Wednesday, April 26, 2017

John Malveaux: Los Angeles Times: Challenging the whiteness of American architecture, in the 1960s and today ["When Ivory Towers Were Black"]

Los Angeles Times: Students block the entrance to Avery Hall, home to Columbia's department of architecture and planning, in the spring of 1968. (Office of Public Affairs Photograph Collection, Columbia University Archives)

 When Ivory Towers Were Black
Sharon Egretta Sutton
Fordham University Press; 1 edition (March 1, 2017)

John Malveaux of 
sends this link:


April 6, 2017

“This book tells the story of how I got a free Ivy League education.”
That's the arresting opening sentence of Sharon Egretta Sutton’s “When Ivory Towers Were Black,” an unusual hybrid of memoir, institutional history and broadside against the entrenched whiteness of the architecture profession in this country.
The institution in question is Columbia University and, in particular, its department of architecture and planning. The time frame is between 1965 and 1976, “mirroring the emergence and denouement of the black power movement,” as Sutton notes. And the narrative is really a two-part story, exploring how an era of intense student protest at Columbia, which peaked in the spring of 1968, gave way to a remarkably successful if short-lived effort to recruit students of color to study architecture and urban planning on the university’s campus in Morningside Heights, on the southwestern edge of Harlem.
I could paraphrase the story of how Sutton, who is now professor emerita at the University of Washington and a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, became one of those students, but I am unlikely to improve on her version. And the details, in any case, are what make it memorable. It takes place in the dog days of summer, 1968.
“At the time,” she writes, “I was working as a musician in the orchestra of the original cast of the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha, playing ‘The Impossible Dream (The Quest)’ on my French horn over and over, eight times a week. As an antidote to that mind-numbing sameness, I had begun taking interior design classes at Parsons School of Design during the day (since I mostly worked at night). But in August … I received a call from the secretary for Romaldo Giurgola, a famous architect who was then chairman of the Division of Architecture. One of my teachers at Parsons had worked in Giurgola’s architecture office and had told him about this black woman who was in his class. And that’s how I was recruited to the School of Architecture.”
(This is probably a good spot to point out that 1968 was also the year that the civil rights leader and National Urban League Executive Director Whitney Young delivered a fiery keynote speech at the AIA convention, telling the architects gathered there that they shared “the responsibility for the mess we are in in terms of the white noose around the central city” and that a black Yale architecture student he knew “did want you to begin to speak out as a profession, he did want in his own classroom to see more Negroes, he wanted to see more Negro teachers.”)
What Sutton didn’t learn until far later was that she and the rest of the newly recruited students were brought to Columbia by a pair of related forces. The first was a $10-million Ford Foundation grant to the university in 1966 to be used for “urban and minority affairs.” The second was the student uprisings that peaked in 1968, when Avery Hall, which held the architecture school, was occupied by protesters along with four other buildings on the Columbia campus.

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