The Un-site: by Black Women, for Black Women

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by Black women for Black women

taylour m. upton

How can women of color play more key roles in the design, management, and facilitation of the built environment? At the 2019 nycoba|NOMA 47th Annual Conference, held in Brooklyn, keynote speaker and prominent Black woman architect, Allison Grace Williams, provided ample encouragement to all of us there to witness and capture this wisdom—predominately Black students and professionals in the design fields of the built environment. Just as civil rights leader, Whitney M. Young, Jr., sternly addressed racial discrimination, White supremacy, and indifference within the architectural profession and in spatial design in his keynote speech at the 1968 AIA Convention, Williams courageously acknowledged backlash she received throughout her career from the African American community due to her working for firms owned by White men. Nonetheless, she declared that she took such a space designed to consume people of color and transformed it to also work to her advantage.

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the un-site: by black women, for black women

the un-site: by black women, for black women

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Black feminism and Black female identity have reached

which supports the endeavors of the Black female cause

substantive success in social progression since the

is in critical demand. Additionally, utopian overtones and

1970s, but in contemporary artistic and business

methods utilized in spatial and urban design can provide

proceedings, they have barely scratched the surface.

an abstracted way of looking at this architectural and

What does an ideal urban space for women of color look

cultural identity for aspiring Black women in the dystopic

like and comprise? A critical analysis of the societal

society that exists.

influences on Black women is required to understand the multi-faceted influences that undermine these women as

In a progressive, “melting pot” metropolis such as Atlanta,

professionals and contributors equally as capable as their

Georgia, the cultural, political, and social prosperity of

White and male counterparts. Such observations are also

African Americans, comparatively, has taken place since

pertinent to formulate an environment that encourages

the beginning of the 20th century. As a city that hosts top-

their flourishment and sustainability in the urban context.

tiered historically Black colleges, it has ample potential for continued and enhanced artistic, educational, and

To achieve a space where Black women can succeed

professional advancement of Black women. This

and attain their career goals, spatial scale and symbolism

city can ultimately serve as an entity consisting of

must be considered. An in-depth look into the lives of

multiple spaces—a network grounded via iconographic

such women as matriarchs in the small, domestic space

establishment—where women of color can envision and

to professionals in the larger urban environment is

execute their spatial model to progress their social and

essential. Black feminists who paved the way for women

economic pursuits. In exploring such phenomena, an

of color in a White, patriarchal, western society must also

idealized vision of an egalitarian playing field for Black

be examined. As a long-established system conducted

women in society can become more of a reality.

by patriarchy remains dominant, a prevalent network


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The Un-site: by Black Women, for Black Women Copyright © 2020 by Taylour M. Upton All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. This work is dedicated to all who have aided in my thinking, believing, and overall progression of this project that has been long overdue... First and foremost, I thank God for alloting me the opportunity to attain such a valuable experience as a Master of Architecture student at DAAP. I sincerely thank my family, my friends, and my mother, Johnita L. Upton, for being a strong, Black woman, and my lifelong cheerleader, advisor, nurturer, and (muchneeded) disciplinary. I would like to extend a sincere thank you to the numerous instructors who have guided me through this bittersweet, insightful, and explorative journey. Thank you to educators Rebecca Williamson, Edward Mitchell, William Williams, and Elizabeth Riorden. Thank you to my additional mentors Bisola Sosan, Tiffany Williams, and Xena Griffin. Your aid, feedback, and support have been invaluable to me.

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copyrights & acknowledgements

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the un-site: by black women, for black women

the un-site: by black women, for black women

contents 01






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Black Feminism and Intersectionality


Black Women in the Urban Context

precedents & problems

| 15


“Black Wall Streets”


Barriers Faced by Black Women

the city of atlanta

| 43


“Black Mecca”


Strategies and Ideologies

visions & resolutions

| 69


Broader Spatial Scale and Influence


Architectural and Urban Design


The City: Transportation, Symbolism, and the Network

epilogue: the future of Black women in the city 5.1

| 149

Idealized Space and Expanded Influence in the Urban Future

| 04

table of contents

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list of figures Content created / captured by author are labelled in bold text

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image of Kwame Braithwaite, Black photographer

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Kwame Braithwaite, Sikolo Braithwaite (c. 1968)

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Mickalene Thomas, July 1977 (2019)

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Emma Amos, American Girl (1978)

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image of Black architect Norma Sklarek with White, male colleagues

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physical model_The Un-site

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image of Angela Davis, acclaimed Black feminist

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image of a White, male profession

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site visit image_Centennial Olympic Park

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collage_Disaster in the Simulated City

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Kara Walker, Slaughter of the Innocents (2017)

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physical model (pin-up)_Narrative

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image of Spelman College insignia

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Mickalene Thomas, portrait of Diahann Carroll, notable Black actress (2018)

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Sean Schwab, wall mural of John Lewis, notable civil rights activist, in Sweet Auburn (2012)

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collage_Skyscraper Perspective

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diagram_Timelines of the AUC and Sweet Auburn

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site visit image_“Beloved Community” wall mural of bell hooks quote by Fabian Williams, in downtown Atlanta

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site map diagram_White Patriarchy in Atlanta

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image of bell hooks, acclaimed Black feminist

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image of MARTA light rail

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collage_Black Women in Louis Sullivan’s “Graphic V”

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image of MARTA light rail route map

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collage_The Cooperative

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Future History Now artists, mural of Breonna Taylor, a victim of police brutality, in Annapolis, MD (2020)

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image of Toni Morrison’s Beloved movie (1998)

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collage_Section Perspective

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flyer of “Soul City”, a “Black Wall Street” in Durham

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collage_Idealized Reflections

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image of “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa (before riot)

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physical model_the Sites and the ATLSC in the City

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image of “Black Wall Street” in Tulsa (after riot)

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sketch_The “Un-site”

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image of Greater University Center map in Cleveland

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illustration on racialized eugenics featured in Muhammad Speaks newspaper (c. 1960s)

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diagram_Urban Consulate

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collage_Site Map and the ATLSC (1st half)

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drawing_City Site Section

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Shepard Fairey, Power and Equality (2007)

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collage_DingPolitik & Epistemology: The “Un-Subject” 05 |

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list of figures

the un-site: by black women, for black women

the un-site: by black women, for black women

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physical model_The Un-site

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collage_Spelman College Reimagined

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physical model_The Un-site

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site visit image_Spelman College Museum of Fine Art

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rendering_The Un-site

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image of interior of existing Spelman College Museum of Fine Art

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drawings_plans_The Un-site

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Mickalene Thomas, Interior: Yellow Couch, Blue Foyer, and Fireplace (2013)

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rendering_The Un-site

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drawings_sections_The Un-site

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physical model (pin-up)_Dispositioned Space

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rendering_hand-drawn_The Un-site

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sketch_Art Space Expansion

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rendering_The Un-site

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drawings_plan & section of Art Space Expansion

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rendering_The Un-site

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rendering of Art Space Expansion

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rendering_hand-drawn_The Un-site

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site visit image_MLK Historic Park

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physical model_The Un-site

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site visit image_street signage at MLK Center

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site visit image_street signage at MLK Center02

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collage_Iconography (based at the MLK Historic Park)

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sketch_Business Incubation Center

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collage_Site Map and the ATLSC (2nd half)

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drawings_plans_Business Incubation Center

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physical model_the Sites and the ATLSC in the City

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drawings_sections_Business Incubation Center

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diagram_Materiality & Permeability

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rendering_Business Incubation Center

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collage_Sweet Auburn Reimagined

image of Allison Williams’ Princess Nourah Bint Abdul University’s Riyadh Health Sciences & Research (2011)

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site visit image_David Adjaye, Philip Freelon, and Max Bond’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

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site visit image_Philip Freelon’s Atlanta’s Center for Human & Civil Rights (2014)

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collage_Semiology (based at the MLK Historic Park)

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site visit image_Georgia State Capitol in Downtown

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site visit image_Norfolk Southern office building and Atlanta Immigration Courthouse in Downtown

collage_Black Women in Alexsandra Exter’s “Scene Plastique et Gymnastique”

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site visit image_BeltLine freight at Downtown site

drawing_Network & Expanding Influence: The Subject vs. the Object

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collage_A New Typology

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diagram_Interruption of White Patriarchy

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sketch_The Un-site

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diagram_Multitude of Spatial Typologies

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the un-site: by black women, for black women



Although the focus is on the Black female, our struggle for liberation has significance only if it takes place within a feminist movement that has as its fundamental goal the liberation of all people. -bell hooks, 1981, 13

U.S. Civil War, with the establishment of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and its activists and writers such as W.E.B.


icture it—the late 1800s were a vivid time of social liberation for women, particularly in the United States. Prominent women’s rights leaders such

as Susan B. Anthony and Mary Wallstonecraft influenced White women’s suffrage rights and gave women a voice amidst established White patriarchy. African American

DuBois and Ida B. Wells. However, it was not until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s that Black men and women, through such organizations, became notably successful in activating and maintaining a more empowered and unapologetic voice in America. (Jenkins, 2010) 1.1

Black Feminism and Intersectionality

women abolitionists, most notably Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, aptly worked to ensure liberation and

The term “Black feminism” has recently come to be

rights for freed Blacks and Black Americans as a whole.

acknowledged in Western feminist dialogue. However, it

Truth’s notable 1851 “Ain’t I A Woman?” speech was

ultimately comprises an entirely distinct arena. Beginning

revolutionary in highlighting injustices faced by Black

in the 1960s, notable Black women such as Audre

women in America, specifically at a time where the literal

Lorde, Angela Davis, bell hooks, and Patricia Hill Collins

enslavement of Blacks was still in effect. While America

paved the way for women of color through scholarship

finally addressed much of the oppression toward White

and activism. Davis, active in the Student Nonviolent

women as second-class citizens, the experiences of

Coordination Committee (SNCC) and the Black Panther

Black women during these times ultimately remained

Party, has been a vital voice for the African American

comparatively stagnant. African American rights

community via more revolutionary tactics, and had even

movements were taking place since shortly after the

served jail time as a result. Collins’ coined term, “Black

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the un-site: by black women, for black women

feminist standpoint epistemology”, is often prominently

include the interactions, which frequently reinforce each

addressed in her writings such as her famed work, Black

other, of being Black and of being a woman.” (Rendell,

Feminist Thought, and emphasizes that the experiences


accrued by and as Black women allow them to be more aware of things than the less- and the non-marginalized. In her article for the ANNALS (2000, 41-53), Collins states that “…Black women embodied all three of these revolutions [women, labor, Black folk] in their historical roles in the family.” Here exemplifies one of her many conveyances of the concept of intersectionality—that Black women embody the intersecting identities of race and gender. She even discusses W.E.B. DuBois’ slight neglect for acknowledging gender as a critical component of intersectionality, as he addresses “race, class, and nation”. (Collins, 2000, 42) Jane Rendell, in her article Feminist Architecture: From A to Z, also discusses Intersectionality via notable Black feminist writer, Kimberlé Crenshaw, and her “critical race theory” and “intersectionality theory”. Here, Rendell succinctly emphasizes Crenshaw’s viewpoint, “…which argues that the experience of being a Black woman must


White Patriarchy, Black Patriarchy, and Urbanism

“Western” society still maintains a White, patriarchal dominance in social, political, economic, cultural, and almost every other affair. When matters are discussed in the socioeconomic and business arenas and about the progression of the societal outlook in the United States, the ruling elite is that of popular demand of Caucasian people, especially men. Since the inception of the “urban scape”, the business district has occupied the center of metropolises, and has been classified, both implicitly and explicitly, as a place for the White man to succeed. The confinement of women into the domestic space has become increasingly dissipated in the last few decades, but, since the early days of mankind, it has been a pre-empted social construction that the home is where women “belong”. Consequently, women began to perpetuate a sense of empowerment within the confines

of the domestic space in the 19th century. In The Grand

leaving the urban space to men. White feminist attributes

Domestic Revolution, Dolores Hayden explains author

and Black men’s statuses were making progression within

and girls’ educational rights activist Catharine Beecher’s

the city, but it held no place for women of color, and still

coined term, “domestic feminism”, for women of all

displaces such women today. Bell hooks exclaimed,

economic classes. However, this ideology apparently

in her famous Ain’t I A Woman, titled after Truth’s

excluded women of color in America, as it took place

aforementioned speech:

before the Civil War commenced. During the late 1800s

When White women enter the work force today, it is seen as a positive step, a move toward gaining independence, while more than ever before in our history Black women who enter the work force are encouraged to feel that they are taking jobs from Black men or de-masculinizing them. (hooks, 1981, 83)

and well into the 20th century, this social positioning remained dominant, even in Black households, thereby

She further emphasizes the binary between White feminist and Black feminist social thinking: White feminist supporters like to think that feminism has been the motivating force behind changes in women’s role; in actuality, changes in the American capitalist economy have had the greatest impact on the status of women. (hooks, 1981, 105)

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The following statement by hooks concludes such thoughts, further solidifying the necessity for the Black feminist cause: White women and black men have it both ways. They can act as oppressor or be oppressed. Black men may be victimized by racism, but sexism allows them to act as exploiters and oppressors of women. White women may be victimized by sexism, but racism enables them to act as exploiters and oppressors of Black people. Both groups have led liberation movements that favor their interests and support the continued oppression of other groups. Black male sexism has undermined struggles to eradicate racism just as white female racism undermines feminist struggle. As long as these two groups or any group defines liberation as gaining social equality with ruling class white men, they have a vested interest in the continued exploitation and oppression of others.

women are not the same. For example, it is easy for Black women to be used by the power structure against Black men, not because they are men, but because they are Black. Therefore, for Black women, it is necessary, at all times, to separate the needs of the oppressor from our own legitimate conflicts within our communities. This same problem does not exist for White women. Black women and men have shared racist oppression and still share it, although in different ways. (Lorde, 1984, 118)

In her acclaimed work, Sister Outsider, Audre Lorde further emphasizes the distinctiveness of Black feminism, by asserting that: Thus, in a patriarchal power system where whiteskin privilege is a major prop, the entrapments used to neutralize Black women and White

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the un-site: by black women, for black women

the un-site: by black women, for black women

Lorde also stresses the need for support from Black men in the pursuit for liberation as a people, and iterates the fact that Black men are not solely responsible for many of the issues that their female counterparts face: For Black women as well as Black men, it is axiomatic that if we do not define ourselves for ourselves, we will be defined by others—for their use and to our detriment. The development of self-defined Black women, ready to explore and pursue our power and interests within our communities, is a vital component in the war for Black liberation… Black women and Black men who recognize that the development of their particular strengths and interests does not diminish the other do not need to diffuse their energies fighting for control over each other. We can focus our attentions against the real economic, political, and social forces at the heart of this society which are ripping us and our children and our worlds apart. (Lorde, 1984, 46-47) It would be shortsighted to believe that Black men alone are to blame for the above situations in a society dominated by White male privilege. But the Black male consciousness must be raised to the realization that sexism and womanhating are critically dysfunctional to his liberation as a Black man because they arise out of the same constellation that engenders racism and homophobia. Until that consciousness is developed, Black men will view sexism and the destruction of Black women as tangential to Black liberation rather than as central to that struggle. So long as this occurs, we will never be able to embark upon that dialogue between Black women and Black men that is so essential to our survival as a people. This continued blindness us can only serve the oppressive system within which we live. (Lorde, 1984, 64) Before examining the adversities endured by African American women, it is pertinent to acknowledge the fact that White men, Black men, White women, and others are not always solely at fault for the problems that they face. Black women must also take into account their own deficiencies in order to most | 11

adequately progress in such an overweighing society. introduction

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the un-site: by black women, for black women

Capitalism has been the prominent figure to regulate the

because they are often the sole breadwinners of their

experiences and obstacles that Black women in America

households. African American women have come to

face. While they struggle to gain more establishment in

embrace such a status as (particularly single) mothers in

the urban environment, Black women must endure the

contemporary times, despite the vast array of challenges

White capitalist agenda that defines the economic and

that they face, issues that stimulate the strength that

social basis of American society. Collins agrees with

Black feminism manifests and retains.

hooks’ stance on this issue in her Gender, Black Feminism, and Political Economy work: Understanding and addressing the social problems plaguing U.S. Blacks required analyses that examined the basic ideologies and practices of American racism, that evaluated how capitalism used these ideologies and practices. (Collins, 2000, 42) Black women’s struggles are further capitalized through their identities as mothers. Like that of feminism, there exists an almost blatant distinction between Black motherhood from White motherhood, as the social trope of the “single Black mother” remains prevalent in, as Collins calls it, a “racialized social class system” instated by White patriarchal capitalist society. She continues this stance by incorporating the term “consumer racism”— Black women’s incomes are automatically depressed


Black Women in the Urban Context

Formulating space which acknowledges and celebrates Black women in America is a significant goal which has yet to be fully achieved. Much of the problem stems from the vast history of social stigmatization and oppression towards them. In his Black Feminism Out of Place article, James Bliss declares: If institutionality is the site for the production and reproduction of subject, is there an un-site for the un-subject? A non-space of the buried subjectivity of Black women? (Bliss, 2016, 746-747) With this statement, Bliss emphasizes the objectivity that Black women in America had frequently and still often endure. In her Master of Science in Architecture thesis,

Bisola Sosan also explores African American “sense of place”. She analyzes Toni Morrison’s acclaimed Beloved novel as an ambiguous state of home whilst positioning her stances with that of French philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space. In regard to an ill-stablilized state of being, Sosan’s observation can be interpreted as an acknowledging that architectural application is a solidified resolution: While Morrison’s Beloved stands on its own as a complete work analyzed by historians, literary, feminist, and African American scholars, the novel also lends itself to architectural interpretations, specifically through a phenomenological lens. When juxtaposed with slavery, new meanings and relationships between a person and their space of dwelling begin to emerge. Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space seeks to prove that “…the house is one of the greatest powers of integration for the thoughts, memories and dreams of mankind.” (Sosan, 2018, 16)


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According to an article by Dr. Erica Richards (Richards, n.d.), women are more likely than men to experience depression, but Black women are only half as likely as Caucasian women to seek professional help. This is heavily due to the cultural stigmatization of the Black community against obtaining support from mental (and other) health specialists. Black women should feel encouraged to seek spiritual and mental growth. As Audre Lorde stresses, the overall health and well-being of Black women benefits the Black community as a whole. Dr. Beth Richie, a professor of African American Studies and Criminology, Law, and Justice at the University of Illinois at Chicago, critically highlights many issues that Black women face in her work, Arrested Justice (Richie, 2012). It discusses issues regarding intimate relationships, physical, emotional, and sexual violence, and the industrial prison complex (which all frequently relate to one another), and how they impact the Black community and the country. Furthermore, Amelia Zohore points out yet another societal struggle of Black women: finding romantic partners. She mentions that a study by dating website OkCupid revealed that Black women are deemed as the “least desirable” among all other races, and that they most struggle to find mates (Zohore, 2019) She also acknowledges that this phenomenon is partially due to the lack of availability of Black men, who are most susceptible to high mortality rates and incarceration.

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the un-site: by black women, for black women

the un-site: by black women, for black women

From hyper-sexualization and social stigmatization to

Victorian Kaplan successfully discusses the

degradation of intellectual and economic prowess, Black

dispositions of African Americans making “space” for

women have struggled to gain a steady, empowered

themselves. Black architects who own their own firms

claim to the city—to space, which has only fortified White

often have to simultaneously work as teachers in order

patriarchal endeavors. Sosan’s dissertation mostly deals

to bring funds to their businesses, as a vast majority of

with the home and more intimate way of being, but strong

larger projects are prized to firms run by White males.

connection also aptly applies to external spatial contexts.

She highlights the fact that European architecture has always been viewed as the standard model of quality

In American cities, especially those which have been

design in this country. Kaplan then describes the implicit

substantially developed into powerful metropolitans in

requirement for Black designers of space (as well as in

this self-proclaimed “first-world” nation, it is apparent that literal space has to be designated for the artistic, educational, and business pursuits of Black women—an architectural discourse which positions them as social equals. In her idealization of cities built by women, Susanna Rustin says that: The first thing to observe when discussing how cities would differ if women built them (or at least had more of a say in how they are built or rebuilt) is that—surprise!—at the moment and across the world, and even in countries where women hold powerful positions, the biggest decisions about urban development are mainly made by men. (Rustin, 2014) 13 |

other professions) to be “bicultural”, and explains that: It takes a lot of energy and savvy to be able to navigate well in both the dominant, European American culture and the African American culture. (Kaplan, 2006, 119) In order to achieve a fortified space in the urban context where Black women can flourish celebrate their artistry and businesses, this point shall be disclosed and acknowledged. Finding space amidst the White, capitalist regime called the United States poses a massive challenge!


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the un-site: by black women, for black women


precedents & problems

Unlike music, art, dance, textiles, and literature, there is no “Black Architecture.” Within the “family” of Black architects... The spectrum is broad, from the opinion that there is no such thing, to the belief [that] if you are Black and an architect, your work is automatically influenced by your cultural heritage... - Victoria Kaplan, 2006, 59

Regions in the southern United States were also locations where Black communities and wealth were established. In the 1970s, an area in North Carolina, dubbed “Soul City”, was enacted by President Richard Nixon and Harvey 2.1


Gantt, the first Black mayor of Charlotte, NC, and a

“Black Wall Streets”

prominent Black architect, supporting African Americans his challenge was experienced by Black communities during early 20 century and well th

into the 1970s. With the abolishment of African

American slavery in the United States, segregation and prejudice toward Blacks remained prevalent. With the goal of forming social and economic prosperity in White America, Black communities established separate districts—sub-cities in a few metropolises throughout the States. Perhaps the most commemorated “Black Wall Street” is the Greenwood District, established in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As Victor Luckerson states, it was the “epicenter of Black entrepreneurship”, as it hosted numerous Black businesses and institutions, creating economic prosperity for them before the district was burned to ashes by White supremacists in 1921. (Luckerson, 2018)

in search of economic opportunity. (Mock, 2015) Unfortunately, but without much surprise, this “Black Mecca” became effectively obsolete due to lack of federal funding and ensuing racism. 2.1.1

Built by Blacks: Richmond, VA

Another prominent southern U.S. city which housed a bustling community of African Americans is Richmond, Virginia. Aside from the well-televised rural field plantations in the South, regions in the city context also hosted slave quarters. “Urban plantations” prompted servitude and urban infrastructure, which were built by Blacks. As Selden Richardson explains in his Built by Blacks how those emancipated from the shackles of slavery:

| 14 precedents & problems

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the un-site: by black women, for black women

Rose beyond menial labor and developed skills as artisans and craftsmen. This was particularly true among free Black who took advantage of the urban setting to earn money as skilled workers and purchase their freedom, becoming entrepreneurs in the own right. (Richardson, 2007, 3)

As early Black architects in Richmond such as Charles

It was not long after the Union victory in the Civil

of downtown Atlanta, came into fruition following the

T. Russell and Ethel B. Furman (Virginia’s first Black female architect) established the physical spaces in this “Black Mecca” (Richardson, 2007), a prominent Black neighborhood made its mark in Atlanta. The Sweet Auburn Historic District, situated at the southeast corner

War that African Americans in Richmond began designing

1906 Atlanta Race Riot, as prior racial integration in the

and erecting their own structures and neighborhoods,

Atlanta business district dissipated due to competition

distinct from that of Euro-centric influence. Such districts

between Blacks and Whites. Black businesses then

included the notable Jackson Ward, which is also often

migrated to areas alongside downtown, including

referred to as the “Black Wall Street of America”. It

the Atlanta University Center to the southwest and

answered what Richardson calls “architectural needs

Auburn Avenue on the opposite hand side. Having

of Blacks” (Richardson, 2007, 49), via the structures

close proximity to the Georgia Railroad, Sweet Auburn

built by them, as well as its comprising Black business

developed rather quickly, and provided the Black

and community leaders. Richardson emphasizes the

community revitalized economic and social growth for

interrelatedness of Black business leadership and the

much of the 20th century. (NPS, 2002)

built environment: Richmond’s Black entrepreneurs, architects, contractors, craftsmen…were soon busy in Richmond’s Black neighborhoods modifying and enhancing their surroundings. (Richardson, 2007, 33) | 15

precedents & problems

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Barriers Faced by Black Women

As Black feminists have tirelessly stressed, the social and economic forces pitted against African American women remain prevalent today. The forcefields of White, and oftentimes, even Black patriarchy have displaced Black womanhood within the global, competitive society, resulting in it being highly scarce and/or objectified in these areas. Whereas Sosan touches upon oneiric states of existing as an African and African American, Cheryl Jordan, for her PhD dissertation in philosophy, deliberates further on Black female identity within a practical context. She explores the tensional dynamic that persists between oppressive powers and Black women, and how Black feminism and intersectionality work to decisively disclose and resolve issues resulting from this tension and oppression, specifically dealing with corporate culture. (Jordan, 2011) Absence of a concrete place within the urban and physical environments directly correlates with other deficits faced by women of color. This general lack of income, support, and other resources is also highlighted by Collins (whom Jordan also cites in her dissertation) as “Black diasporic feminism” (Collins, 2000, 46), and is prevalent in multiple facets of Black female identity and motherhood. It also deeply coincides with the scarcity of resources for Black women in artistic, educational, and business pursuits. How can African American women feel encouraged to pursue such endeavors whilst upholding their identities amidst oppressive powers? 2.2.1

Black Businesswomen

Today, with opportunity of advancement for the overall African American community in Atlanta, Black women have only recently begun to distinctly claim the business arena in the urban context. Apparently, only limited progress has been made; according to Kimberly Weisul’s article on Inc. com, Black women own 58.9 percent of all Black-owned businesses, but 16 | 19 | 20

precedents & problems

the un-site: by black women, for black women

the un-site: by black women, for black women

nonetheless bring in less revenue than their Black male

their own businesses, due to numerous factors:

counterparts. Weisul further explains barriers faced

Personal circumstances are often the driving force behind women’s decision to go into business, related to their failure to find paid work after a long period of job-hunting, their inability to balance their domestic responsibilities with inflexible working hours, or to a good idea worth testing in the marketplace. However, women can also choose to start their own businesses as a result of discontent with the workplace; low pay, inflexible working conditions, men being

by Black businesswomen. The lack of mentors and educators runs systematically with the discrimination and stereotyping that they are subjected to. Unlike most White men and women, Blacks are deficient of generational wealth, which ties back to the numerous attempts at Black wall streets establishing steady profit in America as mentioned. According to the Small Business Administration (SBA), Black women are less likely to get loans approved by banks, as they still face chronic stigmatization in contemporary times. (Weisul, 2019) In Women in the City, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), then led by a Black female Chair, elaborates on the need for women to have more of a presence in business affairs. They declare that it is “imperative for urban planning to support economic development…to job creation, self-employment, and business promotions.” (OECD, 1995, 110) This intergovernmental, international organization continues with discussing the rise of the number of women starting 17 |

promoted in favor of women, and lack of career prospects. (OECD, 1995, 113)

their leadership. Finally, my understanding of resistance also recognizes organizational barriers and regulations as influencing the leadership experiences of Black women leaders in corporate organizations. As such, institutional practices are considerable influences on the acts of resistance by Black women leaders. (Jordan, 2011, 55)

As Jordan further exclaims, the corporate world

has yet to adequately adapt to the needs of African American women, but they in turn have learned to adjust to the countless barriers pitted against them, and that: Gendered racism in the workplace is likely to include routine and repetitive expressions of marginalization and humiliations… Everyday racism includes individuals experiencing oppression through daily practices and actions or from overarching organizational policies and practices. (Jordan, 2011, 48) Therefore, through the act of resistance, Black women leaders in corporate settings may cocreate and participate in structuring a world, new realities, and life experiences based on oppositional behaviors to gendered (everyday) racism. They may also resist inequities not at an individual level, but with the support of a collectivity of other Black women leaders or non-Black leaders in the organization, thereby participating in politics of revolution. Black women leaders may identify, co-identify, or disidentify with the dominant discourse regarding race and gender in the corporation impacting

The U.S. Small Business Administration has been intensively studying and improving the conditions of women with entrepreneurial pursuits. Through granting loans and providing training workshops for women, the SBA creates a paradigm of encouragement for women to take on more leadership roles in the city. Such resources for Black women are still lacking in comparison to White women. As an increasing number of African American women occupy such roles, more employment opportunities for other Black women occurs. However, the social and financial obstacles that they face presents a vital matter in how they can function in the urban context.

precedents & problems

21 | 22

Issues of the Black LGBTQ community are also pertinent and discussed in many Black feminist dialogues. According to the Human Rights Campaign, “LGBTQ African Americans are disproportionately young and disproportionately female”, and they face numerous barriers such as economic insecurity, violence/ harassment, religious intolerance, and health inequity (HRC, 2013). Audre Lorde states that: …there are particular resonances of heterosexism and homophobia among Black women. Despite the fact that woman-bonding has a long and honorable history in the African and African American communities, and despite the knowledge and accomplishments of many strong and creative women-identified Black women in the political, social and cultural fields, heterosexual Black women often tend to ignore or discount the existence and work of Black lesbians… part of this need to misname and ignore Black lesbians comes from a very real fear that openly women-identified Black women who are no longer dependent upon men for their self-definition may well reorder our whole concept of social relationships. Black women who once insisted that lesbianism was a white woman’s problem now insist that Black lesbians are a threat to Black nationhood, are consorting with the enemy, are basically un-Black. (Lorde, 1984, 121) The move to render the presence of lesbians and gay men invisible in the intricate fabric of Black existence and survival is a move which contributes to fragmentation and weakness in the Black community. (Lorde, 1984, 143) All in all, social injustices exist at the “intersection of blackness and queerness” (Kiesling, 2017), as well as the intersection of femaleness, for Black LGBTQ women. 18 | 23 | 24

precedents & problems

the un-site: by black women, for black women

the un-site: by black women, for black women


Black Mothers

and actions such as this undoubtedly undermined the reproductive rights of Black women, but the reproductive

Motherhood has always been a critical hardship,

rights movements of the early 20th century apparently

particularly for African American women. As the

only applied to White women’s liberation. Even today,

Economic & Community Development Institute of

Black women’s bodies are more prone to societal

Cincinnati states, 80 percent of Black mothers serve as

stigmatization and manipulation. Dr. Beth Richie conveys

the primary or sole breadwinners of their households, but

that policies are still:

are only on average paid 61 cents for every dollar paid to White men. (ECDI, 2019) As urbanization continually and progressively takes prominence in today’s society, social structures are considered overall, but such policies often target women and inhibit their rights. The OECD states that these policies often police population control and family planning for women, whilst favoring the urbanrelated phenomena for men. America’s grisly history contains vile measures to decrease Black population, as the U.S. Supreme Court (along with reproductive rights “activist” Margaret Sanger) upheld sterilization of thousands of African American women, most non-consenting, during the early

... targeted toward Black women with less privilege…policies embedded in some welfare regulations require women to limit their number of children by using specific methods of birth control, including Depo-Provera and Norplant, which are known to pose risks to women’s health. These population control policies are linked to larger initiatives concerned with control of poor women’s bodies and families… The list of draconian applications of policies aimed at controlling the reproductive lives of women is extensive, including the denial of contraception or information about HIV prevention, and the threats to abortions, the arrest of prostitutes on sexoffense charges, and the anti-lesbian agenda that permeates most social, health, and educational policies in the United States. (Richie, 2012, 53)

1900s into the 1970s as racialized eugenics/population control. (Equal Justice Initiative, 2013) Oppressive laws | 19

precedents & problems

25 | 26

“Domestic feminism”, a term coined by Catherine

sphere for men to prosper. (Hayden, 1987) Patricia Hill

Beecher, more readily pertains to African American

Collins would apparently refute Beecher’s claims of male

mothers, as it addresses the “self-sacrifice”, especially

dominion in the city. In Gender, Black Feminism, and

economic, that these women must apply for the well-

Political Economy, she addresses the oppression of the

being of their families. In current times, more than other

Black American family, the economic challenges of Black

races, Black mothers still have to endure the very possible

women, and the need for them to gain the resources to

and very real phenomenon of their babies being harassed

allow them to compete equally:

and murdered by law enforcement. Not only have Black women always been the powerful force behind the sustenance of their own families—it is no secret that they also upkept White and other families as caretakers. Dorothy Lee Bolden, a former domestic worker in Atlanta for four decades, founded the National Domestic Worker’s Union of America (NDWUA) in 1968. This long-standing

Grounding analyses of Black political economy in issues of state power, industrial and labor market practices, and other public sphere social institutions affords African American family processes secondary status. Within this logic, gender becomes confined to Black women, and Black women become studied in the context of family. (Collins, 2000, 51)

organization promoted civil rights and improved working

The long-ingrained trope of the “single Black mother”

conditions of caretakers around the country (McIndoe,

must also be acknowledged. The OECD cites an issue


paper by Professor Elizabeth Wilson—she brings forth a

In The Grand Domestic Revolution, Dolores Hayden claims that Beecher, in advocating for the domestic domination for women, also believed that women should not compete in the public/urban context, as it is the

sense of agency owned by women in the, “…situation of single mothers…that some women are actually choosing to remain single because the fathers of their children can’t get work or give little help.” (OECD, 1995, 38) Collins also critically addresses single Black motherhood, stating 20 |

27 | 28

precedents & problems

the un-site: by black women, for black women


black women in the U.S. are paid 61 cents for every dollar paid to white men




according to ECDI and the Women’s Business Centers of Ohio, 80% of black mothers are the primary or sole breadwinners of their households black women own almost 60% of all black-owned businesses, but bring in substantially less profit than their male counterparts black feminism & intersectionality: being black and a woman


most professional fields, including art, architecture, and planning in the urban context lack these crucial elements for such a “progressive” society the city/downtown/urban context is implied as a thriving space for white patriarchy: “good Old Boys system” more resources need to be available to provide black women with economic and business knowledge to be in leadership roles and to be financially independent of the “system” How can women of color play more key roles in the design, management, and facilitation of the built environment?


west Atlanta areas like Bankhead and West End are victims of gentrification efforts which demote and inconvenience black residents

the un-site: by black women, for black women

that, “Ideas about the family certainly contribute to the

uplifting Black communities around the globe, most

continued stigmatization of U.S. families headed by

notably during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.

Black single mothers… Ideas also operate as a cognitive

However, issues of space, identity, and artistic expression

scaffold used to construct intersecting systems of

continue to contribute to the hindrances of Black women

oppression.” (Collins, 2000, 48) In her writings, including

artists in the urban context.

Arrested Justice, Dr. Richie describes the “trap of loyalty”, as it “exploits women’s emotional commitment” (Richie,

Such issues stem from the trajectory media outlets

2012, 36) to their intimate partners and families, and

have long taken in showcasing “Blaxploitation” and

obliges and pressures Black women to serve as a

stigmatizations of the African American community,

mediating buffer between them and the oppressive

such as the “angry Black woman”, and have systemically

public space. The formidable and empowering choices

worked to “justify” many of the injustices that they face,

that single Black mothers must make amidst oppressive

even today. Thus, feminist critique sensibly comes into

barriers uphold Black domestic feminism in both rural and

play when discussing notions of Black female artistry. In

urban contexts.

Theorizing Black Feminisms, Stanlie James and Abena Busia analyze the interlinking of Black feminism with


Black Female Artists

artistry, thus creating an empowering transition “from object to subject and from margin to center.” (James &

Along with setbacks in the business and motherhood sectors, African American women have been working to establish an empowered presence in the Arts. The popularization of “Black Art”, stemming primarily from that of the ancient Egyptians, has been prevalent, in even dominant societies, and has been a critical element in

Busia, 1993, 238) They explain this notion further: Without a discourse of their own, Black women artists remain fixed in the trajectory of displacement, hardly moving beyond the defensive posture of merely responding to their objectification and misrepresentation by others (James & Busia, 1993, 228)

| 21

precedents & problems

29 | 30

22 | 23 |

31 | 32

precedents & problems

the un-site: by black women, for black women

the un-site: by black women, for black women

As with this response to the exploitation and hindrance

Many other Black artists’ endeavors, such as the works

of Black women, further examination of womanhood is

of the notable Kara Walker, Emma Amos, and Mickalene

poetically expressed by the renowned Maya Angelou,

Thomas, have replenished how Black women are

taking place in many of her writings, most notably

portrayed. Brathwaite’s work and its purpose directly tie

Phenomenal Woman in 1978, as she addresses the

in with James Bliss’ standpoint in his Black Feminism

warped standards of beauty upheld by Eurocentrism.

Out of Place, as pronounces the Black woman as the

African American artist Kwame Brathwaite used his skill

un-subject. His artistry has clearly inspired contemporary

in photography in 1960s Harlem to unapologetically

artists such as Theaster Gates and his quest for equality

capture the beauty of Black women and the natural

in the celebration of Black female beauty through art.

elements that best represent them. Morgan Jenkins highlights Brathwaite’s yearning to encapsulate the true

Visual arts are not the only type of artistic and cultural

beauty of Blacks:

expression that has regarded Black women—the film,

The phrase “Black is beautiful” became a part of the zeitgeist in the 1960s, but it was Brathwaite’s photography that popularized this slogan. Frustrated with the beauty ideals for African-Americans—such as slicked hairstyles that illustrated cultural assimilation, and the overrepresentation of light-skinned Black people in both Black and predominantly White magazines—Brathwaite picked up his camera and encouraged his models to come as they were: thick-haired, nappy, dark-skinned, and irrepressibly Black. (Jenkins, 2019)

modelling, music, and sports industries have also comprised such influence. The (very few) actresses and models prominent in the early to mid-20th century, such as Dorothy Dandridge, Diahann Carroll, Donyale Luna, Naomi Sims, and Cicely Tyson have paved the way for the increase in influencers today like Halle Berry, Viola Davis, Naomi Campbell, and Tyra Banks. Black female athletes such as Florence Joyner (Flo-Jo), Lisa Leslie, and Serena and Venus Williams have dominated in track and field, the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA),

| 24

precedents & problems

33 | 34

and tennis, respectively. Music artists from the mid20th century such as Nina Simone voiced on oppression facilitated by White patriarchy, most markedly with her acclaimed song, “Mississippi Goddam” (1964). Her legacy has come to be commemorated in a song by Black female hip-hop artist Rapsody’s Eve album (2019), which hosts song titles of names of influential Black women throughout history. With her acclaimed Rhythm Nation 1814 album (1989), R&B and pop icon Janet Jackson addressed racial and other social injustices plaguing the world and has also helped to deter stigmatizations on female sexual expression in mainstream media. Jackson influenced many of today’s artists, such as music icon Beyoncé Knowles, who also has a lengthy portfolio upholding Black female empowerment, perhaps most notably with her “Run The World (Girls)” song (2011). These artists are just some of the Black women who have worked to cultivate positive imagery of Blackness and Black womanhood, and who have paved the way for girls and other women in contemporary times. This thought and celebration of the un-subject serves as a foundation for the issues with Black and female identity in the search for vitalized representation in society.

35 | 36

precedents & problems

25 |

the un-site: by black women, for black women

the un-site: by black women, for black women

In reflecting on these aforementioned issues, as well as other issues, that Black women, and hence the Black community, continue to face, spatial integrity is a vital factor that must be considered. bell hooks intrinsically examines the altruistic relevance that architecture and spatial design has on such communities. In her article, “Black Vernacular: Architecture as Cultural Practice”, she discusses deeply ingrained stigmatizations that still avert people of color from having agency in designing spaces that suit their needs, although African Americans built the United States, and declares that: Had we been given such an assignment [of architectural agency], we would have learned to think about space politically, about who controls and shapes environments. This assignment might have compelled recognition of class differences, the way racial apartheid and white supremacy altered individuals’ space, overdetermined locations and the nature of structures, created a sense of entitlement for some and deprivation for others… Despite its limitations, this assignment did teach us that, irrespective of our location, irrespective of class, race, and gender, we were all capable of inventing, transforming, making space. (hooks, 1995, 146)… In this expansive and more inclusive understanding of architecture, the vernacular is as relevant as any other form of architectural practice. This perspective allows critics to theorize Black experience in ways that promote documentation of our historical and contemporary relationship to space and aesthetics. Few scholars theorize Black experience from a standpoint that centralizes the perspectives of poor and working-class folks. Yet to ignore this standpoint is to reproduce a body of work that is neocolonial insofar as it violently erases and destroys those subjugated knowledges that can only erupt, disrupt, and serve as acts of resistance if they are visible, remembered. (hooks, 1995, 151)

| 26 precedents & problems

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the un-site: by black women, for black women


Black Female Architects

“design activism” in Architecture: A Woman’s Profession, in which acclaimed Black architect Denise Scott Brown

One crucial factor in African American women’s

declared that, “Women today are exerting pressure

advancement in the urban context is the allowance for

on the architecture profession just as others entering

them to build the spaces that encourage such. Diversity

groups, particularly the Black Power movement, did in

in the city is undoubtedly a missing link that still needs to

the nineteen-sixties. Architecture will never be the same.”

be rectified for Black women and for the overall social and

(Kullack, 2001, 113) Like California-based architect

built environments. The OECD supports this claim that:

Allison Williams, Black women in architecture still have

It is this diversity that planners and architects in government and the public sphere must recognize and value. Women do want safe streets, spaces for children…but women need also from society the recognition that we are independent adults… (OECD, 1995, 43)

held their ground whilst withstanding the societal barriers

Women planners and architects are trained in institutions where the curricula are gender-blind. They themselves emerge from such institutions unaware that women and men use the city in different ways. (OECD, 1995, 73)

highlighting several Black woman architects. This

Black women, hosting two “minority” identities, are capable of envisioning and designing spaces within the dominance of White male patriarchy that enable them to own an empowered presence and occupy more leadership roles. Tanja Kullack brings up women and

set against them. Williams, who has come to lead her own practice in the past few years, has been featured in an article periodical emphasizes the substantive inequities in the field of architecture and spatial thinking, especially for women of color: By amplifying the discussion of Black women, it is perceived that finding them in the academic and professional universes is still a not widely common situation, due to a deeply unequal historical process. (Arquitetas Invisíveis, 2019) What can be concluded is that it has visibly

become a great advance for all of us, to know those that are towards the recognition of our voice in the spaces, academics and professionals (and who traditionally didn’t contemplate them). (Arquitetas Invisíveis, 2019)

ourselves with respect. We have been around within our communities for a very long time, and we have played pivotal parts in the survival of those communities: from Hatshepsut through Harriet Tubman to Daisy Bates and Fannie Lou Hamer to Lorraine Hansberry to your Aunt Maydine to some of you who sit before me now. (Lorde, 1984, 144)

Audre Lorde also adds to this discussion of the steep scarcity of Black women in the profession:

To this day, the profession only comprises 2% Black

We are Black women who seek our own definitions, recognizing diversity among

licensed architects. Very recently, the number of African American women to acquire architectural licensure has reached 500 (Guimapang, 2020)—out of 114,000 registered architects overall in the United States, they make up only 0.4% of these positions. (BWA, 2019) At the 2020 BWA Brunch hosted in part by the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), these statistics were highlighted in the discussion about the need for many more Black women to occupy leadership roles, including that of owners and principals, of architectural firms. Only recently has there been rampant and continuous dialogue regarding the lack of JEDI (justice, equity, | 27

diversity, and inclusion), within firms in North America,

precedents & problems

39 | 40

as well as the holistic profession. During the year 2020,

women of color, it is of high importance to note the

the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and many of its

progression made by and for such women thus far.

local chapters hosted seminars to discuss these issues.

Black women have also succeeded in the science and

Partnered with NOMA, the AIA’s Large Firm Roundtable

political arenas. From Shirley Ann Jackson to the first

(LFRT) emphasized the need for design justice within

Black woman astronaut, Mae Carol Jemison, the science

the profession and within the community/clientale base.

and research fields have slowly, but surely allotted for

During a webinar at the 2020 NOMA Conference, Lance

the brilliant minds of such people. Oprah Winfrey and

Collins, another architect in California, further addressed

U.S. Senator/Vice President-elect Kamala Harris have

this concept, explicitly denoting it as correlating with both

worked for decades to dominate the societal and political

racial justice and environmental justice. Many important

spheres, and have commingled with fellow Black women

factors must be addressed to create architectural

in the entertainment industries to further such causes for

agency and equitable practice, namely the evolution

the advancement of people of color in any pursuit.

from Eurocentric ways of designing. To this day, people of color are not designing the spaces that they occupy,

As “creators of space”, it is no secret that Black women

thus further stressing the need to “dismantle the White

in various fields have always had a profound impact on

regime”. Collins explains that design justice must be

the world (and beyond). However, they still face limited

implemented in the policies that ultimately shape the

expression in architecture; it is thus imperative for them

urban environment, and that it should be first considered

to continue to work to claim space, specifically in the

in education and university studio projects so that

urban scape, and for people of privilege to work with

emerging designers are exposed to and address these

them to attain this much needed goal. As people who

critical viewpoints earlier in life. This action calls to

are marginalized racially and sexually, it is of utmost

deter from the White, heteronormative standards and

importance that Black women become architects who

human scale of which to design space, and for design

design for their communities and other Black women

professionals to no longer view non-White figures as

of influence. Black women must attain more agency

“non-compliant bodies”.

and leadership roles in designing general spaces and structures. Only then will there exist persistent execution

Despite the numerous systematic barriers which constrict

of structural equality in contemporary society. 28 |

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precedents & problems

the un-site: by black women, for black women

the un-site: by black women, for black women


the city of atlanta

The compact city of the old style is now valued, where it survives, mainly for its “historic charm.” But it also was and is a highly efficient technology for fostering innovation, supporting diversity, and extending freedom while at the same time maintaining a stable base of historical consciousness, tradition, and social cohesion. -Mike Greenberg, 1995, 9

Place, designed in the 1890s by Elise Mercur, served as an organization advocating for (non-Black) women’s rights. Charles Rutheiser, in Imagineering Atlanta, states that: 3.1

“Black Mecca”


s a metropolis that has grown substantially within the past few decades, and has become a “land of opportunity” for African Americans,

Atlanta, Georgia prides itself and continually flourishes from its colorful, complex history. A southern U.S. city with a notorious history for enslavement of Blacks and hefty contribution in the Civil War, it has for centuries comprised issues of social and racial inequity impactful in the urban scape that still resonate today. The geographic layout the Atlanta, particularly the central to southern regions, is composed of strategic planning mechanisms which stem from such history. During this period of time, women may have acquired the legislation

By 1900, Blacks constituted just under 40 percent of the population and by 1910, only a third…The development of this Black middle class was largely due to the establishment, between 1866 and 1885, of six universities that made Atlanta an unparalleled center of African-American higher education and helped to forge its later reputation as the ‘Black Mecca’.” (Rutheiser, 1996, 21) A Guardian article proclaims this phenomenon quite well: “In the 1970s, it was ‘the Black mecca of the south’ and ‘Hotlanta’. In the 1990s, it was Olympic City. Today we have ‘Black Hollywood’.” (Hobson, 2018) Although Atlanta is acclaimed for the social and economic opportunities set forth for Black people to attain, it has ultimately preserved a notable segregation of African Americans from the vitality and progression experienced by the rest of the city.

to “claim space” in this city before African Americans. According to Andrew Hamer’s Urban Atlanta, A Woman’s | 29

the city of atlanta

43 | 44

the un-site: by black women, for black women

The events that unfolded during the Civil Right Movement

College, and the Morehouse School of Medicine, (and

in the mid 20th century resulted in a growth in diversity in

previously also consisted of Morris Brown College and

the overall city. However, by the 1990s, socioeconomic

the Interdenominational Theological Center). Located

disparity became apparent, as racial and political divides

southwest of downtown Atlanta, the AUC now comprises

re-emerged via the separatism of Fulton County into

about ten thousand students annually, and is where

North Fulton, comprising mostly White republicans,

numerous notable alumni were once enrolled. It also

and South Fulton, with predominately Black democrats.

upholds community involvement in and maintenance of

These two counties still remain today, with an apparent

the city’s Black neighborhoods.

congregation of African American community at the southern half of the city. (Rutheiser, 1996) Conclusively, Atlanta’s geographic makeup still poses a jagged tension between the urban space of White prosperity and the Black communities that are peripheralized to its edges. 3.1.1

Spelman and the AUC

With its history dating back to the end of the Civil War in 1865, the Atlanta University Center has come to be the largest contiguous consortium of African Americans in higher education in the world. Previously called the ACU (Atlanta Colored University), this institution has grown to include four renowned historically Black colleges: Clark Atlanta University, Spelman College, Morehouse

30 |

The Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, the Consortium’s

Innovation Laboratory, a makerspace for exploratory

all-women’s liberal arts school, came into being in 1881

research that encourages the intersectionality of art,

with just eleven students. Becoming Spelman College

science, and engineering, as it continually strives to

in 1924, it has grown reputable as a highly selective

empower Black women from diverse backgrounds.

institution with a number of notable alumnae, from The Color Purple author Alice Walker, to former and recent

As a prominent entity in Atlanta and of overall Black

mayor of Toledo, Ohio, Paula Hicks Hudson, as well as

culture, the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art has

former Georgia gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams.

aimed to celebrate African American art, particularly

(Spelman College, 2019) As the women’s school of the

those highlighting the beautiful complexities of Black

AUC, Spelman College serves as a very suitable site for

women (Spelman Art Museum, 2013):

architectural inquiry. The institution’s mission statement reads as follows (Spelman College, 2019): Mission: Spelman College, a historically Black college and a global leader in the education of women of African descent, is dedicated to academic excellence in the liberal arts and sciences and the intellectual, creative, ethical, and leadership development of its students. Spelman empowers the whole person to engage the many cultures of the world and inspires a commitment to positive social change.

Mission: The Spelman College Museum of Fine Art inspires and enriches the Spelman College community and the general public, primarily through art by women of the African Diaspora. Vision: Women artists of the African Diaspora create dynamic, important work that contributes to the history of visual culture. By presenting exhibitions, organizing programs, and expanding the permanent collection, the Museum makes this work accessible to all. Thus, this establishment has successfully contributed

Today, Spelman comprises more than two thousand

to the fruitful imagery, storytelling, and experiences of

women from around the world and hosts a Design &

Black women throughout history. Spelman College is

the city of atlanta

45 | 46

not the only entity which supports these women—the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc. (NCBW), started in the 1970s and established in 1981, has grown to encompass chapters in multiple cities around the U.S. Having a chapter in Atlanta as well, they have set a critical foundation for collectivism in the community. To further the pursuit for equality in the urban scape, more associations like this need to be enacted and encouraged. 3.1.2

Sweet Auburn

The formation of Sweet Auburn, also known as the “Old Fourth Ward”, perhaps most directly results from the racial divide prevalent in the city. First settled by Union troops, it developed quickly due to its close proximity to the Georgia Railroad. Downtown Atlanta was initially racially integrated after the Civil War, but competitive and racial tensions between Blacks and Whites and the enacted Jim Crow segregation laws led to the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot, and caused Black businesses to migrate elsewhere in the city, specifically westward and along Auburn Avenue to the east. Among such businesses established was the city’s first Black-owned life insurance company. The National Park Service further defines: The Auburn Avenue Black community emerged because rigid social and physical segregation denied Blacks meaningful roles in Whitedominated society. In Atlanta and elsewhere in the urban South, Blacks developed and strengthened their own churches, businesses, social and cultural institutions, and social welfare agencies. Auburn Avenue exhibited considerable social class and occupational diversity. From 1910 to 1930, many Black teachers, clergymen, physicians, and businessmen lived in the community. (NPS, 2002) Sweet Auburn, as it was affectionately named by African American civic leader John Wesley Dobbs, became a notable historic neighborhood district comprising Black businesses, commerce, community, and opportunity. Also the site of Dr. King’s birth home, it contains a vast amount of elements brought forth from the United States’ Civil Rights era. During the 1970s, 31 | 47 | 48

the city of atlanta

the un-site: by black women, for black women

the un-site: by black women, for black women



AUC founded 1929 AUC founded • the largest “consortium” • the largest of African “consortium” of African Americans in higher education Americansinin higher education in United States United States • consists of notable • historically consists ofblack notable historically black colleges/universities: colleges/universities: • Clark University • Clark University • Spelman College • Spelman College •Morehouse College•Morehouse College •Morehouse School of •Morehouse Medicine School of Medicine

Spelman College 1881 founded Spelman College founded • renowned, women-only • renowned, liberal arts women-only liberal arts institution institution • Spelman College Museum • Spelman of Fine College Art Museum of Fine Art • the only museum in•the theU.S. onlythat museum in the U.S. that emphasizes art by/about emphasizes womenart by/about women of the “African Diaspora” of the “African Diaspora”


Morehouse College 1867 founded Morehouse College founded


end of Civil War 1865 end of Civil War abolition of slavery inabolition the U.S. of slavery in the U.S. Clark Atlanta University Clark founded Atlanta University founded

like many other inner-city like many and black other inner-city and black neighborhoods, Sweet neighborhoods, Auburn’s profitability Sweet Auburn’s profitability prumetted due to economic prumetted dispair due and to economic the dispair and the interstate which divided interstate it into two which divided it into two

Auburn Avenue Auburn Avenue • Black historic district• which Black historic houseddistrict which housed several successful black-owned several successful black-owned businesses businesses • houses birth home of • houses Dr. Martin birth Luther home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. King Jr.



Atlanta Race1906 Riot Atlanta Race Riot • ATL business district•downtown ATL business was district downtown was racially integrated racially integrated • racial and competitive • racial tensions and competitive caused tensions caused blacks to migrate to safer blacks areas to migrate outsideto safer areas outside of downtown, such as of AUC downtown, and Sweet such as AUC and Sweet Auburn Auburn

land first settled c.1865 by Union land troops, first settled by Union troops, and quickly progressed and being quickly progressed being located SE of downtown located Atlanta SE of downtown Atlanta near the Georgia Railroad near the Georgia Railroad

the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park was


West Atlanta and Gentrification

established at the center of the district and is a notable tourist destination in the city. Coretta Scott King founded

One cannot consider the socioeconomic and geographic

the MLK Community Center in 1976 (Rutheiser, 1996),

state of Atlanta without discussing its infamous West

which is one of the most visited in parks in the National

End. Situated just west of Interstate 75/85, it has

Parks System. At this site also rests the original and

housed many African American neighborhoods since

reconstructed Ebenezer Baptist Church, the Church

post-Civil War. In 1920, Black entrepreneur Herman

where Dr. King ministered. Additionally, Dr. King and Mrs.

Perry purchased three hundred acres in the West for the

King’s burial resting places lie upon a water feature at

development of housing for the emerging Black middle

the park, as a further exercise of salutation to these two

class, as a means to providing hospitality living in a time

distinguished Civil Rights activists.

where racial tensions still prevailed.

Today, visitors and passersby can still make out the

At an AIA seminar, Andre Perry, a fellow of the

remnants of the once-flourishing Black district. A

Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institution,

celebratory Heritage Festival, founded in the 1990s,

discussed his study of Black cities, largely located in the

commemorates the successes of Black enterprise in

Deep South and the East Coast. He stressed that factors

Atlanta. However, much of the innovation through African

such as substantive “White flight” and redlining have

American entrepreneurship has been lost in the past few

contributed to the geographical displacement of African


Americans, with policies working to devalue their homes and neighborhoods. Westside Atlanta has continually been subjected to gentrification efforts, Bankhead being the most notorious of Black neighborhoods once known

| 32

for high crime rates. Today, this area is substantively

the city of atlanta

49 | 50

more welcoming to the “general population”, but has

Sosan discusses can be witnessed. An “ideal articulation

lost the vitality of its Black residents. VOXATL, a local

of space” (Sosan, 2018, 34) that she speaks upon

news outlet, cites the U.S. Census Bureau’s findings that

provides for a substantial idealized analysis of a very real

from 1990 to 2016, the African-American population

phenomenon such as gentrification and displacement.

in the Atlanta area has decreased 13 percent, while the Caucasian population has increased 7 percent; it mentions that gentrification is not always necessarily a negative thing, as long as it is tactfully controlled and delegated. Efforts from many of the city’s powerhouse institutions have been working to address the issues of displacing African Americans from the West End. The AUC, for example, organized the West End Community Improvement District, aimed at assisting residents, business owners, and other community participants in this sector of the city. (VOXATL, 2018) The districts toward the south end of Atlanta house the majority of the African American population, and are neighborhoods which are in need of substantial consideration. With the displacement of African Americans still occurring in this and other cities, a lack of a solid sense of home that 33 |

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Gentrification may pose as having a positive impact on cities. However, Black families are often primary victims of geographical displacement, which thereby further inhibits their socioeconomic and cultural progression, as well as

MARTA Green-Blue Line

interpersonal community involvement. Efforts to provide more definable spaces (and more convenient access to the various sectors of metropolises) for the promote more equality in the urban context.


African American community, and especially for women of color, are required to

Young people are also directly subjected to societal displacement. The

documentary, entitled “Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools”, focuses on the constraints and subjective consequences of marginalized girls in the United States education system. Following the experiences of racism, sexism, and other stigmatizations that Black girls are faced by their schools, this


documentary highlights that they are the only group of girls over-represented in the school disciplinary actions of: expulsions, suspensions, arrests, corporal punishment, and referrals to law enforcement. (Morris & Atlas, 2019) It

spelman art museum expansion (exist. art museum and green campus space to remain and accommodate

explicitly states that Black girls are being “pushed out” of school, simply due to “insubordination” and authoritative figures’ neglect of learning their stories and situations—Black girls are not born on the same “playing field” as White children. It is clear that the fight for a more equitable space for Black women starts with


providing an educational system that encourages the success of Black females early in life (and not only after boys are cared for), so that they continue to thrive in their professional and personal endeavors into adulthood. 20

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MARTA Red-Gold Line


Atlanta Streetcar ATLSC

DOWNTOWN new affordable housing complex and subsidiary program; occupancy of rooftop of immigration court across street


business innovation hub

(exist. vacant lot and MLK Center)

ATLSC expansion

(exist. parking lot to be demolished; abandoned parking structure to be transformed)




MARTA Green-Blue Line




MARTA Red-Gold Line




existing site strusctures




green and subsidiary sites patriarchal iconography ATLSC expansion

the un-site: by black women, for black women


Infrastructure and Public Transits

runs primarily north-south through this part of the state of Georgia, explicitly segregates Sweet Auburn from

The infrastructure in the heart of Atlanta is also a

central downtown Atlanta as it loops around downtown’s

prevailing commodity which has played a vital role in

diagonally placed portion. This strategic execution could

shaping its physical and spatial layout. From reading Built

easily be viewed as a reinforcing of the binary formed

by Blacks, the impact of highways and similar structures

between African Americans and the White patriarchy

comes into mind, as it addresses the displacement of

represented through the main urban context. Rutheiser

African American neighborhoods by the construction

describes this mechanism clearly in Imagineering Atlanta:

of highways in early- to mid- 20th century Richmond.

that these expressways, “do not constitute compelling

Richardson asserts that, “the neighborhoods targeted for

districts within vernacular geographies of the social

wholesale clearance, either as part of ‘slum removal or

imagination, however. Instead, counties, municipalities,

as highway construction, were poor and typically Black.”

and neighborhoods provide a nested hierarchy of the

(Richardson, 2007, 83)

most popularly employed place designations.” (Rutheiser,

Both the Atlanta University Center and Sweet Auburn districts possess similar discourses with similar connections with the city’s infrastructure. Interstate 285 serves as the metropolis’ circumventing expressway and connects most regions on the outskirts to the city’s core. As the highway that expands far beyond the “heart” of the municipality, it holds the entire downtown, as well as both the AUC and Sweet Auburn, within its boundaries.

1996, 84) Although the AUC still presents an “intactness” as this interstate does not slice through it and completely ostracize it from the heart of the city, its entire south, longitudinal edge hugs along the west-east-running Interstate 20. While these highways provide commuter convenience, the literal interruption of the cohesion of this area has posed challenges in strategic urban planning for the benefit of those who live, work, and play there.

Constructed beginning in 1960, Interstate 85, which | 35

the city of atlanta

55 | 56

Aside from the varied, influential architecture present

city’s northern outskirts down to the Hartsfield-Jackson

throughout the metropolis, an overly vast amount of

Atlanta International Airport ten miles south of I-20,

ground space is occupied and reserved for vehicular

as well as into the West End and through East Atlanta.

surface parking. It is unfortunate that, with observing the

(MARTA, 2019) However, the railways which encapsulate

physicality and logistics of the city, these lots pose much

much of the land also serve as binaries between the AUC,

of the interstitial space between the structures and other

Sweet Auburn, and the central urban scape.

forms of infrastructure that prominent define it. Atlanta also hosts a notable 22-mile stretch of both active and abandoned freight lines which is affectionally referred to as the BeltLine (Van Mead, 2018). It runs within the 285 Interstate circumference and has recently raised much inquiry about its future state, and possible connection with the city’s primary transit network. First introduced in Atlanta as a strictly a bus transit system, the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) now comprises both bus routes and railways with thirty-eight train stations throughout the metropolis. Averaging about 400,000 passengers daily, MARTA is the ninth largest rapid transit system in the United States by ridership. MARTA poses as a generally effective means of public transportation, as it reaches from some of the 36 |

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the un-site: by black women, for black women

Further displacement takes the form of the overwhelmingly disproportionate amounts of Black women and girls incarcerated in U.S. prisons. As Dr. Richie stresses, Black women are often neglected by the prison system and are subjected to physical and sexual violence in these facilities. (Richie, 2012, 52-53) Richie also states that similar phenomena occur for Black females in the military and predominately White institutions of higher education, as both entities are regarded with deep White, patriarchal roots. The #SayHerName movement has strengthened over the past decade as a solidified resource and voice for African American women and girls who have experienced brutality by law enforcement and self-proclaimed “vigilantes”. As Kimberlé Crenshaw asserts, “the reality is that Black women are vulnerable to the same justifications used for killing Black men.” (Khaleeli, 2016) In her article, “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Over-policed, and Under-protected”, in addition to addressing policies which displace girls of color in education systems, Crenshaw examines the injustices in discipline of such girls in schools and at the hands of law enforcement. (Crenshaw, 2015) Although attempts have been made to undermine the violence ensued against Black women and girls, the senseless slaying of Breonna Taylor in March of 2020 has rightfully reignited attention towards this unfortunate epidemic that has plagued the United States for centuries.

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zoom OUT

reading & research


precedent research sketching building typology(ies)



mapping diagrams graphic aesthetic and representation

program(s) thesis writing graphics of bo and design pro

zoom IN

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) g ook oject

zoom FAR OUT

site and building design, drawing, and modelling




completed writing and design project

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Strategies and Ideologies


Capitalist Equality

White capitalism, which defines the American economy, persists in oppressing peoples in marginalized categories,

This consideration of diversity and inclusion shall be expressed economically as well. In Building Equitable Cities, Bowdler discusses “economic mobility”, the ability of an individual to move up the economic ladder, and its promotion through “place-based” and “peoplebased” strategies. (Bowdler, 2017) Andre Perry also stressed the importance of taking action to counter the devaluation of Black communities in an aforementioned AIA seminar. He mentioned that “investing in people” by directing capital toward minority-owned businesses and homes and removing bureaucratic barriers from Black entrepreneurs prompts flourishment in such communities. Perry then declared the importance of “investing in places”, which comprises investing in infrastructure located in Black neighborhoods, as well as working with businesses and developers to incentivize the renovation of and providing of such commercial spaces in the urban context.

specifically women of color, as they embody intersecting identities. In Architecture and Utopia, Italian architectural theorist Manfredo Tafuri largely discusses the Age of Enlightenment as a notable social and intellectual movement that had great influence on architectural thinking. He speaks of Enlightenment architects as impacting the built and social environments: Architecture might make the effort to maintain its completeness and preserve itself from total destruction, but such an effort is nullified by the assemblage of architectural pieces in the city. (Tafuri, 1976, 14) …ideology is in contradiction with the developed capitalist system. (Tafuri, 1976, 61) With this argument, the question of how Black women view, envision, and utilize space to their advantage in today’s capitalist, urban America comes to mind. What spaces and types of architecture encourage Black women and promote their social and economic empowerment amidst the many aforementioned barriers that they face?

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Symbolic Interruption of Patriarchy

their fellow brothers and sisters, they can thrive in such envisioned spaces to sustain their missions of achieving

White capitalism and White patriarchy, of course,

equitable status in the urban scape and beyond.

work intertwiningly, and provide many of the barriers aforementioned. Therefore, in thinking about the spatial


Utopian Ideologies in Spatial Thinking

relationships for fostering African American women’s creative, economic, and other needs, it also begs to

Although Tafuri expresses some cynicism toward

explore the way that architecture can present itself as

achieving utopian space in capitalist society, his

a symbolic entity. Tafuri also deliberates on the idea of

observations pose an apparent correlation with ideal

semiology and formalism, and how architecture and the

spaces for Black women. Rendell mentions the notion

urban context address these points. He declares that:

of “decolonization” of the space and mind (Rendell, n.d.),

The contemporary city signifies accepting completely the marginal and suprastructural role which the present capitalist use of land assigns to a purely ideological phenomenon like architecture. (Tafuri, 1976, 161)

Structures and spaces within the urban

which manifests itself back to Black feminist theories and the importance of communal effort in formulating such urban environments and architectural spaces. In The Poetics of Cities, Mike Greenberg romanticizes the city by describing it as a poem, and stresses its

context, especially in a city that is known for providing

communal aspects that are achieved through urban

opportunities for African Americans despite its history


of contributing to their oppression, can be forms of symbolic, physically and ideologically, upliftment for Black women. As the matriarchs who have worked for decades to ensure independence and social equality for

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the un-site: by black women, for black women

Good urban design enables people to get around safely, efficiently, and in pleasant surroundings…but good urban design also creates value indirectly by enabling the city’s people to create value and make it available to others through free exchange. (Greenberg, 1995, 8) According to him, the city, “preserves not just the sense of community but the fact of it.” (Greenberg 9) “People both create and are the creatures of their cultures.” (Greenberg, 1995, 34) When thinking about spaces in the urban context that better suit women of color, considerations of culture, policy, and identity take priority, and greatly influence, above other things, utopian thinking of how African American women utilize space and the city.

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A new typology: How can architecture and space serve as an “un-site” for the “un-subject”?

the un-site: by black women, for black women


visions & resolutions

“Blackness” is not a material object, an absolute, or an event, but a trope; it does not hav an “essence” as such but is defined by a network of relations that form a particular aesthetic unity. -Henry Louis Gates, Jr., 1987, 40

The Urban Consulate, an organization dedicated to building equitable urban spaces across the United States, also realizes the significance of art, education, and professionalism in doing so. Founded in 2016, the 4.1

Broader Spatial Scale and Influence

Consulate firmly believes that “the city is everything”— the nucleus of humankind (today and tomorrow). This


tlanta has been one of the few cities in the “free world” renowned for its encouraging of African American social prosperity. This apparently has

been mostly due to the “local global village” manifestation that Greenberg discusses—a city in the South consisting of several Black neighborhoods that have a historic and intercontinental presence today. He also asserts the unfortunate phenomena of “politics outweighing public interests” (Greenberg, 1995, 243), and stresses the importance of people to the urban context: The map of a city is not just an arrangement of concrete and asphalt, power lines and drainage ditches; it is more than an outline of where we live and work and play. Embedded in the map of a city is a model—an ideal set of assumptions—of what it means to be a citizen and a human being.” (Greenberg, 1995, 265)

association has yet to establish itself in Atlanta, but many of its ideals are nonetheless very essential to the architectural and societal progressions pertinent in achieving social, cultural, and economic equality. Within this city (as well as several others in the U.S.), there exists commemoration of revered African Americans, especially those of past eras. Such representation has significantly dwindled, particularly when it regards people making a vital social impact in contemporary times. Some may argue that this phenomenon is due to the “lack of need” for such acknowledgement—this is far from the truth. Entities which consider and celebrate Black women—aesthetically and functionally—are in high demand by society, regardless of its ill-acknowledgement of this need.

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Bliss’ philosophy is revitalized, as spatial configuration

to the public and the self-critical role of form in regard to its own problems and development. (Tafuri, 1976, 3)

must be realized and strategized to more successfully uphold Black female presence in the urban context—the un-site for the un-subject. Through encompassing the

In Building Equitable Cities, a “multi-anchor

aforementioned, disparate arenas that struggle to equally

strategy” (Bowdler, 2017) is accessed. This proposal

embrace women of the African diaspora, a dignified

involves multiple public institutions contributing to the

network can ensue to extinguish oppressive barriers.

overall success and progression of a city. Cleveland, Ohio most concretely adopted it, with its Greater


Architectural and Urban Design

University Circle comprising several of its prominent

Architecture has successfully addressed numerous issues surrounding the environment and sustainability, land use and urban configuration, and the goals of notably White, patriarchal institutions. It has also proved somewhat adequate in illuminating cultural identities of many non-Caucasian groups (such as the aforementioned MLK historic park). The application of the Black woman fortifying her spatial design presence in the city is foreseeable via Tafuri’s ideals; he states that the architect attains the position as: …an ideologist of society; the individualization of the areas of intervention proper to urban planning; the persuasive role of form in regard

43 |

establishments, such as Case Western Reserve

color will be allotted a more established, broader sense

University, the Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland Clinic,

of place in the city via both temporary and permanent

local government, and the Greater Cleveland Regional

installations. The crucial topic of sustainability and

Transit Authority. The cooperative efforts applied by this

environmental design should be more invested toward

compound entity expands neighborhood businesses,

marginalized communities. Entities such as the notable

community jobs, and wealth of the residents. The city

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)

of Atlanta is also featured in Bowdler’s analysis. He

have recently begun discussing environmental justice and

mentions similar efforts, considerably imposed by former

its fight for equal accessibility to healthy and sustainable

African American Mayor Kasim Reed, who declared that,

spaces. Lance Collins also talked of LEED for Social

“Transit is about equity”, and hence enacted expansion

Equity pilot credits and mentioned the proposed LEED

of MARTA infrastructure throughout the city. Reed also

for Diversity, both of which encourage spatial and social

worked to enhance Atlanta’s real estate market, requiring

equity. Programmatically, economic activity, learning/

developers to make a certain percentage of residences

professional pursuits, and even the issues pertaining

attainable to lower class families. (Bowdler, 2017)

to child care correlate directly with these proposed

Though these efforts address a broader demographic

spatial and architectural resolutions. With Black women

when discussing this method, it also poses as a crucial

designing spaces which provide and encourage, as New

factor toward achieving spatial claim for Black women

Space for Women proclaims, the prosperity of Black

and the Black community.

women, both the field of architecture and broader society can evolve.

Furthermore, in applying strategies, such as those observed by the OECD, and even tactical urbanism, within the spatial and architectural context, women of

visions & resolutions

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According to Kaplan, architecture can be an

implemented tool of social and cultural activism: Architects who are other than “the norm”, that is, White and male, have to learn on their own to reflect on aesthetic and a philosophy connected to their ethnic heritage. (Kaplan, 2006, 23)

present in their works to define the spaces proposed for this project. This application poses an additional design allocation to the network of Black architects. GhanaianScottish architect and novelist Lesley Lokko declares in her White Papers, Black Marks: “One way of describing culture is too see the ‘unfolding’ of a place…an emerging

Petar Mitev, for his Master of Architecture dissertation,

culture and the city…” (Lokko, 2000, 3) The connection of

discusses issues of identity in the scope of architecture

architecture to the community addresses several issues

and the urban environment. In his abstract, he asserts:

of cultural expression, economic growth, and societal

As modern cities expand in size and density, the question of representing cultural identity and meaning through new construction has been largely sacrificed in favor of a rigid formalistic image. This is largely due to the treatment of architecture as capital and commodity, and the greater economic landscape. (Mitev, 2013)

Black architects need to attain more of a

physical and intellectual presence downtown, as well as in the efforts to revitalize deprived and neglected areas primarily occupied by marginalized groups, to acquire an intimate connection with the people. Inspiration from notable architects of color is deemed a necessary premise for capturing some of the architectural elements

acceptance and celebration of African American women. Atlanta, as the “Black Mecca”, houses several institutions with substantive political history and which commemorate Black achievement, such as the Atlanta University Center and Sweet Auburn, and has rightfully acquired its representation as “Black Hollywood”, raising many African Americans in political and cultural contexts. As such, it serves as an ideal location for the proposed architectural and urban design project which comprises sustainable features, and focuses in on issues of Black women that need to be disclosed spatially and symbolically. The existing establishments, located 44 |

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“What is the role of the poet in the city? Contributing to a larger chain in society.”

Access to capital, from where? Capital is difficult to access if you lack experience/certification or wealth/collateral

“Providing platform for others.”: broader scale

We should “Buy Black.” “Love ourselves, self-actualization.”

Black wealth projected to be 0% by the year 2053, if something is not done to reverse this decline.

Considering exclusion: when invited to spaces, think about who is not there. “Make space, create space.” “How do you tell a story without co-opting the story?”

“We built this country; free labor.” The city is everything.

“Abolition in poetry”: a working progress; sharing information, not gatekeeping it

Many black businessowners are not interested in venturing with big retailers; “We don’t need a seat at teh table--we need a table of our own.”

in close proximity to central downtown Atlanta, begin to form a potentially coherent body within the city. However, spatial quality has clearly been long neglected, thus further peripheralizing these entities, and yearns to be revitalized as a network which specifically considers African American women.

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visions & resolutions

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the un-site: by black women, for black women

spelman college museum of fine arts addition spatial addition to the existing art museum and an explicit collaboration with the campus green space and engagement with surrounding buildings

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business innovation hub new proposal at the black historic neighborhood which allows for entrepreneurial learning and pursuits inside and outside, as well as on ground and above surrounding structures, complimenting the interrelationship between this district and public transit

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“If institutional is the site for the production and reproduction of subject, is there an un-site for the un-subject?

A non-space of the buried subjectivity of black women?” -James Bliss

Visiting professor, architect Heather Bizon, presented her lecture, entitled, “Out of Form: Things in Doubt,” at the University of Cincinnati’s DAAP Lecture Series, hosted by the School of Architecture and Interior Design. In her lecture, she discussed architectural intervention in addressing issues of identity and the vernacular. With globalization, she asserts that loss of identity ensues. In that respect, “formLESSness” comes about as a spatial phenomenon representative of such a state of displacement.

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green space


museum addition

temporary exhibition

outdoor public space

afford qua hou


new typ

children’s art space

dirty space

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daycare center

dable, ality using



mentoring spaces

outdoor public space




incubation center


gathering cafe



fitness area

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AUC & Art Expansion

The Spelman College Museum of Fine Art has served as a prominent space for artistic expression in the AUC community for the last fifty years. Its current brick Revivalist building only encompasses a small plot of land on the edge the campus’ vast nuclear green lawn space, The Oval, and comprises limited space for temporary and permanent exhibitions. Revitalization of the museum is envisioned via an expansion to the original structure, primarily established on this lawn, drawing together the abutting buildings bordering the campus boundaries and the Oval, thus bringing the entire campus’ core together. At an interactive conference hosted by the Urban Consulate, the emphasis on art was a highlighted discussion. Poets and other artists spoke about art going beyond the artworks—artists provide platforms for others and integrate communities. Spelman’s upholding of utilizing art as political expression also correlates with Tafuri’s ideologies: The metamorphosis of languages is the reflection of the structural changes of society. Technology, in reducing always more the separation between art (synthesis of the new languages) and nature (the modern, technical, and urban reality), plays the determinant role of a necessary and sufficient catalyst…the socialization of art directs the convergence of creative forces and production to an objective of dynamic synthesis… (Tafuri, 1976, 140) A sizable walkway encircles the entire Oval, and thus will serve as a sort of threshold between the current, enclosed building and the expansion, bridging this newfound connection between the existing and proposed. From the point on this walkway across the current Museum, a grand stair leads down into the sub-grade “dirty space” on a permeable hardscape, where artistic creation transpires. A trellis system exists throughout the proposal, allowing for shaded, occupiable areas that compliment the overall design configuration and proposed aesthetic, and serves as a recurring element present at all sites of the network. 49 | 83 | 84

visions & resolutions

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the un-site: by black women, for black women

Across this space is a ramp which proceeds to the existing terrain and pathway of the Oval and provides an accessible route that continues to the clean space above grade. This space occupies a portion of the central lawn and not only provides opportunity for Black women artists to showcase their work, but to also fabricate, teach, and even perform art, all of which prioritized functions of the expanded architectural scheme. The overall design addition is envisioned to preserve its hierarchical presence of the campus’ public green space by intimately relating with the terrain. The history of African American woman art, as well as its future ties with the broader context, is thus captured and progresses and redefines Spelman’s center while maintaining its historical influence. Designing spaces which permit and encourage the artistic expression of visionaries such as Brathwaite, and especially Black women artists, such as Mickalene Thomas, executes the concept of the “Black female utopia” and Black female identity that Jenkins explores:

Through Brathwaite’s delicate and compassionate eye, the Black female form, unadulterated in appearance, gave a new visual language that helped heal centuries-old Whitesupremacist wounds…an idealization of a Black female utopia, which reinvigorated a limitless Africa that carried all the dialects, languages, accents, and subcultures within one womb. Brathwaite did not depict the Black woman as what she could be, but as what she had always been, her beauty a constant and not something to be fixed. (Jenkins, 2019) In a biography about Thomas, Lehmann Maupin expounds on the artist’s reflection of: …female sexuality, beauty, and power. Blurring the distinction between object and subject, concrete and abstract…Thomas constructs complex portraits, landscapes, and interiors in order to examine how identity, gender, and sense of self are informed by the ways women are represented in art and popular culture. (Lehmann Maupin, n.d.) Mickalene Thomas’ art conveys the ambiguity between subject and object and explores spatial “realities” of women of color. Her works engender a claim of agency in identity and space.

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Sweet Auburn & Business Learning

In exploring Sweet Auburn, it quickly becomes apparent the celebratory atmosphere that showcases achievements of the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This acknowledgement of the progressive Civil Rights leader is rightfully enacted; however, its fruitful history as an area of Black enterprise has become significantly dissolved. The number of businesses owned by women of color has increased in the 21st century, but still overwhelmingly falls short to the amount owned (and profit accrued) by their White male counterparts. While Spelman College serves as the proposed site that embraces the artistic expression of Black women, Sweet Auburn is envisioned to uphold the business learning aspect for such women. At the same, aforementioned conference, the Urban Consulate also stressed the importance of strengthening “Black business” in the city. As a racial and gender demographic which lacks the monetary support more attainable to White male businesspeople, African Americans have been siding with the phrase, “we don’t need a seat at the table; we need a table of our own”, in order to successfully and persistently build financial wealth. What Cheryl Jordan deems as “resistance strategies” (Jordan, 2011) can be applied architecturally in establishing businesses owned by Black women in this city as a pertinent factor in achieving equity in enterprise. With the MLK Historic Park at its center, at the south end of the Sweet Auburn district, a couple of blocks south of Auburn Avenue, is where the Martin Luther King, Jr. Aquatic and Recreation Center is housed. Erected only a few years ago in 2017 by KAI Enterprise and Perkins & Will, this modern structure occupies most of the west portion of a wholesome plot of land, with its west, longitudinal elevation facing condominiums located across the street. The Center’s east and south facades abut vacant lots—these unoccupied lots will be combined into a single, J-shaped site to host the proposed | 51

business incubation and learning center primarily for the entrepreneurial and visions & resolutions

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design project

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1. 2. 3. 4.

existing Spelman Museum of Fine Art “dirty” art space “clean” art / performance space observation patio




1 3



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design project

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professional pursuits of African American women.

host auditory-like functions and to form a processional promenade to the main building entrance. At the

This design proposal occupies about half of the

beginning of the elevated space, a “permeable barrier”

combined sites, with most of the interior spaces placed

abuts the MLK Center, and acts as a threshold between it

at the south, longitudinal plot of land, located diagonally

and the outdoor spaces of the proposal.

from the MLK Center. This split-level segment of the structure is positioned near another, smaller existing

The holistic structure embraces the sites’ unique sloped

building to the south, and comprises spaces for both

terrain and relationships with the surrounding edifices

open and enclosed business meetings and learning, such

and land which are also highly embraced by Sweet

as classrooms, conference rooms, and administrative

Auburn, as well as the MARTA station established

offices. Its composition is set back further into the site,

across the primary thoroughfare, Decatur Street, at the

as to not disrupt the existing architectural prominence of

southernmost edge of this district. As the Martin Luther

the MLK Center. Circulation leads to a green roof space

King, Jr. Historic Park symbolizes African American

topping half of the main edifice that reinforces a relational

empowerment, though more specifically of African

dynamic with the surrounding context.

American men, the business incubation center for African American women compliments this existing entity and

Across the street at the east side of the site, a health

acts as an architectural and symbolic reinforcement of

clinic situates itself, and is regularly occupied by people

African American prowess and social progression.

of Atlanta’s Black community; the proposal is also projected to attract these visitors. At the east plot, the

According to Building Equitable Cities, accessing financial

other sector of the proposal takes place, and constitutes

independence through entrepreneurship is vital, as small

exterior communal areas, such as a vegetated, pervious

businesses are more likely to hire minorities. (Bowdler,

hardscape leading to an elevated, outdoor grand stair to

2017) Weisul declares that, “Overall, Black women are

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1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12.

existing Martin Luther King, Jr. Recreation & Aquatic Center publlic demonstration space receptionist / lobby lounge cafe / community kitchen conference grand stair study classroom office green roof roof / hvac

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12.

existing Martin publlic demon receptionist / l lounge cafe / commu conference grand stair study classroom office green roof roof / hvac

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uncommonly entrepreneurial, and it’s women of color, in general, who have been powering the growth in new businesses.” With more African American women holding these empowering positions as business owners, there will exist far more investment in “human and financial capital” (AIA webinar) and far less dependence on the White, patriarchal “powers that be”, ultimately promoting space, as the KAI President states, “to represent an inclusive public amenity that is truly welcoming to all.” (KAI Enterprise, 2020)

| 64 visions & resolutions

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In her “Black Vernacular” piece, bell hooks recalls the missing link of spatial agency in her southern upbringing. She emphasizes the pertinent role that architecture has in fortifying space and benefiting marginalized peoples: Growing up working-class and black in the South, I do not remember any direct discussion of our architectural realities. If our earliest understanding of architecture was that it exists only in the location of dream and fantasy, of “impossibility,” it is no wonder then that many children of the working class and poor tend not to grow to maturity understanding architecture as a professional and cultural practice central to our imaginative and concrete relationship to space. (hooks, 1995, 147)… It is my conviction that African Americans can respond to contemporary crises we face by learning from and building on strategies of opposition and resistance that were effective in the past and are empowering in the present. It is empowering for me to construct, in writing, the continuum that exists between the exploration of space and architecture that was a fundamental aspect of poor black rural Southern life even though it was not articulated in those terms. (hooks, 1995, 148) Although hooks speaks specifically of Black rural communities, this notion also applies to those in the city. Drawing from a Black feminist and “utopianesque” perspective, the Black female vernacular must be, among other fashions, spatially executed via a reimagined typology. Space in the urban fabric shall also accommodate for archives in Black female prowess in writing, art, and politics, and commemorate their societal and cultural achievements to the African American community, as well as to overall society.

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the un-site: by black women, for black women


The “Un-site”: A New Typology

with emphasis placed on the issues of Black motherhood. As priorly expressed, motherhood is an essential

As two disparate issues of Black feminist expression

component of the African American woman’s identity,

and fortification are addressed spatially, art on the west

both directly and indirectly, as the role of upbringing

side of the city’s core, and business on its east side, a

subsequent generations is necessary for overall growth of

central site is proposed to house holistic proportions

the community. Regarding women-maintained families,

of African American womanhood. At the edge of the

according to the OECD:

central business district of downtown Atlanta is where a “hybridization” of the aforementioned elements and other significant aspects of Black female identity will be represented and revitalized via an architectural lens. This proportionately narrow, elongated, and sloped site along Ted Turner Drive consists of a vast surface parking lot for local buses and vans, and is situated along existing, on-grade railroad tracks to the west, which are considered a part of the Beltline system, and actively transport freight cars. To the north, the site comprises an existing, jointed structure housing notarized railroad company, Norfolk Southern, and sits across from the Atlanta Immigration Courthouse, symbolically providing spatial tension with patriarchal and municipal power. Programmatically, a uniting of typologies is envisioned,

There is a growing awareness of the problems faced by women-headed households and sole parent families. That they are increasingly a special target group for planners is a welcomed step. However, it is important that the interests of women in need who are living in partnerships or alternative accommodation arrangements are not obscured. The prevalence of women-maintained families illustrates that the need for contemporary housing design, housing finance and urban planning not only recognize the diversity in household composition and family formations and reformations, but also takes account of changes in the ways in which housing and the neighborhood are used. Changes…illustrate the need to respond to changes in workforce participation. (OECD, 1995, 89-90)

Black women very frequently take on roles as

Part of the architectural proposal consists of repurposing

mothers and caretakers whilst maintaining jobs and

and modifying the existing structure on the site to

relations with the outside community. Including women

accommodate sustainable and accessible housing with

of variable ages, social backgrounds, and statuses is

an architecturally contemporary additive for Black women

vital is the imagined spatial framework, as diversity

and their families. The existing building comprises two

and inclusion within the Black female community will

abutting structures, the south being an office building

be upheld. “The home”, therefore, becomes a symbolic

consisting of six floors for Norfolk Southern, and the

representation of coexistence with the overall Black

north building with an unidentified use. The office


building will remain mostly intact and will continue to serve as its current function, whilst also accommodating for the new installation. Its east façade will be pushed further back into the site, thus decreasing its square footage to provide a more accessible connection between the north building and the rest of the site further south. Its two upper levels will serve as quality housing for the intended clients. The four-floor north building’s lower half will be demolished, and its upper sector structurally supported primarily by pilotis, to provide an open, outdoor public square beneath for miscellaneous activities, as well as a convenient and welcoming connection to public | 66

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visions & resolutions

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transportation. Its interior spaces above will house public resident facilities such as a fitness center with a swimming pool and a youth/daycare center. Atop this structure sits a roof garden which allows for enhanced visual access to the surrounding context and added sustainable outdoor space. The north and the south buildings are simultaneously disjointed and conjoined via a vast circulation core diagonally formed by a prominent, slanting partition. This partition is one of many which reinforce iconographic and spatial relationships throughout the site. As The Poetics of Cities declares, “While the immediate family…may provide the best models, the opportunity to routinely observe and interact with other adult models… outside but not far from the home” (Greenberg, 1995, 45) correlates with the architectural strategy of integrating the residential and personal with the commercial and societal endeavors of Black women. Although Bisola Sosan addresses the dwelling space in a more poetic and intimate context, her following statement applies to living spaces that relate with other spaces:

It is important to recognize the ways in which our dwelling spaces reflect our own personas in an effort to practice better self-reflection. As one deeply investigates how they occupy personal spaces, they can also gain insight into the way they occupy public spaces. (Sosan, 2018, 78) At this downtown Atlanta site, a deviation from colonialist urban planning’s orthogonal layout of land occurs. Whereas the two peripheral sites uphold the orthogonal layout of their existing and surrounding contexts, this new typology will implement a composition of juxtaposed, perforated partitions which integrate with the various spaces and provide natural lighting as a “green” design element whilst symbolizing the interruption of (White) patriarchy. As Black women in the city, architectural prelude will convey the willingness to take part in overall society, whilst neglecting its oppressive patterns via redefining existing space and orientation. The rest of the elongated site will comprise spaces and architectural elements which serve as a principal form of Black woman communality. It is here that a more direct integration with the site’s existing slope upward toward

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71 | 72 |

117 | 118

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the un-site: by black women, for black women

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design project

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the un-site: by black women, for black women

| 75 exterior view from Ted Turner Drive design project

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the un-site: by black women, for black women A

1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16.

receptionist / lobby conference study cafe / community kitchen grand stair lounge on-grade green buffer amphitheatre / public demonstration / art space existing Norfolk Southern office space (to mostly remain) green space roof / hvac terraced green space housing daycare / youth center fitness center green roof 10






Tr in ity

A ve






er A



B 6



3 4 2

1 4


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13 11





design project

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interior view at business incubation center 77 | 125 | 126

design project

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the un-site: by black women, for black women


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design project

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| 79 exterior view at amphitheatre | 80 interior view at fitness center

design project

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exterior view at elevated green terrace 81 | exterior view at outdoor green space with pilotis 82 |

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design project

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83 | 133 | 134

design project

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the un-site: by black women, for black women

the west takes place, and an architectural correlation

reintroduced and reconfigured here as a split-level

alongside the Beltline will occur. To address the

center consisting of classrooms and office spaces. The

prevalence of surface parking in the city, the surface area

integration of the art and business components at this

for vehicular parking will be greatly reduced in size, and

site formulate a functionally malleable community center

will be located at the southern boundary of the site, as to

with more flexible and multi-purpose spaces. This site

not disrupt of quality of space of the primary proposal.

also most apparently boasts energy efficient envelope design with installation of most large-scale glazing

A more recent urban planning strategy, “tactical

occurring away from the west facades to take advantage

urbanism” comes into fruition and is embraced in the

of solar energy.

outdoor amphitheatre, which occupies the center of the site, and will host a myriad of provisional activities,

Circulation features act as connections between binary

including public demonstrations, art expositions, and

areas of the site. These include an elevated green

congregational events—insisting that architecture serves

terrace consisting of vegetation and pervious pavers,

as a means of “social activism” that Kaplan analyzes

complimenting the green spaces at the peripheral sites.

(Kaplan, 2006). In the realm of architectural typologies,

This terrace extends along the entire length of the site’s

it encapsulates what Pratt Institute professor, Jeffrey

west boundary and creates a more intimate relationship

Hogrefe, discussed at the NOMA Conference: a space

with the proposal and the BeltLine. Between the existing

that serves as “political potential” and freedom. Along with the fitness center, this space promotes mental and spiritual wellness by also hosting activities such as meditation and yoga. To the south of the amphitheatre, the business learning aspect of the network is 84 |

buildings and the southern half of the site is an elevated

transportation. In addition to its bus transport and light

façade-attached ramp which acts as another principal

rail system, MARTA has incepted a streetcar line into its

circulation feature between the old and the new. It leads

network very recently, in 2018. The Atlanta Streetcar

directly to the aforementioned green roof space that

or ATLSC, however, only runs less than three miles, in

is affixed atop the fitness center and emphasizes the

the central business district, and has very little, if any,

multi-elevational character of the design. The multitude

connection with the neighborhoods and sites sponsored

of spatial typologies present at this middle site within the

primarily by African Americans. Ways to more effectively

network proposes spaces for African American women at

immerse these modes of public transit need to be taken

various positions around and through existing structures.

into account when envisioning a more equitable city.

At this Un-site location, these women will unapologetically exercise their talents and voices in the city.

In conjunction with the impactful transportation of this metropolis, semiological components present at


The City: Transportation, Symbolism, and the


each of the sites of the Un-site are especially critical in establishing and defining it. Despite their grandiose appearance and presence, these elements promote an

Transportation is a highly prevalent commodity in

intimate connection with the occupants, allowing visitors

Atlanta’s physical and logistical character. From

to access the permeable materiality that they hold. These

heavy traffic and various public transits, to substantive

proposed architectural motifs possess the purpose of

visibility of infrastructure, this city’s transit system is

manifesting an aesthetic and a symbolic coherence

only expanding, and rapidly. The Metropolitan Atlanta

between the distinct spatial entities, thereby promoting

Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) has established itself

a collectivist existence—a social force—that upholds the

as a dominant force through its various modes of

network of women of color within the city of Atlanta.

visions & resolutions

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Integration and Connectivity: ATLSC Expansion and the BeltLine

The “transit is about equity” proclamation of former Atlanta mayor Reed shall be further enacted to encourage the accessibility and mobility of Black women throughout the city and between the proposed sites in the network. The OECD declares that women are more reliant on public transportation than men (OECD, 1995, 107), and in a vast city such as Atlanta, this scenario is especially applied. As the OECD states regarding female access to the urban space: The idea is to reduce travelling between work and other activities and to regain streets and opens spaces as public spaces with social functions, and to induce a feeling of community control and a greater sense of cohesiveness and security. (OECD, 1995, 103)

Even in the mid-20th century, Dorothy Bolden realized the benefit of

public transportation in executing her cause, as McIndoe also notes that: The impetus for the NDWUA came from Bolden’s bus rides around Atlanta. She used public transportation to connect with other domestic workers, listening to their stories of low wages, long hours, long commutes, and unfavorable work conditions. Realizing their common experiences, Bolden began to mobilize these workers. (McIndoe, 2019) Both the AUC and Sweet Auburn are located one and a quarter miles from the central downtown site, totaling a two and a half mile span from one end of this network to the other. An expansion to the existing, compact ATLSC loop is projected to provide a physical connection between the sites and through the central downtown districts. This extension comprises multiple stops along the route, thus establishing the physical continuum of the network through various spaces in the city. It is projected to continually expand, eventually reaching areas throughout the entire municipality At the Un-site, a design proposal which carefully considers the existing and active BeltLine railway at its edge must be implemented. It is envisioned that the freight line will not be directly impacted by the addition, comprising | 85 visions & resolutions

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the un-site: by black women, for black women

the new outdoor elevated terrace. The terrace will run past the existing structure to the north to connect with the ATLSC expansion line on Peters Street as it slopes downward east to become Trinity Avenue. The intersite expansion, together with the intra-site circulation and connections, entail multi-modal transportation and

Not only the theory but also the practice of Black literature has, for two hundred years, grown stunted with these dubious ideological shadows. The content of Black work of art has, with few but notable exceptions, assumed primacy in normative analysis, at the expense of the judgement of form… (Gates, 1987, 45)

engagements with the land, ensuing as a holistic spatial

The interlinkage of organization and planning is also

and logistical assemblage.

discussed by Tafuri, who upholds them as strategies critical to democratization, as he declares, “…in respect


Organizational Make-up and Iconography

In cultivating a spatial and cultural network for African American women in the city, the critical issue of form must be addressed from an architectural standpoint. The importance of networking and establishing space

to the homogeneity of the city, the architectural object is completely dissolved.” (Tafuri, 1976, 105) In negating this comment, the “architectural object” and its semiological components maintain their position as a binding piece of the organization and its societal expansion endeavors.

downtown is cultivated in a term which Kaplan calls

Present at each of the network’s three sites is an

“cultural capital” (Kaplan, 2006), and emphasizes the need

explicit integration with their respective contexts, thus

for not only financial acquisition, but also social standing.

manifesting a monumental and foundational existence

Through the composition of form, spatial relationships,

within a broader urban fabric. At another NOMA

and the functions which occur in these spaces set its

Conference webinar, Michelle J. Wilkinson, curator of

fortified existence. Figures in Black addresses the roles

architecture at the National Museum of African American

of both symbolism and actuality in their relationship with

History and Culture (designed by notable Black architects

cultural identity: | 86

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141 | 142

David Adjaye, Philip Freelon, and J. Max Bond Jr.) in

and celebration of cultural identity.

Washington, D.C., stressed the importance of preserving Black cultural spaces. Doing so is vital to preserving

These partitions “make a statement” similar to Atlanta’s

Black history and archives, and ultimately protecting

National Center for Civil and Human Rights (2014), also

Black identity. With the close physical relationship

designed by Philip Freelon. Materiality and permeability

between the proposed interventions and the terrain, a

are additional devices to vitalize this architectural

sense of landownership and agency is spatially cultivated.

movement. Throughout each site, these “screened”

Terraced spaces provide for a more intimate relation with

terracotta partitions work as bris soleil, permitting

the landscape and surrounding context, as Colombian

substantial natural light indoors, similar to that of Allison

architect Javier Vera conveys in many of his designs,

Williams’ Princess Nourah Bint Abdul University’s Riyadh

such as the Parque Biblioteca San Javier (2007) in

Health Sciences and Research campus (2011) in Riyadh,

Medellín, Colombia. In Theorizing Black Feminisms, the

Saudi Arabia. Through the fragmented configuration

authors assert that Black women artists and scholars

of these architectural elements, iconography is both

serve as, “…primary subjects of investigation, they would

disjointed and brought together, symbolic of the current

connect the knowledge that now exists in fragmented

state of Black women in the city.

states, prioritizing, meditating, and circulating it according to their judgments.” (James & Busia, 1993, 238) Through the fragmented orientation of the numerous partitions which shape the layout and processional progression through each site, a reinforcement of Bliss’ concept of the “un-site and un-form”, as well as Bizon’s topic of “formlessness”, occurs as a means of social navigation

A concept discussed in The Poetic of Cities, the “urban matrix”—city and neighborhood structures which connect parts of the city and have well-maintained historic elements—convey the significance of symbolism and iconography and their reference to spatial and cultural resolution. “Successful collaboration happens when the builders of every generation share an urban ethos.”

88 |

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the un-site: by black women, for black women

| 89 | 90

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145 | 146

(Greenberg, 1995, 58) From this point, a vital sense of community and collectivism arises as a strengthened entity within the urban fabric.

91 | 147 | 148

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the un-site: by black women, for black women


epilogue: the future of Black women in the city

We are claiming what is ours and making ourselves visible. -Stanlie James & Abena Busia, 1993, 230

of women; to organize links between experts and grassroots movements, between different countries and regions, and between different levels of political representation. (OECD, 1995, 117) 5.1

Idealized Space and Expanded Influence in the

Urbane Future


he Un-site facilitated via architectural and urban strategies in the city of Atlanta results in a physical capsulation of Black females, with

multiple identities long marginalized by overall society, and encourages their social, economic, cultural, and spatial progression amidst established oppressive forces. However, a much broader interference must be kept in mind. As The Poetics of Cities articulates, the “local global village” (Greenberg, 1995) strives for globalization in its efforts in the urban context—an expanding influence

Organizations such as the (NCBW) have worked

to sponsor women and girls of color for decades. But networks which are spatially curated and symbolically celebrated are still painfully scarce and have yet to be recognized at as high of a magnitude as white, patriarchal groups. Spaces which address disparate issues of Black womanhood, from attaining economic capital and success, to expressing themselves via artistic and cultural pursuits, as well as integrating the Black feminist thinking which defines such issues, acquire a more holistic stance on what it means to be Black and to be a woman in today’s ever-progressing world.

is desired and ultimately encouraged: Establish and seek appropriate financing for networks at the local, regional, national and international level: to develop a policy research agenda; to improve the formulation of urban policy issues and responses from the viewpoint | 92 epilogue: the future of Black women in the city

149 | 150

During my official Master of Architecture Thesis presentation, one of the critics, Canada-based architect James K. M. Cheng, brought up a very vital point to the semiological component of my project. With his introduction and suggestion of the use of a new, seemingly contradictory term, the “Un-Icon”, I immediately came to cherish this term, as it perfectly adheres with the Un-site and Unsubject perspective. The use of iconography in spaces which celebrate Black women, though monumental, ultimately simulates cohesion with the urban context, thereby strengthening the presence of such spaces in the city. Architectural and urban interventions have the creative and intellectual capacity to address issues of African American women and our navigation through the urban fabric via the reinforcement of community and identity. In their exploration of Black feminism, James and Busia proclaim that Black women: …lead a discourse that would continue to challenge their own adverse circumstances, and even more, contribute to the recovery and analysis of their own production, and would welcome others to participate in its construction and expansion. (James & Busia, 1993, 238) Making the city a more inclusive setting ultimately requires the efforts of everyone. In the pursuit of such societal ideals, a simultaneous acknowledgement of such issues and denouncement of exclusion must be adhered to and expanded to achieve equitable space in the city.

93 | 151 | 152

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the un-site: by black women, for black women


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Rendell, Jane. “Feminist Architecture: from A to Z.” Reading Design. Accessed Apr. 2019. https://www.

U.S. Department of the Interior. 2019. Accessed Jan. 2020.

Richards, Erica. “Mental Health Among African-American Women.” John Hopkins Medicine. Accessed Apr. 2020.

Van Mead, Nick. “A City Cursed by Sprawl: Can the Beltline Save Atlanta?” The Guardian. Oct. 2018. Accessed Dec. 2019. cursed-sprawl-can-beltline-save-atlanta

Richardson, Selden. Built by Blacks. (Richmond: Dietz Press, 2007)

Richie, Beth. Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America’s Prison Nation. (New York: New York University Press, 2012)

VOXATL. “VOX ATL Commentary: Gentrification In Atlanta’s West End — Bringing Positive Changes” Jun. 2018. Accessed Aug. 2019.

Walker, Lynne. Drawing on Diversity: Women, Architecture, and Practice. (London: Heinz RIBA Gallery, 1997).

Weisul, Kimberly. “Why It’s So Difficult for Black Women Entrepreneurs to Get Funded.” Inc. 2019. Accessed Sep. 2019.

Wekerle, Gerda R., Rebecca Peterson, David Morley. New Space for Women. (Boulder (Colorado): Westview Press, 1980)

Zohore, Amelia. “The Least Desirable.” The Cornell Daily Sun. Sep. 2019. Accessed Apr. 2020. https://cornellsun. com/2019/09/09/zohore-the-least-desirable/

People and Organizations •

Allison Grace Williams, licensed, principal architect of AGWms_studio, San Francisco, CA, (former design leader at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) and Perkins & Will, adjunct professor at Stanford University’s Architectural Design Program in the School of Engineering

Heather Bizon, licensed architect, co-founder of the Commonwealth Office of Architecture, visiting professor at the University of Cincinnati’s School of Architecture and Interior Design in the College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning

Desmond Johnson, licensed Architect, NELSON Worldwide (formerly at Moody Nolan), Atlanta, GA

Tiffany Williams, Architectural Designer, Niles Bolton Associates (formerly at tvsdesign), Atlanta, GA

Bisola Sosan, Freelance Editor, Writer, Museum Event Coordinator, Chicago, IL

Xena “Jasmine” Griffin, Architectural Designer, Founder, and CEO, Xena Design + Marketing Firm (formerly at Smallwood), Atlanta, GA

David Southerland, Director, AIA Atlanta/Georgia, Atlanta, GA

The American Institute of Architects (AIA)

National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA)

Black Women in Architecture (BWA) Network

Equity in Architecture (EQiA)

The Urban Consulate

Economic & Community Development Institute (ECDI) / Women’s Business Centers of Ohio

National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc. (NCBW) (in Metropolitan Atlanta)

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)


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the un-site: by black women, for black women

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Because space designed by and for women of color has been long overdue...

Taylour M. Upton is a young professional and activist on the path to becoming a licensed architect. She graduated with a Master of Architecture from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP) in 2020, and continually works toward building a more inclusive architectural profession and society.

Master of Architecture | 2020

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