New Exhibit Gives Visitors a Tour of Post-1968 Activism in Architecture

The can’t-miss Now What?! Advocacy, Activism & Alliances in American Architecture Since 1968 will be on view in Brooklyn during the AIA Conference on Architecture.

Now What advocacy architecture exhibition
Courtesy ArchiteXX

If you read only certain architecture history books, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the last 50 years of architecture happened in a bubble of apprenticeships, napkin sketches, and inspirational journeys to some foreign locale (probably Italy). While there are plenty of present-day architects defying those all-too-clean canonical narratives—from advocating for the transgender community to retelling messy civic histories—many instances of historical activism in architecture are little-known. Enter Now What?! Advocacy, Activism & Alliances in American Architecture Since 1968, a can’t-miss exhibit that aims to change that.

The show, which is on view at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, takes a broad look at activism in architecture and design: Structured as a timeline, it provides informative, easily-digestible blurbs on activist events, groups, and publications from 1968 up to the present day. Topics range from racial and gender representation in the profession to environmental advocacy and labor reform. Many entries, such as the New Alchemy Institute or The Women’s School of Planning and Architecture may be entirely unknown to architects, especially younger ones. Indeed, many of these decades-past initiatives may have been further forgotten if not for the exhibition organizers, who sourced their materials from more than 50 contributing academics, practitioners, and curators.

Now What advocacy architecture exhibition
Now What?! and ArchiteXX acknowledge the exhibition is incomplete: an interactive table (seen here) at the exhibit’s center lets visitors write down suggestions for future entries. Blank spaces on the Now What?!  timeline symbolize this exhibit’s ongoing nature. Courtesy ArchiteXX

The exhibition was organized and curated by ArchiteXX, an independent organization that seeks to reform how architecture is taught and practiced. The group primarily functions as an intergenerational support network for women architects, though it also organizes events and exhibitions, with Now What?! being its largest yet. While equal gender representation was a point of departure for the show, ArchiteXX cofounder Lori A. Brown says the group strongly ascribes to an intersectional framework—a belief that activists can only substantially reform society if marginalized communities work together. In fact, the show’s starting entry is civil rights leader Whitney Young Jr.’s trenchant 1968 speech to the AIA national convention in Portland, Oregon, where he reprimanded the nearly-all-white profession for designing “vertical slums” and offering a “thunderous silence” on the civil rights movement.

Speaking to Metropolis, Brown said that today’s reform-minded architects may be heartened to see that their present-day battles can build off the past’s. Indeed, many entries—such as Whitney Young Jr.’s speech and the seminal 1977 Women in Architecture exhibition—still read as powerful guide-posts. Surveying the room, Brown also reflected that activism in the profession does seem to ebb and wain over the decades. However, she thinks that “with the current political climate, it’s here to stay.”

Now What?! will be on view through July 6th at Pratt’s Robert H. Siegel Gallery (61 Saint James Place, Brooklyn, NY), meaning architects visiting New York City for the coming AIA Conference on Architecture can see the exhibit. In September, the exhibition will open at the WUHO Gallery in Los Angeles, then subsequently travel to other cities. Now What?! may also be accompanied by talks and events; stay tuned to its website for details. Now What?! was curated by Lori A. Brown, Andrea J. Merrett, Sarah Rafson, and Roberta Washington.

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