on our history. The committee will be composed of faculty, staff and student members.

    The committee may, for example, recommend the installation of historical markers to commemorate the contributions of Native Americans and African Americans, as well as the establishment of symposia, lectures, talks, and teach-ins to address the historical context.

    Wrestling with such issues in our history is not unique to Rutgers. Brown University, for instance, founded just two years before Rutgers, formed a similar committee which was charged by its then-President, Ruth Simmons to “examine the University’s historical entanglement with slavery and the slave trade and report our findings openly and truthfully.” The report the Brown committee issued was extensive and honest and I will ask our committee for the same vigorous pursuit of the truth.

    In my 11 years at Rutgers-New Brunswick, I have become a fierce supporter and champion of this incredible institution; I am proud of it like none other. But to truly praise Rutgers, we must honestly know it; and to do that, we must gain a fuller understanding of its early history. I look forward to reading the committee’s report and recommendations.

    Richard L. Edwards, Ph.D.
    Chancellor, Rutgers-New Brunswick”

    1. Thanks Mitch, this is very interesting. As I re-read the letter I wonder what the best approaches would be? Revisiting history and allowing in other key players into the dominant narrative always feels like a game of catch up that cannot ever be equal. The entire narrative has to change, but the disruption of the American story of progress would be (should be?) destabilizing.

Leave a Reply