Acts of Repair: Seven Conversations on Architectural Reconstructions and Reparations
This spring's Preston Thomas Memorial Symposium (April 16 and 20) reflects Paulo Tavares' and Sean Anderson's shared vision for a generative, open platform inviting different voices and thoughts on actionable possibilities for a spatial approach to reparations and restorative justice.
Architecture Visiting Critic Paulo Tavares and Sean Anderson (B.Arch./B.S. '96), Associate Curator for Architecture and Design at MoMA, have for some time been aware of each other's work addressing architecture's relationship to the social politics of space. For this spring's Preston Thomas Memorial Symposium, Tavares and Anderson bring architects, artists, activists, and scholars together for a series of conversations about questions of restorative justice and reparations as they relate to architectural "acts of repair." In a shift away from linear lecture formats, Tavares and Anderson have created an open platform for many different voices to resonate and shape critical discussions about how spaces can support or provide reparations, and, what these spaces might look like.
"We are not the first, and we're not going to be the last to speak about questions of repair," says Tavares, in agreement with Anderson on their approach to organizing Acts of Repair. "This is more about how can we bring discussions and actions that are already happening to the architecture discipline. It seems that not only is there an interest in possible contexts for this, but also there is the sense that the time has arrived to again address the question."
Who, What, When
According to Anderson and Tavares, speakers from many places around the world will come together for these conversations not simply as problem-solvers, but rather as participants in a multi-faceted forum intended to generate more questions than concrete solutions for all in attendance.
Together, the Acts of Repair conversations are meant to formulate questions and generate ideas within the context of an important ongoing conversation about the role architecture has played, and continues to play, in spatializing colonial and discriminatory ideologies — and, the role architects must assume to make meaningful change at the many scales design encompasses today. Friday, April 16 includes conversations 01-04: Land-grab Universities with Tristan Ahtone and Dr. Robert Lee; Reconstructions with Pascale Sablan and members of the black reconstruction collective including Germane Barnes, Sekou Cooke, J. Yolande Daniels, Felicia Davis, and Amanda Williams; Of Land and Memory with Vivien Sansour, Summer Sutton and Ilze Wolff; and Of Land and Earth that includes a screening of Indigenous Science and conversation between the artist Ursula Biemann and co-organizers Tavares and Anderson. Conversations 05-07 pick up where the former left off on Tuesday, April 20, and include: Projections with Chris Cornelius and Ekene Ijeoma; Transits with Mpho Matsipa, Christopher Roberts, and Summer Sutton; and a final conversation between designer and Columbia University professor of architecture and African American and African diasporic studies Mabel O. Wilson and curator Candice Hopkins titled On Grounds and Erasures will close the symposium.
In a conversation with Tavares about their hopes for the proceedings and outcomes, Anderson shared, "From the beginning, we were imagining a space where these conversations wouldn't so much begin and end as so many do, but rather expand and have a ripple effect so that the questions we ask are fundamental to architecture now, and proactive enough to continue to be generators of action and discourse that shift the way we ultimately see ourselves reflected in our built environment."
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Visualizing Reconstructions and Reparations
As a means for bringing compelling visual language into the conversation, Anderson and Tavares commissioned WAI Think Tank to create a collage titled Acts of Repair that appears as a mural pulling together the many scales, concerns, and lines of inquiry in question.
For this work, WAI draws from historical and contemporary moments in the larger movement for reparations and different aspects of the ongoing conversation on acts of repair. WAI was founded by Nathalie Frankowski and Cruz Garcia as "a planetary studio practicing by questioning the political, historical, and material legacy and imperatives of architecture and urbanism through a panoramic and critical approach." Frankowski and Garcia, both architects invested in experiments in architecture pedagogy and decolonizing, and anti-racist architectural practices, will also contribute an animation speaking to the components included in the Acts of Repair mural piece to screen once each day of the symposium.
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Sean Anderson is an Associate Curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). A Fellow of the American Academy in Rome, he has practiced as an architect and taught in Afghanistan, Australia, India, Italy, Morocco, Sri Lanka, and the U.A.E. His second book, In-Visible Colonies: Modern Architecture and its Representation in Colonial Eritrea (2015) was nominated for an AIFC Book Prize in Non-Fiction. In 2020, he cocurated the exhibition On Muzharul Islam: Surfacing Intention at the Dhaka Art Summit. At MoMA, he has organized the exhibitions Insecurities: Tracing Displacement and Shelter (2016–17), and Thinking Machines: Art and Design in the Computer Age, 1959–89 (2017–18). Anderson manages the Young Architects Program and the Issues in Contemporary Architecture series, with the current exhibition Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America, organized with Mabel O. Wilson.
Paulo Tavares is an architect, researcher, and educator. His work has been featured in various exhibitions and publications worldwide, including Harvard Design Magazine, the Oslo Architecture Triennial, the Istanbul Design Biennale, and the São Paulo Biennial. He is the author of the books Forest Law (2014), Des-Habitat (2019), and Memória da terra (2020), and was cocurator of the 2019 Chicago Architecture Biennial. He teaches spatial and visual cultures at the University of Brasília in Brazil.
The Preston H. Thomas Memorial Symposium is funded through a gift to Cornell's College of Architecture, Art, and Planning from Ruth and Leonard B. Thomas of Auburn, New York, in memory of their son, Preston. The symposium events are free and open to the public. This spring's symposium is co-organized by Anderson and Tavares and coordinated by Elias Bennett (B.Arch. '20) and Oonagh Davis (B.Arch. '20).