Racism and Architecture
Have you watched The Hidden Figures? If you haven't, I am happy to share what it was. The Hidden Figures is more than the story of the Space Race between Americans and the Soviets. It is a story of a group of African-American women who worked for NASA in the Space Race. It opens up a discourse of the contribution of black women in our modern space exploration and how they were deliberately outcasts and inhumanely treated.
Hidden Figure is a true story and even less utopian. It looks into how civil rights won despite heart and mind aren't. It portrays how to win conflicts for a common interest. It occurs even some people consider the characters an eyesore to them. It may not be heartwarming, but it is realistic. It shows a glimpse that we can set aside differences to fight a common enemy. While Hidden Figure breaks down barriers for a shared interest, it never touches white absolution to the racial segregation that colored experience before.
Honestly, I watched the film due to it was about space. At a glance, I thought it was science fiction. Seeing the movie more than twice, at home and in the theater, I find it more interesting than the science it shows. Hidden Figures accurately depict how difficult back then to work in a segregated society, where racism was at the maximum.
In Hidden Figures, Johnson runs half a mile to relieve herself since the nearest black comfort room was at that distance. I find this situation peculiarly interesting because the design of the space has been a factor in how racism transpired and amplified in the old American society. We can't deny that our lives take influences from culture and policies. Structural racism, as they called it, talks about how our cultural and physical policies affect the lives of people of color. It makes me ask the question, can architecture change racism, or can architecture boost racial justice?
Isolation breeds unquestioned tales and beliefs, and people of color are not exempt. Before we can go ahead, we must first accept what has happened, speak the truth, and provide chances for community and reflection. If we continue to be hesitant to perform substantial individual, institutional, and structural work as a people, we will stall our progress toward a fair and better future.
When our old society started redesigning cities from segregated to what we have to date, spaces were free from the racist norms, and social change transpired. Like in Hidden Figures, Al Harrison tore out the signage that prevents Johnson from relieving herself since there is no colored bathroom. Architects and designers can be the AL Harrison that breaks the social racism in our built world.
Architects design spaces that encourage people to interact, and it influences all of our life stages. We can attain functionality and beauty through our designs, and it boosts our spatial experience. When we use architecture to segregate society like in Hidden Figures, it slingshot how we respond and stereotyped the segregated like how we see people in the asylums. Architecture has duality. It can be a herald for a better world or influence as to perceive others terribly.
Our design has the unique power to modify our brains and rewire us to establish new perceptions towards others or our society as a whole. An urban designer or planner can decide to put the colored in the outskirt while the whites in the metropolis. But it can go against how we perceive the colored and white in our society. Maybe, we see the richness in the white and impoverish of the colored. A simple design decision can alter how we see others and society. It amplifies segregation and racism, which happens in our history, as shown in Hidden Figures.
We should consider if prejudice is likely to be an issue in our design and what design decisions minimize discrimination, not just for the colored but for differently-abled too, creating a blind hole. Our architectural designs must not stop at equity and anti-racism but must be inclusive to people who have a disability or anyone that are stereotyped.
Concepts like design thinking, activism, and inclusiveness become relevant on how architecture can affect racism. The need to cause social change lies with design thinking and activism. Design thinking enables us to look at problems from a creative and out-of-the-box perspective. For example, we realize what caused unsustainable practice, no longer about clean energy and technology. We still shy out and still anchor our design to that. Like designing for sustainability, we can understand how the brain learns, but we can't figure out how to build socioeconomically and racially inclusive spaces.
Architecture doesn't shy out with design activism. In architecture, it is not only about building walls and ceilings. Architecture provides a complete grasp of human behavior and our surroundings. It symbolizes our current civilization, history, beliefs, values, and culture. With that in mind, architecture can help with minimizing racism in our built world. We can have spaces that encourage our cohabitation and coexistence despite the colors of our skin or our physical abilities and disabilities.
When we design against racism, we choose whether to execute a good design that is not conscientious or do good with design, which sparks a social shift. Design against racism is about inclusiveness and challenging the dated status quo for a better-built world for everyone regardless of skin color, disability, or social status. We will find ways to be brave in bringing about the changes we desire in our lives.
For most of our history, racial prejudice has been a driving force. Racial segregation should be a thing of the past. It isn't just for blacks in America, but for all races who felt racially discriminated in our built world. Minimizing racism in our world through our design must deal with the violence of modernity and history. Our society forms from those who conquered it before, and it is predominantly part of how we build our cities. Design thinking, activism, and inclusiveness can give to lead a social shift through our architecture. Architecture can be Al Harrison in the Hidden Figures that cause Johnson to take the man to space.
Huda Tayob, Race, Space, and Architecture, Places Journal