UVA prof: Architecture ‘part of the Western tradition of power’

A University of Virginia professor spoke about the alleged racism within the architectural field.

He said that architecture "is not acultural but white," and must be positioned "as a cultural structure together with whiteness."

Louis Nelson, a professor of architectural history and vice provost for academic outreach at the University of Virginia, spoke about the architectural field’s “context of an inherited whiteness.”

In an interview with the Architectural RecordNelson and two other experts were asked about the role of racism in the architectural profession.

When the interviewer asked how “whiteness, white supremacy, and anti-Black racism” shape architecture, Nelson stated that because “architecture is part of the Western tradition of power, it is not acultural but white.” Therefore, racism must be positioned “as a cultural structure together with whiteness.”

“Whiteness is really critical,” he added.

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He also lamented that “conversations about aesthetic excellence often ignore cultural and political context—the context of an inherited whiteness—that is part of architecture.” 

Nelson believes that talking about design as only aesthetic “masks a dominant Western, white framework that, once we expose it, helps us look at how all architecture is a cultural product and cultural agent, as well as political and racial.”

When prompted to discuss his research of white supremacy in architecture, Nelson remarked that UVA “likes to think of itself as an institution committed to the unfolding arc of democracy but is simultaneously a plantation landscape, a landscape of slavery for its first half-century.” 

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”Are we training students to be aware of, to interpret, and then to positively engage those systems through their work as architects?” asked Nelson. “If not, we’re perpetuating widespread racism.”

UVA undergraduate Deven Upadhyay told Campus Reform that “UVA responds to progressive demands almost like a stubborn child; it won’t act unless it’s consistently nagged to do so.” 

He believes that UVA’s efforts to “come to terms with its racist roots” are “chiefly performative.”

Campus Reform reached out to Nelson and the University of Virginia for comment but did not hear back in time for publication. 

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @BenZeisloft