Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America

White supremacy in architecture

V. Mitch McEwen. White supremacy in architecture

Mitch McEwen: I'm Mitch McEwen.

The Johnson Study Group came together in 2020 after the uprising and the movement for Black lives. There was a concern, that architecture had not grappled with its white supremacist legacy. The Johnson Study Group formed as a small group of architects who were concerned that Philip Johnson, the founder of the Architecture and Design Department at MoMA, was a known white supremacist, having collaborated with the Nazi party, founded a fascist party within the US, and also financially supported a range of hate mongers and white supremacists.

Johnson's name is on the wall of the architecture gallery at MoMA. Naming communicates values and naming spaces after a person demands a connection between that person's legacy and the future that that institution is committed to.

Effectively the Architecture and Design Department at MoMA maintained a whites-only policy. So there's not a single work in the design and architecture collection by any Black designers throughout Johnson's decades of leading that department. And that continued to be the Museum of Modern Art's policy around Black architecture.

Addressing a figure like Philip Johnson is asking us to be critical about the language that architecture uses, the assumption that architecture makes, and to be aware of the extent to which the erasure of Black and Brown people, Indigenous people, from architecture and design, it has nothing to do with us, right? It's not because we weren't there.

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