These projects are based on research where we examined social conflicts, conflicts in justice, and juridical conflicts beyond general media accounts of historical and contemporary phenomena and looking at how research on the city and conflicts in justice are developed and articulated in other non-architectural fields and then bringing those to bear on architectural problems including program, space, context, etc.. To this extent is the necessity to allow for students with international backgrounds (US, China, Philippines, India, Honduras, Mexico) to engage directly with conflicts in justice that have features specific to their interests and backgrounds.
Parallel with the studio, I have been conducting a research seminar during the fall on space, security, and power, specifically in the political philosophy of Foucault and, in the spring, a seminar on critical discourses on race, gender, sexuality and space, where we look at different fields of articulation/statement from law, anthropology, feminism and gender studies, subaltern studies, geography, sociology, etc.
Within these areas a consistent question emerges about the status of witness, its historical transformation, its technical juridical role, and its social role. From here we pose the question: in what sense can the architectural project re-engage the question of witness in juridical conflicts? How does one engage the city as witness? What are ways of opening up juridical procedure and conflicts in justice to the public and the community and transforming its prosecutorial features into something beyond a penalized society? Across these questions runs another: in what sense is law, like architecture, a spatializing technology?
Much of the material has developed over the years through my research on juridical procedure in ancient Greece, Foucault studies, and questions of space and fields of power relations. The studio and the seminar are parallel sites of research where feedback from the students, jurors, and colleagues cycle back into the developments of the studio brief and shift our work from year to year. This has been massively enhanced by the background work of my colleague Erik Nevala-Lee, who’s work in political activism, civic engagement, and participation in grass roots movements has similarly inspired the direction of the research.
This semester we have already had a presentation by immigration and civil rights attorneys and a former student on legal pluralism, Kennedy Philips and indigenous communities (Dialogues on Justice: Law and Space), and we will have another this April with my colleague Holly Wilson (Dialogues on Justice: Libraries as Democratic Space)
This year, a prominent theme across many of the studio projects is how do we witness history and what does that mean? The pandemic in the US created a number of openings on wounds from which the US will probably never heal, and intersected with a series of incidents that enabled us to see consistent parallels between the criminalization of race and governmental strategies of bio-politics, and which has inspired activism and protest not only nationally but also internationally. We are, quite possibly, at a major turning point, though who knows how long this arc will extend in which society’s relation to itself, and to government, is changing the relation between justice and law. NYC, for example, just announced that it was abandoning (though to what extent remains to be seen) qualified immunity for police.
Each of these studies related contemporary and historical phenomena which define current realities and some cases anticipate them. Regarding farmer’s protests against government’s and the courts’ persistent abuse of rights to seeds and economic independence, which was the basis of Durairajan’s study of farmer’s rights, land, agriculture and British colonialism. Within the following year, Modi had reversed a series of agreements favoring global national corporations (Monsanto, etc.) for farmer’s rights (although some speculate this is more of an election year action than a permanent shift). Gina Rustami’s study of women’s role in politics and society in the history of Afghanistan would soon encounter the return to fundamentalism in the takeover by the Taliban. Tucker’s study of the Tulsa rce riots would soon find amplification in numerous creative projects in the event’s centennial. Fukai, Weinfeld, Fox & Centeno, Chavira, and Palacio studied conflicts in justice that ranged from still unexplored histories of society, equity, and food, to continued racial segregation in American cities, to emergent discourses on reparations, and finally traditions of violations of housing rights and property law within the US. For each of these projects the research developed intricate studies of possible juridical spaces where the social, environmental, racial, and other forms of injustice might be addressed with positive ambition and honest recognition. In other cases, the historical and contemporary phenomena are less well known in this geographical context but nonetheless influenced the overall tenor of the research. Vidhyasagar’s research on Women’s rights in Japan, and Wadel’s research on orphan children’s conflicts with the military and the police in Kashmir, brought to light a number of observations about the subtle and the explicit abuse of human rights.
Kushal Durairajan, Colonial Traditions and Agricultural Rights in India: Farmers, Seeds, and Transnational Corporations
Malika Wadel, Between the Military and the Police: Children’s Rights in the Ambiguous State of Kashmir
Shabika Vidhyasagar, Economy and Women’s Rights in Japan
Ricardo Palacio, Segregation and Education Rights in New York City Public School: A Space for Advocacy
Natalia Chavira, The Long Walk: Immigration Rights and the Mexican American Border
David Tucker, The Legacy of Tulsa: Policing and Racial Violence in the US
Saloni Sanghavi, Legacies and Transformation: Gender Violence and Law in India
Julie Fox & Michael Centeno, Race and Reparations in the U.S.: Witnesses, Actors, and Engagement
Gina Rustami, Spaces of Women’s Voices: Gender Rights in Afghanistan
Jack Weinfeld, Histories of Food Justice and Education in the United States
Chihiro Fukai, Alternative Housing Rights and Property Law: An Experimental Legacy in the United States