15 minutes southeast of MIT (a short trip on the #1 bus plus a bit of walking) is a Roxbury neighborhood of mostly small residential houses, white and pastel colored—wooden New England triple-deckers and some single-story, single-family homes—as well as a few brick apartment buildings. At the time when other parts of Roxbury, Mattapan and Dorchester were hit hard by the housing and market crisis in 2007-2009, the area around Dudley Street fared well. Here, in the urban triangle governed by the Dudley Street Land Trust (Dudley Neighbors Incorporated-DNI) and the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative (DSNI), relative resilience to the housing market dive was secured by the existence of over 200 “permanently affordable” housing units provided in the form of those single-family (as well as multi-family) structures. They are owned in a particular way, as stipulated by the Dudley Street Land Trust, such that the Trust continues to own the land underneath them in perpetuity, while the equity to owners accrues more slowly than elsewhere. Both mechanisms enable the land trust and DSNI to develop the neighborhood without displacing its inhabitants and thus (with their collective involvement) stave off gentrification. There is also a lovely park, a community green house, an urban farm as well as commercial and non-profit spaces. It might be hard to grasp the importance of all this from street-view, but the “radical imagination” convened for the formation of DSNI and DNI in 1984 is legend for a reason—important not only for what it has already achieved, but also for what it continues to effect.
From the 1950s to 1980s, this part of Roxbury, the heart of Boston’s African American community, suffered the dire consequences of redlining, the Federal Housing Administration’s discriminatory mortgage insurance policies, swindling contract mortgages, widespread vacancies, and neglect. In response, this trailblazing campaign, led by the inhabitants of this corner of Boston and the sustained political organization (and commitment) that followed, seeded and now maintain this particular US model of social ownership and urban stewardship.
The Collective Architecture Studio will work to understand, internalize, and celebrate this model as we begin to work alongside DSNI and its partners: The Food Project and The Boston Plan for Excellence.
There was a saying, I want to call it an “old saying” the way science fiction author Kim Stanley Robinson did recently in his The Ministry of the Future, that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism. This notion, now part of Leftist folklore, attributed alternatively to Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Žizek, was also important for Mark Fisher’s framing of “capitalist realism”. Fisher was concerned with the “widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it.” What he calls “capitalist realism” is precisely the naturalization of this notion; that the politically mutable has become immutable. A few years after Fisher’s (2009) writing on the topic, many cataclysmic climate events later, and two years into the global pandemic that has locked us down, the cliché seems to have grown teeth and started biting. Thankfully, alternative models like Dudley Street do exist, and it is precisely within the logic of capitalist realism to ignore them, but each of them is—like Dudley Street—real, tangible, specific. We, and by “we” I mean members of the discipline of architecture, who want to transform the status quo, look for ways to sidestep the naturalizing force of “capitalist realism” (and of the market). Those of us in the Collective Architecture Studio need such alternative models to fuel the rewriting of architectural and pedagogical values. These values are vital precisely because they are not merely figments of an imagination, though they had to start that way.
Architecture has had (and will continue to have) an important role in the work of DNI and DSNI, always constrained by the financial realities of DNI and its partners. The Food Project and the Boston Plan for Excellence are considering different ways of expanding their activities and collaborating on a food and neighborhood social hub, and we will work with them to offer architectural proposals and systemic hacks that support their missions.
We will begin by constituting an archive of alternative modes of city- and architecture-making out of the Dudley Street experience and history, as well as from other US land trusts, including among them lessons from cooperative ownership and living elsewhere. With these we will consider architecture’s role in various forms of commoning, caring and surviving. Like in its first edition, the Collective Architecture Studio will experiment with forms of group authorship. For this, too, we will tap into important local examples. Collective authorship is not easy, the studio will both study it, and perform experiments (on itself) about it.
Every student will participate in the constitution of our studio’s own archives, work and broadcasts. We will read, plan and play together. Everything we make (including our building proposals) will also function as critical broadcasts, catalyzing discussion and/or revelation among our projected audiences. Commitment to the collective (in the studio organization and as a topic of investigation) and architectural follow-through are critical components of each individual student’s, as well as the Collective Architecture Studio’s, success.
- Deep dive into the history and archives of DNI and other land trusts, which we will share in the form of interactive broadcasts.
- Research on Collective Authorship in Architecture and production of (physical and digital) tools for working together.
- The Food Project (mission, operation, and context) research and production of Architectural Proposals for the Dudley Miller Park site, as well as for Adaptive Reuse sites that we identify.
If you are thinking about this studio, or have time for and interest in reading some SciFi novels before the semester kicks off, here are some recommendations:
- Octavia Butler’s: The Parable of the Sower (1993), The Parable of the Talents (1998)
- Kim Stanley Robinson: The Ministry of the Future (2020)
- Marge Piercy: Woman on the Edge of Time (1976)
See reference article.