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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