Mukta Mohan

Now What?!: the intersection of architecture & activism

Mukta Mohan
Now What?!: the intersection of architecture & activism

Now What?! explores the connection between architecture and activism, looking at social movements from the 1960s until now, and specifically how architecture has been affected by these movements and how it can be used as a tool for social change. The exhibition examines the history of how architecture has worked to further the causes of civil rights, women’s and LGBTQ movements. Curators Sarah Rafson and Lori Brown discuss their exhibition and why it’s important to remember this little known history and look forward to a more diverse architecture practice.

Featured guests:

Lori Brown: Professor at the Syracuse University School of Architecture, co-founder of Architexx, non-profit organization for gender equity in architecture, and author of Feminist Practices: Interdisciplinary Approaches to Women in Architecture and Contested Space: Abortion Clinics, Women’s Shelters and Hospitals.

Sarah Rafson: Architecture writer, researcher, editor, and curator. She is the founder of Point Line Projects, an editorial and curatorial agency.

Sarah Rafson on Now What?!

This is the first ever exhibition to explore the history of activism in architecture and design. We show the relationship between the professions around the built environment and the movements like the women’s movement, LGBTQ, environmental and civil rights movements. All of these major social movements of the 20th century, we show how that impacted architecture and how architects played pivotal roles in those movements.

Sarah Rafson on more diversity in the architecture field

We talk about housing and cities as really critical places where some of the problems that have to do with inequality or poverty and injustice take place. These are some of the ways that architects and designers maybe build housing in response or train new architects, maybe empower communities of color to become architects and take control over their communities through buildings and streets and better design.

Everything we do takes place in a building or around buildings and is influenced by how our world is designed and the problem that we discovered is that often the people designing that world did not reflect the people that use that world.

Lori Brown on how architecture can create social change

Because I’m very interested in the kind of legal influences that shape the built environment, I think for more architects to be involved in who is creating our codes and our zoning and even the kind of building approval process has direct implications of the kind of projects that will eventually be built and their scope. So I think on a very bureaucratic level, those kinds of things and having more architects involved is critical.

I also think in terms of more public buildings and social housing, housing for the elderly and housing just more broadly, to have architects involved in that for lower to middle class communities is so important as well. Clearly there are economic concerns and issues around all these things, so I'm not trying to assume that the economics don't factor in because of course they do. But I think our discipline needs to be more heavily invested in the middle to lower economic levels because we've seen so much effort put into the high end buildings, residential complexes, condos and museums, but then the public libraries and the county courthouses and the public schools and the elderly centers, like those matter and to me they matter more, and to have architects involved in those private projects just dramatically improves not only our public lives but also the lives of those who use them.

Check out to learn more about key historical moments at the intersection of architecture and activism.