Housing crises repeatedly plagued poor, often minority Americans during the twentieth century, from overcrowded, unsanitary speculative tenement buildings to crime-ridden high-rise public housing projects. The architectural failings of much low-income housing, such as inadequate ventilation, deficient plumbing, shoddy construction, and insensitive site planning, were usually accompanied by even more spectacular social failings—racism, sexism, and xenophobia are all written into the history of public housing, even if inadvertently. For example, the design of modern "tower in a park" housing projects ostensibly provided more light, air, and open space to the urban poor, but the oversized, monotonous buildings and surrounding vacant land also stigmatized the residents by identifying their economic status and isolating them from "normal" society. This lecture investigates the successes and failures of various low-income housing types—from row houses to tenements to high-rise towers—and suggests ways in which their architectural design, tenant selection processes, and associated legislation like slum clearance institutionalized and perpetuated certain social values and prejudices.
Lecturer Jennifer Gray (Ph.D. Candidate, Columbia University) is writing her dissertation on the relationship between socio-political reform and the architecture of Chicago designer Dwight Perkins from 1893 to 1918. She has been a lecturer at The Museum of Modern Art since 2004.
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