Sutton conveys this history in eight chapters that follow a chronological arc. The first two bracket the year 1965. In Chapter 1, Sutton assesses threads that led eventually to the moment at the book’s center. In particular, she considers the intersection of growing, predominantly African American neighborhoods, disruptive redevelopment practices, and ascendant postwar movements for civil rights. These collided notably in Harlem and, nearby, at Columbia, where the School of Architecture mirrored a university that was often self-interested in dealing with the community down the hill. “[U]niversity administrators managed the school with the same heavy-handed tactics they exhibited in their dealings with the Harlem/Morningside residents” (32), Sutton writes. That condition provoked a groundswell of protest thereafter. In Chapter 2, Sutton follows the series of efforts that reflected growing activism among designers, especially in the Columbia orbit. Reform efforts within professional organizations, more sensitive redevelopment approaches, and new community organizations focused on advocacy and empowerment all were “nudging the School of Architecture ever closer to its experiment” (44). It moved closer still with two catalyzing factors: a large donation from the Ford Foundation that fostered community engagement, especially in Harlem, and the School of Architecture’s open-minded Division of Planning, which proved more willing to lower the walls of the institution than had the architecture program.
As this suggests, the pivotal year of 1968, which saw perhaps the most visible student movement in the United States unfold on Columbia’s campus, was not a sudden surprise but a disruption long in the making. The book’s next three chapters consider its ramifications, culminating ultimately in the arrival of a newly diverse student body in Avery Hall. But first, as Sutton describes in Chapter 3, Avery became one of the epicenters of a campus-wide occupation that, as she shows, was not merely local but global in its dimensions. About thirty architecture and planning students occupied the building in April, motivated by events ranging from the Vietnam War to Columbia’s plans to build a gymnasium in Morningside Park, a symbol of hostility to Harlem. Police would violently clear occupants by the month’s end, but, Sutton explains, it “radicalized them” (71).