Mar 1st 2021

Architecture Faculty, Current and Former, Produce Installation on “Architecture and Blackness” for MoMA

On February 27 the Museum of Modern Art in New York opened “Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America,” a first-of-its-kind exhibition featuring works by 10 architects, designers, and artists investigating the intersections of architecture and anti-Black racism in the United States. Among those architects is a former Illinois Institute of Technology adjunct professor, Amanda Williams.

To bring the project to completion, Williams tapped current College of Architecture adjunct professor and alumnus Martin Majkrak (B.ARCH. ’16) to serve as project design lead for the exhibition. College of Architecture students Marcos Mercado (B.ARCH. 5th Year) and Myles Emmons (B.ARCH. 5th Year) were also part of the project team. Mercado assisted with 3D modeling, 3D printing, and visualization studies, while Emmons edited an audio-visual projection in the installation.

Williams’s project interweaves Kinloch, Missouri, a historically Black “free town,” with outer space as sites for relaunching backward and forward into Black autonomy in the built environment. In choosing to focus on spatial practices and not buildings, Williams insists we acknowledge a historical inability of Black Americans to have dominion over their bodies, let alone their environments.

Williams offers a launching pad and a series of tools for navigating to “Free Black Space.” She pieces together her directions, laid out on emergency mylar blankets, from the little-known patents of quotidian tools invented by African Americans just after Emancipation. The robust multimedia installation also appropriates the motif of structural free-body diagrams as a way to chronicle direct and indirect forces acting against the stasis of black bodies. Highlighting the importance of patenting and innovation, Williams acknowledges that “everyone has a right to participate in making America the place that they want it to be.”

From physical models and the supervision of fabrication of Williams’s metaphorical vessel for space travel, to ideas, sketches, and complex digital drawings and 3D representations, Majkrak holistically utilized his College of Architecture training and his background in commercial architecture to spearhead the project’s direction and development. He credits his friendship with Julian Kevon Glover, Virginia Commonwealth University assistant professor in gender, sexuality, and women’s studies, with introducing him to critical race theory and Black feminism, providing vital foundation for understanding the complexities of the issues to further project research.

“Martin’s role was indispensable to the overall project success,” says Williams. “His ability to quickly comprehend and translate very fraught notions of racism and the politics of race into formal and spatial strategies were invaluable.”

“Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America” will be on view at MoMA from February 27 through May 31, 2021. More information is available at MoMA’s website.

Photo courtesy Olalekan Jeyifous.