Architecture, Hip Hop, and Utopia

Lawrence ChuaCNY Humanities Corridor Visiting Scholars Brownbag Presentation
Lawrence Chua (Hamilton College)
Brownbag Presentation: April 3, 2014 / Noon / Tolley 304 / SU Humanities Center

In 1972, Charles Jencks declared “the death of modernism” with the demolition of Minoru Yamasaki’s Pruitt-Igoe housing project (St. Louis, 1952-1955). The “vandalized, mutilated, and defaced” projects represented, for Jencks, the ways modernism’s utopian vision had gone astray and become paradigmatic of techno-bureaucratic corporate authority and efficiency. This project argues that, far from being dead, the struggle between modernism’s utopian dream and its co-optation was re-imagined by the inhabitants of American urban housing in the visual and aural culture of hip hop. Drawing on written, visual, and aural archival material, this project examines the ways that hip hop has re-framed modernism and investigates the ways that architecture is mediated, overwritten, and redeployed by its users. It brings a discussion of race to historical analyses of architecture’s engagement with mass culture as it was transformed by consumer capitalism in the United States during the 20th century.

Lawrence Chua is a historian of the modern built environment whose research focuses on 19th and 20th century architecture and urban development. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow in Asian Studies housed in the Department of Art History at Hamilton College. He received his PhD in the History of Architecture and Urbanism Program at Cornell University in 2012. He is the recipient of the Social Science Research Council’s International Dissertation Research Fund and was a Mellon Graduate Fellow at the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University.

CNY Humanities Corridor Visiting Scholars Brownbag Presentation

Jeanelle HopeJanelle Hope (Syracuse University)
“Seeking Poetic Justice: Positioning Black Women and Queer Identifying Into the Black Power Historical Narrative”

Brownbag Presentation: February 7, 2014 / Noon / Tolley 304 / SU Humanities Center

The Black Power era historical narrative is especially male dominated, androcentric, and primarily comprised of biographies, autobiographies, and traditional archival materials.  Thus, there is little room for the voices of women, queer identifying, and other marginalized groups. Scholars have begun to recognize this gap and have started creating a space for the history, stories, and voices of those groups. However, the few contributions that have been made continue to heavily rely on traditional research methods and sources of authentic knowledge. Poetry and performance qualitative research present an alternative way in which we can insert the voices of Black women and queer identifying men and women from the era into the historical narrative, as poetry and other artistic avenues were often spaces in which their voices were safe, respected, maintained, and often better appreciated. Therefore, it is essential to analyze and include these pieces into the history in order to better understand the totality of the Black Power era. In doing so, those marginalized within this history now have a rightful place within the narrative and simultaneously the argument and claim for the legitimacy of poetry as knowledge and a research method is reasserted. Overall, this work seeks to help reframe the understanding of the Black Power era by examining poetry by Black women and Black queer identifying men and women.

Jeanelle Hope is a native of Oakland, California; she completed her undergraduate studies at California State University, Long Beach, earning a B.A. in History and Africana Studies. Currently, she is a graduate student and Teaching Assistant at Syracuse University working toward her M.A. in Pan African studies. Jeanelle’s ongoing thesis project is centered on interracial activism between African Americans and Asian Americans in the Bay Area during the Black Power era and the role of women within radical organizations of the period, specifically within the Black Panther Party and Chinese Red Guard. Much of her work takes a Black feminist approach and seeks to uncover the voices of women through oral history and archival research.



Critical Connections Public Lecture and Mini-Seminar

Zeynep Celik AlexanderZeynep Çelik Alexander (University of Toronto)
“A Minor History of Non-Reading”

Public Lecture: January 30, 2014 / 5:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. / Peter Graham Scholarly Commons / Bird Library

Mini-Seminar: January 31, 2014 / 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon / Special Collections Research Center / Bird Library

(Both events are co-sponsored by Syracuse University’s School of Architecture. They are free and open to the public, but advanced registration is required for the mini-seminar. To register, contact or call 315-443-2697)

Zeynep Çelik Alexander is an architectural historian whose work focuses on the history of modern architecture since the Enlightenment with an emphasis on German modernism. She is currently completing two projects: a book titled An Epistemological History of Aesthetic Modernism and a co-edited volume exploring the histories of technologies that have come to dominate contemporary design disciplines. Alexander’s writings have appeared in several edited volumes as well as in journals including Harvard Design Magazine, Grey Room, Journal of Design History, and Centropa. She is a member of Aggregate Architectural History Collaborative and an editor of the journal Grey Room.

“A Minor History of Non-Reading”

Countless contemporary observers have noted that in the age of digital media skimming, scanning, browsing, and watching may have rendered close reading obsolete. Yet such claims about the disappearance of reading —accompanied as often with uncritical enthusiasm as with unwarranted anxiety—are not new. This paper attempts to understand the epistemological implications of such claims by returning to early-twentieth-century Germany where a peculiar kind of reading, dubbed “non-reading,” emerged. Non-reading was neither illiteracy nor reading in-depth: it was a technique of engaging with a text without using the hermeneutic practices that had been a crucial part of German education since the early nineteenth century. The modernist picture book became a primary site for the practice of non-reading. In books by Paul Schultze-Naumburg, Max Dvorak and Heinrich Wölfflin (and later by Sigfried Giedion, Le Corbusier, and Colin Rowe) images with strikingly similar formal qualities were juxtaposed as example and counter-example so that the non-reader could switch her gaze back and forth between the two images until she could reach the correct judgment. Those who used the comparative method—in books as well as in other pedagogical settings at museums, design schools, and universities—shared an assumption about the kind of knowledge inherent in this analogical reasoning. If Wissen, knowledge associated with conscious thought and language, had been at the heart of nineteenth-century institutions of learning in Germany, the comparative method was put to use with faith in Kennen, corporeal knowledge assumed to be the result of inferences drawn unconsciously from aesthetic sensations. This paper traces the brief life of non-reading in turn-of-the-century books, slides, mass-produced prints and photographs with an eye on its long afterlife in twentieth-century modernism.