February 2, 2022 Students Reveal Cultural Potential of Public Space

Students in our School of Architecture “acted up.”

In Adjunct Assistant Professor Curry Hackett’s fall 2021 Architecture seminar, titled Acting Up: Ritual and Provocation in the Public Realm, 4th-year, 5th-year and graduate Architecture students studied Black cultural traditions to better understand the under-recognized potential of public spaces.

Students studied quilting and textiles, regional social dance and style of dress to imagine a public realm that encourages imagination and intent, while challenging its traditional place of power and capital. They critiqued pitfalls of architecture in the modern Western tradition—which is often concerned more with buildings than the people who occupy them—to inform more gracious modes of practice.

headshot Curry Hackett

“Students learned that Black Americans’ spatial, material and rhetorical practices often serve as means of resistance and refusal, in spite of power dynamics and colonialism,” Hackett explained. “Architecture as a discipline must contend with the conflict of space being both fraught with peril and welcoming of possibility.”

As students considered this reality, they engaged in individual and group exercises to create performances and installations in the interior of the Art + Architecture Building, meant to challenge conventional behaviors in the atrium. In the end, using independent methods of learning—including improvisational performance and weaving, as well as anecdotal research—students devised strategies to promote care and agency in the built environment.

Fifth-year student Melissa Lozano Lykes explains the impact on their design perspective. “This is something I’ve continued to take into my design career: the same conditions can create many different answers, and they often break into groups showing what’s most important or clear to a population.”

“This class challenged the first vision that comes to mind when we hear ‘architecture’ but gave us the tools to challenge and enrich our ideas, visions, and designs,” said 5th-year student, Christina Ceniceros. “The course…drew me in deeper into the provocative nature that architecture has in both a social and cultural context. I knew that architecture was more than the instinctual primary vision of the four walls and a triangular roof but rather a tapped-in understanding of the flexibility and dualistic nature of space and design. This course enriched my creative endeavors and empowered me to re-imagine architecture.”

Enjoy photos from the studio:

Photo 1: The image with multiple iterations shows Christina Ceniceros’s study during the “Making” exercise, which incorporated a collection of found materials contributed by the rest of the class (plastic bags, braiding hair, flowers, grass).

photos of found materials made as clothing accessory


Photo 2: The yarn image was one of the three installations created during the “Marking” exercise, in which students had to identify a space and social group for whom to design a place of refuge. This was intended to incite conversation through collective weaving and alter behavior of the atrium lobby. Group members: Maureen Sotak, Gabe Wall and Munzir Mohamed.

yarn woven into tall structure


Photo 3: The bamboo image was also one of the three installations created during the “Marking” exercise. The students harvested bamboo to create a “harbor” over one of the atrium’s bridges. Yarn was added to offer a tactile experience and material contrasts while passing through. Group members: Joanna Martin, Sydney Neff and Katie Pennington.

curved bamboo and yarn


Photo 4: The “puppet” image was one of three performances during the “Moving” exercise, in which the students had to choreograph a spectacular “happening” in the atrium lobby. They were encouraged to reuse materials from the previous exercise. This group used yarn and bamboo to create human “puppets,” controlled by passersby on the upper level and made to do simple tasks such as drawing, building with blocks and basketball. Group members: Joanna Martin, Kathryn Parker, Melrose Lykes and Munzir Mohamed.

students engaged as human puppets