The authors included in each section each tackle microhistories that impel macronarratives. In the Western context, Mabel O. Wilson and Peter Minosh each explore the inherently repressive qualities of a “culture of taste” with respect to early capitol buildings, highlighting the fact that these “temples of liberty” were built by enslaved individuals for “the people,” a category from which they were excluded (43). Irene Cheng connects the visual basis of racial bias to the built environment through the stylistic categorization of buildings. The implication of style as a form of “structural racialism” underscores that such a categorization is not something enacted by individuals, but encoded into the very systems of architectural knowledge (134). As a result this, too, participates in a perpetuating cycle of othering, an act which appears at many scales. Although the ambitions of Reinhold Martin’s chapter, “Drawing the Color Line,” are far more encompassing than small architectural details, among the more fascinating arguments is the manner in which the dumbwaiter at Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello effectively “excluded black voices and black ears” from the dining room by mediating dinner service through something as simple as a now outmoded technology (66).
Race and Modern Architecture also encompasses topics outside of the American context. Addison Godel explores the way in which China was viewed as a kind of fantastical other by Europeans—one whose value rested in a narrative of difference and decline that was disconnected from the realities and nuances of Chinese culture and society. Adedoyin Teriba argues that the advent of the Mosque of the Òyìnbó-Dúdú (white-Black) further destabilizes notions of power hierarchies and racial logics as they relate to the diverse history of foreign influence from Brazil and Victorian England in Nigeria, in part by encoding foreign stylistic references into architecture.
The editors and authors do not shy away from exposing the common tendency to construct whiteness vis-à-vis Blackness, a construction which relies on the oppressor again subjugating the identity of the oppressed in order to more precisely define itself—by identifying what it is not. Diane Harris also brings these issues to light in her chapter, “Modeling Race and Class.” The essay counterposes the imageability of a sanitized and constructed idea of a “desired whiteness” in 1950s suburbia with the disturbing image of Black fourteen-year-old boy Emmett Till, brutally murdered, lying in his coffin at the dawn of the Civil Rights movement. The destabilizing effect of the power of photography to simultaneously expose and construct truth and falsehood reverberates deeply into both the American psyche and the built environment. One wishes this felt more like an historical moment than an ongoing present.