Course Purpose

The built environment continues to bear the stamp of historical slaveries and is supported by contemporary forms of forced labor. Sustainability is addressed as a purely technical environmental problem without involving affected communities. This project challenges assumptions of value-neutral architecture and urban planning, questions decades of risk-shifting, and seeks to introduce both an aesthetic and practice sensibility around racism and exploitation to create truly sustainable buildings. It abandons the practice model of the architect as a designer separate from politics and the mechanics of construction by incorporating attorneys and other professionals into an equity-based process. Teaching methodology and structure reflects this theory of change and re-thinking of practice through a whole-of-campus structure that exposes students to experiential learning methods from other disciplines while transforming pedagogy to confront this multi-faceted human rights problem. The course pedagogy is based on the following premises:

1) Slavery is present in the built environment, both in its modern manifestations and through legacies embedded in American buildings, landscapes, and urban planning through chattel slavery and its badges and incidents.

2) Designers, engineers, builders, lawyers, historians, and businesspersons can and must address these legacies and manifestations through their professional practice, with an anti-slavery intentionality that has been lacking across these professions.

3) As slavery and its legacies are multi-faceted, they can only be addressed through cross-disciplinary efforts that require alignment across academic disciplines as well as professional and policy activities.

Proposed outcomes include design solutions that will begin to establish a “freedom vernacular” into modern building design, a cross-disciplinary means of experiential instruction that advances anti-slavery practice, and a “freedom ethos” of production or professional practice that will incorporate anti-slavery equity into all projects, not simply those that carry out a social justice agenda. More concretely, we intend to help students, especially in the professional schools, forge a deep grounding in the history and techniques of architectural imagination that will help them literally build a freer world.

The project outcomes will flow from the students and the affected communities, and the applied work of the students will send a strong equity signal to other leading architecture programs and the profession as a whole. Law students will develop meaningful anti-slavery practice in ways other than simply prosecuting or litigating cases, in no small part by incorporating the historical and design practice of their counterparts, much as the collaboration between the Equal Justice Initiative and MASS Design produced a powerful site of memorialization and inspiration in support of EJI’s legal and policy activities (the National Memorial for Peace and Justice). Each semester’s course design will build on student input and direction, and students from across the project period will be brought back for the final symposium and included in final reports or other written output.