Here's a video from a recent symposium at Columbia University titled "Critical Dialogues on Race and Modern Architecture." Its part of an ongoing project directed by Mabel Wilson, Charles Davis and Irene Cheng, which aims to investigate how race has been integral to shaping architectural discourses from the Enlightenment to the present.
Adrienne Brown, University of Chicago
Mark Crinson, University of Manchester
Dianne Harris, University of Utah
Saidiya Hartman, Columbia University
Mabel Wilson, Columbia University
Irene Cheng, California College of the Arts
Charles Davis, University of North Carolina
A little bit behind the times, but here is a video of Brown's public lecture at last year Biennial, discussing the link between race and architecture in the writing of figures such as Henry James and W.E.B Du Bois. Brown's book The Black Skyscraper is forthcoming with John Hopkins University Press.
Its been several years now since Johnson Publishing Company's iconic headquarters at 820 South Michigan Avenue was sold to Columbia College Chicago, but it appears that the College is still unsure of what to do with the building.
For a while it was rumored that the Johnson building would provide a home for Columbia's new student center. However, the College has recently announced that its new student center - scheduled for completion in 2018 - will now be developed on another site - High renovation costs for the Johnson building proved prohibitive.
It is unclear what this announcement means for the College's future usage of 820 South Michigan Avenue. Back when the building was acquired the Maynard Institute reported that Columbia intended to use the site as its new library, although these plans were quickly scuppered by the realisation that such application would be structurally impossible.
Current plans appear to point towards the establishment of the John H. and Eunice W. Johnson Center, which will house elements of the institution's fashion, journalism and marketing programs. The specifics of the Center and its usage remain fuzzy, with apparently the only thing agreed on is keeping the iconic EBONY/JET sign atop the building's roof.
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Image taken from Barbara Karant personal website
Two recent articles in Slate and the New York Times have shed light on a new photo project by Columbia College adjunct Barbara Karant, which involves the Johnson Publishing Company's old headquarters at 820 South Michigan Avenue. After the building was sold to Columbia College in 2010, Karant sought - and received - permission to photograph it. Over the past few years she has been developing an impressive photo archive of the building's vintage interior.
The access Karant has been able to get is remarkable - presumably helped by her relationship with Columbia, and also her strong reputation as an architectural and design photographer. On her personal website, she describes the project as an effort to capture the company's unique heritage before 820 South Michigan is (or at least is scheduled to be) transformed into a new library and archive centre.
"This project documents the core essence of the Johnson Publishing Company's historic building in its semi-skeletal state before the final remnants of John Moutoussamy's architectural design, Arthur Elrod's interiors and the last vestiges of the original JPC communal workspace vanish."
Image courtesy of Barbara Karant personal website
Maurice Berger has praised the project for encapsulating the "visual dynamism of early 1970s architectural and interior design", with its boldly patterned carpets and African-inspired textiles, lacquered lounges and dramatic hallways. Perhaps more importantly, the publication recognised the significance of Karant's work as a document which addresses the relationship between black cultural politics and modernism - a relationship which was frequently erased from mainstream descriptions of modernist aesthetics and design.
Aside from being incredibly jealous of Karant's access to the building, her work is a fascinating snap-shot into the building's history and decline. Karant's images document the heavily stylised interior which made 820 South Michigan such a popular stop-off for black tourists to Chicago during its heyday. However, many of the photographs also clearly document how the building has fallen into disrepair, with mould on the carpets and walls, collapsing fittings and peeling wallpaper. As Columbia continues to struggle over how to develop the site, it appears that 820 South Michigan is currently trapped in fading 1970s timewarp.
I recently emailed Barbara about her future plans for the project and she informed me that she hopes to develop her work into a book project - hopefully in collaboration with an architectural historian. I'm excited to see this project develop, and look forward to being able to see more of the building's famed interiors.