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Interference Archive – Building For Us Exhibition Opening

Exhibit designed by Nandini Bagchee in collaboration with Marlisa Wise, Graham Foundation 2019 grant recipients.

The Urban Homesteading Assistance Board (UHAB) grew out of the self-help housing movement. The exhibition features the families and people who fought to turn vacant or neglected buildings into vibrant co-ops, as told through the photographs, newsletters, oral histories, and training manuals found in UHAB’s archive. Their stories illuminate the origins of New York City’s affordable housing cooperatives, and the work that residents put into saving and preserving the city’s housing stock, one building at a time. This exploration of a single organization’s archive offers one way to understand the people, policies, and programs that helped shape this history.

Decades after the homesteading and squatting movements took hold in NYC, there is a resurgent public interest in exploring cooperative ownership models, particularly as a tool for addressing the current housing affordability crisis. Building for Us honors both the vibrant history of cooperative housing in NYC and sheds light on the hard work and the community it takes to create and sustain cooperatively owned housing.

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Cooper Union Lunchtime Lecture – Counter Institution: Insurgent Spaces

From Counter Institution – Aerial View of Lower East Side with the El Bohio Community Center (PS 64) in the foreground. Photo by Gilbert Santana.

An examination of participatory practices in New York City reveals the critical relationship between real estate and activism. In cities across the United States, in the 1970’s, the devaluation of property created a vacuum of ownership. Vacant lots, storefronts, schoolhouses, factories and abandoned tenement housing in New York City became havens for experimental, communal practices. In her book, Counter Institution (Fordham University Press, 2018) author Nandini Bagchee revisits the spaces where activist groups meet to organize and plan acts of political dissent and collective participation. The counter institution in the title represents both a conceptual and a literal struggle to create a space for civic action in a city that is built upon real estate speculation

In a talk focused on her research for the book and an ongoing engagement with questions of urban justice and access to the city, Nandini Bagchee will share her methods of documenting and interrogating the history of the Counter Institution. Envisioning spatial practices in relation to physical space is at the core of these explorations. In her capacity as a social historian/architect Bagchee generates timelines and maps that chart out territorial occupations at different geographic and temporal scales to represent the larger reach of the social movements within specific buildings in the geography of downtown Manhattan. Exposition through the mapping of information has long been a part of the lexicon of protest tactics. Using drawings, maps, timelines, and photographs to underline the connections between people, politics, and space, Bagchee offers new ways to imagine buildings as a critical part of the civic infrastructure of activism within the city.

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Activist Estates – Gallery Talk with Nandini Bagchee and Miranda Martinez

From – Architect Nandini Bagchee in conversation with Sociologist Miranda Martinez at the Loisaida Center.

Nandini Bagchee is the designer and curator of the exhibit and author of Counter Institution: Activist Estates of the Lower East Side (Fordham University Press, 2018). Miranda Martinez is the author of Power at the Roots: Community Gardens, Gentrification, and the Puerto Ricans of the Lower East Side (Lexington Books, 2010). They will be engaging content of the exhibit: Activist Estates: A Radical History of Property in Loisaida.

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Activist Estates – Opening Reception at The Loisaida Center

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Unknown New York: The City That Women Built – Panel Discussion

Join NOMAS at CCNY and the CCNY Architecture Alumni Group for a film screening and discussion of female architects, designers and builders. A free screening of this short film directed by Beverly Willis and the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation highlighting contributions by female architects, engineers, and builders in shaping the New York skyline. Panel discussion with Nandini Bagchee, Billie Cohen, Yolande Daniels, Marta Gutman, Samantha Josephat, and Carol Kurth, moderated by Isabella Joseph, to follow film.

Carol Kurth FAIA, alumnus and past board president, is our sponsor. This event is organized by the CCNY Women in Design Committee of the CCNY Architecture Alumni Group in collaboration with the CCNY Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students | NOMASCCNY.

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Urban Dislocations and the Architecture of the Diasporas (1900 – Present) – Association for Art History Annual Conference in Brighton

From – Brighton Conference

The panel “Urban Dislocations and the Architecture of Diasporas (1900 – present)”, is part of the Association for Art History Annual Conference, in Brighton. The panel, chaired by Ralph Ghoche and Ignacio G. Galán, also had the participation of Nandini Bagchee, Paulo Moreira, Ivan L. Munuera, Noam Shoked, Emma Stein Lewis, Yogeeswari Chandsekaran and Abhunad Krishnashankar.

This session brings to light the paradoxical nature and hybridity of cities, drawing attention to both the economic, cultural, and technological connections and exchanges, while also uncovering the ‘disjuncture’ of these urban conditions. It delineates the formal and informal processes by which displaced groups have occupied and reshaped existing structures or territories and those that describe the transglobal networks that have facilitated these transformations. Papers in this session pay special attention to the critical role that individuals, community groups, and activist collectives play in the appropriation, spatial transformation, and re-signification of existing structures and environments.

Postscript from Domeland

Nandini Bagchee (Spitzer School of Architecture, City College, CUNY)

It was 1968 and Buckminster Fuller was flying around spaceship earth lecturing audiences to join a global grassroots movement to eliminate poverty and design a sustainable future. A talk to a Puerto Rican youth collective (CHARAS) in the New York City made a lasting impression on the young people in the audience. Fuller’s call for a new world order outside the established political system fired the imagination of a group whose own experiences of poverty and criminalisation made them mistrustful of city and state. The project of building lightweight geodesic domes in abandoned city lots grew out of these young men’s desire to directly, physically change the environment in which they lived. The incongruous cardboard dome on the desolate edge of a city was a defiant act of grassroots activism to educate, inform and empower the Puerto Rican community. In the 70s, CHARAS began producing these domes through their port-a-dome initiative. For the next 20 years, the domes built by CHARAS appeared on rooftops, gardens, and street fairs in New York City. The domes were adapted as canopies during protests, as aquaponic sheds, and as prefab housing in rural Puerto Rico. Fuller’s domes, typically associated with a disenfranchised suburban white middleclass in the United States, fortuitously found a different constituency in the aspirations of a young, welfare weary, Puerto Rican urban community. The port-a-dome initiative symbolised the self-sufficiency of CHARAS locally and was a sign of their autonomous participation in a larger global-environmental movement.

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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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Rebel Architecture: How to Dismantle Power Through Design

In our cities today, the built environment appears simultaneously immutable and precarious—immutable because it replicates entrenched power structures and precarious because, no matter one’s claim on space, destruction, and displacement seem inevitable Together, we will think through the ways exclusion is inscribed onto urban spaces through planning, design, and architecture. We will demonstrate ways we can—and do—counteract these prescribed meanings through alternate, collective, and collaborative forms, as well as through active resistance. Rebel Architecture is a moderated panel discussion; audience members are encouraged to bring questions, to take notes, and make their own designs during or after the talk. Discussants include Germane Barnes (Designer-in-residence for the Opa Locka Community Development Corporation, Senior Lecturer in the School of Architecture at the University of Miami); Nandini Bagchee (Bernard & Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at The City College of New York); and Nicholas Korody (Editor-in-chief of Ed Magazine, a publication of Archinect, and co-founder, with Joanna Kloppenburg of Adjustments Agency); moderated by Louise Harpman (Associate Professor at NYU Gallatin, founder and principal of Louise Harpman__PROJECTS).

Rebel Architecture is presented as a part of ARCHTOBER 2018.


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Activism, Architecture and Real Estate in NYC – The Environmental Design University of Colorado Boulder

An examination of participatory practices in re-purposed buildings reveals the critical relationship between real estate, architecture and activism. In cities across the country, in the 1970’s, the devaluation of property created a vacuum of ownership. Vacant lots, storefronts, schoolhouses and abandoned tenements in New York City became havens for experimental, communal practices. These same urban landscapes, in the present time, are facing the opposite crisis of inflated costs and speculation by development that threaten the small gains made by communities in historically marginalized neighborhoods. What new practices might emerge in cities such as New York that can sustain community practices and challenge the status quo? Is there room for socially conscious design practices? What are the new modes of participation (for communities and architects) that can produce new, exploratory spatial outcomes?

Expanding the discourse of sustainable practices in design to include grass roots participation is important for the equitable development of cities. Working at the intersection of research, adaptive reuse and collaborative design, Bagchee Architects interweave theory and practice to find new ways to engage with the environment. Amid current debates about environmental justice and access to public space this talk addresses the often-overlooked domain of civic participation- commercial storefronts, offices, gardens, churches and community centers where citizens gather to plan acts of political dissent and collective participation.

Pioneer Works Press Presents CHARAS: The Improbable Dome Builders

As part of Second Sundays December, join Pioneer Works Press as we celebrate the soft release of CHARAS: The Improbable Dome Builders by Syeus Mottel, republished in partnership with The Song Cave.

In 1970 on New York’s Lower East Side, Chino Garcia, Humberto Crespo, Angelo Gonzalez, Jr., Roy Battiste, Moses Anthony Figueroa, and Sal Becker — “CHARAS,” as they called themselves — broke ground to construct a geodesic dome on a vacant lot beneath the Manhattan Bridge following a meeting with revolutionary architect R. Buckminster Fuller. Physically altering the housing conditions in their immediate neighborhood, the group sought to reclaim public space and develop programs for community autonomy. Originally published in 1973, this expanded edition acts as a record to highlight ways communities activate empty spaces before gentrification.

To commemorate the story’s republication, CHARAS co-founder Chino Garcia will be in conversation with early CHARAS adviser and founder of The Sustainability Lab Michael Ben-Eli. Moderated by architect and Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture Professor Nandini Bagchee.

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