[Image Credit: "Urban Nature and Tree Shadows" by cobalt123 is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0]
Six summers ago, in a workshop with Fred Moten, I was introduced to a slender red book titled Architecture After Revolution. It’s collaboratively written by the Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency (DAAR), and was not only the first book I’d ever read with multiple authors but also the first that had a distinct feel to it. Like it emerged not from multiple competing minds but from a stream of conversations amongst comrades, nightly revisited in various permutations at the dinner table, or sitting on the porch looking up at the moon, who stood united in a shared vision of utopia. And while utopias are notoriously fickle, they nonetheless index sites of possibility: if only things were different, if only x and y ceased to exist and we re-learned how to be with each other; what if x was never invented or discovered; how else might I, might we, proceed?
Architecture After Revolution creatively imagines ways of re-entering and utilizing spaces in ways that do not reaffirm state power. It sets forth a series of propositions on how to go about the formidable task of decolonizing architecture. In the process it repurposes, subverts, profanes, and counter-configures already existing buildings and locations and turns them into something else, something that doesn’t work for the state (Israel) but instead supports a new way forward for the people (Palestinians). And it isn’t just about buildings and monuments, it’s about inhabiting space--and the world--in alternative, equitable, and community-driven ways.
After reading it I began looking around and really noticing my environment for the first time. I lived in a highly-curated, majority white upper-middle class urban area on unceded land previously inhabited by the Hinono'eiteen (Arapahoe Nation). I walked on master planned sidewalks and bike paths, worked at a university that had covered up serious cases of sexual assault, and purchased groceries from giant supermarkets where the US global exploitation of land, labor, a resources was invisibilized by savvy marketing and exoticized packaging (“Super Food of the Andes”). Once I started paying attention I couldn’t stop noticing the ways in which so much of my life was under direction. For example, have you ever noticed how many trash cans there are? They’re outside in parks, at bus stops, in parking lots, in every building and bathroom and library and café. It’s so normal, so completely and utterly banal and convenient to produce massive amounts of trash. Mass consumption and the mindless production of waste are built into our infrastructure. It’s a part of the architectural design.
There are things you can't un-notice once you make up your mind to see them. All the subtle, invisibilized ways in which our lives are directed by our environments, by the spatial details and design, are overwhelming. It feels inescapable, like architecture is closing in on us, dulling our senses.
DAAR is not working alone. Architecture After Revolution does not exist in a vacuum. There is a movement, a community--a community of movement--invested in reimaging how we relate to one another and the planet through reimagining how we relate to space. It begins with architecture and ripples outward. It trickles up. And right now it’s largely speculative because impossible is a thing you think through in order to arrive at something other than what has for too long passed as real.
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