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Tanya Southcott & David Theodore
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For this thematic issue, we set out to explore othering. Our lofty aim was to support a politics of freedom and reason in architecture—the search for forms of justice—in a way that does not undercut its own emancipatory impulse. For it is all too obvious that the political and activist concerns animating scholarship and design today necessarily induce multiple otherings. Architecture, as a critical practice, distinguishes, labels, valorizes, and categorizes people, institutions, codes, and norms. Likewise, scholarly attention to the processes of othering extends architecture’s exclusions in education, history, geographies, and commissions. And so, we arrive at a conundrum. Critical scholarship and design that excoriates othering dissolves the political-cultural conditions that make architectural thought critical.

The conundrum is familiar. As Mario Gooden notes in his reflection here on race and glass, pointing out the absence of particular Others in architectural history and practice reifies “the presence of a universal subject that has never been universal.” Right when we would like to meet the Other, it always turns out to be us. Gooden states this as a fact, when, in fact, it is an othering, a philosophical positioning that separates us into relativists (particularists, social constructionists, historicists) and universalists (rights advocates, cognitivists, moral realists). By decrying othering, we decry our own selves.

All our contributors begin from the premise that othering is indeed something to overcome; no one in this issue comes out in favor of othering. For our contributors, othering suggests not just difference that should be acknowledged but also immorality that should be repudiated: asymmetrical power, systemic inequalities, oppression, and inequity. Othering implies otherism, a psychological, sociological, or institutional position that, like racism, is only ever negative. To be otherist is to mark as inferior that which is not inferior in order to oppress it.

That’s clear enough. Nevertheless, coming to grips with othering in architecture is more difficult, more intractable than we, perhaps naively, imagined. To gain purchase on the sociological and the political, our contributors willingly situate architecture’s products and processes in “context.” We know that this familiar move vitiates architects and architecture of agency; the architecture becomes merely one instance of (the architect one agent among others, one actor struggling for fame in) a political economy and social network. Once the move is made, the discipline accumulates instances of injustice—racism, colonialism, misogyny: there’s nothing architecture-in-context can do to expedite justice. Yet we know, or should know, that giving voice to the Other leaves the world unchanged. We know, or should know, that we can’t escape complicity through benevolence. We know, or should know, that having architects recognize particular marginalized groups does not actualize parity.

The contributors gathered here claim, implicitly or explicitly, that architecture’s contribution to this political work against othering involves affirming architecture as the form and organization of physical space. We persist in characterizing architecture as spatial, as a spatial practice—despite the decades of resistance from Lefebvrians, phenomenologists, and iconologists, and despite the model of architectural history—of time—as our principal medium of critical reflection. Is this concurrence on othering-as-spatial-practice a sign of disciplinary coherence or of manufactured consensus? Does the unison override empirical evidence and theoretical problems? Is the range of architectural thought so constricted? Are there no other thoughtful positions about architectural othering?

As we go to press, this desire to illuminate spatial attention to othering has sparked. This issue came together during global lockdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Within weeks of the first hospitalizations, scholars in the US had already shown that responses to the pandemic place an uneven burden on socially marginalized populations; the oppressed are showing disproportional rates of disease transmission.1 Scholars have argued that media accounts and scientific papers that rehearse racial and ethnic stereotypes or biological differences as explanations end up producing “place-based stigma”: death and disease become associated with “resource-deprived neighborhoods.”2 Even in university life, the reorganization of domestic space required to support remote teaching and social distancing has intensified the inequities of othering. Research productivity for women scholars, for instance, has decreased in proportion to men scholars.3 Urbanists now argue that as restrictions on mobility begin to ease us back into public life, how we negotiate the everyday rhythm of sidewalks, streets, squares, and parks not only tests our capacity to empathize with fellow citizens but also challenges our confidence in spatiality.4 The images of an empty Times Square or an abandoned Place de la Concorde at rush hour, for instance, circulating in the media over the past months, somehow make urbanists confident that our experiences of public places are shaped by the nonspatial, by social relations and regulations.5

So we return to our question: How do we take stock of othering in architecture? One strategy is to claim that the marginalized, disenfranchised Other occupies a site of radical potential. In this way, the contributors to this issue reveal a collective confidence that, pace Gooden, the Other is a universal figure that shapes architecture’s trajectories from the periphery. Even if identifying Others is itself an othering practice that perpetuates categorization and exclusion, we hope that this radical perspective will support a move toward justice in a way that starts within architecture and spreads out to embrace the entire territory between the center and the margins.

Making Others Visible

Many contributors responded to the theme of othering with projects that make Others visible. These articles accumulate documentation of marginal populations and re-center erased or simply forgotten protagonists. ArchiteXX, for instance, contributes an activist history of minority groups in the architectural profession by highlighting its intersections with civil rights, feminist, LGBTQIA, and environmental movements of the last half century. Still in North America, Vyta Baselice defamiliarizes modern concrete construction by recounting a history of African American cement workers and their camps in the Lehigh Valley. Michael Abrahamson writes about the material knowledge of the steelworkers who tensioned the catenary cables of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis’s structural frame. He argues for industry-wide labor solidarity by questioning ethical building practices. Catalina Mejía Moreno describes how the South American call, “Nos están matando,” challenges views of mining sites and hydroelectric dams in Colombia as “progressive” projects. She claims the call interpellates environmental activists, human rights defenders, and community leaders to resist colonial domination and to defend the land against resource extraction. Alicja Gzowska and Piotr Bujas turn our attention to Polish architects working in the Global South. They contrast the colonial relations that framed British and German schools of tropical architecture with the role Polish architects played in the politics of development aid from the view of the socialist state. Likewise, Jennifer Ferng, Jiat-Hwee Chang, Erik L’Heureux, and Daniel Ryan examine the international entanglements and colonial legacies of Western-centric histories of climatic design, using examples from the tropical and subtropical worlds. In these writings, architecture sets the stage for the presentation of Others.

Including Others

Several contributors recognize the erasure of Others as the paradoxical key to their inclusion. Mario Gooden’s contrapuntal reading of the Glass House uses Philip Johnson’s desires for blackness to expose the whitewashing of its history. Ella den Elzen’s projections of immigration holding centers question the secrecy surrounding these purpose-built government institutions. She asks whether the architecture itself makes undocumented migrants invisible, legitimizing narratives that migrants are criminals. Kevan J. Klosterwill, Alissa Ujie Diamond, Barbara Brown Wilson, and Jeana Ripple contend that a racialized gaze of urban renewal planning and policy in Charlottesville, Virginia, pathologized Black citizens. Planners deliberately overlooked the homes of Black middle-class residents to make way for the construction of white middle-class neighborhoods. Turning to another continent, Ateya Khorakiwala explores the annual congress of the International Solar Energy Society held in New Delhi in 1978. She demonstrates how techno-environmentalists constructed a hypothetical rural Indian body that othered real Indians by excluding villagers from national and international discourses and power. Julia Christensen’s history of postwar housing in the Canadian North shows how policy and planning neglected to account for northern needs and climate. She describes the formation of housing societies that foster Indigenous self-governance and promote cultural, economic, and ecological sustainability. Together these examples outline an uneven geography of othering practice that show the hope of local resilience.

Critical Spatial Practice

Many contributors question how we might use architecture as a critical practice to undo rather than reproduce pernicious social norms and hierarchies. Susan Stryker, for instance, takes up public restroom design to ask who counts as a member of the body politic. She proffers that imagining how people use public toilets can help test notions of equity and equality in the public sphere. Similarly, Jos Boys argues that challenging the binary division of ability and disability, and the design assumptions it implies, can push architects to imagine environments that accommodate an inclusive variety of human requirements and experiences. Elizabeth Martin-Malikian draws from the experience of an elderly Christian Armenian woman living through the Lebanese civil wars in a divided Beirut to propose the tamaššā, or walk for pleasure, as a way to coexist with difference. The desire to interrogate stereotypes and assumptions about patterns of use also applies to virtual worlds. Galo Canizares puts forward the avatar, a virtual proxy of the Self borrowed from gaming culture, to explore the techno-social subjectivities posited through virtual design environments and architectural software. Ana Morcillo Pallares contemplates Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1559 painting The Dutch Proverbs, speculating on the possibility of a heterogeneous collective in which social categories dissolve. These texts suggest that architecture’s complicity in practices of othering paradoxically helps us imagine broader, more inclusive norms for public behavior and social space. Cathi Ho Schar, Nicole Biewenga, and Mark Lombawa outline a role for the design studio inside an applied research program. The students worked directly with both indigenous Hawaiians and state officials to guide the construction of correctional facilities that emphasize decolonization and community engagement.

Transforming Teaching

Several contributors point to the transformative potential of architectural pedagogy. They propose using the lecture hall and design studio as porous conclaves to overcome othering. Adnan Z. Morshed, for instance, examines the texts used to teach architectural history, looking to incorporate insights from global history to place Roman architecture in a richer, Afro-Eurasian world. Sharóne L. Tomer crafts her undergraduate survey lecture course around examples of difference embedded in architecture and its histories. She wants us to make explicit for our students how conditions of inequality produce buildings and infrastructure. Emily Wettstein argues that teachers can use site, a concept that underpins landscape architecture, as a pedagogical model. She develops curricula based on modes of site engagement common in landscape architecture in order to position “students-as-sites” generative of their own potential. Helen Aston, Emily Crompton, Sarah Renshaw, and Kathryn Timmins propose project road maps as part of PRAXXIS, their feminist research collective and vertical teaching studio. The project road map is an explicitly reflective tool that helps students develop empathy, both toward Others and toward themselves as independent and responsive designers.

Nonhuman Others

One key set of contributors extends the possibility of othering beyond human-centered experience, discussing nonhuman entities and material agency. Ang Li draws from Jane Bennett’s theory of human and material collaboration to reassess the value of architectural materials after they leave the building envelope. Through reflection on her artist residency at a construction and demolition waste recycling center, she explores the generative capacity of expanded polystyrene foam (one of the few materials that could not be recycled at the center) to give rise to an Other architecture. Graham Harman’s short essay on inanimate otherness foregrounds the potential for nonhuman entities to interact with each other, arguing that engaging with otherness in the nonhuman sense best captures architecture’s unique potential.

How do we postulate or challenge future architectures of othering? And to what end? To create “more inclusive and reflective practices of engagement to build a more just world,” as suggested by ArchiteXX? Or to unravel “experiences of architectural misfitting across built, conceptual, and disciplinary spaces,” according to Boys? How do we legitimate different forms of embodied knowledge, as Stryker prompts us to do, without othering the bodies from which knowledge emerges? Is our obsession with the human theoretically regressive, albeit politically useful, as Harman argues? Is it time to turn our gaze away from the body, back toward buildings and their materials to reclaim architecture’s stake in the world?

To everyone who participated in the production of this issue—but especially those whose work was not included in the final document due to constraints associated with COVID-19—we thank you for your time and energy. Several contributors we were working with were unable to meet our publication schedule—demanding even under regular circumstances—due to illness, increased care responsibilities, or unforeseeable duties. We deeply regret the absence of your texts from the final issue. There is so much more to be explored about othering in how we teach, how we build, how we think, how we write—how we might live. Please persist with this timely and meaningful work.

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Max Fisher and Emma Bubola, “As Coronavirus Deepens Inequality, Inequality Worsens Its Spread,” New York Times, March 15, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/15/world/europe/coronavirus-inequality.h… and “CRARR Calls on Federal and Quebec Governments to Collect COVID-19 Data Based on Race, Language and Income Level,” CRARR: Center for Research-Action on Race Relations, April 30, 2020, http://www.crarr.org/?q=node/20102.
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