Playing against type

ARC605 | Spring 2020
Professor Charles Davis

This studio critiques the reductive character of type thinking in western architecture by producing a culturally-inflected mode of adaptive reuse that materially indexes the complexities of black life in the city of Buffalo. The critical problems of type thinking persist in our stereotypical interpretations of black vernacular culture. Type forms such as the Shotgun house are read as a transparent reflection of the cultural essence of black domestic life despite not being revised by black Americans since the early 1920s. Such static interpretations of blackness fail to consider the complex social forces that have brought it into being, or the external conditions that have held back black life, from the rise of developer culture that replaced the Haitian craftsman in the twentieth century to the imposition of European aesthetic norms by settler colonialism.

In order to move beyond this limited conception of black material culture, students studied the spatial customs and expressive cultures of African American life that have yet to be indexed in architectural form. The content of these social histories, taken from readings in cultural studies, provided the critical basis for modifying the Euro-American housing typologies that developers created for Buffalo’s East Side. How would these models have changed if black Americans had the freedom and capital to modify them to reflect their own cultural norms? What areas of the home might have changed and what new spaces might be introduced that were not essential for white Americans during this same time period? This corrective approach to architectural typology radicalized the practice of adaptive reuse to recover the latent potential of black life that is sadly still hidden today.