Archive for February, 2019

Sciame Lecture Series: Space Matters – Nandini Bagchee

Faculty Intro: Srdjan J. Weiss, Adjunct Associate Professor

Nandini Bagchee is an Associate Professor at the Spitzer School of Architecture at CCNY (CUNY) and principal of Bagchee Architects. Her research focuses on activism in architecture and the ways in which ground up collaborative building practices provide an alternative medium for the creation of public space. Nandini is the author of the recently published book on the history of activist-run spaces in New York City entitled Counter Institution: Activist Estates of the Lower East Side (Fordham University Press, 2018). Her design and writing has been published in the New York Times, Interiors Now, Urban Omnibus and the Journal of Architectural Education. She is the recipient of grants from the New York State Council of the Arts and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. Her research-based design work involves an engagement with organizations such as the A. J. Muste Memorial Institute, Mott Haven Port Morris

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Radicals and Real Estate – Urban Omnibus

The façade of 339 Lafayette Street in 2014. Photo © Jade Doskow

When outrage seethes or injustices demand a response, people take to the streets. But the political activity that fills public space first emerges from between four walls. The buildings where meetings take place and plans are hashed out constitute the city’s crucial, yet “less visible domain of participation.” In the 1970s and 80s, a storefront art gallery in an old tenement building, a Puerto Rican community center in a former public school, and an office for antiwar activists all emerged as alternative institutions for communities ill-served by the city’s civic infrastructure. Vital spaces for building alternative futures, these buildings have also struggled to hold on to their claim on the increasingly valuable real estate of the Lower East Side. Architect Nandini Bagchee makes their hidden corners and far-reaching consequences visible through interviews, archival photographs, and her original maps and drawings in her new bookCounter Institution.

In this visual history adapted from Counter Institution, Bagchee describes the far-reaching political community that for almost half a century called 339 Lafayette Street home. A rundown, three-story building providing low-rent offices for social justice advocates was a central node for networks of radical and antiwar activism in New York City and beyond. The Peace Pentagon closed its doors in 2016, when the owners sold the building and moved with some of their main tenants to a rented office space on Canal Street. The A.J. Muste Memorial Foundation hopes to purchase a new building with funds from the sale of the old Peace Pentagon. In the 21st century, radicalism may shape-shift, but the importance of an HQ remains the same: From filing cabinets to internet connections, activists needs institutional space from which to mobilize.

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