goto Appendx main menu Noticing a Difference : Nathaniel Q. Belcher
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While traveling across this country on a motorcycle, you see much of what defines our America.  Within one month I traveled from Boston to Los Angeles and back.  Such a rapid succession of events causes any awareness of distinct places to blur.  In memory Houston begins to feel like Columbus, Los Angeles like Atlanta, and San Francisco like New Orleans.  Ultimately the geographic distinctions fade and other more general distinctions become clearer.  In each city there were distinctions of space based on class, ethnicity, and race.  In this way I began to read cities.  One of the dearest readings was in a cemetery in New Orleans.  The cemetery was segregat ed.  I was struck by two relatively adjacent grave sites.  One grave was guarded by a cherubic angel.  Time had clipped one wing and left the surface beautifully stained from the years of rain and pollution.  It was direct in its symmetry and hierarchy.  The space it engaged was simple and its volumes were clearly defined.  The other grave sat low to the ground, and a photograph was fading; its history seemed more apparent and its experience more telling.  The cacophony of elements seems ordered by experiences.  Each element that exist tells another story.  The objects placed are very temporal and offer an ephemeral balance of experiences and form.  These two grave sites each offered a space for the dying that quite realistically reflect the space held by the living.  These two spaces illustrate a difference; a difference of class, a difference of power, a difference of race, and a difference of space.  This difference engages a unique heritage and cultural experience.  I believe Appendx has a responsibility to read, document, and utilize what this difference is.  This difference involves the fundamental realities of race, gender, and class.  It is clearly an opportunity to look at architecture and architectural form largely derivative of different cultural experiences and outside the accepted paradigm. 

The blessing that accompanies the burden of difference is an overwhelming sense of purpose.  These issues are ultimately integral and important to the essential experiences of the whole culture.  However, the current experience of African-Americans in contemporary architectural discourse is inherently an experience of difference.  The architectural community, both professional and academic, tend to rely on mythic boundaries of acceptable architectural influences.  The resulting paradigm wants to confuse the objective with the subjective, the beautiful with the banal, and the universal with the paternalistic.  The architect that practices outside this paradigm is lost in a community ill-prepared to accept her/his experiences as valid, and this publication should serve to go beyond that.  It is clear that an architectural discourse that squarely accepts and garners the African-American experience posits itself with an  opportunity Appendx 1 page break 202 | 203to fill the vacated subiect, challenge canons of beauty, and prove the impossibility of a universal that refuses to encompass us all. 

A danger in creating this ideology is that it will be perceived as marginal.  A marginal ideology is susceptible to simplistic notions of trite political readings and patronizing forms.  Limitations of these issues so narrowly define the influence of this difference on architectural discourse that the real and richest of possibilities are overlooked and/or never explored.  Some architects have focused around program, practice, and form.  The first two have been confronted directly by architects of color promoting their social consciousness, expressing a cultural bias and demanding work (commissions).  However, being devoid of a specific dialogue through which to process and develop the issue of form, there is a constant assimilation of architectural forms, be they modern, postmodern, etc., by architects of color in stark contrast to a political agenda demanding representation, diversity, and experimentation as well as respect above and beyond the limits of the dominant agenda.  The common objective must remain in sight, and realistic affirmation must also consider the essential qualities of space, light, poetry, form, and experience in ways that assure the inclusion of architecture's most ephemeral and prized qualities-otherwise, this new paradigm will fail to produce substantial change.  The question of substantive change should be applied to architecture, and this publication can serve that goal.  If architects of color do not become aware of their architectural formal responsibilities, they are banished marginally and constricted by a reliance of systematic mechanisms that have more principally to do with professional self-promotion than an integral cultural condition.  Marginal groups in this culture must assume the responsibility to change effectively the attitudes of the large culture toward their special contributions to the architectural discourse.  This responsibility certainly does not mean exclusion of the participation in the dominant culture, but is mindful that the essential understanding of this margin and its influence on architecture and space is to the benefit of all.  The ultimate step is resolved through the making of artifacts and the creation of spaces. We simply must Produce.  

the end Nathaniel Q. Belcher

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