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A Reflection on Atlanta
By Stephanie Choi
While folks were making memes about Lacaton & Vassal (yes, thank you Dank Lloyd Wright for pointing out that the Pritzker son has ties to Jeffrey Epstein), and wringing hands about NFTs (thank you Cynthia Daignault for pointing out it’s just more white men breaking auction records to make other white men rich—where’s the revolution?), a white Harvard historian (why bother naming him?) published a paper in the peer-reviewed journal International Review of Law and Economics claiming (falsely) that the sexual slavery of Japanese occupation era (1910-1945) Korean comfort women was a fiction because they were prostitutes who had willingly entered legal contracts for sex work.
Here’s some non-fiction.
At the time of reading, you will have heard about the rise in the past year of anti-Asian American violence—particularly against women—exacerbated by the former president’s scapegoating of China for the coronavirus. You may have skimmed the pieces on the long history of this racism in America. You will have read about eight people dead in Atlanta. You probably heard the killer (again, I refuse to name) was having a “bad day.” And once there was outcry over this inept characterization by the captain of the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office (even the place names of this story have Native American genocide written all over them), a press release then emphasized the captain’s own “difficult” day.
Six Asian American women died because of a white man’s bad day. Say their names.
Soon Chung Park
Hyun Jung Grant
Yong Ae Yue
Two others—Delaina Ashley Yaun and Paul Andre Michels—were also killed. A bystander, Elcias R. Hernandez-Ortiz, was critically wounded.
The murderer’s gun was legally purchased the morning of (sidenote: a person seeking an abortion in Georgia must wait 24 hours after an initial consultation). He killed four people at Young’s Asian Massage Parlor to the northwest of Atlanta before driving half an hour southeast to kill four more at Gold Spa and Aromatherapy Spa (how does a person kill eight people at three different locations in the span of three hours, and still manage to drive around free?). He was apprehended by the police on his way to Florida without incident (Twitter aghast—you know what would have happened if the perp were Black), which makes sense given that Dylann Roof’s arrestors bought him Burger King, and that the January 6th insurrectionists languidly walked free out of the Capitol.
According to the killer, his crimes had nothing to do with race, but instead a need to rid himself of “temptation” for sex. Why these places? He says he felt safe at spas (it’s clear the spa workers were not safe from him). What does safe mean? Much like the insurrectionists strolling the Capitol, he felt at ease—comfortable and entitled to the spaces of these Asian-owned businesses and the women that worked there. Safe enough to extinguish women’s lives, to deny them their humanity, to only see them as objects in a deranged sexual fiction.
Georgia only just signed into law hate crime legislation last year, in the wake of the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks (Arkansas, South Carolina, Wyoming—what are you waiting for?). A staggeringly minuscule 3.6% of hate crimes in 2019 were convicted based on gender and gender identity. The omnipresent violent crimes committed against women and trans non-binary people in the US are not hate convictions, if they are reported and convicted at all. Many have pointed out the early errors of the sheriff’s office stating that the murders couldn’t be racist because they are only about sex. The intersectional nature of these murders exceeds not only the investigators’ mental notion of what’s possible, but also the narrow boundaries of a legal system forged in white supremacy and misogyny.
Pritzker. NFTs. Harvard blowhard. January 6th. Atlanta. White supremacy and toxic masculinity strike again. For anyone who wants to argue that this was not a hate crime—come closer (but stay 6’ away), so I can throw Orientalism at your head.
So far only the Chosun Ilbo, a South Korean national newspaper, has reported that a Gold Spa worker heard the perpetrator yell: “I’m going to kill all the Asians.” Victims Tan and Feng are ethnically Chinese; Park, Grant, Kim, and Yue are ethnically Korean. Information regarding the lives of three of the Korean women are forthcoming. We only know that they have been identified in their 60s or 70s (around my mother’s age). We don’t know yet the working conditions of all the women, their legal status, or whether or not they were sex workers. We don’t know if these spas were offering illicit services, or whether they’re simply wellness centers (now there’s a word that doesn’t get applied to Asian massage businesses in the media). While these details will provide more insight into the precarity of the victims’ livelihoods, it doesn’t take away from the injustice of their murders and the dignity of their lives.
We do know that these women are among the most vulnerable, isolated, invisible, and stigmatized within the Asian American community. We know that working class people bear the brunt of targeted racialized violence in our society. We know that we (Asian American women—although I don’t claim to speak for all in our polyphonic assembly) have been historically hypersexualized and objectified in American culture. Between the opportunistic “tiger mom” and the war-torn prostitute, the yellow woman in the American imaginary has always been seen as immoral, exotic, decadent, and fragile—more like a “thing” (to paraphrase historian Anne Anlin Cheng)—a decorative porcelain object, all surface, merely ornamental. “Things” don’t get to have freedom, a subjectivity, or autonomy. In a capitalist culture, “things” are owned.
I have been thinking this week about the Korean American writer and artist Theresa Hak Kyung Cha. Her 1982 book Dictée is dedicated to her mother, who was exiled to Manchuria during Japanese occupation. The volume is a revelatory collage of English and French text juxtaposed with images of women such as Yu Guan Soon, the Korean revolutionary who resisted occupation, and the actor Renée Jean Falconetti as Carl Dreyer’s Joan of Arc. The book traces an arc of healing from her mother’s exile to the author’s own childhood memories of her mother. On the last page is a black and white photo of Yu Guan Soon with her classmates—nine women, nine muses, nine sections that structure the work—the tenth being the cycle of the work and Cha herself. Who knows what other revelations Cha would have created had her life not been catastrophically taken a few days after Dictée was published. She was raped and murdered by a security guard at the Puck Building in Soho, where her husband was working (Cha’s story is illuminated by Cathy Park Hong in Minor Feelings).
You take the train home. Mother… you call her already, from the gate. Mother, you cannot wait. She leaves everything to greet you, she comes and takes you indoors and brings you food to eat. You are home now your mother your home. Mother inseparable from which is her identity, her presence. Longing to breathe the same air her hand no more a hand than instrument broken weathered no death takes them. No death will take them, Mother, I dream you just to be able to see you. (from Dictée)
In my mind’s funeral procession for Tan, Feng, Park, Grant, Kim, and Yue, we are wearing simple white robes, the traditional color for Korean funerals, but also the color of resistance. We silently march until we explode into a cacophony of percussive drumming. You will not hear anything else.
In grief and mourning. Rest in Power.
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3/16 — The Humanity of Brick
Louis Kahn may have asked the humble brick what it wanted, but TRÂN THỊ NGỤ NGÔN made it a poet. The work of the Vietnamese architect can be described as an extended meditation on the building material. In a lecture hosted by CORNELL AAP, Ngôn presented the work of her office, TROPICAL SPACE, which is mostly composed of brick screens and walls layered and manipulated to function in Vietnam’s tropical climate. Ngôn explicitly tied her office’s work to materials, craft, textiles, culture, community, and the environment. The brick buildings that emerge from this sensitivity are soft, breathing, flexible structures that respond and listen to their occupants and surroundings. The architect closed the lecture with an apt analogy: “We make the first layer by weaving clothing outside our skin. The next layer is the house, which we also make by weaving a single material. The next layer is nature—with wind, sunlight, views. We bring this to the inside and let the house breathe.” Lane Rick
3/16 — Punching the Cracks
“We are now nearly two decades into the assault on criticality in architecture,” began DOUGLAS SPENCER, as he read from the introduction of his new book, Critique of Architecture: Essays on Theory, Autonomy, and Political Economy at the ARCHITECTURAL ASSOCIATION. The book launch was hosted by MARIANELA D’APRILE and joined by ELENI AXIOTI, WILL ORR, RICARDO RUIVO. Spencer said he hoped to give a sense of why critique is a “long, deep issue for architecture,” and why it’s especially timely now. Questioning the role of the critic was a consistent theme among panelists. Orr pondered how discourse functions as academic branding. Axioti remarked that “being branded as another intellectual product cannot be avoided,” which Ruivo didn’t see entirely as a problem—he compared it to the way Marx and Engels branded their ideas as communism. But ultimately, he said, “critique means that you are transforming the framework, exploring its contradictions…and every crack you see, you punch it.” Nicholas Raap
3/17 — The Feeling of Vastness
There was an almost cinematic quality to the way HUANG SHENG-YUAN, principal of FIELDOFFICE ARCHITECTS in Yilan, Taiwan, presented his work during a lecture at RICE on the philosophy of his practice. As Huang drifted through images of projects from the past thirty years—each steeped in Yilan and intimately tied to its river ecology—he flashed short, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them aphorisms and lines of poetry on the screen. Passages such as “When can be done, some emptiness should be left deliberately,” quietly registered in viewers’ minds. For an audience reckoning with finding better, more just ways of living and practicing—the horrors of yet another act of racial violence fresh on their minds—Huang’s pure and defiant approach of “standing by the weak, fighting against the forceful” was a much needed palliative. Harish Krishnamoorthy
3/17 — Digital Resurrection
German-British historian Nikolaus Pevsner described the demolition of John Soane’s Bank of England in the 1920s as “the greatest architectural crime in the City of London in the 20th century.” But, thanks to the work of MELISSA DELVECCHIO—who lectured at the INSTITUTE OF CLASSICAL ARCHITECTURE AND ART—and her team at RAMSA, Soane's magnum opus lives on. Through a worldwide crowd-sourced BIM modeling and rendering competition, PROJECT SOANE—organized by RAMSA and Sir John Soane’s Museum and Foundation, among others—has digitally reconstructed sections of the lost bank. Working with the museum’s digital collections, participants used Soane's original drawings to draft the building in Autodesk. The model was then opened to artists, echoing the collaboration between Soane and his renderer Joseph Gandy, best known for his fantastical watercolor interpretations of the architect’s work. DelVecchio emphasized how tradition can be combined with invention to rediscover lost classical heritage, and hopes that Project Soane, which she described as a “continued, ongoing, evolving piece of scholarship,” will serve as a model for future initiatives. Project Penn Station, anyone? Anna K. Talley
3/18 — The Most Beautiful Housing Around
A discussion hosted by the Green New Deal-boosting SOCIO-SPATIAL CLIMATE COLLABORATIVE (SC)2 at UPENN, co-sponsored by the PRATT SCHOOL OF ARCHITECTURE’s DESEGREGATION THINK-TANK, highlighted Via Verde in the Bronx as an exemplar of future-oriented social housing. The project, which brought 222 affordable units to the resurgent Melrose neighborhood in 2012, was designed by Dattner Architects and Grimshaw for the Phipps Houses Group and Jonathan Rose Companies, two forward-thinking clients focused on community wellness. Pratt’s KAREN KUBEY, explaining that “housing justice is racial justice,” highlighted that the project— Christmas tree farm and all—is a highly replicable one. DANIEL ALDANA COHEN, (SC)2 director, added that although green social housing has a ways to go in America, it represents “the most beautiful housing around.” South Bronx community leader JESSICA CLEMENTE highlighted the development’s robust connection between indoors and outdoors, adding that associated efforts to bring Community Land Trusts and other grassroots-level development strategies to the borough support “safety, culture-keeping, and recreation.” Antonio Pacheco
3/18-19 — Timber!
“We may be left with just the diehards,” joked TANYA LUTHI as she began her tutorial on the design of 6-to-18-story timber buildings at the end of this year's TIMBERCON. The two days of panels, roundtables, and keynotes had many similar moments of self-awareness. Apart from ALAN ORGANSCHI’s opening keynote, which identified the stakes and macro-scale consequences of timber construction, the majority of the presentations focused on real-world application, with many questions from the audience on technical and logistical minutiae. While several presentations covered new construction in burgeoning hot spots for timber buildings such as Portland and Vancouver, AARON SCHILLER of SCHILLER PROJECTS and VINCE LEE of ROGERS PARTNERS discussed two local and decidedly smaller projects in Brooklyn, demonstrating the material’s applicability for interior retrofits. With the upcoming version of the International Building Code expanding to include three new timber construction types, as well as broader changes to allow for high-rise mass construction, timber appears to be on a solid trajectory to the mainstream of building practice—at least judging by participants’ willingness to get into the weeds about STC ratings, firestopping, and self-tapping screws. Chris Gardner
3/19— Future Fiction
To LIAM YOUNG, being a speculative architect means “making films and telling stories about the architectural urban and cultural implications of emerging technologies,” as he said during his lecture “Worlds Less Traveled,” which closed YALE’s week-long RETROFUTURISMS symposium. The LA-based architect-filmmaker presented his work as a counter-balance to prevailing media narratives, and showed clips ranging from illegal drone footage of lithium mining in Bolivia—fueled by Elon Musk’s recent acquisition of the resource—to an artificial intelligence assistant’s love letter to the citizens of Seoul. Young’s worlds less traveled are full of post-industrial waste, dystopian cities with bottomless tower-scapes, hazy atmospheres, and rendered special effects shown in panning drone-eye shots. Daylight is scarce; carnival costumes, animal-human hybrids, and glittering confetti are abundant. The subjects of Young’s investigations—networks of extraction, exploitation, and information circulation—are hardly new to film or academic criticism, though their quality of production, and Young’s specific approach to speculation, takes the imagination on a trip that Hollywood and J-Stor just can’t muster. Tiffany Xu
3/19 — The Order of Cyberspace
“Building is communicating,” said PATRIK SCHUMACHER during a talk at UVA called CYBERSPACE AND THE AUTOPOIESIS OF ARCHITECTURE. “The most general description of architecture’s task is to provide order,” he argued, and “any kind of social order requires a spatial order.” Architecture, then, orders through communication—something that, in his analysis, only occurs today “in a very bastardized and degenerate way.” For Schumacher, cyberspace is another infrastructure—like architecture—which sustains societal order and communicative systems, and so its design should be the purview of the architect: “The internet became the domain of the graphic designers, I think now it’s time to shift back to buildings and cities.” In this way, “all design is UI/UX design.” There’s also the benefit, that, “in architecture, we are swamped with the projects of contractors and engineers, but in cyberspace the focus is absolute.” “I’m someone who wants to take serious responsibility for the built environment of the future,” said Schumacher—and for him, that future is squarely on-line. Nicholas Raap
3/19—In the Zone?
Soho/Noho is attempting to go through a ULURP in order to accommodate contemporary MIH (Mandatory Inclusionary Housing) standards for affordable housing. Many preservationists, however, are concerned that the rezoning might disrupt the neighborhood’s historic architecture, or kill its (once authentic, now completely corporate) artists’ culture. But the reality is that Soho has become a squeezed carnival of tourists, shopping and more shopping, and high-end pop art that can only be purchased with a bag of cocaine. Within its cast iron buildings, residents sleep in million dollar shoe boxes. A discussion at the CENTER FOR ARCHITECTURE called ADAPTING HISTORIC DISTRICTS FOR AN EQUITABLE FUTURE: SOHO/NOHO CASE STUDY rightly did not fetishize historic architecture, or even its lost culture. Instead, it centered around the priority of affordable housing, and a more analytic perspective on why people might be so opposed to new development. “We live in a society where we have left everything up to the market and the divide is extreme. We must respect people’s suspicions,” said VISHAAN CHAKRABARTI. But when it comes to the distribution of infrastructural resources and affordability, “We need equal sacrifice,” said Pratt professor of real estate, JERROD DELAINE. Although we must “acknowledge the history of the creative community,” said urbanist JUSTIN GARRETT MOORE, the existing zoning is a problem, and it's possible that people grabbing onto the historic nature signifies concerns for uncertain futures. How ironic. Sidebar: I went to high school in this neighborhood. Want my personal two cents? Don't question it — rezone it. Zazu Swistel
THE WEEK AHEAD
Monday, March 22
Piggybacking Practices: A Symposium on Architecture and Inequality
4:00pm, Fay Jones School Of Architecture And Design
Tuesday, March 23
Francesca Russello Ammon
Wednesday, March 24
American Roundtable: The Lakota Nation and the Legacy of American Colonization, Cheyenne River Reservation, South Dakota
12:00pm, The Architectural League
6:00pm, University At Buffalo
Raúl Cárdenas Osuna
Thursday, March 25
Emerging Voices: PLY+ and CÚRE & PENABAD
6:00pm, The Architectural League
What Signs Say: Nostalgia and Activism on the Streets
6:30pm, Center For Brooklyn History
David Heymann—A Building You Should Know: The John S. Chase Residence
6:30pm, Cooper Union
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