Mellon Urbanism Seminars

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SHUM 6308 Design Justice Workshop

Fall 2021 topic: Black Memory Workers and their Spatial Practices: Explorations on African American Heritage Spaces in New York City
(also ARCH 6408/6509, ASRC 6380)
Riché Richardson & Peter Robinson.
Limited to fellowship recipients.
4 credits.
Wednesdays, 9:05-11:00 a.m.

Call for Applications

The Fall 2021 Design Justice Workshop is an innovative traveling seminar for graduate students in the humanities and design disciplines. Design Justice Workshops are offered under the auspices of Cornell University’s Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Collaborative Studies in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities grant and are organized by the College of Architecture, Art & Planning and the Society for the Humanities.

Due to the interdisciplinary nature of the Design Justice Workshop, a wide range of skills and backgrounds are welcome. Advanced undergraduate students may apply, but preference will be given to students in their first three years of graduate study. Applications require a recent CV and a 500 – 700-word statement of interest describing your background interest in the seminar topic. No letters of recommendation are required. Questions should be directed to Rebecca Elliott (

Applications must be submitted via the application portal by August 1, 2021.

Questions should be directed to Rebecca Elliott,

Course Description

This Design Justice Workshop introduces Phase III of Cornell’s Mellon Collaborative Studies in Architecture, Urbanism, and the Humanities. Taught as a 4-credit academic seminar, the course provides a unique and exciting opportunity to ponder politics of race, place and space in the global city of New York, with an emphasis on sites related to Black heritage, especially the Brownsville Heritage House. So often, Black bodies have been routinely excluded, marginalized, othered and criminalized within urban spaces, especially in the face of gentrification, while being delinked from public and private models of architecture perceived as being most desirable. This course, which is rooted in the Black radical tradition and radicalizes spatial thinking and draws on community partnerships with programs such as My Brother’s Keeper, reveals what is possible when a Black presence is welcomed and valued, rather than pathologized or marked as a problem. Such questions are all the more urgent to grapple with in the wake of high-profile tragic incidents intimately linked to home and neighborhood spaces that have occurred recently, such as Breonna Taylor, Botham Jean, Armand Arbury, along with George Floyd, whose death at the hands of Derek Chauvin catalyzed Black Lives Matter protests in all 50 states and in cities around the world last May.  

Significantly, this moment raised questions about monuments and symbols that stereotype Blacks and other people of color, or that, in the case of the Confederate flag, are rationalized by invoking heritage but linked to hate. This course welcomes graduate students and advanced undergraduates on campus and will draw mainly on pedagogies and materials within the fields of architecture and urban planning. In our course of study, we will also take up readings that engage the politics of representing race and space in relation to Blackness throughout the twentieth century into the twenty-first, and begin with an examination of public exhibitions spanning back to the late nineteenth century such as the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago of 1893 and the Cotton Exposition in Atlanta in 1895. This fall, we will also reflect on the environmental impact on architectures in Black communities, including natural disasters. Students will have opportunities to do individual and group projects, and for peer review. Students who participate in this course receive $1500 stipends to support their work, as well as sponsorship to spend a fall field week in New York City, where they will have the opportunity for dynamic engagements with a range of Black heritage sites in the city. Our visit to Heritage House, for example, will allow us to explore a landmark and premier institution invested in preserving the material culture of everyday Black lives in the city, whose legacy and contributions are not as widely known. 

Course instructors: Peter Robinson (Visiting Critic, College of Architecture, Art, and Planning) and Riché Richardson (Associate Professor of Africana Studies)