Reimagining Blackness and Architecture

Reviewed by:
Winifred E. Newman, Ph.D.
Clemson University

Long overdue, Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America was the title of an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in spring 2021, complemented by the online course Reimagining Blackness and Architecture, organized and taught by Sean Anderson, the Associate Curator, Department of Architecture and Design, MoMA and Arlette Hernandez, Assistant Educator, Department of Learning and Engagement, MoMA. The online course elucidates the ten commissioned exhibition works by architects, artists, and designers, addressing the questions, “How does race structure space in America?” and “What does it mean to create and occupy space?” The focus is on Blackness as lived experience and identity, but the scope is liberal. As the artist Garrett Bradley asserts, this is “…not just black history, but American history.” MoMA created Reimagining Blackness and Architecture with support from Volkswagen of America and Bloomberg Philanthropies.

There is ample scholarship on race in America, but not surprisingly, less that addresses spatial inequities. In American histories of architecture, Black landscapes are barely mentioned. The plantations, Black towns, or neighborhoods of northern migration rarely figure into narratives of public space, either in design or planning. The ambition of Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America and Reimagining Blackness and Architecture is to fill this gap with stories whose narrative drive and intimacy open discussion about the more significant social, economic, political, and intellectual challenges of those under the yoke of racism in America. This exhibition is the fourth in the Issues in Contemporary Architecture series and the only one with an online course.

Six one-week course modules include five themes based on the exhibition projects: Imagination, Care, Knowledge, Refusal, and Liberation, with subthemes. Modules introduce a cast of artists, academics, museum directors, and curators through videos and lessons. Learning outcomes precede modules, and assignments or quizzes follow. The course offers a certificate if one opts to pay, but otherwise is free online with registration and is suitable for learners at the high school level and above. Course materials include digital images of the physical works from the exhibition and drawings, photographs, artist’s maps, newspaper clippings, magazine layouts, video, and audio. A dictionary of key terms is given for the course and prompts guide the learner to the additional discussion, including comments, threads, and online forums. Including multiple examples of artwork, architecture, and design to contextualize the themes the course offers alternative points of view. Coursera hosts the course and will track your progress, organize a calendar, and download reminders.

V. Mitch McEwen. Swampy Site Plan of R ( is a gathering of chance in the submerged city, ready to erupt). 2020. Computed drawing. Image courtesy of the artist and © V. Mitch McEwen.
Computer drawing of a site plan by V. Mitch McEwen 

If there is any criticism of this collection of stories and scholarship, it is the underdetermination of the term ‘Blackness’ outside the American context to Black identities. There is a rich history of artwork, buildings, landscapes, and places outside of the United States that are likely not mute in the circum-Atlantic discussion of race and diaspora. The idea surfaces in Germane Barnes’ A Spectrum of Blackness in Miami, Florida and Emanuel Adammau’s Planetary Scar, but the reading in the course doesn’t open a broader discussion of the global phenomena of what Senegalese poet Léopold Sédar Senghor called negritude or “the sum of the cultural values of the black world, that is, a certain active presence in the world…” (Senghor, 1970). Perhaps that is the subject for future iterations of what is a welcome focus in architecture, design, and art. 

Emanuel Admassu. Planetary Scar (Mid-Atlantic Ridge). 2020. Sikl, wool, and other threads, 7’ x7’ (213.36 x 213.36 cm.). Image courtesy of the artist and © Emanuel Admassu. 
At the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean lies the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, the world’s longest mountain range, which divides the continental plate of Africa from those of the Americas. For Emanuel Admassu the Mid-Atlantic Ridge functions as a metaphor for both “the formation of Blackness” and the exploitation of African peoples by the Americas. “Race was never a major part of my identity until I crossed the Atlantic,” says Admassu, who was born in Ethiopia and moved to Atlanta as a teenager. “The constructed ideas of racial categories, of black and white, only began to gain power once they're juxtaposed next ot each other. So the moment you cross that line [of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge], you become Black.”
Planetary Scar (Mid-Atlantic Ridge), an abstract depiction of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in the Atlantic Ocean by Emanuel Admassu

In “On the House,” K. Michael Hays, Catherine Ingraham, and Alicia Kennedy wrote, “Architecture is fictional at a fundamental level. Yet its fictions are not just make-believe worlds, but the making of worlds, constitutive of our social being.” This course is a testament to the capacity for history—our collective, complex, and contested story—to shape who we are and may want to be. 


Senghor, L.S. 1970. ‘Negritude: A Humanism of the Twentieth Century.’ The African Reader: Independent Africa. Edited by W. Cartey and M. Kilson. New York: Random House, pp. 180.

Hay, K. M., C. Ingrahan and A. Kennedy 1995. “On the House.” Assemblage: A Critical Journal of Architecture and Design Culture 24, (August 1994) Cambridge: MIT Press, pp. 6-7.

Bloomsbury Applied Visual Arts

Reviewed by:
Jack O’Malley, Metadata Lead
Frick Art Reference Library

Bloomsbury Applied Visual Arts, a library of 170 titles published by Bloomsbury Publishing, aims to provide students in the visual arts with practically minded resources for inspiration, technical advice, and career development. The digital resource library is organized according to major visual arts disciplines: fashion and textiles, design and illustration, photography, film and animation, architecture and interiors, and marketing and advertising. Within each discipline there are a number of “Basics” and “Fundamental” series, fit for practitioners of all levels. More intermediate resources include both hands-on exercises and more theoretical “required reading”, as well as instruction on career management.

The homepage of Bloomsbury Applied Visual Arts

Individual pages (also serving as subject guides) further break down the disciplines into a number of sub-topics. At a glance, these pages communicate the key areas covered by the resources. The “Explore Key Topics” side-panel brings users to an index of chapters tagged by topic, while the links at the bottom of the page bring users to entire e-books. Users can otherwise only see a list of e-books by turning to the “Browse Books” page, which lacks the filtering features users can apply to chapters. The search feature also indexes by chapter with filters available to narrow down searches by key topic. Both the key topics side-panel and the search bar bring users to the same results, but the advantage of the search feature comes primarily from full-text searches of chapters.

The Bloomsbury core disciplines.
The Film and Animation discipline page.

The books and chapters themselves are excellently rendered, with (according to Bloomsbury) 150–250 full color images per title, the option for personal download of chapters via the print button, and a smooth and functional full-screen viewer. On mobile, many of these features are diminished by layout changes and screen size, but all the content remains available. Many chapters contain further sub-sections captured in a side-panel table of contents, which facilitates use of these resources as reference material. The contents accurately reflect the resource’s commitment to providing granular, practical introductions for new to intermediate students in the visual arts. The titles take nothing for granted when explaining how to point a camera or craft a portfolio. 

The page view for a chapter of the book The Fundamentals of Digital Photography

The resources in Bloomsbury Applied Visual Arts have been aptly selected for the target audience of visual learners, especially for students who may want to frequently refer to reference material in a specific chapter as they move through the learning process. Delivering these titles digitally makes sense for the same reason, especially given the quality of the digital titles. The limitations of the search and browse features can make discovery more difficult than necessary, but it is still possible to consistently find the right resource. Bloomsbury also adds new resources on a regular basis. Applied Visual Arts also supplies the title list as an Excel Sheet, which has some additional metadata and may aid collection development selectors in evaluating the resource.

Librarians interested in the benefits of Bloomsbury Applied Visual Arts, such as facilitation of self-learning, explicit focus on applied basics, and breadth of coverage, will have to balance them with the financial cost. Although Bloomsbury offers a free thirty day trial, institutions will ultimately need to request a quote and pay to secure ongoing access for their users. Bloomsbury does not provide general pricing information. Comparable open-access resources include MERLOT, Open Textbook Library, and other introductory titles in the library catalog, among others available online, and librarians will need to choose between curating resources that fit their students’ needs with the broad coverage and disciplinary topics of this resource.