© 2016 Joseph Heathcott

Agitprop: Race + Architecture

November 6, 2017

 

I submitted this piece to the Journal of Architectural Education for their special issue on "Discursive Images," but it was rejected.  My sense is that they prefer speculative, future-oriented work that draws on canonical, high style, Modern and contemporary design, rather than on work that explores ordinary architectural trajectories.  Since the submission was rejected, I am making it available here (click the image above for a high resolution version). Feel free to use or redistribute as you see fit.


The piece uses the tried and true technique of détournement to convey the stark reality of racial segregation in the expansion of metropolitan America. Through the twentieth century, race became increasingly spatialized, as white families sorted themselves into exclusive suburban enclaves.  In addition to private "gentlemen's agreements" between real estate companies, instruments of governmentality such as restrictive covenants and Home Owners Loan Corporation risk assessment maps amplified processes of racial segregation.  Meanwhile, real estate brochures, advertisements, and mass media portrayals of suburban housing--and the families and goods that filled them--solidified the association of suburban housing with white identity.

 

Thus, the "little white houses" became synonymous with white suburban identity.  The seemingly innocuous architecture and interior design of the Cape Cod, Ranch House, and Split Level homes obscured a powerful system of racial exclusion and white violence against people of color.  The piece above uses original images from real estate brochures, but replaces the descriptions with texts taken from actual racial covenants.

 

Key Readings:

 

Fruend, David.  Colored Property: State Policy and White Racial Politics in Suburban America.  Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

 

Harris, Dianne.  Little White Houses: How the Postwar Home Constructed Race in America. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2013.

 

Jackson, Kenneth.  Crabgrass Frontier: The Suburbanization of the United States.  New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

 

Satter, Beryl.  Family Properties: How the Struggle Over Race and Real Estate Transformed Chicago and Urban America.  New York: Picador, 2010.

 

 

Tags: cityscapes, Morocco, urbanism

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