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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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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Lower East Side ‘Activist Estates’: A Tale of Three Buildings

From – The cover of Nandini Bagchee’s new book at looking at three buildings that were focal points of activism and counterculture in the East Village and Lower East Side

It gives a sense of passing time to see much of your life reflected in a work of recent history.

This I experienced while reading “Counter Institution: Activist Estates of the Lower East Side,” by Nandini Bagchee, new from Empire State Editions.

In her review of  oppositional spaces in the neighborhood over the past generations, architect and CCNY history professor Bagchee focuses on three buildings: the “Peace Pentagon” on Lafayette St., CHARAS community center on E. Ninth St., and ABC NO RIO artists collective on Rivington St. All these counter-institutions have impacted the lives of us longtime denizens of the alternative Lower East Side.

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2019 Creative Engagement Grant – Lower Manhattan Cultural Council

Creative Engagement is an arts funding program that provides seed grants to individual artists and nonprofit organizations for projects and activities that offer Manhattan communities diverse artistic experiences. Each year, the program supports over 150 arts projects in Manhattan, including concerts, performances, public art, exhibitions, screenings, festivals, workshops, readings and more. Through this grant program LMCC will award over $600,000 for projects in neighborhoods from Inwood to the Battery taking place between January 1–December 31, 2020.

The program funding provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs’ Greater New York Arts Development Fund, and the New York State Council on the Arts’ (NYSCA) Decentralization program.

In the category of Visual Arts/New Media, Nandini Bagchee has been awarded the grant for Activist Estates: An Alternate History of Real Estate in Loisaida. Activist Estates is an exhibition designed by the architect Nandini Bagchee in collaboration with the curators at the Loisaida Center that charts the history of social movement spaces in the Lower East Side and brings the multiple participants of these movements to narrate and share their
experiences via interactive displays.

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Village Preservation Book Talk: Counter Institution, Nandini Bagchee

A book talk by author Nandini Bagchee followed by a discussion with Dr. Gregory Sholette.

Nandini Bagchee examines three re-purposed buildings on the Lower East Side that have been used by activists over the past forty years. The Peace Pentagon was the headquarters of the anti-war movement, El Bohio was a metaphoric “hut” that envisioned the Puerto Rican Community as a steward of the environment, and ABC No Rio was appropriated from a storefront sign with missing letters by artists. These buildings are important components of struggles in New York City, providing a venue for political participation while existing as a vital part of the city’s civic infrastructure.

We will delve into the fascinating tension between insurgent activism and architecture, especially in light of more current perils of the real estate market.

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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Counter Institution – Book Interview on WNYC

From – The Intersection of Activism and Architecture

This segment is guest hosted by Arun Venugopal. 

Nandini Bagchee discusses her book Counter Institution: Activist Estates of the Lower East Side. Intersecting architecture, urban design practices, geography, and cartography with history, politics, and sociology, the book deftly charts the history of activism in New York City and how the city can inspire and encourage political engagement. 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 and the activist history of New York.

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Counter Institutions – Book Talk at McNally Jackson (Prince St)

From – Counter Institution: Nandini Bagchee (PRINCE STREET)

In the midst of current debates about the accessibility of public spaces, resurfacing as a result of highly visible demonstrations and occupations, this book illuminates an overlooked domain of civic participation: the office, workshop, or building where activist groups meet to organize and plan acts of political dissent and collective participation. Author Nandini Bagchee examines three re-purposed buildings on the Lower East Side that have been used by activists to launch actions over the past forty years. The Peace Pentagon was the headquarters of the anti-war movement, El Bohio was a metaphoric “hut” that envisioned the Puerto Rican Community as a steward of the environment, and ABC No Rio, appropriated from a storefront sign with missing letters, was a catchy punk name. . .

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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.